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Harvard Science Dean Christopher Stubbs Reflects on Tenure, Gives Advice to Successor

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Harvard Dean of Science Christopher W. Stubbs discussed his decision to step down and urged his successor to beware of slow institutional change in a Thursday interview with The Crimson.

Stubbs, who has served as a divisional dean since 2018, also spoke about his role as an artificial intelligence advisor to Faculty of the Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra and the relationship between the biotechnology industry and academia.

The Physics and Astronomy professor, who announced he would step down as dean in November, said he had completed a “five-year term” and that it’s now “someone else’s turn.”

“It’s good for us to have turnover in this job,” Stubbs said.

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Stubbs said leading the division through the Covid-19 pandemic was both his most significant achievement and most challenging moment. He also highlighted the division’s efforts to hear and meet the needs of its constituencies during his tenure.

“We have tried to — for each of the different stakeholders that comprise our division, from undergraduates to graduate students to postdocs to faculty and staff — to identify concrete ways to make life better for each and every group, with varying amounts of success,” Stubbs said.

Despite stepping down, Stubbs will continue to advise Hoekstra on artificial intelligence after stepping down from the deanship. In the Thursday interview, he described generative AI as a “turning point” for the University.

Stubbs said the technology will present a “tremendous opportunity for us as an institution to learn how to use those tools to teach people, and to teach people how to use those tools in an ethical and responsible way.”

“I think my role would be to lay out for the dean the rationale and motivation behind us making changes, to lay out alternatives, and to make recommendations about which of those alternatives might be most appropriate for us,” he added.

Stubbs also spoke to the tensions between the academic and private sectors, stating that the appeal of working in the private sector was nothing new.

“I’m not going to call it a trend,” Stubbs said. “I think we compete far, far more with other institutions of higher education than we do with the private sector.”

“Once people decide that their path in life is to be an academic and they kind of go down that route, they tend to sort of stay on that road,” he added. “We lose a lot more people to peer institutions than we do to the private sector.”

Still, Stubbs acknowledged the loss of some Harvard faculty to the private industry, including former Harvard Chemistry and Chemical Biology professor Stuart L. Schreiber, who departed his position at the University to join Arena BioWorks, a private biomedical institute.

With Stubbs departing his role at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year, Hoekstra has been on the hunt for his successor — an appointment likely to come within the “next few months,” Hoekstra said in an interview with The Crimson last Wednesday.

Stubbs urged his successor to “really be proactive about reaching out to various parts of our community,” but acknowledged the University’s size can slow down any sort of structural change.

“Harvard is a large decentralized organization,” Stubbs said. “Be prepared for extended discussions leading to changes and decisions that happen at a pace of their own choosing.”

—Staff writer Elizabeth Peng can be reached at elizabeth.peng@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Nicholas J. Frumkin can be reached at nicholas.frumkin@thecrimson.com.

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