Who is a “Translator”? 

Although most people don’t know it, and many that do, will deny it, we are in the midst of a revolution–a rethinking of how things are done, by whom, and how people are rewarded.  The system is currently broken, how our society (though this is generalizable beyond Canada) uses the University and Research funding mechanism to drive innovation is increasingly being put under a microscope.

From a very high level, the University system and the Tri-council funding mechanism to a degree is supposed to help support the kind of research that does not have the immediate economic benefits to society that other stakeholders may need to support that kind of discovery research.  It’s not always the case, but industry tries to support R&D that has a high potential for generating revenue.  Funding research that generates knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a luxury that most business cannot always support.  Generating benefits to society in the long-term is really the business of Universities and other publicly funded research facilities–or at least that’s been established wisdom for some time.

To generate new knowledge governments fund research by the various mechanism that might not otherwise be funded.  This machinery is supported by peer review and publications, and the best and the brightest investigators drive knowledge production that feeds innovation–changes how we do things, what we do and even when we do it.  The currency of this system are publications that are then the basis of more grants and (presumably) more discoveries.  Investigators who do not publish, perish–they fail to advance, they fail to attract new students/talent and they fail to maintain their labs.

However, beyond publishing the new knowledge generated, there is often little incentive for researchers to explore ways of implementing the knowledge.  Actually, spending the time to explore how discoveries may be applied, takes time away from publication and research.  Although some institutions are beginning to acknowledge other performance measures like patents filed in their promotions, this metric is far from established.  (At one institution when researchers found out that patents were being considered for promotion decisions, there was suddenly a frenzy of frivolous patents filings.)

Although there are those ‘super-human’ intellectuals, researchers and innovators who somehow manage to do amazing discovery science AND somehow, in their off hours, commercialize ideas, implement policy and run international corporations, they are few; they are the elite.  Not all outstanding researchers who are producing innovative and meaningful science, are also moguls of an industry–or even wish to be.  So if there is this disincentive to step off the publication assembly-line, where many of the scientific discoveries published cannot be replicated, and knowledge is created disproportionately to efforts being made to apply it, who are the “translators”?  Or, put another way, where do the translators fit in this system.

This is where the revolution comes in.  I Think we are facing a revolution, the development of a new class of scientist, a new type of professional–the applied scientist the scientific creative professional.  This is a kind of person who is familiar with science; trained in the language of science and a disciple of scientific methods.  But this professional is not always found at the bench or conducting experiments or writing papers.  These scientists are different.  They use science, and they apply science; They spend their time looking at needs and problems and regulation and legal frameworks and marketing.  They are at home reading a journal and they are at home looking at users and customers and patients.  They are bridge builders who currently have not a distinct role in our academies of higher learning.  But they are there, and they are elsewhere.  They are the entrepreneurs, the networkers, problem-solvers and risk takers.  They are the conduits of innovation, but they are also scientists–they love the science.  But they are comfortable being the consumers rather than producers of knowledge.  They are the translators.

They are found among investigators who ‘see’ the big picture.  Who are somehow able to understand the needs they are trying to address and the big-picture pathways for moving their discoveries into tangible benefits.  And these applied scientists are found in a growing class of professionals who apply science, who translate knowledge, who design solutions to existing problems.  And these are scientists who help communicate the science.  Not just for audiences of peers, but to physicians, clinicians, patients and publics; who take knowledge and translate for consumption by diverse audiences.  These people help set policy and influence behaviour.  Other Still look at the implementation of research the science of adoption and effectiveness of new interventions.  These are the people who try to learn how to do things better; how to understand the processes of successfully implementing the discoveries for benefit.  Some of these people are chameleons, masquerading in labs as quasi-productive academics, but most give up and find ways to help apply science in government, industry and research administration.

These people are part of a growing trend, and a necessary one–a social imperative to make use of publicly funded research.  Though they are not often given the badges and accolades of those who make discoveries, they are the foot-soldiers of innovation, the worker bees whose absence in the current system has created artificial encumbrances to the current mechanism of innovation.  These are the new revolutionaries, missionaries for the public good to translate research into tangible benefits for people.

Translation is a social good, and through Translational Thinking, we are on a mission to expedite the transformation of knowledge into health benefits for society.   JOIN US.

Joseph Ferenbok, PhD

Translational Research Program in Health Science,
Institute of Medical Science

2016/17 Message

Welcome to the Masters of Health Science in Translational Research Program (TRP)!

Ours is a program designed to let (you) people ‘DO STUFF’.  We want (you) to (be a part of a program) that cares about improving our world, our health, health care systems, and communities. You (will) identify ingenuity gaps, problems or medical needs and then work collaboratively with networks of experts to try to find ways to improve things.

It is a lofty goal and a new way of approaching education–not by apprenticing to become subject or domain experts, but by working with each other to learn from each other while trying to improve ‘the system’.

The program is part labour of love, part an attempt to establish the next generation of highly qualified problem-solvers who are not willing to let things continue as they are just because they’ve been done a particular way, but are willing to take up (intellectual) arms against a sea of challenges to make a difference.

If you are the type of person who wants to design their world, rather than just be content to live in a world constructed by others–join us.

Joseph Ferenbok, PhD
Translational Research Program in Health Science,
Institute of Medical Science

Health Innovation Hub

Assistant Professor
Department of Psychiatry,
Faculty of Medicine,
University of Toronto

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