EMBA Alumni at Work: Vanderbilt Alumna on Stopping Cancer in its Tracks

Lynn Matrisian amassed an enviable academic career well before she entered an EMBA classroom.

In fact, it was an unlikely place to find the molecular biologist and founding chair of the cancer biology department in the School of Medicine at Vanderbilt University. A dedicated researcher and faculty member, she spent 25 years of her career searching for answers to halt the spread of cancer.

And yet, her EMBA experience at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management paved the way for a new opportunity and ultimately is helping improve outcomes for one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

So why did a renowned faculty member – a former president of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), current member of the AACR Academy, and author of more than 200 published scientific articles – decide to go back to school?

It started with her second job. While a faculty member, she also served as a special assistant to the director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Institutes of Health, exploring ways to move benchmark research into the clinic.

“That was exhilarating,” says Matrisian. “We had some really creative ideas, and we worked hard at practical applications that didn’t cost a ton of money.”

After a while, the program’s impact diminished, and she walked away with new perspectives.

“I realized the government has some real constraints that affect their timelines,” she says. “But I was really struck by planning on the national level that was making a difference for cancer patients. I didn’t want to give that up.”

I am grateful for the training,” she says.  “I started the program with the opportunity that could be. I ended it doing what I am now. I firmly believe that I would not be as effective in what I am doing had I not had that training.

Lynn Matrisian, Vanderbilt EMBA Alumna
A New Path

Instead, she wanted to move forward by better integrating science, policy, and business to impact cancer efforts. That track required a greater understanding of business. “I didn’t really know anything about the business world,” she says. “So, like a good academic, I returned to school to learn.”

During her EMBA journey, she learned that the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – a non-profit organization with the mission of fighting pancreatic cancer through research, clinical initiatives, patient services, and advocacy – was looking for a vice president of research. “I did the interview, and I fell in love with the organization. This is what I wanted to do.”

She took on the new challenge, commuting to finish her EMBA Program and graduating in 2013.

Matrisian applied finance lessons about compound interest in analyzing cancer statistics to project the growth rates of pancreatic cancer compared to other cancers. The analysis identified pancreatic cancer as the second leading cause of cancer deaths by 2030. Her highly cited paper on the topic drew attention to pancreatic cancer, which helps increase funding for research and other efforts.

She also uses what she learned to leverage the talents and skills of her employees for the strongest possible team and to help the organization continue to grow. As a reflection of that growth, she was promoted to chief science officer, part of the C-suite.

EMBA offered a way to reach her own personal goal – making the biggest difference she can in improving the world.

“I am grateful for the training,” she says. “I started the program with the opportunity that could be. I ended it doing what I am now. I firmly believe that I would not be as effective in what I am doing had I not had that training.”

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