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Tania Baker named head of the Department of Biology

Succeeds Chris Kaiser, who was appointed director of NIGMS
Tania Baker, the E.C. Whitehead Professor of Biology, has been named the new head of the Department of Biology.
Tania Baker, the E.C. Whitehead Professor of Biology, has been named the new head of the Department of Biology.

Tania Baker, the E.C. Whitehead Professor of Biology and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, will become the next head of the Department of Biology on April 1. She succeeds Chris Kaiser, the MacVicar Professor of Biology, who has served as the department head since 2004.

Baker brings considerable experience as an administrator, researcher and educator to her new role. She served as associate department head for the Department of Biology from 1999 to 2004. In her research, Baker studies AAA+ unfoldases, a large family of enzymes present in all organisms that removes or recycles proteins damaged by the stresses of cellular life, which would become toxic to the cell if allowed to accumulate. Baker is uncovering how unfoldases recognize and manipulate protein components and how the cell regulates unfoldase activity.

Since Baker joined the MIT faculty in 1992, her work has been recognized with numerous honors, including election as a member of the National Academy of Sciences, as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Baker’s commitment to teaching has earned her a Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellowship, as well as a School of Science Teaching Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Education.

“Tania Baker is a distinguished biologist and an outstanding teacher who has already proven her dedication to the biology department as the associate department head and to the Institute with her service on many committees,” says School of Science Dean Marc Kastner. “Professor Baker, like her predecessor Chris Kaiser, is a former MacVicar Faculty Fellow who will, I am sure, maintain the department’s standing as a premier educator of biologists, and as a world-leading department in biological research. I am thrilled that she has agreed to take on the leadership of the department at a time when biology plays a bigger role than ever at the Institute.”

Kaiser exchanges his position as biology’s department head for an appointment as the director of the National Institute for General Medicine (NIGMS) on April 1. “Chris Kaiser has made wonderful contributions to the biology department,” Kastner says. “He has hired an outstanding cohort of junior faculty members, some of whom are now joining the senior ranks. He has established stronger connections with other departments, both in the School of Science and the School of Engineering. For example, he recently played a major role in the creation of a joint undergraduate degree in biology and computer science. His leadership in education and research will be missed as he takes on his new role at the NIGMS.”

Baker says, “I am indebted to the previous, fantastic department heads that have made the community so strong and honored to have the opportunity to give back to this community.” She adds, “I look forward to working closely with the whole life-sciences community at the Institute to continue to create the foundations that make MIT a incredible place to carry out biology research, as well as teach and learn the principles of biological sciences.”

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