Keep Asking Questions (Podcast)

Research leader understands the transformative power of curiosity

Serpil Erzurum podcast

Chair of Lerner Research Institute of Cleveland Clinic, Serpil Erzurum, MD,  is also a pulmonologist and a renowned leader in respiratory medicine. Her research has helped develop diagnostic and therapeutic advances in lung diseases. She has published more than 200 peer-reviewed articles and has been principal investigator on more than 20 federal grants.

In her conversation with Brian Bolwell, MD, for the podcast “Beyond Leadership: At the Intersection of Leadership and Everything Else,” Dr. Erzurum describes the fundamental curiosity that drives her work.

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services Policy

Asking questions were also at the heart of refining focus for the Lerner Research Institute (LRI) when she took over leadership in 2016. The scientists at LRI develop new medical devices, research novel biological pathways and disease markers, and establish new diagnostics and therapies for a wide spectrum of diseases.

“It was clear to me that with the digital transformation, everything was becoming more and more IT-dependent,” Dr. Erzurum explains. “Research was no longer what it had been even 10 years before that. We needed to evolve our strategies and understand better our workflow so we could become as fast as the other researchers out there competing for the same grants. The data were becoming bigger and bigger and bigger. Whole genomes were routine, the entire transcriptome of the RNA, the whole protein, structures, proteomics, and of course, the metabolome.”

Technology needed to change, she says.

Advertising Policy

“That was my biggest priority the first year with the team. What were we going to do and what then were we not going to do? What could we have an impact in? Because when we focus, we can make a difference faster, achieve more than others.”

Podcast excerpt

Dr. Bolwell: When we spoke earlier, you talked about how important it is once you got into your leadership position to establish relationships. And I think that humor is a wonderful way to establish relationships and also to get through the tough times because nothing’s ever wonderful all the time. And yet if you can maintain that perspective, I think that goes a long way.

Dr. Erzurum: One of the first things I did in the early part of the job was meet everybody that worked in the institute. And then, I organized what we called random lunches — random people at random times —  to get together for lunch and to just talk about anything in their lives. We’d have some themes, sometimes it was talking about your hobbies. I can tell you that those lunches meant so much to everybody. It wasn’t just that they were getting to know me, but they were getting to know somebody else in the institute that they might have known about but they had never had a conversation with. And now, by the end of the lunch, they were friends, deciding that they might go to coffee or discuss something about science.

Advertising Policy

Bolwell: Did they just talk about science or did they talk about other stuff, too?

Erzurum: We were not allowed to talk about science.

Bolwell: There you go.