November 2011

Laurie Glimcher: New dean for Weill Cornell Medical School

In an environment of financial belt-tightening, how will you identify research directions? 

 Glimcher with her three children in 2008. 

First of all, I’m going to be doing a lot of fundraising. We will have some resources, but there is always a need for more.

But you’re right, it’s a small place. We can’t do everything and need to focus.  One area WCMC has chosen to focus on is neurodegenerative diseases. WCMC received a wonderful gift from one of the members of the board of overseers, Robert Appel, to fund a center for neurodegenerative disease. WCMC recruited Steven Paul from Eli Lilly [and Co.] to head it. The intent is to do more recruiting in that area. Neurodegenerative diseases are going to take down our health-care system if we can’t figure out how to deal with them. As the population ages, we’re going to have many millions of people over the age of 80 who have Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. It’s our responsibility as biomedical scientists and physicians to figure out how to tackle these diseases. Another area of huge unmet medical need is metabolic syndromes: the triad of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. These diseases are going to be an enormous drain on our health-care system.

I am very interested in skeletal biology. Before I joined this field, I had no idea that osteoporosis is the most common disease worldwide. One out of two women over the age of 50 have osteoporosis or will develop osteoporosis, and it’s one out of five for men. There’s major mortality from fractures. The numbers are startling: 25 percent of individuals who sustain a fracture are dead within a year. The Hospital for Special Surgery is closely aligned with Weill Cornell. They are interested in expanding their biomedical research, and I think this is a wonderful opportunity to do that.

How do you describe your leadership style? 

I have developed my leadership and management style both from my many years of supervising a large lab and my years on corporate boards. My own management style is very relaxed. My door is always open. If postdocs and graduate students get a result they are excited about or have a question, they are welcome to pop their heads in. If somebody wants to meet with me, they don’t have to go to my secretary and say “I need to arrange a meeting with Laurie” and be told “That will be four days from now.” Absolutely not. If they need to speak to me, I will find time to speak to them right away. Period.

I have no problems with making tough decisions, but I think one always has to be respectful of one’s colleagues. That’s not just the people who are your peers or your superiors but, most important, the people who report to you. I judge myself and other people by the quality of their interactions with individuals below them in the pecking order. 

I make the decision I think is right and best for the institution. Then I explain why I made that decision to people who might not agree. That’s going to be really important as dean, because you can’t always get everyone on board. You can’t get consensus all the time, but people have to understand how you reached a decision.

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