The Scientist of Tomorrow Will Master Futures Thinking

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By Dr Emilie Balk-Møller (LinkedIn)

The Scientist of Tomorrow is a course developed for the Danish Diabetes Academy by CIFS, and I have been involved both in its development and delivery.

The course was developed to introduce scientists to the future dimension in healthcare and in wider science, by introducing them to concepts of trends, megatrends, foresights, to projections of current developments onto the next decade.

We ran three workshops, one to be delivered in the near future, each dedicated to a particular theme. In these workshops, we have described changes that we observe today in science, technology and medicine. The participants learnt about the paradigm shift in our approaches to health and science, emerging technologies, and the role of health data in future healthcare. These are the elements that undergo rapid changes, they will shape the research landscape in the coming decade.

The participants are research scientists at PhD and postdoc positions, they conduct research related to diabetes. They work in different fields from basic to translational science in cells and animals to clinical and epidemiology studies in humans and groups/populations with variety of educational backgrounds.

These differences lead to inspiring discussions and presentations of various viewpoints on topics covered by the workshops.

The participants to these workshops are experts in their focus fields and are accustomed to a focused approach. We attempted to widen this funnel vision.

Broadening worldviews of participants was one of the main goals of this course, be it general societal perception or research circumstances that may arise in the future.

Another aim was to inspire participants to apply a more holistic mindset in order to be able to identify new opportunities offered by interdisciplinary convergences in research areas outside core expertise by individual participants.

The participants were introduced to the current trends in healthcare related research, as well as those to be expected in the next decade. Also, we provided them with a toolbox for futures thinking and for leadership in the future. The following discussions and exercises in groups allowed them to have a try with the provided tools for futures studies: development of scenarios, understanding  uncertainties, and back casting. These and other tools help build resilience in our dynamic world.

Further to the introduction to the ever changing healthcare landscape and futures toolbox, the  participants were encouraged to take part in the societal debate on research.

We have setup to run four workshops online, to bridge with offline workshops. Online, the participants were divided into groups and tasked with developments of opinions pieces for general mass media on their research subjects and their futures implications.

The four op-ed will be published in scientific journals, however some target general mass media and aim to be published in daily periodicals. The themes ranged from dynamics in the roles of health literacy, prevention, and access to research data, to importance of holistic and interdisciplinary approach in research. One group developed a podcast in two episodes on AI adoption in clinical settings and in research, the podcast is being released by the DDA.

The Scientist of Tomorrow course is intended to be repeated in the early autumn.

Below is the more detailed description of each workshop:

The four workshops are divided into four overarching themes.  

  • Workshop 1: A paradigm shift in the approach to health and treatment 
  • Workshop 2: The holistic approach to health and research 
  • Workshop 3: Data, data sharing, interoperability and standards 
  • Workshop 4: Technology, artificial intelligence and readiness 

 Workshop 1: A paradigm shift in the approach to health and treatment was dealing with the changes that are already happening. The emerging health paradigm is moving away from the current treatment-centric approach to healthcare towards an approach that emphasises maintenance of health and prevention of disease. Together with our increasing understanding of the human biology with the rise of genomics and other “omics”, we’re moving from a one-size-fits-all approach to personalised healthcare, where each patient is seen as an individual and can be treated according to their own molecular characteristics, which will lead to tailored treatments for all. 

Workshop 2: The holistic approach to health and research was dealing with the holistic perspective of health, behaviour and health literacy. The importance of taking not only the science and biology into perspective when doing research, but also the societal and behavioural context. we also deep dived into the very research specific trends including how researchers will work, open science, funding requirements, interdisciplinarity of fields and a demand for new skills.  

Workshop 3: Data, data sharing, interoperability and standards had focus on the staggering amount of data being produced and the importance of securing data while still allowing sharing of data between systems, institutions and researchers. This can only be achieved if there is interoperability between systems, which can be reached through standards. Future healthcare delivery will rely on a rich and broad array of individual-level data to provide a comprehensive picture of all aspects of an individual’s life and these data will include behavioural data that is monitored through new technologies such as gadgets and wearables. There was also a focus on behavioural data as a key driver for healthy behaviour. In the end of the session, we also deep dived into specific research trends including technologies entering the labs, AI driven hypothesis generation, academic and educational changes and the rise of new publication systems. 

Workshop 4: Technology, artificial intelligence and readiness. In this session, the focus is on health technology and digital therapeutics, including how AI is used in basic research, drug development, and diagnosis and will play an even larger role in the future. Furthermore, in the future, everything, including our health, should be easy and on-demand, preferably from our own homes, aided by state-of-the-art innovation and the Internet of Things. We also discuss the technological and societal readiness for uptake of these innovations.