Brandeis University News
Susan Birren reflects on her tenure as dean of Arts and SciencesThe professor of biology talks about her tenure, Brandeis’ future and her return to scientific research. Photo: Mike LovettBirren started a pilot program to mentor young faculty members. Professor of neurobiology Susan Birren stepped down last week as dean of Arts and Sciences.BrandeisNOW sat down with her to discuss her 7-year tenure and what’s next.
BNOW: You led a major initiative to reform the General Education curriculum for undergraduates. What was the rationale behind that?Birren: We spent two years thinking about the skills and knowledge that Brandeis students need to make them successful after graduation. We considered critical thinking; the ability to communicate; how well you write; how well you are able to stand up in a room and get your message across; and how you listen to other people’s arguments and maybe even change your mind. We also wanted students to understand that the world they live in is global and diverse and that diversity contributes to a greater understanding of the world.
BNOW: You’ve also focused on the interaction between professors and students.Birren: One distinctive aspect of Brandeis is that we’re really small given the outstanding caliber of the research faculty we have. When students have the opportunity to interact with those faculty, they have a meaningful experience.
One small program I started is a faculty-student collaboration research grant where two faculty mentors from different departments work with a small number of undergraduates on an interdisciplinary project. A bunch of interesting projects have come through that mechanism.
BNOW: How do you see undergraduate education at Brandeis evolving?Birren: Science changes so fast, it’s important to think about how to stay on the cutting edge. I’m very pleased about our recent faculty hires in applied math, which is a brand …