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The best part of my job is participating in the promotion of our young faculty members. Because I have to convince the other deans, the Provost, and the President that the promotion is merited, I have to give a brief presentation on the important scientific discoveries that the faculty member has made. This means I get a crash course in the frontier fields of science every year. For example, last spring I learned about Rebecca Saxe’s work, in which she used functional magnetic resonance imaging to discover a part of our brain that is used to think about what other people are thinking. I learned about Aviv Regev’s work, using rapid gene sequencing and RNA interference to determine the circuits of immune cells that decide whether to respond to bacteria or viruses. I learned about Marin Soljacic’s wireless electricity, which may someday charge up your electric car without a cable. These are just a few of the many fabulous accomplishments of our young faculty members, and getting to know these people and what they are doing makes my job one of the best in the world.
MIT has done spectacularly well over the decades in selecting the best young faculty members and the brightest students and giving them the opportunity to do great research.
You can see some examples in these pages: Laurie Boyer of our Biology Department writes about her cutting edge research on stem cells. You can read the article by one of our chemistry graduate students, Ben Ofori-Okai, who writes about his fancy optical experiments. And you can learn a little about the GRAIL project, led by Maria Zuber, in which two satellites have been launched to orbit the moon and measure its gravity to determine its internal composition.
While we are still doing well, I am very worried about the next decade. The reason for MIT’s success is that we hire young faculty members and provide them with the resources they need until they can secure government funding for their research. I think that the expected cuts in research funding are going make this much harder to do. It is taking longer than ever for young faculty members to get their first research grant; the mean age for the first grant from NIH is now about 42! We will need to provide even more student and equipment support if our young faculty members are to last until that first grant comes in.
To do this, we will need more help than ever from our alumni and friends. One donor, John Carlson, is profiled in this issue. He endowed a public lecture for our new effort on climate science. I urge you to help us. We need endowed professorships to retain our best young faculty members when other universities try to steal them.
We need fellowships to support graduate students when the federal grants disappear. We need funds to help new young faculty members establish their laboratories. The School of Science at MIT is a great institution, but we need your help to sustain it.