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Tania Baker steps down as head of the Department of Biology

Alan Grossman to serve as interim department head
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Tania Baker and Alan Grossman
Tania Baker and Alan Grossman

Tania Baker, the E.C. Whitehead Professor of Biology and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, will resign her role as the head of the Department of Biology, effective May 31. 

“I am happy and honored to have been able to help the department,” Baker said. “I especially enjoyed mentoring the junior faculty, assisting in hiring several exciting new faculty and learning about their research, and helping with the implementation of new teaching models for the department. I am now looking forward to having more time to focus on research and writing. I am indebted to my excellent Associate Department Heads, the Executive Committee, the Education Committees, and the staff, who were essential in making this large and diverse department function as a cohesive unit."

When Baker was appointed as department head in 2012, she brought considerable experience as an administrator, researcher and educator to her role. Baker has been part of the MIT faculty since 1992, serving as associate department head for the Department of Biology from 1999 to 2004. Her research, which investigates how AAA+ unfoldases enzymes recognize and manipulate damaged cellular proteins, has earned her numerous honors, including election as a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow to 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 has made a number of critical contributions to the Biology Department during the time she has served as Head,” said Michael Sipser, the Barton L. Weller Professor of Mathematics and interim dean of the School of Science. “She has been instrumental in the career development of many junior faculty members, mentoring and supporting them while overseeing their promotions and tenure considerations. Under her leadership, the Biology faculty members in the Whitehead Institute, the Koch Institute, and in Building 68 have seen greater coordination and cohesion. I have greatly enjoyed working with Tania. We will all miss her forthright presence on Science Council."

Until a permanent department head can be appointed, Alan D. Grossman, the Praecis Professor of Biology and associate department head of the Department of Biology, will lead the department.

Grossman was instrumental to the establishment of the graduate program in microbiology at MIT in 2008, and served as its first director until 2012. The program is an interdepartmental, interdisciplinary endeavor, with more than 50 participating faculty members from several departments in the School of Science and School of Engineering. This program integrates educational resources across participating departments, builds connections among faculty with shared interests, and creates an educational and research community for training students in studying microbial systems. The program has proven instrumental in attracting some of the most talented students to MIT, preparing students to enter a range of fields in microbial science and engineering in academic, industrial, and government settings.

Grossman’s research combines a range of approaches (including genetic, molecular, physiological, biochemical, cell-biological, and genomic) to study how bacteria sense internal and external conditions, and control basic cellular processes. Focused on the organism Bacillus subtilis, Grossman's current work seeks to define mechanisms controlling DNA replication and cellular responses to replication stress. His lab also studies mechanisms controlling horizontal gene transfer, the primary means by which antibiotic resistances are spread between bacteria.

Grossman received a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Brown University in 1979, followed by a PhD in molecular biology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1984. After a postdoc fellowship in the Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology at Harvard University, Grossman joined MIT’s Department of Biology in 1988. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

“Alan Grossman is an eminent biologist and a marvelous educator who has held key leadership positions in the Biology Department, where he is currently Associate Head representing Building 68,” Sipser said. "I am deeply grateful to Alan for agreeing to be interim Head and I look forward to working with him.”

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