Joining the NIH STRIDES Initiative team as a Senior Project Manager in October 2018, Thomas Shaw came from a highly experienced technical background: graduating in 1986 with a BSc in Computer Science from the University of North Dakota, Shaw gained experience as a Director at the American Red Cross, the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, NASA and independent filmmaking. His career has been an intermingling of technology and healthcare, but this is no coincidence: Shaw claims that the challenges of the former and the inherent significance of the latter made it an ideal combination. “What’s most important to me is ‘what am I doing? What's the project in mind?’” he explains. “When it comes to healthcare in the US, I'm always curious about how we can advance.”
Asked what he views as the hallmarks of an exceptional leader, Shaw highlights three qualities: serenity, sincerity and vision. “First of all, an effective leader has to be able to keep both themselves and other people calm under pressure. Secondly, they have to build trust with the people they're interacting with on a daily basis, whether it's their staff or the general public. Third, they have to demonstrate that they’re always doing their best to give people a roadmap, or, if they’re not sure of how to proceed, reassurance that, although the answer isn’t known yet, they are working on it and will feedback asap.”
Recognising the NIH as an organisation devoted to positive change and making a difference in people’s lives, Shaw became the first project manager brought onboard for the STRIDES Initiative and appreciated the team’s open workplace culture: “You can go to anybody and ask for help and people will, regardless of what the issue is,” he says. “At the same time, all of the cloud service providers we are working with display an identical attitude and commitment: It's not ‘we can't do this’, rather ‘how can we do this?’ and that's a wonderful environment to be in.” This aspect has proven particularly crucial because of STRIDES’ sheer scope: integrating data from NIH (27 Institutes and Centres) and NIH-funded institutions (2700 separate Institutes and Organisations) comprising research on topics ranging from tooth decay to vaccines), the amount of information necessary to carry out the project is truly immense.
With regards to the STRIDES Initiatives’ future, Shaw is optimistic that over 100 NIH-funded institutions will have signed up and enrolled before the end of 2020, citing a substantial uptick in the usage of cloud resources since the beginning of spring. He intimates that the ‘new normal’, or the revised attitudes to work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, could mean that STRIDES has come along at the perfect time. With remote working and a focus on the practical convenience of digital, organisations have awoken to the benefits of operating in a cloud-based system. Now that the collaborative ecosystem, of which STRIDES anticipated, is starting to become essential to the future of research, Shaw adds that his team’s mission will be to optimise and make it as affordable as possible. “I think, if we develop a superior model, other universities will pick up on the idea and buy into the STRIDES programme. Then, down the road at some point, maybe even corporations will do the same.”