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Innovative Psychologist To Leave for Tufts

By Jessica E. Vascellaro, Crimson Staff Writer

A nationally recognized psychologist will depart Harvard for Tufts next semester, a year after her tenure denial surprised experts in the field.

Though she is slated to teach upcoming graduate and undergraduate classes, Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences Nalini Ambady will move into a brand new lab in Tufts’ psychology department this January.

Turned away after a decade at Harvard, Ambady received Tufts’ offer last February and accepted it in July.

Last November, many colleagues expressed confusion over how such a notable and innovative scholar could slip through the cracks.

“She represents a large commitment to diversity at the academy and she has an outstanding lab unparalleled in the department,” said Jennifer A. Richeson, one of Ambady’s former graduate students. Psychologists at Harvard said Ambady was one of the best in the field of social psychology, having won several prestigious national research and teaching awards.

In 1998, she was the first ever social psychologist to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor the United States Government grants scientists. Only several other Harvard professors have ever garnered the recognition.

“There is nobody in the psychology department on her level,” said former chair of the Harvard psychology department and Ambady’s former thesis advisor Robert Rosenthal. “She is the best at Harvard.”

And colleagues, despite having not received advance notice of the move, continue to sing her praise.

“I haven’t spoken to her in a few days but I think she told me that it was unclear whether she would be leaving in the spring or not,” said Assistant Professor of Psychology Nicholas Epley.

Epley said that while other Harvard psychologists have similar interests to Ambady’s, her work with stereotypes and prejudice is unique.

With the exception of Epley and Ambady, most social scientists at Harvard specialize in cognitive social psychology, which some have said may explain why Harvard did not extend an offer to stay.

“They may have felt that everyone had to follow their major model—and that is not the path Nalini is following,” Rosenthal said last year.

Ambady was denied tenure by University President Lawrence H. Summers after endorsement by her department and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William C. Kirby.

The University, through its spokesperson Joe Wrinn, declined to comment on the deliberations, citing all tenure proceedings as confidential.

But while Harvard turned her away, Chair of the Tufts Department of Psychology Joseph Debold said that for Tufts, Ambady is the perfect fit.

“She has interest in common with virtually everyone in the psychology department at Tufts already,” said Debold. “And she has already been in contact with many members about writing grant proposals.”

Administrators at Tufts were equally excited about the appointment.

“She has an extraordinary record of achievement and research and recruiting her is part of a strategy of recruiting emerging leaders in new fields,” said Provost and Senior Vice President Jamshed Bharucha.

—Staff writer Jessica E. Vascellaro can be reached at vascell@fas.harvard.edu.

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