Leadership and organization change in biomedical PhD education: An instrumental case study of the development of a centralized organization for biomedical graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania

Jarle Breivik, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

Biomedical PhD education is a large and increasingly interdisciplinary segment of higher education. The primarily laboratory-based research training is commonly distributed to a range of administrative units within and outside the research-intensive universities. This organizational fragmentation represents a significant challenge to coordination, oversight, and quality development. The University of Pennsylvania was one of the first institutions to establish a centralized, umbrella-type biomedical graduate program to address these organizational challenges. The thirty-year-old program has been highly successful and is regarded as a model for other institutions. In order to learn from the program's path to success, this research investigated the inner dynamics and leadership actions related to the development of Biomedical Graduate Studies (BGS) at the University of Pennsylvania. The retrospective instrumental case study explored the process from the period prior to the establishment of the program in 1984 until its current configuration in 2014. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with 18 people representing different time periods and leadership positions in the history of the program, as well as archival material. The data were analyzed to establish the chronology of events and to identify the main themes and leadership actions of the change process. The presented case was subsequently analyzed in light of established theory on organizational change and leadership orientations in higher education. This analysis demonstrated that the change was a multi-dimensional process and could be explained by several theoretical frameworks. There were elements of planning and decisive management, organizational learning, political bargaining, adaptation to environmental factors, and attention to culture and symbolism. The process involved a transformation that empowered the junior faculty, promoted collegiality, and improved the quality of recruitment, student satisfaction, and scientific outcomes. Centralization of student recruitment and funding, detaching the graduate education from the department structure, and collaborative leadership stood out as primary factors for success. This case study may serve as a guideline for other institutions that aim to develop centralized biomedical graduate programs. It also represents a reference for further research in the field of biomedical education management.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Health education|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Breivik, Jarle, "Leadership and organization change in biomedical PhD education: An instrumental case study of the development of a centralized organization for biomedical graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania" (2014). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3639020.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3639020

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