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Harvard-bound Pinker looks back fondly over 21 years at MIT

For Steven Pinker, departing is such sweet sorrow.

Pinker, the the Peter De Florez Professor of Psychology in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, ended a two-decade career at MIT on Friday by accepting an endowed professorship at Harvard University starting in July.

"I'm excited about the opportunities at Harvard, which has a different cafeteria of disciplines compared to MIT's," Pinker said, adding that his excitement is "mixed with tremendous sadness about leaving MIT after 21 years.''

He noted that the Doonesbury cartoon in Friday's Boston Globe "referred to the highly publicized 'hissy fits' that famous professors have as preludes to leaving their universities."

"My situation is the exact opposite--I have been happy at MIT, and the Institute worked hard to keep me here," Pinker said. "I'm leaving only because I've been here 21 years and won't have an opportunity like this again, and I believe it's healthy to make changes."

Pinker, a 1976 graduate of McGill University in his native Montreal, joined the MIT faculty in 1982 after one-year teaching engagements at Harvard and Stanford. He received the Ph.D. from Harvard in 1979.

"I have many dear friends at MIT," he said, including Professor Emeritus Jay Keyser, "who brought me here as a postdoc in 1979 and then again as an assistant professor in 1982, and was my main confidant and advisor."

He also cited President Charles Vest; deans Phillip Khoury of the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and Robert Silbey of the School of Science; professors Emilio Bizzi and Mriganka Sur, past and present heads of brain and cognitive sciences; and "countless members of the MIT community," he said.

"I'll miss seeing all of them on a day-to-day basis, but happily will be just down the road, and hope to keep--indeed, increase--contact between the two universities," he said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 9, 2003.

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