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Michael Sipser to step down as School of Science dean

Mathematician to return to the faculty after six years leading MIT’s second-largest school.
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Michael Sipser
Michael Sipser
Image: Justin Knight, edited by MIT News

Michael Sipser plans to step down as dean of the MIT School of Science, concluding six years of service marked by the launch of key initiatives and the upgrading of facilities across the school’s six academic departments.

Provost Martin Schmidt announced the news today in an email to the MIT community. Following Sipser’s service as dean — which will conclude on June 30, assuming that a suitable successor is found by then — he will return to the faculty, where he is the Donner Professor of Mathematics.

“Mike’s accomplishments as dean span the School of Science and have built its strength in both research and education, often by increasing the impact of science on critical areas of collaborative study,” Schmidt wrote.

With 280 faculty, the School of Science is MIT’s second-largest school. It comprises the departments of Biology; Brain and Cognitive Sciences; Chemistry; Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary sciences; Mathematics; and Physics.

“Three qualities have defined Mike’s outstanding service as dean: his thoughtful, patient, evenhanded approach to complex organizational and human issues; his wonderful ability to explain, advocate for, and share his infectious pleasure in the scientific work of others; and his absolutely delightful sense of humor,” President L. Rafael Reif says. “MIT and the School of Science have been extremely fortunate to have Mike’s leadership, our students have benefited immeasurably from his commitment to teaching throughout his deanship — and I can attest to how much he has taught me personally about the frontiers of scientific knowledge.”

Sipser, a leading theoretical computer scientist, was named dean of science in June 2014, following six months as interim dean. Prior to that, he had served since 2004 as head of the Department of Mathematics.

“I’m most pleased that I enabled the work of our community in the School of Science — faculty, staff, and students — through providing resources, facilitating progress, removing obstacles, and cheering their successes,” Sipser says. “It has been a great privilege for me to support these amazing colleagues.”

Sipser’s key accomplishments as dean have included:

  • helping to launch the Aging Brain Initiative, an interdisciplinary effort centered in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Picower Instutute for Learning and Memory, to understand and develop treatments for age-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s;
  • championing a home for statistics at MIT through the creation of the MIT Statistics and Data Science Center in what is now known as the MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society;
  • participating in the design of the MIT Quest for Intelligence as an outgrowth of MIT’s Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines;  
  • working with the Department of Mathematics to sustain its MathROOTS program for high-potential high school students from underrepresented and underprivileged backgrounds;  
  • facilitating work by the Department of Biology to create a Cryo-Electron Microscopy facility in MIT.nano, the Institute’s state-of-the-art nanotechnology research center that opened in 2018;  
  • assisting the Department of Chemistry in modernizing its shared Instrumentation Facility;
  • helping astronomy faculty in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences purchase a new telescope for the Wallace Astrophysical Observatory in Westford, Massachusetts; and
  • working with the Department of Physics and the MIT Kavli Institute for Space Research to secure a National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant for a wide-field infrared camera.

Sipser has received multiple MIT awards for his teaching and advising. In 2016, while serving as dean, he received the MIT Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellowship, in recognition of his outstanding commitment to undergraduate education.

A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Sipser authored the widely used textbook “Introduction to the Theory of Computation,” first published in 1996. He earned his BA in mathematics from Cornell University in 1974 and his PhD in engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in 1980. He joined MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science as a research associate in 1979, becoming an assistant professor of applied mathematics in 1980; associate professor of applied mathematics in 1983; and professor of applied mathematics in 1989.

In his letter to the community, Schmidt said that he plans to appoint a faculty committee to advise him on the selection of the next dean of science. Members of the MIT community are encouraged to send suggestions and ideas to

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