Executive Leadership

The College of Science is guided by a team of leaders, pioneers, scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, writers and researchers. They influence thinking, inspire ideas and create new innovation.

Hazel Sive, PhD

Dean, College of Science
Professor of Biology

Dr. Hazel Sive became Dean of the College of Science, and Professor of Biology at Northeastern University in June 2020. For twenty-eight years prior, she was Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. She is a research pioneer, award-winning educator and entrepreneur in the higher education space.

For the Northeastern College of Science, Dean Sive has the overarching vision of building excellence in research, education and innovation, with the following goals:

  1. Build a Diverse College Where Everyone Belongs
  2. Empower Education Across Learning Communities
  3. Shift the PhD Paradigm
  4. Connect Solutions to Crucial Research Challenges
  5. Promote a Successful Faculty
  6. Construct a Framework for Growth

A native of South Africa, Dr. Sive received the BSc in Chemistry and Zoology, from University of Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg, South Africa, where she was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2022. She received the PhD from Rockefeller University.

Dr. Sive’s groundbreaking research focuses on neurodevelopmental disorders, as well as fundamental processes underlying brain and craniofacial development. Recipient of numerous awards, in 2022, Dr. Sive was elected a Fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science.

Dr. Sive is a distinguished educator, and MacVicar Faculty Fellow, MIT’s highest undergraduate teaching accolade. An accomplished leader, Dr. Sive was Associate Dean of the MIT School of Science; Founding Director of the MIT Jameel World Higher Education Lab; and Founding Director of the MIT-Africa Initiative. At Northeastern, Dr. Sive is Chair of the Africa Global Initiative.

“As Dean, I’m often asked about my Goals for the Northeastern University College of Science. Now that we have written this Strategic Plan, I’m thrilled to answer that these are OUR Goals, not only mine, but goals across College of Science members. Together, our goals make a powerful statement, that we will realize for a stellar future.”

Dean Sive’s Letters to the COS Community

2023 Letters
2022 Letters
2021 Letters
2020 Letters
December 2023

Gratitude – 12.15.2023

There is one thought in my mind this week.

Gratitude

On so many levels, I feel surrounded by gratitude.There are the immediate ones – gratitude for being alive, for being able to feel the chill wake up of winter air, for being able to see the lovely pale winter sky. For being part of the mystical existence of life. Gratitude for my family, so beloved. Gratitude for dear friends, and gratitude for wonderful colleagues here, and around the world.

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Competence – 12.01.2023

I hope everyone had a peaceful, pleasant Thanksgiving break.

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Reading – 12.08.2023

My mom encouraged us to read everything. Books will never hurt you, she said, and that remains largely true. Comics she was not keen on, so I read those at friends’ houses. I’m a huge fan of fiction, immersing you in human emotion, adventure, and underappreciated, a conduit to many fascinating facts. You never know what you’ll learn when you start exploring written material, and there’s always something interesting. I’m reading Mantel Pieces right now, brilliant book reviews that are insightful, funny and sad. I look through multiple newspapers every day – from the erudite analyses of the NY Times, Washington Post, and my favorite the Guardian, to Daily Mail with impressively snappy reporting. The Boston Globe is great. Our excellent Northeastern library has multiple subscriptions you can freely access.

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November 2023

Words – 11.17.2023

Tell me, what’s your favorite word? __________________________  For elegance, I might pick ‘evanescent’ meaning ephemeral, fleeting, momentary, or transient. According to Merriam Webster, while all these words mean ‘lasting or staying only a short time’, evanescent suggests a quick vanishing and an airy or fragile quality. To me, the word is mysterious and poignant, with a nice ring. But the term ‘favorite’ is quite vague and can mean varying things to each person.

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Some Good News – 11.3.2023

We need good news. For our mental well-being, we need a counterpoint to everything worrying. So, this week, let’s find some. We won’t forget about deeply troubling current situations or diminish their importance. But let’s take a different view right now.

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Daylight Savings – 11.10.2023

One time, I was in London visiting my dear cousin Jane, and set my alarm to make an Amsterdam flight next day for a conference around Xenopus (frogs). On waking, I was puzzled to see that the times on my wristwatch and phone were different. Maybe the battery in my watch needed replacing? Jane was still asleep, but I thought the phone must be correct, and hurried to the airport. Later, I learned that the UK also has daylight saving time, and I happened to visit right over the change. Who knew?

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October 2023

The Meaning of Life – 10.27.2023

We worry about events in Maine, events in the Middle East, in Ukraine and elsewhere. I deeply hope that your loved ones are safe. Please remember that we are a Diverse College where Everyone Belongs.

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The Helpfulness of Routine – 10.20.2023

Long ago, in a drafty house in Seattle, when the heating came on every morning, our lovely dog Rufus would come over to the vent next to the bed and position his nose into the blowing warm air. After half an hour or so, Rufus would shake off, and put his front legs and head on the bed, so that when I stirred, there were two beautiful, brown eyes looking right into mine. And it was time to get up, for our walk! I could count on Rufus, and the cadence set my morning routine for the years we were postdocs in that little house.

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Focusing on what you can control – 10.13.2023

The first war between Israel and her neighbors that I remember was back in 1967. Though it was called the ‘six-day war’, implying closure, peace in the Middle East remains a dream unfulfilled. The present devastating violence in Israel and Gaza is horrifying in every way. My deepest prayers and warm wishes for the safety of your family and friends in the region. I hope they have food, shelter and medical care, and you are in contact.

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Let's hear it for Plants! – 10.6.2023

I am 60% owner of a small succulent, initially entrusted to me when my daughter left for college. I have little talent in house plant care, but there was no one else. Five years on, it is still with me, now a proud co-owner, and even after I dropped it and broke the pot, the plant is doing quite well, with a multitude of little ones. This year, during Home Renovations, the plant has moved between Airbnbs, seeming content in its Starbucks tray.

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September 2023

Being Seen and Heard – 9.29.2023

This week, I was infuriated to see a 2022 video and report detailing how a young gymnast in a line of others being given participation medals, was totally ignored by the official handing out the medals. The gymnast passed over was Black, the others were not. When challenged, the official (of Gymnastics Ireland) said the mistake was ‘an honest error’ and ‘not intentional’. Wow. The family of the girl had to demand an apology, itself shocking. My stomach hurts thinking about this. How do you simply not see someone? How do you simply not see someone who happens to be Black? And how are you (and Gymnastics Ireland) not ashamed of your disrespect?

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Easing into Fall – 9.22.2023

Moving gently out of summer, we’re at the culmination of the season’s new life. The small sparrows splashing in the rain outside Churchill, the young campus rabbits enjoying delicious grass, the leaves still fresh after our damp summer, and the late blooming asters.

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Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy of Science – 9.15.2023

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a hilarious commentary intertwined with thoughtful philosophy, around the significance of humans and planet Earth. It started as a BBC radio play that gained a cult following, and became a TV series, movie and quintet of books. The author, Douglas Adams, rewrote the material many times, so the plot and order of events changes depending on the medium. I would recommend the books. I read the entire series to my daughter when she was in high school, and we both laughed a lot, even though some of the humor is British or a bit historic. For example, the main non-earth character named themself Ford Prefect.

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A Number of Things – 9.8.2023

When I was little, every Friday, my mom went to the Central News Agency store to pick up a bundle of magazines that had come to South Africa by ship from England. Among these were three for children – my brother got Boys Own, my sister got Bunty, both on newsprint and with contents considered appropriate for boys or girls. I was the youngest and got Jack and Jill, printed in glorious full color. There were stories, puzzles and two items I liked best. One was the Village in the Morning, and the Village in the Evening. The same view of some idyllic hamlet, drawn with cottages, shops in the center, a schoolhouse, surrounded by lush fields with sheep and a gentle river. The village was populated by children, moms who stayed home, and dads who worked elsewhere (and of course, no ethnic, gender or racial diversity was depicted). In the morning there was the milkman on his rounds, there were the children walking to school, moms getting wash on the line, and then off to the greengrocer or butcher. Shopkeepers were opening their stores with attractive displays of vegetables, meats, and groceries. And side by side was the early evening picture, dads coming home, children playing outside in the dusk, moms taking a pie out of the oven and stirring the pot of delicious supper. It was clearly not real, even to me as a child living in Apartheid South Africa, where most of the population did not have enough food, decent housing or schooling. But I hoped the cozy pictures could someday, in some way, be real for everyone in my country.

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August 2023

Summer Reading – 8.25.2023

At the very end, on reflection, how has your summer been? New England has been not too hot, and plenty of rain has made up for the lack of snow last winter. But earlier, massive rain devastated parts of Vermont, and elsewhere, extreme heat and fires, including in Maui, have made for huge hardship and challenge. I hope your family and friends in affected areas are safe. I hope despite this bad news, your summer has been mostly positive.

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July 2023

Good Dogs – 7.28.2023

Without dogs, my life would have had more stress, less love and might well have taken a different path. I’m amazed that one can have a deep friendship with another species, and that with a dog we can share huge emotion, understanding and caring.

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June 2023

Golden Age of Science 6.30.23

This week a tooth infection flared up, and I am deeply grateful for helpful antibiotics and an expert endodontist attending to the future of my tooth. How different than the 1500’s encapsulated by summer viewing of The Tudors and Henry VIII (or Six, a fun rock retelling to which my daughter pointed me). In those days, the only option was to pull out the poor tooth, without painkillers or clean instruments.

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May 2023

Zoomusicology 5.19.23

Kruger Park is an extraordinary South African national park, comparable in size to Israel or New Jersey, well managed for people and animals. Some years ago, my parents were visiting and there was to be a sunset orchestral concert near a waterhole, that supplied elephants and other animals. As people gathered for the concert, a herd of elephants was finishing up and starting to file away, the matriarch first, then the mothers with babies and the young males last. As they were leaving, the orchestra began to play. My mom said that theelephants all stopped, stood for a minute and then the matriarch turned and led her group back to the side of the waterhole.

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Sustainability 5.12.23

Do you know what a CO2 pipeline is? Me neither, until Wednesday when I heard an NPR item on the topic. The premise is that CO2 produced by human activities can be prevented from leaking into the atmosphere, through transport along pipelines to permanent underground storage facilities. Sounds complex and questionably effective. The pipelines, like other types – oil, natural gas for example, can be dangerous and can rupture. There are ~5,000 miles of CO2pipelines in the US presently, scheduled to be increased more than ten-fold in the next few years, with pipes often traversing disadvantaged areas.

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Graduation Celebration 5.5.23

It’s that time again, the week before Commencement, and everything is almost in place. Our College of Science ceremony is May 4, and thank you! to everyone who has volunteered. It will be a wonderful celebration! Speaking of celebrations, congratulations! to all COS Awardees, what a fun event we had yesterday, and thank you to the organizers! Congratulations! to all COS Tier 1 Awardees! And thank you! to faculty who contributed to the important Humanics Workshop this week.

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April 2023

Advice - 4.28.23

It’s that time again, the week before Commencement, and everything is almost in place. Our College of Science ceremony is May 4, and thank you! to everyone who has volunteered. It will be a wonderful celebration! Speaking of celebrations, congratulations! to all COS Awardees, what a fun event we had yesterday, and thank you to the organizers! Congratulations! to all COS Tier 1 Awardees! And thank you! to faculty who contributed to the important Humanics Workshop this week.

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Seasons Change – 4.21.23

Archer, our very senior dog can manage only a short evening walk now, but we always pass a tree that I’ve been rooting for, so to speak, almost all its life. It was planted around a decade ago and confronted by 80 inches of snow that first winter. The snow bent the trunk almost vertically downward, and I thought it would snap. But in spring, to my amazement, the trunk more or less straightened, and the tree made a few leaves.

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Spring Clean Up – 4.14.23

It’s been around twenty years since we did home renovations. The basement bathroom is disintegrating, the original 1938 kitchen cabinets drip sawdust, floor tiles treacherously protrude, the roof leaks and yesterday, the front steps collapsed. So, we have embarked on a home improvement strategic plan, with exciting findings. For example, demolition of the basement bathroom revealed that one wall was only a sheet of now-rotten wood, that when removed revealed a creepy underground passage extending deep into the earth. Of course, fixing this required unanticipated investment in a sturdy cinder block wall and some loads of earth. Renovations come with their close partner – Clean Up.

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Traditions – 4.7.23

Passover is the tradition I know best this time of year, that involves some unique foods. The dish called haroset represents the mortar that enslaved Israelites in Egypt used for building. Haroset often includes finely chopped nuts and apples, but the rest is open for play. My mom made hers with walnuts, raisins, apples and wine but it was a little bitter and watery, so I evolved a version with pecans, dates, raisins, apples and honey which is totally delicious and has become a new family tradition.

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March 2023

Help, Spring – 3.31.23

And this week, the sleepiness of Winter in the natural world rapidly dissipated. On Krentzman Quad the allium bulbs have sprouted, and rabbits are enjoying the bright shoots.  A neighbor’s garden is a carpet of snowdrops and little blue star flowers whose name I don’t know. And my favorite chipmunks, having been cuddled up in their burrows, are venturing out. There is a lot of scurrying in Spring, and how wonderful are the longer days.

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Women in Science – 3.24.23

Let me ask you: how has it been to be a woman in science? And this question is for anyone who identifies as a woman in the College of Science, faculty or staff. It’s a big sample size. So how is it going? How has it been? Do you have a story or two to demonstrate? I have a basketful of anecdotes on the topic.

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We have a Plan! - 3.17.23

Way back, on October 21, 2022, I shared with you that we were launching a Strategic Planning process. I shared that our plan would address important contributions of the College of Science to the future of academic science and the future of Northeastern University, supporting the Northeastern academic plan. And I shared that it would be a plan from us all, with the opportunity for input from every College member.

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Hands-In - 3.3.23

Every day, we give our College of Science students opportunities way beyond a two-foot square plot, but the idea is the same. Learn by routing about, hands-in, growing to understand where you want to put your talent and time. Thank you and congratulations! to every staff member, every faculty member for contributing to our important, wonderful experiential landscape.

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February 2023

The Winter Bear - 2.24.23

One of my favorite books (geared to all of us young readers) is The Winter Bear. It has lovely illustrations, perfect for this time of year, where the skeletons of trees stand out, there are bits of snow, and a pale sun. It’s also a perfect story because the arc is so clear: three children go for a walk, find a stuffed bear stuck in a tree, run home amidst a sudden snowstorm, and install the bear in a cozy armchair. Any story with a clear arc is satisfying, even comforting, where the beginning, middle and end are seamlessly linked. (There is a beautiful song of similar name with a pretty good arc, if you look).

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Listening - 2.17.23

Let’s ask one another, and carefully listen to the answer: How is your week going?Let’s not be satisfied with a one-word answer: Good or Okay or BusyLet’s ask more: What’s been the best part? What’s been the biggest challenge?And if it seems right: How can I make your week better? Listening, and being heard, may be the things that count most towards belonging, and in our work to be “A Diverse College where Everyone Belongs”. I am eager to listen, please tell me what’s on your mind.

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the Three Laws of Robotics - 2.10.23

The very recent earthquake that has had devastating impacts in Syria and Turkey is fresh in our minds. Warmest wishes to those of you with family and friends in these areas, and we pray that each of your loved ones is safe.

You’ve surely heard of ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence platform that can interact with you online (a ‘chatbot’). ChatGPT is particularly talented at understanding questions and formulating information, including adequately writing some homework assignments. There is excitement and alarm over theplatform, including how it may undermine academic honesty.

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ChatGPT - 2.03.23

This week marks the start of Black History Month, on a somber note as we are reminded yet again of the horrendous systemic racism persisting in our country. A Black man, Tyre Nichols died after a brutal beating by police following a routine traffic stop. The episode makes me weep. We must affirm that in the College of Science and at Northeastern University, we embrace a culture of respect, where each person is valued for their contribution and is treated equitably, and where each person belongs. We oppose racism. We do not tolerate any form of discrimination. We strive to have diverse membership and commit to promoting equity and anti-racist policies through education and action.

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January 2023

Spring Semester - 1.27.2023

This week has brought devastating news of shootings in California, and the horror of Tyre Banks killing is beginning to unfold, among other troubling events. I hope your loved ones are safe.  When the task list seems too daunting, when the troubles across the world seem too much, I sometimes escape by wondering what life would be like if Earth were the size of Jupiter. Would that dilute our issues, by spreading them around a greater area, or would more appear to fill the space? About 1300 earths could fit into the volume of Jupiter. The planet is no target for human habitation – mostly helium and hydrogen gas, liquid deep below to make a huge, electrified ocean. Did you know that Jupiter’s day is only ten hours, making it the fastest-spinning planet in the solar system?

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Helpful - 1.20.2023

‘Helpful’ is wonderful. Someone who can turn unclear into understanding, who can answer questions, who can give fair support. And don’t be shy to ask for help, in my experience, the answer is almost always positive. Sometimes the request for help is distant, but real. Our Food Drive and your outstanding response was helpful in such a way. Thank you for contributing! Sometimes, there is ‘co-helpful’ that goes in both directions, and both people involved in the discussion are assisted.

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CONNECTIONS to the Future - 1.13.2023

Trying to keep track of science in the news is both inspiring and daunting. Every week, our COS Monday CONNECTS highlights some of the important publications and grants from members of our community. You can find science news aggregators, but I draw on what’s in several regular newspapers. As usual, news this week divides into good, bad, and interesting.

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December 2022

Satellites - 12.9.22

I love the flight path indicator on a plane, to see how high and fast you’re flying and where. Particularly fun is the full earth globe you can rotate, to look at places that are nowhere near your destination, but exotic possibilities. All this comes from satellite images, and Google Earth is a fantastic use of these data, despite some privacy concerns. That you can find your house, check out another location, or get (mostly correct) directions is terrific. In the excellent movie Lion, Google Earth helped Saroo find his home. My house shows up with a swing set from long ago in the garden. Google Earth is a great example of where science, engineering and computation can meet, with stunning application. Indeed, satellites are one of the few realizations of space technology that exceed predictions of science fiction, which by now would have projected we could all readily zip around the universe.

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Collaboration - 12.2.22

My first collaboration was during an undergraduate research project, titled ‘An Investigation into the Effect of Crowding on Growth of Xenopus laevis Tadpoles’, a creative melding between the fields of ecology and developmental biology. Turns out that crowded tadpoles grow less rapidly than those spread out, and my project was to figure out why. I thought that the crowded populations might eat less than uncrowded and measured this using a radioactive tracer. Later, I harvested each tadpole and counted the number of radioactive emissions. There were hundreds of tadpoles, so I got lots of data, and had no idea what to do with it. My advisor told me to do statistics, but I had no idea what that meant. You need a collaborator! he said and sent me to his colleague in the Math department. It was a bit daunting, but the senior Professor listened respectfully and kindly as I explained the point of the project, what data I’d collected, and how I had been advised to do statistics. He recommended using the Students T-Test, writing on a piece of lined paper the steps to figure out whether crowded and uncrowded tadpoles ate significantly different amounts. (They did not, so a re-think was needed there). I was so grateful for the guidance, and that collaboration was an empowering life event.

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November 2022

Get One's Teeth Into - 11.18.22

My second-grade friend Beverly and I were playing an innovative follow-the-leader game around the house, one with eyes open leading the other with eyes closed. Walking side by side, Beverly leading me, I suddenly collided hard with something, jolting my head and front teeth. Turned out, Beverly had walked through a door, and I had walked into the wall beside it. My mom drove me to Dr. Hotz the dentist, who said luckily the teeth were not shattered, although one front tooth was missing a chunk and there was a crack across the one next door. The chunk is still missing, the memory indelible.

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Honor - 11.4.22

Walking by Curry last week, I was thrilled to see Cooper and his handler NUPD Officer Rachel Joliffe coming towards me. As you likely know, Cooper is a magnificent golden retriever who nonchalantly accepts the love of hundreds of Northeastern students, faculty and staff every day. There’s something about a sweet dog that gets deep into the soul and comforts. As we approach Veterans Day this year, which has the theme of Honor, we acknowledge the terrible aftermath of combat on our troops. Service dogs can be enormously helpful for veterans, although the funding to train these dogs has not yet been approved at the federal level.

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October 2022

Underworld of Traffic - 10.28.22

Driving along route nine this week was a descent into the underworld – blazing red lights amidst dense foggy rain, the pace glacial. Van Halen on WZLX could not make a dent. But along that road there’s a spot where a movie from my mind pops up, that conjured away the fog. It’s a balmy summer afternoon, after my daughter’s impressive trapeze performance at circus camp, and we’re driving home, suddenly very hungry. Rosie’s Bakery is conveniently right there, and we opt for a large box of apricot rugelach, right out of the oven. Back in the car, we eat almost all of them, a beyond perfect bite, that can still brighten a gloomy rush hour.

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Planning Strategically - 10.21.22

At its best, goal setting can be a mind-stretching, useful exercise – an opportunity to reflect, synthesize and think deeply about next steps. When the mind is free and playful, creative ways to do business, new ideas and important insights can result.

As you know, I’ve set goals for the College of Science that are specific enough to give us direction, and general enough to allow evolution:

  • Commit to a Culture of Respect and Action towards Equity
  • Communicate the Good Power of Science
  • Solve the Greatest Research Challenges
  • Promote Innovative and Global Education
  • Reinvent the PhD
  • Increase Undergraduate Research
  • Build an Entrepreneurship Landscape
  • Define Space and Work for the Future

We’ve made excellent progress in most categories and are poised to address others.

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Animal Experimentation - 10.14.22

This week you might have read how human neurons, the cells that receive and send signals around the nervous system had been implanted into a rat brain. The human neurons thrived and integrated into the rat brain so that when they were stimulated, the rat’s behavior changed. This is another step in the surprising understanding that cells can ‘self-organize’ to form small bits of human organs, called ‘organoids’. These can assist in understanding disease and devising treatments that can help. In this study, to assess function, the brain organoid was implanted into a rat brain. Is it ethical to use rats as hosts for human neurons, possibly bits of the human brain? How much of the rat brain can, and should maximally, be replaced by human cells? The answers to these complex questions include data and opinion, ethics, in other words.

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Bravery - 10.7.22

In the building where I used to work, there was an alcove that was a nesting place for falcons. For a while, a falcon cam allowed community members to spy on the lovely birds even before they hatched. We saw the babies learn to pull apart a pigeon or duck their parent had provided, we watched their down replaced by big bird feathers. And we watched the adolescent falcons gearing up to fly. They would stretch their wings and run back and forth along the length of their space, getting the feel. After some days, if you were lucky, you could catch one of them standing at the edge of the alcove where it opened to the sky, flapping its wings, taking a little hop forward and then a hop back to safety. You could see the bird getting up courage, becoming brave enough to take the first flight. I never saw that but did see the nest empty next day. On the Novartis building across the street, were two falcons perching on the sign. They took off, circled and came back, maybe parent and fledgling, and the day after they were gone.

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September 2022

Freedoms - 9.30.22

Freedom is a well-used word that carries weight, promise and challenge. I like the notion of three types of freedom: “freedom from,” a freedom from constraints; “freedom to,” a freedom to do what we want to do; and “freedom to be,” not just to do what we want, but a freedom to be who we are. Then there are the Four Freedoms proposed by President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1941: freedom of speech and expression; freedom of worship; freedom from want and freedom from fear. All of these can provide a useful framework for real events, as Associate Dean for Equity, Randall Hughes and I discussed this week.

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Taking Time to Play - 9.23.22

Last week I joined a tour of the CILS Imaging Facility in ISEC, with the expert guidance of Professor James Monaghan (Biology). CILS is an important part of the Northeastern research landscape, and the Imaging Facility is wonderful, with highest tech microscopes, that can see deep into cells, often in a living animal. There are microscopes for K-12 students to experience the magic of imaging through Biobus-Northeastern, led by Assistant Professor Vivek Venkatachalam (Physics) and James Monaghan. It’s the best imaging facility in Boston, and a great place to play.

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Finding Time for Yourself - 9.16.22

What an unbelievably busy, complex beginning of the semester. Regarding the Holmes Hall incident on Tuesday night, multiple law enforcement agencies have determined that the campus is safe and secure. As you know classes, research, and all other campus activities resumed on Wednesday, and continue. There is an ongoing investigation into the incident. ‘Quiet quitting’ is such a new term that Google searches for this began only in August. The idea though is not so new, and the term seems to mean ‘doing the minimum to keep your job’.

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Welcome to the New Year! - 9.9.22

There is Mr. Dundon, handing out blue notebooks for the new year – Saxonwold School, fourth grade. You know them, flimsy blue 5×8 lined notebooks, with deep significance because they are a chance for perfection. Unmarked, pristine, waiting to begin a flawless year. Of course, by lunchtime (cheese and tomato sandwich, apple) that path is lost, my name written crookedly on the cover and the first page already including crossings out. No surprise really. But the opportunity to be better, possibly perfect, in every new year never stops being enticing.

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Summer 2022

‘How is your Summer?’ 7.29.22

There are some bad things happening. Severe heat, terrible fires, and floods.  Ongoing revelations about the shameful January 6 post-election events. Devastating fallout from rescinding abortion rights. Further racial violence. Harm and ominous threats to the LGBTQ+ community. COVID in its next wave, relentlessly continuing to impact so many lives. If you get sick, please rest plenty and take care until you are better.

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Helping to Fly the Plane - 8.26.22

One time, I was on a flight from Seattle to Phoenix, when darkness started moving down my head – from the top, into my forehead and approaching my eyes. I felt pressed into the seat, and it was hard to breathe. My first thought was that I was ill, but a glance at my neighbor showed she was feeling the same. A flight attendant was running up the aisle. Without warning the plane went into a steep descent and in seconds we could breathe, and the darkness was gone. Sometime later there was an announcement that we had lost pressure, and that both primary and backup systems had failed. Aha. My second thought was where were the oxygen masks? It seemed the perfect opportunity for these to deploy.

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May 2022 Letters

A Troubling Start to Summer - 5.27.22

Whatever may be imperfect about our k-12 education system, school is wonderful. Caring teachers help you learn interesting things, you make some friends, and there is free breakfast and lunch if you need it. For some kids, school is a safer, less stressful place than home. And school is there, a reliable destination that parents count on every day.

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Power of Community - 5.20.22

This past week has been all about the power of Community. Northeastern Commencement at Fenway last Friday was brilliant: a mix of academic gravitas and joyous celebration. Our COS students all shone, but two stood out as part of the platform presentations. Tolu Faderin, a Behavioral Neuroscience major, gave a wrenchingly beautiful performance of the National Anthem, while Adwoa Sefah, a Cell and Molecular Biology major was the brilliant undergraduate student speaker.  When I greeted College of Science graduates, their roar of celebration was also a shout of knowing that they belonged here in the College of Science at Northeastern University. Because of your teaching and mentoring, they will carry with them the good power of science and find a vast set of career possibilities. Congratulations!!

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Reinventing the PhD - 5.13.22

You surely remember your experience as a PhD student, and now, as faculty or staff you may have contact with our College of Science PhD trainees and see how they are doing. I remember being honored to have the opportunity of a place in graduate school, and incredulous that it was sponsored. The research was interesting but difficult, and I worked incredibly hard, sometimes alone in the lab at night and generally lonely. I had no idea what came next. My thesis is on a Richards office bookshelf, and although I’m proud of the work, I would say my PhD training was a mixed experience.

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Addressing Commencement - 5.6.22

This week, I am thinking what to tell our students in the College of Science Commencement Ceremony next Tuesday evening. Thank you to everyone participating! Thank You Enormously to Assistant Dean Amber Watson and Associate Director for Graduate Administration Melissa Rubock for their huge and expert work in organizing this.

Writing a talk is always interesting. There should be a thread, and one take home message. The beginning is key. If you lose your audience then, you’ve lost them for good. There should be an arc and a return to the beginning to give a polished finish. I love to build talks out loud and to try lots of beginnings. Most get thrown out. But I don’t worry, because there’s so much possibility, so many stories to tell. At some point ideas coalesce and there’s the thread.

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April 2022 Letters

Northeastern Burlington Innovation Campus - 4.29.22

This Tuesday, a group of us (me, Associate Dean Erin Cram, Associate Dean Sam Inman, and Assistant Director of Space Planning and Safety Sarah Stanton) took a trip to our Northeastern Innovation Campus at Burlington. Burlington is a close Network site, but quite different from the hustle of our Boston campus. I’ve visited multiple times and admired the Life Sciences Testing Center, but without the full tour. For now, there is free parking, and the 14-acres is open and quiet. We connected with Associate Dean Jared Auclair, who is also Director of BATL, and runs an industry-focused research group at Burlington; Peter Boynton, CEO, George J. Kostas Institute (KRI); and Professor Deniz Erdogmus, CTO, KRI.

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Urban Wildlife - 4.22.22

Right outside my kitchen door on Tuesday was a turkey. It was smart in glossy brown, striped and spotted feathers, making its gobbling sound. My yard is fenced to keep the dog in, but the turkey had entered somehow, and now looked contemplatively at the neighbor’s yard. It’s amazing to me that turkeys can fly at all, given their shape, but it must be true, for in a moment the turkey was next door. Urban wildlife seems very important. Our urbane, campus squirrels foraging outside Cabot, the rabbits on the lawns by Curry, the confident robins all over, and bumble bees bravely seeking out Northeastern flowers outside Richards. They give us a true glimpse into a different life. For most people (and 70% of us now live in cities), it may be the only wildlife you see. The privilege of seeing an elephant or kudu in the wild is rare, and even in a zoo it’s not so frequent, and can you truly love and respect animals you’ve never seen for real?

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Evolution and Religion - 4.15.22

When I was 21 and teaching Science in Neasden High School, London, I was volunteered for a debate titled ‘Evolution vs Religion’. The venue was one of the science labs, which was incredibly noisy and packed with kids. My opponent was a dapper math teacher, who vociferously laid out his case that evolution was a failed theory, and that creation was the only truth. Armed with undergraduate knowledge, I bravely represented natural selection as more than a theory, but he was well-equipped with rhetoric. When the bell rang, my adversary huffed off, declaring himself victor.

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Awards - 4.8.22

The ability to understand a reward goes way back in animal evolution, well before animals with backbones arose. The reward system is part of how we’re motivated to get things done and includes some powerful neural circuits. Unfortunately, these same circuits become mis-directed in opioid or other addictive disorders. In our day to day, as you know, rewards acknowledge something well done, like a small cup of salted caramel ice-cream when you finish putting together next week’s homework problems or submit a Report on time. Awards are often more public than Rewards, often less delicious, and usually more formal with a citation. There are fewer Awards than rewards but let me say that every person in the College of Science deserves an Award for Important Contributions Made in AY21-22. Congratulations! to each of you, for how you contribute, collaborate, and connect across the College of Science and Northeastern University.

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Discovering the Unexpected - 4.1.22

How do you know what you don’t know? At a deep level, understanding something really new is the foundation of scientific discovery. You poke around at the edge of your knowledge, and maybe a bit cracks open to reveal something unexpected. Unexpected discoveries in science are thrilling. The discovery of the antibiotic penicillin is a paradigm, uncovered after a lab bench was left uncleaned for a couple of weeks. Dr. Alexander Fleming was the owner of the bench, and he might just have tidied the mess and moved on. But, and here’s what’s important, before he cleaned up, he noticed that some two-week old bacterial cultures had become infected with mold, and that the mold was killing the disease-causing bacteria. The mold contained the chemical penicillin, that went on to save more than a hundred million lives. It was careful looking and thinking about effects of vacation time on the bacteria that was crucial.

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March 2022 Letters

Spring! - 3.25.22

The topic is Spring. The word is Frenetic. It’s true in our schedules, and I feel like one of the birds in my garden, spending the entire day collecting, strategizing, doing. I know each of you is inundated with deadlines and challenges. As always, please accept my most sincere thanks for dealing with the huge workload, I know it is a lot. Please remember that your contribution is truly important to building the Good Power of Science.

Spring is a reliable, expansive, explosion of cell division and growth, of every living thing waking up and getting going. Almost every religion or culture celebrates Spring. The push is enormous, as emphasized by a tree I passed once in Jamaica Plain, its base encased in concrete, harshly pruned to accommodate wires and walls, nonetheless enthusiastically sending out pale leaves and pink blossoms.

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Bennett's Comet - 3.18.22

Long ago, at exactly this time in March, Bennett’s Comet swung by the Southern Hemisphere, discovered by an amateur astronomer. I was deeply interested in the stars myself and would spend evenings scanning the skies with binoculars and copy of The Southern Stars by Patrick Moore. It was a huge thrill to find some blurs near the horizon that were probably the Magellanic Clouds, companion dwarf galaxies to our Milky Way. Wanting more magnification, I saw an advertisement in Scientific American for a book called Amateur Telescope Making and my dad allowed me to order it. It was a small book covered in grey paper, even today on my bookshelf. The local planetarium sold supplies, and following directions, I ground my own lenses by rotating two six-inch discs of glass against one another, so one became concave (the lens) and one convex. Next steps involved polishing the lens with increasingly fine emery paper and rouge, and then coating it with silver (from reduced silver nitrate) to make a mirror. The culmination was mounting the lens in a cardboard tube and attaching an eye piece. It didn’t matter that the lens was not successful, and nothing was in focus, the thrill of having made my own telescope was enough.

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A celebration of women - 3.11.22

Although International Women’s Day may smell like a commercially constructed event, in fact its origins go back to 1909. According to Wikipedia, “International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global holiday celebrated annually on March 8 to commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women. It is also a focal point in the women’s rights movement, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women.”

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Boulevard of Broken Dreams - 3.4.22

The pandemic has been amongst the ten worst experienced by humanity. There is nothing to counter the conclusion that this has been a defining event in each of our lives, whose damage will not fully go away, except perhaps for the youngest kids. The past two years have been, in the words of Green Day, a ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’. The link to their official, bleak video shows the song as a brilliant anthem of loneliness and despair. But now, check out another version, the live performance at a huge concert, where with the opening chords, fifty thousand young people sing in unison, the entire song. Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong gives them the mic. The faces of the crowd are joyous, because singing out the words together makes everyone feel much better, much less lonely.

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February 2022 Letters

Updates on Diversity and Inclusion - 2.25.22

The invasion of Ukraine is very bad news, and for those of you with family and friends in the region, our warmest wishes and prayers for their safety. What a worrying time.

In the wake of new legislation and policies this week in Texas and Florida, we affirm our College of Science commitment to an equitable, diverse and inclusive community, our support for the LGBTQIA+ community, including transgender people and their families.

Randall Hughes, Associate Dean for Equity and I provide this update for you on key new initiatives to promote a culture of respect and equity in the College of Science:

  1. Educating and informing our community to prevent discrimination and harassment

Discrimination and harassment are not tolerated in the College of Science. Each person belongs in our College, regardless of race, color, religion, religious creed, genetic information, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, ancestry, veteran or disability status.

Further, retaliation will not be tolerated against any person who in good faith makes a report of a prohibited offense. Any person who retaliates directly or indirectly against a victim, witness, person reporting a prohibited offense, a respondent and/or charged party, or any person involved in the investigation of a prohibited offense will be subject to discipline, up to and including termination (if an employee) or expulsion (if a student).

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Job Descriptions - 2.18.22

In a broad view, everything alive has a job, even if there is no written JD. What’s the job of your students? I asked one semester, and each found it valuable to lay out personal reasons and goals for their university education. How about a third grader? A baby? Your dog? An ant? That’s a provocative one. Gather food and materials, build the nest, keep it clean. Work as a team. Protect the pack. Sound familiar?! If we could ask, a tree would likely write that its JD is to make food, produce seeds, fend off insect attacks, and connect with other trees. On the other hand, you might think that a tree’s job is to provide shade and wood, and to help modulate the climate, highlighting an important thing about JDs. They can depend on your perspective. What you think is your job, may not be the same as your supervisor’s view, which is why goal setting and mid-year reviews are useful all around.

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The Excellence of Snow - 2.11.22

Science is the Olympics of discovery and application. The teacher who constructs a course with elegance and insight, the researcher addressing a question with stunning logic and brilliant interpretation, are some of our Gold Medalists. Often, we play team sports, working together to the finish line of scientific solutions. Excellence in Science is as breath-taking as Chloe Kim’s half-pipe skill or Nathan Chen’s quads. It’s what we work towards. But we know that in the Olympics, most athletes win no medals, and even being able to stay upright while skating on your local rink counts a lot! Everyone’s contribution is award-winning when it comes to promoting excellence in our College and at Northeastern University, across teaching, research, and expert administration. Thank you everyone for participating in the Winter Olympics of Science!

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The Wheel of Time - 2.4.22

Like fantasy villages, in the College of Science, we often know each other’s names (and can readily introduce ourselves!), and when we need special help, we seek out the expert – in HR, Grants Administration and so on. Indeed, our culture of respect values each person as an individual who brings their expertise and diverse background to fulfill our mission. Much of our expertise is held in Departments, which are ‘collections of expertise’, each of which is a ‘discipline,’ meaning ‘a branch of knowledge’. The notion of scientific disciplines stretches back to the dawn of universities, and has become labeled as a dusty, old-fashioned concept. This is totally wrong. Far from being dusty, disciplines are vibrant collections of state-of-the-art expertise, that can be put together with that from other disciplines, to learn something wonderful. No-one can know everything, that’s why we have scholars who understand algebraic geometry, quantum theory, stem cells, molecular structure, brain circuitry or coastal ecosystems. Understanding how to use this knowledge requires another type of discipline, the hard work kind, that always has valuable outcomes, and why our trainees benefit from some disciplinary education.

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January 2022 Letters

Building with Cells - 1/28/22

If you have a penchant to build your own house, here’s an 800 page book that will guide you through. To build something larger, say EXP, that we are joyfully watching rise on Columbus Ave, you will need expert input, a lot of money and detailed plans. The largest construction project underway on planet Earth may be ITER, a massive fusion reactor in France, that will produce net energy, projected for completion in 2025. Plans for ITER likely run ten thousand pages, and include thousands of expert workers, $25+ billion and 35 countries.

But actually, ITER is not the most complex engineering project around. No. So what is? Look in the mirror! It’s you! Building a person is way more complex than any human-made construction. And there is no crew to hire, no book of plans to purchase. Rather, people get built all the time, quickly, perfectly and at pretty low cost, raising the question of how the hugely successful Construction Industry of Life works so effectively.

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Thank You! - 1/21/22

Across every unit, COS members have been infected with COVID, and the symptoms can be debilitating. Please look after your health, get medical treatment and stay home until you feel better – rest and sleep are essential to full recovery. In our recent Community Meeting, we named this the ‘Supportive Semester’ as faculty and staff of the College support one another and are supported across Northeastern. Please let your department or program chair, or your manager know if you have to be away, and be in touch with me or one of our Associate Deans as needed.

Please reach out with worries, needs and ideas.
Come by the Dean’s Office if you need a mask, some candy, a hello, help.

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Civil Rights - 1/14/22

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. played a pivotal role in promoting freedoms for African American people, advocating non-violence and civil disobedience. In 1964, at age 35, Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize. The world was shocked at his assassination on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in cities and states throughout the United States beginning in 1971, and at the federal level in 1986.

This coming Monday we respectfully honor the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Civil Rights Movement. This year we have a small relief that some justice was served in two cases where civil rights were violated: the murderers of George Floyd and of Ahmaud Arbery have been convicted and sentenced. In our College, we continue to build a landscape of respect and belonging, with action towards equity and justice. We stand strong against racism, and towards policies of justice in the College of Science and at Northeastern University.

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Welcome to 2022! - 1/7/22

We are entering the Spring semester with uncertainty and challenge, as you know. In our powerful Northeastern pandemic tradition, we will be in person, and I’m optimistic that we will manage. Projections from our Network Science Institute led by Prof. Alessandro Vespignani indicate that the Omicron surge will peak by mid-January, which is good news for the rest of the semester. But some of you and your families will become infected, and some of your students. Please use high quality N95 or KN94/95 masks to help protect yourselves. How will you help absent students continue their learning, how will you cover your class or other work if you need to quarantine or are feeling ill? How can we encourage students who have lost so much opportunity for learning? All the while, please pay attention to your well-being. Running the semester is a huge responsibility, and the only way we’ll succeed is by working together and supporting one another. Further thoughts are below, and we’ll discuss this in our COS Community Meeting next week.

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December 2021 Letters

Warmest Wishes for a Peaceful Holiday - 12/17/21

It is stunning how tough this year has been. Again. We pray that your family and friends in Kentucky and neighboring states are safe. How relentless the bad news, the demands, the challenges. It is stunning how hard you are all working. But it’s also stunning to see your successes. Every week I am thrilled to learn of your innovative teaching approaches. Of outstanding advising. Of top-quality organization and stewardship across the College. Of donations from wonderful supporters. I’m honored to see the prestigious awards and research grants our faculty have won. Every week I learn of your amazing research findings. In this tough time, the power of Higher Education, of Good Science and our work has only increased in importance – to guide students towards a productive yet peaceful life, and to contribute solutions towards the toughest problems on earth. As the late bell hooks said in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom: “The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy”.

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The Magic of Science - 12/10/21

Some years ago, I organized a conference on Developmental Biology and set it to music. The opener was ‘It’s a Kind of Magic’, by my favorite band Queen. The audience seemed taken aback at being blasted with rock music, but I wanted to acknowledge that the embryo seems truly magical. Every talk was based on the extraordinary truth that each of us came from one tiny starter cell, that made 100 trillion more cells, and those built themselves into your organs, which connect seamlessly to make your whole self. Check out the amazing process in zebrafish. Though I’ve worked in the field for decades, the magic (and music) never diminish for me, even though we know actual mechanisms involved.

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Restfulness and Obligation - 12/3/21

It is the nightmare of every family, every friend. Someone you love goes out and does not come home. Ahmaud Arbery went out for a run, and never came home. Some men shot and killed him while he was peacefully jogging, because he was a Black man. Almost, they got away with the murder, but sometimes, our legal system prevails and the murderers were convicted just before Thanksgiving. There is no waking from this nightmare, but there is some justice and retribution to slightly temper the heartbreak of losing Ahmaud Arbery.

I thought about violence and justice while in rural Vermont last week, where I saw almost no-one on my daily walks. There were snowflakes periodically, and bare trees soft grey as they slept. In the winter countryside, the night is wonderfully dark and the quiet almost total. It’s easy to rest there, to be restored and good to remember that the constant barrage of heinous or hateful acts reported in the news does not permeate everywhere. I hope your Thanksgiving was similarly peaceful.

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November 2021 Letters

The close of November - 11/19/21

As a wonderful outcome of our work to educate, last weekend saw Commencement 2020. Thousands of students and their families came back, determined to celebrate at their beloved university. On Friday evening, our team of Associate Dean Kevin Thompson, Assistant Dean Amber Watson and myself helped welcome graduates back to Northeastern. Next day, in Matthews Arena, I was so proud to present each COS graduate with an alumni pin, and so proud of student speaker, Bioengineering and Chemistry graduate, and Rhodes Scholar Kritika Singh, accompanied by Prof. Oyinda Oyelaran, one of her mentors. President Aoun recounted the emotional context of shutting down everything back in March 2020, while Chef Ming Tsai urged everyone to make kindness a central part of their lives. Totally. We are all trying so hard, accomplishing, failing, learning, trying again. Being kind and encouraging is the only way to go.

We observe the Thanksgiving holiday with prayers of remembrance and gratitude. We remember those we personally lost, ever loved and in our hearts. We may be filled with gratitude – I am grateful that we can meet in person again, even amidst the continuing COVID threat. I am enormously grateful for your partnership in moving the College of Science forward, for the good of all its members, and for the good of Northeastern University.

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Honoring Veterans - 11/12/21

Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans – living or dead. It originated on November 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I and became a national holiday in 1938.  Yet we cannot acknowledge veterans in a meaningful way in just one day. Associate Dean for Equity, Randall Hughes encourages that we should listen to their voices, advocate for mental health and other support, and hold our military and political leaders accountable to address discrimination and harassment in the military.

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Power of Higher Education - 11/05/21

Education is wonderful work, important and exciting, but also difficult and intense. And this semester is unlike any other. The COVID-class of students is upon us. Across multiple departments, I am hearing of students not equipped to deal with their academics, perhaps because the last two years of high school involved lackluster online learning, even cheating, just to get by in the frightening, unreal pandemic. And that missing education is showing now, across all levels. It puts a huge stress on students not equipped for their rigorous Northeastern academics. And it puts a huge stress on you, our faculty, who are burned out, even mid-way through the semester, after eighteen months of relentless and changing teaching needs, and sometimes larger class sizes to meet our huge enrolment increase. What enormous pressure for faculty who are trying to do what you love and to meet your own high standards under difficult circumstances. Thank you to everyone in our departments who is strategizing how to help students succeed in their classes and qualifications, in the face of these unprecedented challenges.

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October 2021 Letters

Balancing Time - 10/29/21

I’ve never understood the term ‘work-life balance’. Are we not alive while at work? Sometimes this is called ‘work-leisure balance’. For those of you who rush home to the unpaid job of parenting or other caregiving, the notion of work-leisure balance is a bad joke. But there is something important here – a comfortable time distribution between your job in the Northeastern College of Science and the rest – maybe an ‘individual time balance’.

In the odd ‘work-life balance’ term, there’s a ‘work is bad’ connotation, that is wrong for me, and I hope for all of you. I think work is wonderful! What a great opportunity we have – to empower students and to promote the highest quality research in the framework of good Science. Working together, we are building excellence in every sphere. Every job in our College is important, and thank you everyone, for your contributions to meeting our exciting, groundbreaking College and Northeastern University goals.

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The Languages of Science - 10/22/21

How do we build the future of the COS? I like building from the ground up, so started by asking ‘what is a College of Science’?  Interestingly, I could find no general definition, so looked more broadly for definitions of ‘Science’ . The results were totally boring, for example: ‘Science (from Latin scientia ‘knowledge’) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world’.

Is ‘Science’ then, and our College of Science an artificial construct, or a relic from long ago? Absolutely not! There is a living, important and wonderful framework for Science, and for a College of Science. Some time ago, I formulated a set of “Great Languages” and ranked them according to broadest usage. There is no judgment in this ranking, just a semi-quantitative ‘usage’ metric, and it’s fun to use different size fonts to represent usage. My terming of language is “a set of related concepts and principles, forming a grammar and vocabulary, that can be used to communicate, create and answer questions”.

By this schema, the most used Great Languages are MathematicsPhysics and Chemistry since they are languages of the entire Universe.  Biology is certainly the language of our planet, governing all life on earth. The ‘Human Languages’, no less important to people, are the ones you might think of first – Spanish, English, Chinese etc together with the languages of humanities, arts and design – Philosophy, History, Music etc. Coding comprises a set of recent languages, with increasing usage. Engineering is a powerful synthesis of many languages. My fellow Deans can frame the crucial landscapes of their Colleges brilliantly, the only goal here is to frame the College of Science.

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Gender Equity - 10/15/21

Our faculty members include brilliant women across every sphere of Science and at every level. But we need to worry why women are so poorly represented in many departments. For example, in the tenure stream, our Physics and Mathematics department faculty run below 15% women, and in Chemistry only 25%. These numbers are representative of most universities indicating the attrition of talented women in these areas, at stages of training before they would enter academia. The underlying reasons are complex but have a lot to do with expectations from even before birth, early childhood education, k-12 schooling, societal stereotyping, lack of access to affordable childcare, and rigid academic tracks. Our College can’t fix everything, but we can fix academic landscapes – we think that women faculty percentages will increase after reworking archaic practices, by hiring right out of the PhD, by hiring cohorts, promoting collaborative research and devising tenure assessments that acknowledge teamwork. All of course, within a culture of respect, where everyone listens carefully to one another, and respects the contributions of every College member.

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Celebrating the Truth - 10/08/21

You may remember the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s book 1984. They had the job to rewrite history, so it fit the propaganda. It was where Winston Smith worked, who became so disgusted with his assignment and society that he sought to escape, and find the real truth (unfortunately, with no happy ending).

I wonder often what is ‘real’. When I need something unequivocal, the maple tree in my yard is a help – the rough bark under each finger and the view up the high trunk confirm with every sense that this is real. But assessing the truth behind news reports, history, or anecdotes is so difficult that ‘fake news’ is now a scholarly field.

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Tenure - 10/01/21

By the time I came up for tenure consideration, what I cared about was that my research group had made really interesting findings. We had asked how organs of the body get put in the correct place, or as a student subtitled his thesis: ‘why your brain is not in your big toe’. This topic is both fascinating but also crucial for families seeking causes of birth anomalies. I cared about the wonderfully bright group of trainees who had chosen to work with me, and that I had been able to raise funds to support the work. Tenure was a milestone, but not the point.

The thing you may know about tenure is that it comes with a very long term contract. University tenure is described by the AAUP as originating to protect ‘academic freedom’ allowing faculty the ability to express opinion without fear of retribution. I had thought tenure was like academic regalia, dating back 1,000 years, but actually it is quite new, beginning in the 1940s.  Tenure has been criticized as not useful, unfair, and responsible for promoting narrow, elitist research. Indeed, shorter contracts can be a reasonable substitute. But I think with proper understanding and mechanism, tenure remains a viable system, that can maximize the high impact research carried out at a university.

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September 2021 Letters

The Slow Way to the Moon - 9/24/21

The only part of the movie AD ASTRA I liked was the beginning, a commercial flight to the moon, that seemed pretty accurate. It looked as uncomfortable as regular air travel, except that pillows and blankets ran $500. When you arrived, there was an escalator, a sign at the top reading Welcome to the Moon (0.10-0.22), and security with dogs in the arrival hall. The car ride after was cool, an open rover driving along the dusty moonscape under a pitch-black sky and earth hanging there. It was not clear how long that future trip took, but generally moon flights carrying people run about three days, and a lot of fuel, to cover the quarter million miles from earth.

Did you know though, that there’s a slow way to the moon? It takes around four weeks and uses much less energy. Rather than the straight shot of escaping earth’s gravity and heading on a direct path to the moon, the slow way puts a craft into increasingly wider elliptical orbit around earth, using earth’s gravity to push the apogee further and further from earth, and closer and closer to the moon. Eventually the craft is captured by the moon’s gravity and switches into moon orbit. It’s very clever and although the distance traveled approaches four million miles, the trip costs a fraction of the straight shot.

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The BeeGees and the importance of collaborative research - 9/17/21

You’ve likely heard a BeeGees song – the 2017 estimate was that one of their hits played on the radio every twenty seconds. I had vaguely discounted them as a run of the mill pop group until I came across an interview with Barry Gibb, the last living member, and started digging around. In fact, their music is fantastic (click on the *links), and as a bonus, their interesting story suggested some excellent tips for Science research.

From modest beginnings in England, and later Australia, the Gibb brothers – Barry, and twins Maurice and Robin – formed the BeeGees and were pre-teen TV stars with confidence and great harmonies. Back in England the group became hugely successful, largely by popularizing ‘disco’ through their Saturday Night Fever* score (although the genre later became a racist/homophobic target). For 27 consecutive weeks in 1978, seven songs written by the brothers were #1 on the US charts, and they held five of the top ten slots for even longer. Eventually, radio hosts refused to play their songs and held BeeGees-free weekends!

The parallels between the effective BeeGees working style and the important collaborative research we’re promoting at Northeastern are quite interesting. For example…

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A Full Experience - 9/10/21

The term ‘normal’ is loaded. Some years ago, my research group explored this as applied to neurodevelopmental and mental health disorders, that our studies address. We quickly decided that ‘normal’ should be removed from our vocabulary, since it implied ‘correct’ or ‘best’ and ‘abnormal’ implied something opposite. In fact, we were part of a wave of understanding, and terminology has become ‘affected’ and ‘unaffected’ as pertain to most disorders. These more recent terms acknowledge differences between people, that although many of us are affected by some mental or physical challenge, none of us is ‘abnormal’, and I am deeply glad that term has dissipated.

‘Normal’ cannot describe this new academic year either, as we cautiously learn to live with COVID. At Convocation on Monday, our new undergraduates, masked and vaccinated, were thrilled to join Northeastern in person, totally excited to be Huskies. President Aoun promised our students a ‘full experience’, which is a brilliant way to put it. On Thursday, we regrouped to hood our PhD candidates – the classes of 2019, 2020, and 2021, becoming one of the few universities to honor doctoral graduates in person. Northeastern has been a paradigm for how to keep the full experience going in the face of a global disaster, and each member of our community should be truly proud to have contributed to this effort.

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August 2021 Letters

Important Lives - 8/20/21

You know the scenario – while turning on the shower, a moth flutters up. It’s one of those beautiful white ones with wings carefully outlined in black and small yellow spots on either side. But moths are not built for water, and a drop or two sadly sends the little animal down the drain. Every life is important, and this week brings ongoing news of many lives in danger. In the fires of the western US, earthquakes in Haiti, the turmoil in Afghanistan, tropical storms in our country and abroad, in the rising number of COVID cases. We send warm wishes for the safety of your family and friends in these regions or affected by the virus.

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July 2021 Letters

Meetings - 7/23/21

When was your first meeting? Preschool maybe, when you were in the Moonbeam class? Morning Meeting, with a hello song and what was going to happen that day. You picked at your socks, drew on the soles if you had a crayon. Because Morning Meeting was a little slow. And you wanted to get going and do stuff, preferably pedal a tricycle on the outside track as fast as possible.

In the College of Science we broker lots of encounters through meetings. Meetings have a bad reputation – useless, waste of time, too many, are common complaints. But I love well organized meetings that have a point (scroll down in the link to ‘Meeting for Success’). Snappy, carefully led meetings give useful information, unexpected insights and important ideas. Seminars, especially those not in your field, often introduce a technique helpful for your research, and casual meetings are great ways to exchange the latest data.

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June 2021 Letters

Ramping up for next semester - 6/25/21

Across the country, we are shocked by the Miami building collapse, and pray for the safety of those affected, and for your family and friends there. We send warm wishes for the safety of your family and friends in countries still so burdened by COVID-19.

In better news, now in official Summer, my bird feeder is in demand from first to last light. Parent birds bring their babies for a snack, and a young bunny comes to look for dropped seeds. The large shallow bowls I’ve filled with water are in constant use for a drink or a splash. Seeds are up and almost flowering, the Borage miraculously returned. Last year I gave up trying to grow a lawn, letting the moss and small plants thrive, and the results are soft, peaceful, and a great environment for insects. But perhaps the best part of summer is pulling on a trusty pair of flipflops, my unconstrained toes enjoying seasonal freedom!

READ THE FULL LETTER.

May 2021 Letters

Out of COVID, Into Summer - 5/28/2021

Here in Massachusetts, we have the highest percentage of vaccinated people of any US state, so we are feeling safer and more confident. Restrictions are easing, and at Northeastern in accord with state guidelines, masks will soon be optional everywhere for fully vaccinated peopleYou are not required to remove your mask. Indeed, for certain medical conditions, the guidance is to be careful. I plan to keep masked in various places, not only because a smart cloth mask has become part of my dress, but because it can be private and protective. Over the upcoming flu and cold season, we all might do well to keep a mask or two at hand. Please do whatever is comfortable, within Northeastern guidelines.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

Thank you for the honor of this collegial, productive, mind-expanding first year at Northeastern - 5/21/2021

Almost one year ago, on June 1, 2020, I became your Dean. It was a week after Mr. George Floyd had been murdered by police on May 25, and in the midst of a terrifying global pandemic. Northeastern was new to me, as was our College and almost all of you. I was your fourth Dean in almost the same number of years. It was clear that if we were to go forward in the landscape of racial injustice and within the uncertain pandemic framework, we needed to work together as one Community. We needed an overarching value of respect, with a clear statement against systemic racism and towards an equitable College.

Over the year, we’ve met mostly as 1×1 flat images, and I much look forward to seeing you in person. You’ve come to know me – that I have a funny accent, am very positive, and a hands-on Dean full of ideas, who is always thrilled to hear new ones! I have come to understand the top-quality research that is performed by many of you, the top-quality education you give our students and the top-quality administration and staffing that runs our departments and units.

Northeastern was my destination because it seemed the most innovative university around, a place where we could invent the future of higher education, and that is true! Northeastern has become my home, and I am so happy to be part of this great College and University.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

Congratulations! You've done it! - 5/14/2021

My favorite piece of philosophy is the short essay by Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus. Camus looks into the bleakest situations and comes out with a positive view. Sisyphus was condemned to roll a boulder uphill forever, a dismal existence, but Camus understands that the effort Sisyphus makes is the point of his life. At the end he concludes: The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.’ I have a printed stack of this essay ready to give to anyone whose confidence is down, who is in need of encouragement. It’s encouraging to understand that your effort to achieve is enough (and usually gets you somewhere).

READ THE FULL LETTER.

At Northeastern and in the College of Science, we are re-thinking higher education and the university - 5/7/2021

This is graduation week! With exciting in person processions all week on campus, and Commencement in person on Saturday and Sunday at Fenway, how great is this! Again, Northeastern is leading the way, with many universities opting for virtual graduation ceremonies. I am honored to present our College of Science graduates, and my cap, gown and hood are ready. This is a time for CONGRATULATIONS, and my greatest gratitude to each of you who has taught, guided, facilitated and inspired our students. There would be no graduation without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The notion of degrees is as old as universities, with the University of Bologna, Italy in continuous operation from the 11th century granting the first degrees. This week I addressed several College graduation celebrations, including the following, generalized for this letter.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

April 2021 Letters

You can count on the power of Science - 4/30/2021

We are watching with deepest concern as India is ravaged by COVID-19, and now South American countries are contributing a large percentage of global COVID cases. We extend heartfelt and most sincere hopes for an improved situation to our College of Science faculty, staff and students who have family and friends in India, or in other countries severely affected. We hope that international efforts to send medical supplies and vaccination materials will rapidly assist. Here are some ideas you can consider to help India through this crisis.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

Let's make every day Earth Day - 4/23/2021

When I was a student, a requirement for the Zoology major was the Insect Project. You had to collect at least 100 different insects, kill them in a bottle with ethyl acetate, and mount them according to convention using pins and a cork board. I collected 100 exactly, because I did not want to kill more than the minimum, but some of my classmates built elaborate cabinets and presented thousands of different species, some quite rare. Professor Passmore told our class that insects would be the last animal group to survive on earth (after the feared nuclear wars). You can irradiate them and they are untouched, he told us. They will survive anything.

I must have had that notion firmly in my mind, because it was an enormous jolt to learn a few years ago that the insects of our planet were in drastic, devastating decline. There has been a 2.5% decrease in insect mass per year for the last 25-30 years, even in what are considered pristine forests. Extrapolating, within a century there will be none, zero insects. This outcome is thought to result from destroying habitats, especially by agriculture, compounded by pesticide use. Without insects as food, huge numbers of bird, frog, lizard and mammalian species will not survive. Neither will the many predators of the insect eaters. Many flowers will not be pollinated, impacting our food and crops. With this knowledge, last summer, while driving along I-93 towards Vermont, I noticed a butterfly flying on the side of the highway, and realized how daunting to be that small animal, confronted by a wide, busy road with nowhere to alight.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

Solving the greatest challenges of our planet - 4/16/2021

We’re surrounded by complex problems, in science, in society and often across science and society. If you’re looking for a definition, complex problems are solvable only through multiple approaches and disciplines’. You know some of the complex problems waiting to be solved – climate change, racism, homelessness, ‘a cure for cancer’. When these problems become political, there is pressure to find a quick fix, but that does not exist, and the absence is construed as failure.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

Life’s best moments are about taking small but empowering steps - 4/9/21

Right at the start of the pandemic, last March, when we were truly terrified, and the whole thing seemed a nightmare in which we were stuck, I was walking my now routine loop. Dropped on the sidewalk was a Ziploc bag of green grapes – twelve, taken off their stalks. Some water droplets told me these were carefully washed, perhaps someone was taking them to work, perhaps an essential worker. I walked by, but kept imagining what would happen – over days the grapes would start to rot, and someone would stand on them to make a squishy mess. This bothered me so much that next day I went back. The grapes were untouched, and I opened the bag then tumbled them onto the verge. I took the bag home, washed it and put it in my ready-to-use box. Next day, two of the grapes had disappeared, three the next, then all were gone. I suspected a family of racoons I’d seen crossing the road nearby had been pleased to find the delicious fruit. The whole thing made me feel a bit better, that even in this unbelievably scary moment, one could take a tiny step of useful action.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

Hooray for RNA - 4/2/2021

This week I had my first COVID-19 RNA vaccine shot – Pfizer, at a CVS in Belmont. The nurse was top notch and the store employees serious about running an efficient, careful process. The nurse noted that everyone was excited to get their shot (me, too). I was pleased that my arm hurt after, suggesting that my body is responding to viral Spike protein made because of RNA in the vaccine, and starting to produce protective anti-viral antibodies. Back in my thesis days, it would have been hard to imagine hundreds of millions of people being injected with vaccines made of bits of RNA packed in fat droplets. When I was a PhD student, describing the medical applications of RNA in a grant proposal was wishful thinking.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

March 2021 Letters

Revising our pandemic brain circuitry - 3/26/21

During the COVID pandemic, we have done a lot of learning. You probably now readily remember to wear a mask when you go outside, and you avoid getting too close to non-pod people without thinking twice. The landscape is quite familiar, because each of us has formed some new neural circuitry. We have also been enormously stressed, and Covid Stress Syndrome is real. Please take care of your mental health, and seek help as you need it.

There is writing now on fear of being normal, post-COVID. Some of this has to do with revising our pandemic brain circuitry and it will be a jolt to try and lose this. I can’t now imagine feeling comfortable going out mask-less. It will help to reactivate pleasant, socializing circuits that have been dormant for a year. We will have to build up again these old pathways, even while remnants of the pandemic persist.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

Every person is valued - 3/19/2021

Once more this week, we witnessed horrific violence against Asian people. This morning Associate Dean Randall Hughes and I sent to the entire College a letter (included in our March 5 Update) that reiterates College support for our Asian community, consistent with the message this week from President Aoun. The College of Science is committed to a culture of respect and action towards equity, and is a place where every person is valued, and where each person belongs.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

A varied society - 3/5/2021

There has been disturbing news lately about hate crimes against Asian people.  I wanted to understand the definition of this term, and found on the US Department of Justice site: “When used in hate crime law, the word ‘hate’ does not mean rage, anger or general dislike. In this context ‘hate’ means bias against people or groups with specific characteristics, and the ‘crime’ is usually a violent one. 

READ THE FULL LETTER.

After the transition to remote work - 3/12/2021

This is COVID Anniversary Week. One year ago, the World Health Organization acknowledged a worrying new infectious disease, and we locked down to avoid catching and spreading it.

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February 2021 Letters

Perseverance Award - 2/26/2021

The Martian lander, Perseverance has a name fitting this past year. It was launched in the depths of the pandemic, July 2020 and made the long trek to Mars, arriving last week. The landing video is so exciting, and I especially like the end where you see the scientists celebrating in the JPL control room. They are women, men and people of varied races, a huge shift from the early uniform demographic of NASA personnel.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

The rich ‘connectome’ of our College - 2/19/2021

The still brilliant TV series ‘Connections’ explores how current technologies were shaped by contributions from historical, geographical and societal landscapes, over thousands of years. Host James Burke poses complex questions like ‘how did the touchstone (early money) make square sails obsolete, develop the compass and lead to invention of radar?’ Take a look, the episodes are on YouTube and as surprising as ever. They remind us how discoveries in science often lead in unanticipated, important directions.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

A smooth Spring semester - 2/12/2021

We are moving towards Spring! I am sure of this, because even in the frigid weather, the sunlight is staying longer each day, and there is no need for a flashlight on my dog’s afternoon walk. I am sure we are moving towards Spring because there are buds on the rhododendrons and magnolias, magical groups of cells waiting for the moment they can wake up, and make flowers.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

Honoring Black scientists - 2/5/2021

This is Black History Month, and a time to affirm our College of Science and Northeastern commitment to anti-racist policies, to a culture of respect, to action against systemic racism and towards equity. We are working hard, and I want to thank every person in the College who is participating in our sincere efforts to meet these goals.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

January 2021 Letters

Pandemic Lessons - 1/29/2021

I wrote this a while ago for a story slam, and it seems pertinent to where we are today. “One evening last fall I drove down a hill on Commonwealth Avenue to a striking sunset scene – a flock of birds silhouetted against the bright orange sky. It occurred to me then, that I was going home and the birds were going home, and the bees were at home and the chipmunks.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

Happy New Year - 1/22/2021

The morning air has a special sharpness that I love. I think there must be a chemistry involved – an ionization driven by the new light, perhaps? (CCB members, any insight or comment on this 1903 musing?)

READ THE FULL LETTER.

Making the Dream Real - 1/15/2021

I was in elementary school when Nobel Laureate, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The news crossed the world to South Africa, from where the United States seemed a distant dream. It was a big deal though, because we knew Dr. King’s death was a blow for the Black civil rights movement in the United States.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

Gracious Professionalism - 1/8/21

The storming of the Capitol was extraordinary both in that the President encouraged this type of behavior, and in that it was possible to so easily breach security. It was extraordinary, but consistent with our history of white supremacy, that the police were so gentle with the mostly white protesters. We have seen the violence consistently inflicted on Black protesters by police. There is no doubt in my mind that had the storming been carried out by Black people, the outcomes would have been far worse.

For me, these events also highlight that being a good loser is a useful part of life. Losing is a tough and frequent life lesson, that we generally have to politely accept, and try to learn from each instance. Mr. Trump unfortunately, seems not have learned this lesson.

READ THE FULL LETTER.

An Extraordinary Effort - 12/18/2020

Speaking of famous Huskies, Balto was a Siberian Husky, a sled dog who is immortalized by a statue in New York’s Central Park. The story is complicated, and a petition indicates that the statue should have depicted another Husky named Togo. But the point is one of hope: an extraordinary effort to bring diptheria antitoxin to Nome, Alaska in 1925, so stopping the outbreak of a terrible illness. Due to a blizzard, planes could not fly and the antitoxin was carried six hundred and seventy-four miles through driving snow and -20oF temperatures by dog sled teams. Balto (or maybe Togo) was the lead dog on the final leg of the dangerous trip.

READ THE FULL LETTER

Meet the Associate Deans

Jeffrey Agar, PhD

Associate Dean of MS Education and Lifelong Learning

Jeffrey (Jeff) Agar joined the College of Executive Leadership team in 2023 as Associate Dean of MS Education and Lifelong Learning.

Dr. Agar is associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology and holds a joint appointment in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Bouvé College of Health Sciences.

He trained at University of Michigan, University of Georgia, and McGill University and joined Northeastern in 2013. He is an accomplished researcher, educator, and mentor. At Northeastern, Dr. Agar has held various department leadership roles and has been instrumental in key initiatives, including the establishment of the Biotherapeutic Analysis Training Laboratory (BATL) at our Burlington campus. Crucial research in the Agar Lab characterizes post-translational modifications of proteins and changes in protein, peptide, and lipid expression that occur during ALS, including which of these changes have structural or toxic consequences.

Jeffrey Agar's Profile

Erin Cram, PhD

Associate Dean for Research

In 2020, Erin Cram was appointed Associate Dean for Research.

As a member of the College of Science Executive Leadership team, Dr. Cram provides creative, goal-oriented leadership for funding research-based initiatives, including PhD training. She also provides strategic planning for grant proposals, identifies funding and award opportunities, communicates success stories, and promotes entrepreneurship.

Dr. Cram earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she discovered her love of scientific research. During her PhD in Molecular Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, she studied cell cycle regulation by potential chemotherapeutic compounds. Her postdoctoral studies at Princeton University on the network regulation of cell migration led to her recruitment to Northeastern University as an Assistant Professor in 2006. An award-winning scientist and educator, Dr. Cram is committed to building diverse and interdisciplinary research teams. Her current research is at intersection of cell biology and engineering, with a major focus on how mechanical forces are sensed and interpreted by cells.

Through her work with the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, as Director of Graduate Studies for Biology, and as a mentor to early career faculty, Dr. Cram has supported our students and faculty as they attain the highest levels of excellence in research. She looks forward to continuing this work on the COS Leadership team.

Erin Cram's Profile

Randall Hughes, PhD

Associate Dean for Equity

In 2020, Prof. Randall Hughes joined the College of Science Executive Leadership team as the first Associate Dean for Equity.

Dr. Hughes is Associate Professor in the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences (MES). She joined Northeastern in 2013, after earning the Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Public Policy Analysis at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the Ph.D. in Ecology at the University of California-Davis, where she also conducted postdoctoral research. Her scholarship focuses on understanding the causes and consequences of biodiversity change, and applying that knowledge to the conservation and restoration of marine systems.

In her tenure at the university, Dr. Hughes has demonstrated a consistent focus and accomplishment towards promoting diversity and inclusion. She created and has chaired the Diversity and Inclusion Committee in MES since 2017, and she has served on the College of Science Diversity Committee since 2018. Dr. Hughes has also prioritized efforts to enhance representation in her field and to develop meaningful engagement with diverse audiences to convey the process and value of science.

Randall Hughes's Profile

Sam Inman, MBA

Associate Dean of Administration and Finance

Sam Inman serves on the College of Science Executive Leadership team as the Associate Dean of Administration and Finance. Sam initially joined COS as Director of Finance and Operations in 2020, a role charged with overseeing financial planning, data and analytics, space planning, and operations within the Dean’s Office.

Mr. Inman, who earned his M.B.A. from George Washington University School of Business, joined COS with a decade of higher education and nonprofit management experience, including six years of experience at R1 research universities. In addition, he worked as a higher education consultant, working with several public and private universities on operational strategy and implementation projects. In these positions, Sam garnered experience leading or managing high-impact process improvement efforts, capital projects/renovations, and strategic planning exercises.

In his role as Associate Dean of Administration and Finance, Mr. Inman is responsible for leading the College finance, human resources, research administration, and operations teams, and working closely with the Dean and other Associate Deans on strategic projects for the College.

Erin Cram's Profile

Carla Mattos, PhD

Associate Dean of PhD Programs and Graduate Affairs

Prof. Carla Mattos joined the College of Science Executive Leadership team in 2022.

Prof. Mattos received her B.A. in Chemistry from Clark University and her PhD in Chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She did postdoctoral work at Harvard University as a Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College Fellow and at Brandeis University, supported by the American Cancer Society. Prof. Mattos was the recipient of the Boroughs Wellcome Fund New Investigator Award in the Pharmacological Sciences, a CAREER award from the NSF, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and runs a well-funded research group studying cancer-related proteins. Her research focuses on protein structure, dynamics and biochemistry with particular emphasis on Ras and related GTPases and their interactions with binding partners. She has been engaged as a consultant for several companies working on targeting Ras against human cancers.

Prof. Mattos brings to the Dean’s Office years of experience as Director of Graduate Studies for Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Northeastern. In this role, she helped build a strong graduate student association, focused on increasing student diversity in the Ph.D. program, and built student support programs such as POPS (Peers Offering Peers Support) and monthly Diversity Discussions. She is committed to innovative graduate and professional programs for student training and advancement as expert and creative problem solvers in a challenging and continually changing world.

Carla Mattos's Profile

Sanjeev Mukerjee, PhD

Senior Associate Dean for the Global University

Dr. Mukerjee joined the College of Science Executive Leadership team as Associate Dean in 2024. As the first College of Science Associate Dean for the Global University, Dr. Mukerjee will focus on College of Science global strategy, will assess our global data and programs, connect with Northeastern global campuses, and seek opportunities in various global regions.

Dr. Sanjeev Mukerjee, Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and is an affiliated faculty member of the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Dr. Mukerjee received his PhD from Texas A&M University and joined Northeastern in 1998. He is director of the Center for Renewable Energy Technology and its subset the Laboratory for Electrochemical Advanced Power (LEAP). The center aims to enhance education and research on all aspects of renewable energy and green chemistry with special emphasis on selective charge transfer at electrochemical and photo-electrochemical interfaces.

Sanjeev Mukerjee's Profile

Brent Nelson, PhD

Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

Dr. Nelson joined the College of Science Executive Leadership team as Associate Dean in 2017.

Dr. Nelson came to Northeastern in 2006 after having served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and at the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics in Ann Arbor, Michigan, He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley under the supervision of National Academy member Mary K. Gaillard.

Professor Nelson is a theoretical particle physicist whose work connects string theory to testable observations in high energy physics and cosmology. His 60+ scholarly publications over the last 20 years include highly-cited research into hadron collider phenomenology, supersymmetric model building, dark matter phenomenology, mathematical physics, and computational approaches to string theory.

With colleagues at Northeastern University, Professor Nelson established the rapidly-growing field of machine learning applications in theoretical particle physics, including the use of network science to study the vacuum selection problem, and the use of reinforcement learning as a tool to study the string landscape.

Carla Mattos's Profile

Darien Wood, PhD

Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs

Dr. Darien Wood, professor of Physics, joined the Executive Leadership Team as Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs in 2024. As Associate Dean, Dr. Wood will provide leadership in all faculty hiring, tenure, promotion, sabbaticals, mentoring, and professional development of our more than 340 esteemed faculty.

Dr. Wood received the PhD in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley and his expertise lies experimental particle physics, Higgs boson, high energy collisions of protons and antiprotons, muons, W and Z bosons.

Prior to joining Northeastern in 1995, Dr. Wood worked on key projects including the DØ experiment at the Fermilab Tevatron collider and the UA2 experiment at CERN, both dedicated to the study of proton-antiproton collisions. Most recently at Northeastern, his research has focused on high energy (13 TeV) collisions of protons with the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. In particular, he is studying events which contain a Z boson and a large amount of missing transverse momentum.

Darien Wood's Profile
Meet the Academic Chairs

Penny Beuning, PhD

Chair, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Dr. Beuning came to Northeastern in 2006 and was appointed Department Chair in 2020.

Dr. Beuning completed her doctorate at the University of Minnesota and conducted post-doctoral work at the University of Minnesota and MIT. She has been the recipient of the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation New Faculty Award, a Cottrell Scholar, an American Cancer Society Research Scholar and the recipient of an NSF CAREER Award, among other accolades.

Her research aims to determine how cells respond to DNA damage and maintain the accuracy of genetic information. As part of this work, she aims to develop DNA damage tolerance enzymes and DNA repair proteins as tools for biotechnology applications. Her lab also seeks to determine fundamental aspects of enzyme function that can be applied to protein engineering, focusing on enzymes involved in cellular metabolism.

Penny Beuning's Profile

Peter Bex, PhD

Chair, Department of Psychology

Dr. Bex was appointed Chair of the Department of Psychology in 2020.

Professor Bex holds a doctorate in Psychology from Cardiff University (UK) and first came to Northeastern in 2014. He had previous faculty appointments at Harvard Medical School, University College London and Essex University (UK)

Dr. Bex’s research uses cross-disciplinary approaches to study basic and clinical vision science. His clinical research uses behavioral and computational techniques to study the pathological processes in blinding eye diseases including Age-related Macular Disease, Glaucoma and Amblyopia. His research aims to understand the bases and implications of these blinding eye diseases with the goal of developing efficient and sensitive methods for early diagnosis and to measure the presence and progression or remediation of vision loss. Dr. Bex’s lab develops new technologies and novel therapeutic approaches that help to maximize residual visual function and promote the most effective rehabilitation interventions.

Peter Bex's Profile

James Monaghan, PhD

Chair, Department of Biology

Dr. Monaghan joined the Department of Biology at Northeastern in 2012 and was appointed Department Chair in 2024.

Dr. Monaghan received the PhD in Biology from the University of Kentucky. His current research in the Monaghan Lab studies how axolotls regrow severed limbs and repair injured organs with the goal of understanding the cellular and molecular underpinnings of regeneration that can one day be applied to treating injuries and disease in humans. Dr. Monaghan also serves as the director of the Institute for Chemical Imaging of Living Systems where an interdisciplinary team of researchers develop imaging tools to highlight chemical processes—enabling clinicians to better diagnose and treat disease. His research has helped secure 15 externally funded awards and four internal awards, and has published over 50 manuscripts in his field.

An outstanding educator to students at all stages in their education, Dr. Monaghan is a recipient of the University Excellence in Teaching Award and COS Excellence in Teaching Award, supporting over 75 undergraduate researchers in his laboratory and 11 PhD trainees. He is passionate about preparing his students with the necessary skills to succeed throughout their academic and professional journeys.

James Monaghan's Profile

Egon Schulte, PhD

Chair, Department of Mathematics

Dr. Schulte was appointed Chair of the Department of Mathematics in 2020.

Professor Schulte holds a PhD from the University of Dortmund (Germany) and joined the Northeastern Mathematics department in 1989. He held previous appointments at MIT, the University of Washington and the University of Dortmund. He previously served as acting Chair in the Department of Mathematics at Northeastern from 1998-2001.

Dr. Schulte’s area of expertise includes Discrete and Combinatorial Geometry, Combinatorics, and Group Theory.

Egon Schulte's Profile

Geoffrey Trussell, PhD

Chair, Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences

In 2012, Dr. Trussell was appointed Chair of the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences.

Dr. Trussell, who earned his PhD in Marine Science at the College of William and Mary joined Northeastern as an Assistant Professor of Biology in 2002 and was based at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center. He became the Director of the Marine Science Center in 2009, holds a joint appointment in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, became Vice-President of the Nahant, MA campus operations in 2016, and was named Director of the Coastal Sustainability Institute in 2017.

A highly collaborative researcher, Dr. Trussell’s research program currently focuses on a number of important issues in evolutionary, community and ecosystem ecology. His work emphasizes the evolutionary and ecological significance of predation risk, with an emphasis on the evolution of phenotypic plasticity and inducible defenses, the ecological significance of predation risk, and the influence of trait-mediated indirect interactions on community dynamics and ecosystem function. In addition, he is very devoted to promoting sustainability science research that focuses on advancing knowledge and developing solutions for cleaner, safer and smarter coastal communities.

Geoffrey Trussell's Profile

Mark Williams, PhD

Chair, Department of Physics

Dr. Williams was appointed Chair of the Department of Physics in 2017.

Professor Williams earned his PhD in Physics from the University of Minnesota, where he also completed postdoctoral work in Biophysics. He came to Northeastern in 2001, and in 2003 he earned a Research Corporation Research Innovation Award as well as a National Science Foundation CAREER Award. He became a Fellow in the American Physical Society in 2012.

The Williams lab specializes in the development of single molecule methods for quantitatively probing the biophysical properties of DNA and RNA and for understanding the biophysics of their interactions with proteins and other DNA binding ligands. Dr. William’s research lab has made major contributions in several areas of science, including: Molecular mechanisms of HIV-1 replication interactions; Thermodynamics and structural dynamics of small molecule binding to DNA; Eukaryotic nuclear regulatory proteins and nucleosome dynamics; and Mechanisms of DNA binding by proteins from model bacterial and bacteriophage replication systems.

Mark Williams' Profile