More than 100 faculty, students, and staff from the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology gathered Wednesday in the Bauer courtyard to mark the promotion from associate to full professor of Kevin Eggan, Konrad Hochedlinger, and Amy Wagers. Each has made significant stem cell-related discoveries in recent years.
The event included barbecue, music, and a cake decorated with an image of the three. There was also a dunk tank — not exactly the thing that comes to mind when you hear “Harvard professor,” but entertaining, and enticing, nonetheless. Department co-chairs Douglas Melton, Xander University Professor, and David Scadden, Jordan Professor of Medicine, presided over the festivities, congratulating the trio on their achievements and welcoming them to the tenured ranks.
In mostly lighthearted (and brief) comments, Scadden talked about some of the quirky features of the job, including a strange encounter here and there, and shared the results of a Google search for the term “professor” that found, among other things, an opinion poll calling it the most overrated profession. Surveys, however, don’t capture everything, Scadden said.
“They don’t talk about the deep satisfaction that comes with a job dedicated to creating new knowledge, to mentoring young people, and that makes you part of a community that deeply cares about the world,” he said.
Of the three new professors — who mingled and chatted during the event — only Eggan braved the dunk tank, climbing onto the seat and daring anyone to try to dump him in the water. There were several hits with the big yellow softballs; the throwers seeming to relish dumping him in the drink, particularly when he was brazen enough to stand on the seat.
A dripping Eggan said that the tenure decisions of all three coming close together was particularly gratifying, because they all arrived at Harvard at roughly the same time and have come to know each other well.
“This is something you look forward to your entire professional life,” said Eggan, who came to Harvard in 2003 as a junior fellow of the Society of Fellows.
Wagers, who gave birth to her son, Henry, two weeks ago, claimed to have a doctor’s note excusing her from the dunk tank. She found out about the tenure decision while in Japan at a stem cell conference. Melton broke the news during a Skype call one morning, and, later that day, Wagers chased the sun home through multiple time zones.
“I flew back, so the day I got tenure was the longest day of my life,” Wagers said. “I’ve wanted to be a scientist since I was 10.”
Hochedlinger, more than 10 years removed from leaving the University of Vienna for doctoral and postdoctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he was relieved to find out he had survived the review process when Scadden sent him a text message saying, “Congratulations, Professor.”
Eggan said the celebration was part of belonging to a community that has grown since the department was established in 2007 as Harvard’s first to span two faculties — the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Medical School.
He’s already looking forward to the pig roast in September.