Campus & Community

Science Committee issues preliminary report

6 min read

Calls for supporting a wide range of approaches to science education and research in Longwood, Allston, and Cambridge

A preliminary report from a faculty committee makes recommendations about the future of science at Harvard. (Photo © Harvard News Office)

A committee of 24 leading scientists from across Harvard University – five department chairs and one dean – have produced a preliminary set of proposals for “enhancing science and engineering at Harvard” that range from continuing to invest in traditional “core disciplines” to transforming the teaching of science by implementing “hands-on learning as a cornerstone in undergraduate science and engineering education.”

• Full text of interim report (PDF)

Letter from President Bok (PDF)

Contact: B. D. Colen

In a letter e-mailed today to University faculty (July 14, 2006), Interim President Derek C. Bok noted that “Over the past decades, Harvard faculty members have made many significant contributions to science and technology and have educated many current leaders. For all our continuing success, we recognize that the world is changing rapidly.”

“At the heart of the preliminary report of the UPCSE [University Planning Committee for Science and Engineering],” Bok continued, “are proposals to lower barriers to collaboration, to facilitate cross-disciplinary efforts, to enhance the teaching of our undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, and to engage faculty and deans from the FAS, HMS, and HSPH, as well as leaders from the affiliated hospitals, in the governance of our scientific endeavors including, but not limited to, Allston. In addition, the report encourages Harvard to be bold, so that it can lead in the century just begun as it has led in the century just past.

“Harvard will need to invest ambitiously in science and engineering in the coming years,” Bok wrote, “and to consider how best to nourish new fields while sustaining its traditional strengths, many of which lie firmly within the boundaries of existing departments. The proposed investments in shared facilities should serve to strengthen all of science and engineering, not only new initiatives. Notably, the report recommends a markedly broader role for faculty members in the planning of these significant efforts through the development of a University-wide committee comprised of faculty members and deans.”

The committee was convened to “identify ways to strengthen research and education in science and engineering across Harvard, and [to] ensure that the University could capture these emerging opportunities.” It met weekly for six months, and is co-chaired by Andrew Murray, Herchel Smith Professor of Molecular Genetics and chair of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Christopher Stubbs, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and Christopher Walsh, Hamilton Kuhn Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School.

Committee co-chair Murray said that the report reflects the committee’s belief that “as we plan for our first science building in Allston, as we establish an engineering school, and as we see the rapidity with which scientific disciplines are changing, we need to step back and consider what the University must do to remain a world leader in existing disciplines, become the leader in emerging ones, and do a better job at seizing the exciting opportunities in interdisciplinary science.”

Co-chair Stubbs added that “Harvard has a strong tradition of excellence in science, mathematics, and engineering. Our committee is suggesting specific steps we can take to increase the intellectual agility of the faculty and students, so that we can respond to new opportunities.” In a letter to the faculty, the committee chairs said the “report is designed to stimulate discussion amongst scientists, engineers, clinicians, public health professionals, and other interested members of the Harvard community.”

The members of the University Planning Committee for Science and Engineering were selected by William C. Kirby, Edith and Benjamin Geisinger Professor of History and former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Joseph B. Martin, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Caroline Shields Walker Professor of Neurobiology and Clinical Neuroscience; and Barry R. Bloom, Dean of the Faculty of Public Health and Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Professor of Public Health in the Faculty of Public Health.

Over the course of the summer and first part of the fall, committee members, who come from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard-affiliated hospitals, will be meeting with faculty in all the science departments to solicit comments and suggestions on the report’s proposals. The committee is scheduled to present a final report to the President, Harvard Corporation, and Board of Overseers in December.

“We hope that the next several months will be a period of useful and constructive engagement,” said Harvard University Provost Steven E. Hyman. “The world of science is changing, and we need to find ways to both maintain the traditional single PI-model that has served Harvard and the world so well, and at the same time incorporate multidisciplinary, collaborative research.”

Among the Committee’s major recommendations were proposals to:

    • Transform Harvard’s undergraduate science education to make hands-on learning and engaging in real research a standard part of the curriculum;
    • Make important new investments in Cambridge and the Longwood Medical Area to ensure that these campuses remain vital centers for science, engineering, and medicine;
    • Maximize interdisciplinary research training for graduate students to drive innovation at the intersections of different fields, and to ensure that graduate students have the flexibility to follow their developing interests;
    • Promote diversity in science and engineering by recruiting a more representative cross-section of scholars;
    • Encourage and fund new collaborative research and promote new fields of research by establishing University-wide departments and interdisciplinary committees with powers to appoint faculty, and simultaneously support current departments and single PI labs and research efforts;
    • Build Allston as a campus with a critical mass of interdisciplinary science – including new programs in regenerative medicine, systems biology, chemical and physical biology, microbial sciences, and biologically inspired engineering;
    • Make Allston a center for public outreach and education, with a collaborative initiative involving the Harvard Graduate School of Education and science departments, to develop innovative science curricula for public schools;
    • Add 70-140 new science faculty over the next 10 years to expand science education and research at Harvard. This growth will allow Harvard to draw upon the talent that resides in historically underrepresented sectors of scientists and engineers;
    • Establish a permanent, faculty-led Harvard University Science and Engineering Committee to set policy and coordinate major investments in faculty and research facilities across all parts of the University.

Additionally, the committee recommended making major investments and upgrades in the University’s research and instructional technical infrastructure, in order to better support both research and teaching efforts.