Paul Thompson, PhD, a professor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, recently won the top prize in an international competition called Innovations in Academia.

The awards celebrate creativity and innovation between Europe and the United States, honoring individuals whose professional accomplishments have made “a significant and lasting impact in the field of higher education and whose work and character have earned the respect and admiration of their professional colleagues,” according to the award sponsor, the University of Kent based in Canterbury, United Kingdom. Nominations were open to those who are from or who have studied in Europe and are currently working—or have worked—in U.S. higher education.

“Working in different countries is a privilege, and helps you build lifelong relationships and opportunities,” said Thompson, a professor of neurology, psychiatry, radiology, engineering and ophthalmology. “The Greek orator Isocrates was right when he said, ‘Never be afraid to travel a long distance to learn from the best.’ The Kent Awards celebrate that vision.”

The award also recognized the international scope of the work being done by Thompson as principal investigator of the Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta Analysis network, or ENIGMA. This project pools brain scans and genetic data from 33 countries to discover factors that help and harm the brain.

“We are seeing a revolution in science where people worldwide pool their talents and resources to discover better treatments for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and depression,” Thompson said.

During the April 30 event at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles in celebration of the award, leaders from academia, genetics, business and journalism from across the UK and the United States gathered to exchange ideas and build alliances. The ceremony was part of an initiative to celebrate the University of Kent’s 50th anniversary.

“I am not an alum of Kent, so it is was especially nice and surprising to be honored,” said Thompson, a native of England who studied at Oxford University. “Like USC, their university prides itself on successful partnerships across Europe and across the world.”

Many of those who attended the event noted the value of exchange programs and the life-changing opportunities when students travel.

“Here at USC—and in Kent—we are always keen to help students find opportunities overseas,” Thompson said. “And we do our best to make our foreign students feel at home. It has never been easier for scientists worldwide to help each other to find their way in science, and in life.”

– Les Dunseith