Healthcare research was central throughout Nicholas Watkins’ undergraduate and PhD studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but it was in Psychology 101 that he was first exposed to psychology. Environment and Roger Ulrich’s pioneering research on how the environment is constructed can affect healthcare outcomes. Watkins says realizing how this field can drive basic physical and psychological needs has given architecture “a higher purpose.” After graduating, he continued to hone his skills at a number of companies, including Cannon Design and HOK, before joining. Gensler in 2017. These days, he is also “testing” new running strategies while taking a break from specialist research.
What drew you to your research career?
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a large pool for you to wade through and draw together a lifelong passion before you realize it’s happening. Several faculty from the faculties of anthropology, architecture, educational psychology, landscape architecture, natural resources, and psychology adopted me, nurturing my multidisciplinary interest and Trust me. They are my heroes.
What was your first professional medical design research project?
Research and design of cancer centers and translational research facilities while at Cannon Design. Customers and study participants are by far the most memorable aspects of the project. To see how research has empowered them and their decisions gave me goosebumps and a feeling of satisfaction.
What design lessons from that project that you still carry with you today?
Be careful with “washing the evidence”. Society, universities, the media, project obligations and other forces form the expectation that design research that reveals a “big T” truth can be applied to every project and reinforces what the designer and the client already know. The irony is that design solutions then run the risk of being applied to a project without doing research into a particular project’s needs and opportunities.
Three healthcare projects you have carried out over the past year and your role
1 National study of outpatient experience, lead investigator.
2 Mt. Sinai PeakHealth Clinic of the Future, principal investigator.
3 Master planning based on research by Sharp HealthCare, principal investigator.
What do you like best about healthcare design research?
Research results provide simple and successful design solutions that promote quality, empathy, altruism or happiness without anyone’s awareness. Clinics and units of standardization are always interesting ones. You may see colleagues and patient visibility improving interactions while cutting down on unnecessary searches and workarounds.
What work challenges keep you up at night?
My mind races with interesting ideas, research questions, statistical modeling, insightful statements from interviews and mixed method research. I have to read boring sci-fi books with long sentences in order to fall asleep.
Three surprise items on your desk
A colorful ceramic figurine named “Cecil.”
Two sleeping British blue kittens are named “Tippi.”
3 a cup of chipped coffee covered with colorful pictures of British birds (a gift to my dad that I’ll never part with)
Outside the office, you’ll probably find me….
Write a poem or novel, read a book, have lunch by the river, or exercise. The current readings range from “Moby Dick” to “Cognitive Dissonance: Second Edition”, and lunch always includes a chocolate-covered English Toffee from a nearby candy store.
What are your new interests in coronavirus pandemic?
Now I spend a portion of my runs going backwards. I say this is supposed to help me balance. It’s also nice to see people trying to understand what I’m doing.
Dog or cat?
I love you both and also want a guinea pig, a crab dwelling, and a parrot mixed in it too.
Coffee or tea?
The coffee. If I need a real boost, then Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice.
Morning person or night owl?
I wasn’t fully human until I had coffee in the morning.
Fiction or not fiction?
I gave up trying to distinguish 20 years ago.
Window or aisle seats?
Definitely the window. It’s fascinating and calm to see how quiet and beautiful the world is from a great height. I never got tired of it.
How did you make your first dollar?
I picked strawberries for 5 cents each.
Your karaoke song?
Aimee Mann’s “Momentum” (mercy for poor souls to listen).
The first album you ever bought.
Sheryl Crow— “Tuesday Night Music Club.”
Cocktail of choice?
Your hidden talent?
Back jump rope.
If you weren’t a researcher, you would be …
I love what I do. I can’t think of anything else.
You have an unreasonable fear of …
Doll. Why would anyone like a human or a miniature child who just stared at things? It’s not natural.
The last game you played?
My kittens love to play search and I always find that this makes me happy.
Quote “Today could be the day I mistook for someone important.” – Hyacinth from “Maintain appearance”.
Characters in the movie Toni Collette plays anybody in any movie.
Activity weekend Spend time with my nieces and nephews.
Band / music artist The killers.
Application / website Science every day.
Have a snack while you travel Black licorice.
Ice cream flavor Cherry Garcia or Rum Raisin.
Team Cardinals St. Louis.