Prof Charles Prober talks about education and his secret to success
By SANDY CLARKE
What excites you? What would make you want to rush out of bed each morning, eager to start the day knowing that the role you play makes a difference in the world?
These are the questions that drive Stanford University professor Charles G. Prober, as he pursues the possibilities of bringing education to a wider audience, and making that education more interactive and engaging to its audience.
Appearing on The Leaderonomics Show alongside host Roshan Thiran, Prof Prober discussed his frustrations and hopes about current and future education models. While he focused on medical education, his vision is easily applicable across all sectors and industries to help drive forward the standards of learning.
The evolution of education
One key issue according to Prof Prober – currently the senior associate dean for medical education at Stanford School of Medicine – is transforming education into more palatable mediums, where students can learn more efficiently.
He said, “I think people have trouble sitting in a lecture hall and have somebody teach them important material for long periods of time, like an hour. For most of us, our attention spans are – best case – 10 minutes before we start to lose focus, and that’s becoming even shorter.
“So, it became clear – when one looked at the lecture halls where medical students were supposed to show up, they were often quite empty because the students would actually prefer to watch videos of the lecture.
“In fact, I published a piece in the New England Journal of Medicine that talked about a new model for medical education. I think what should be happening when you’re interacting with learners is, interacting with learning.
“So, moving from being the sage on the stage where you’re trying to tell a bunch of people something, to be the guide by the side – working with students in a very interactive and lively way.”
Tips for success
As a leader, Prof Prober is a respected figure in the worlds of medicine and education. The secret to his success, he reveals, is that he makes sure to keep his mind sharp by reading, exercising and – most importantly – keeping an open mind.
He said, “There’s no replacement for reading, whether it’s reading books or articles. Certainly, I keep myself up-to-date by being enriched by the colleagues around me; I get a conversation about what’s relevant, what we care about – whether it happens to be clinical care or the latest research, or education.
“I’m often at international meetings, meeting new people who think differently – and that helps to reframe my thinking while I’m trying to keep it current.
“I’m addicted to exercise, so I have to do a certain amount of exercise each morning or the day doesn’t seem to work. I’m also addicted to reading the New York Times in hard copy, but I think a person’s morning routine is highly individualised – it really depends on the person.”
And what’s the importance of looking to others for guidance on how we learn? For Prof Prober, it’s all about knowing what resonates with you.
He said, “I observe people in different leadership roles and take away from them what seems to work for me – what I regard as great strengths that they have in their success. I think it’s about hearing from others, observing others, trying what works for you and discarding that which does not work for you.
Collaboration is key
Another key area that helps to bring success, according to Prof Prober, is the ability to collaborate, to come together and work to solve a particularly complex problem. As the old proverb says, to go faster, we go alone; to go farther, we go together.
According to Prof Prober, “Collaboration is a richness in the environment. That means, for example, having different faculties working with each other. So, having the business faculty, engineering faculty, and the medical school faculty taking on a particular type of problem. None of those particular faculty types might necessarily solve it on their own.
“There’s a bio design programme at Stanford that’s been incredibly successful, and it’s been successful because students are brought together from business, engineering, and medical school who focus on the problem from different perspectives.”
Collaboration certainly appears to be crucial, and it’s something we can all see at work across the globe, be it in politics, business, education, tech, or medicine. But in order to be able to contribute to the collective, what sort of enhancements can we look for in ourselves? How can we become the best of who we are?
As Professor Prober advised, “I’ve had the good fortune of being able to follow my passion. So, my advice to young and older people would be to identify and follow your passion. Follow it with a principled and consistent approach – I don’t think you will go wrong.
“The Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan, said, ‘While I try my best to be just like I am, everybody wants you to be just like them.’ I would say be careful of that: be just who you are, and to thine own self, be true.”
For the full interview with Prof Charles Prober, watch the video:
Sandy is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. He has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.