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Facing Space Constraints, SEAS Hiring Slows

UPDATED: January 30, 2017 at 1:31 p.m.

Samir Mitragotri, a bioengineer developing new ways of delivering drugs to patients, will join the faculty of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in July, marking the school’s first new hire since Feb. 2016.

Mitragotri comes to Harvard from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he was a professor of chemical engineering and founding director of the school’s Center for Bioengineering. SEAS Dean Francis J. Doyle III, who came to Harvard in August 2015, also previously worked in the chemical engineering department at UCSB.

Electrical Engineering
Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Mitragotri’s hire comes almost a year after SEAS hired Cynthia Dwork, a theoretical computer scientist from Microsoft Research, who began teaching this month. The two professors are the school’s only new hires since a “bumper crop” of eight new professors—including five computer scientists—began working at SEAS in the fall of 2015.

In Nov. 2014, former Microsoft CEO Steven A. Ballmer ’77 endowed 12 new computer science hires, but the school has yet to fill all of the positions.

Accounting for the slowed faculty growth, Paul Karoff, a spokesperson for SEAS, wrote in an email that “like other units, SEAS experiences peaks and valleys in faculty hiring. Last year we had an unusually large number of successful searches.”

He added that on average, over the past six years, SEAS has hired about four new faculty members per year.

While faculty hiring and overall expansion has been a priority for SEAS in recent years, the school faces major space constraints ahead of its planned move to a new campus in Allston in 2020. Former SEAS Dean Cherry A. Murray, who stepped down at the end of 2014, said in a phone interview that she suspects a lack of physical space is the reason for the lack of new hires.

“There is not enough space to hire, and even as I was stepping down as Dean it was becoming more and more of a problem,” she said. “It’s very hard to hire faculty if there are no offices or labs for them. Until the new building comes up, we will be squeezed.”

Karoff said the shortage of space has resulted in a “slight bias” toward theoreticians—such as Dwork—over experimentalists, who require more space for big laboratories instead of regular offices.

Even with the current “acute shortage of space,” Karoff said SEAS continues to target faculty searches to areas of high need. Bioengineering, Mitragotri’s area of scholarship, is one such priority field. Despite the space constraints, Mitragotri will “have a lab at Harvard similar to the one he ran at UCSB,” Karoff wrote.

Mitragotri said he is “excited to move to SEAS for a number of reasons.” With his work on delivering medicines to patients, he said the relationship between SEAS and the Medical School was something that drew him to Harvard.

While Mitragotri said he could not speak to hiring at Harvard, he said he has seen “a tremendous increase in interest in engineering and STEM fields,” and specifically in bioengineering.

Undergraduate interest in SEAS has also skyrocketed in recent years. In the 2007-2008 school year, SEAS drew 291 undergraduate concentrators. This year, there are 943, according to Karoff.

—Staff writer Julia E. DeBenedictis can be reached at julia.debenedictis@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @julia_debene.

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