Susan Hockfield

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Susan Hockfield
16th President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
In office
Preceded byCharles M. Vest
Succeeded byL. Rafael Reif
Provost of Yale University
In office
December 2002 – August 2004
Preceded byAlison Richard
Succeeded byAndrew D. Hamilton
Personal details
Born (1951-03-24) March 24, 1951 (age 73)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
SpouseThomas Byrne
EducationUniversity of Rochester (BS)
Georgetown University (MS, PhD)
Scientific career
InstitutionsCold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Yale University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
ThesisAfferent and Efferent Neuronal Connections of the Dorsal Horn of the Caudal Medulla (Trigeminal Nucleus Caudalis) Demonstrated by Retrograde Labeling with Horseradish Peroxidase (1979)
Doctoral advisorStephen Gobel
Other academic advisorsAllan Basbaum
Doctoral studentsDaniel Geschwind

Susan Hockfield (born March 24, 1951) is an American neuroscientist who served as the 16th president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2004 to 2012.

Hockfield currently serves as a Professor of Neuroscience in MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, a Joint Professor of Work and Organization Studies in MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. She is also a director of Break Through Cancer, Cajal Neuroscience, Fidelity Non-Profit Management Foundation, Lasker Foundation, Mass General Brigham, Pfizer, Repertoire Immune Medicines, and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research; a lifetime member of the MIT Corporation; and a board member of the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Before returning to MIT following her presidency, Hockfield held the Marie Curie Visiting Professorship at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Early life and education

Hockfield graduated from Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, New York, in 1969. She received her bachelor's degree in Biology from the University of Rochester in 1973 and her Ph.D. in Anatomy and Neuroscience from the Georgetown University School of Medicine in 1979. Her doctoral dissertation centered on the pathways in the nervous system through which pain is perceived and processed. Her advisor during her doctoral work was Stephen Gobel.[1]


Following a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco, Hockfield joined the staff of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1980. She was hired by James Watson, who together with Francis Crick had discovered the structure of DNA.

In 1985, Hockfield joined the faculty of Yale University. She received tenure in 1991 and became a full professor of neurobiology in 1994; soon thereafter she began to take on positions of administrative leadership. From 1998 to 2002, she served as Dean of Yale's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, with oversight of 70 graduate programs. Over the course of her deanship, the number of applicants to the graduate school doubled. Support for graduate students also expanded in many dimensions, including healthcare, career counseling, fellowships, and opportunities to interact with faculty.

In December 2002, she was named Yale's Provost — the university's second-highest officer, with oversight of the university's 12 schools. As Provost, she led major initiatives in science, medicine, and engineering, including a $500 million investment in scientific facilities.

During her time as dean and as provost, Hockfield was at the center of an imbroglio surrounding the Graduate Employees and Students Organization and its unionization efforts. While Yale opposed the student union, Hockfield made healthcare for Ph.D. students free and increased stipends for graduate students.[2]

MIT presidency

In August 2004, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology named Hockfield its next president. MIT raised nearly $3 billion during Hockfield's presidency, making it a more successful period of fundraising than any prior administration. However, the global financial crisis put great pressure on the Institute's endowment, which was valued at $5.9 billion upon Hockfield's arrival. It peaked at $9.9 billion in June 2008, then fell to $7.9 billion. By June 2011, it was valued at $9.7 billion. Through these financial ups and downs, Hockfield made affordability a priority: Annual undergraduate financial aid increased by about 75 percent during her presidency.[3]

In her inaugural address, Hockfield called for MIT to cultivate the convergence of engineering and the life sciences to develop new approaches to address global challenges.[4] She encouraged work that crossed disciplines, departments, and schools within MIT and that fostered collaborations among the Boston region's academic medical centers and educational institutions. To that end, she led, among other efforts, the establishment of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; the Ragon Institute (a collaboration between Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT, and Harvard University); and the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke, Massachusetts, an unprecedented collaboration of 5 universities, 2 private companies, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to provide state-of-the art computation tools for research in a wide variety of fields.[3]

Hockfield also announced her intention to develop a multidisciplinary, Institute-wide center focused on energy. That effort spawned the MIT Energy Initiative, which raised more than $350 million during Hockfield's tenure and accelerated research on technologies and policies for a sustainable energy future. In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama gave an address on U.S. energy policy at MIT, and Hockfield gave him the first tour of an MIT laboratory by a sitting U.S. president.[5]

Hockfield also encouraged concerted faculty research in an area she considered vital to American national interests: manufacturing. She launched “Production in the Innovation Economy,” a campus-wide project to provide a blueprint for 21st century manufacturing in America. During her presidency, she served as the inaugural co-chair of the White House-led Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), a task force of government, industry, and academic leaders. In an August 2011 New York Times op-ed, Hockfield wrote, “To make our economy grow, sell more goods to the world and replenish the work force, we need to restore manufacturing — not the assembly-line jobs of the past, but the high-tech advanced manufacturing of the future.”[6]

During Hockfield's presidency, representation of underrepresented minorities and women increased across the undergraduate, graduate, and faculty populations. The graduating Class of 2015 was composed of 45 percent women and 24 percent underrepresented minorities. To address the growing interest in attending MIT (applications more than doubled during her tenure), Hockfield initiated an expansion of the undergraduate population. She also guided enhancements to student life and learning, including the construction of a new residence for graduate students and a restoration of MIT's oldest building into an undergraduate residence with expanded space and amenities to foster student collaboration.

In addition, while Hockfield was president, the east side of MIT's campus was enhanced by an extension to the Media Lab complex and a new building for the MIT Sloan School of Management. Hockfield also led a comprehensive strategic planning process for campus development and worked to foster the innovation cluster around Kendall Square, which at the end of her presidency was home to more biotech and life sciences companies per square mile than anywhere in the world.[3]

In December 2011, MIT launched MITx, a not-for-profit online learning platform that offers online versions of MIT courses free of charge. In May 2012, Hockfield and Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust announced edX, an MIT-Harvard partnership in online education. EdX, Hockfield said, “represents a unique opportunity to improve education on our own campuses through online learning, while simultaneously creating a bold new educational path for millions of learners worldwide.”[7]

Scientific research

Hockfield pioneered the use of monoclonal antibody technology in brain research and discovered a gene that plays a critical role in the spread of cancer in the brain. Hockfield's early work involved the application of monoclonal antibody technology to questions within neurobiology. She and her colleagues identified a family of cell surface proteins whose expression is regulated by neuronal activity early in an animal's life and which reflect the effect of early experience on brain structure and function. A link between her research and human health was made when it was suggested that one of these proteins played a role in the progression of brain tumors. Hockfield's work on a type of brain tumor called glioma identified molecules that allow glioma cells to move through normal brain tissue, the feature that makes glioma particularly deadly.[8]

Honors and awards

Selected works

  • The Age of Living Machines: How Biology Will Build the Next Technology Revolution, W. W. Norton & Company, 2019. ISBN 978-0-393-63474-7.
  • Our science, our society, Science Magazine, Vol 359 Issue 6375, 2018.

Personal life

Hockfield is married to Thomas N. Byrne, M.D., a Professor of Neurology and Health Sciences Technology (part-time) at the Harvard Medical School and a Senior Lecturer of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. They were married on March 2, 1991, at Yale's Battell Chapel.[15] They have a daughter, Elizabeth.


  1. ^ Hockfield, Susan Joan (1979). Afferent and efferent neuronal connections of the dorsal horn of the caudal medulla (trigeminal nucleus caudalis) demonstrated by retrograde labeling with horseradish peroxidase (Ph.D.). Georgetown University Medical Center. OCLC 122259522 – via ProQuest.
  2. ^ Bombardieri, Marcella (26 August 2004). "MIT set to pick its first female president". The Boston Globe.
  3. ^ a b c "Susan Hockfield to step down". MIT News. 16 February 2012.
  4. ^ "Inaugural Address: 16th President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology | MIT's 16th President | Susan Hockfield". Retrieved 19 April 2022.
  5. ^ "President Obama lights up MIT". MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 23 October 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2022.
  6. ^ Hockfield, Susan (30 August 2011). "Opinion | Manufacturing a Recovery". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  7. ^ "MIT and Harvard announce edX". Harvard Gazette. 2 May 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  8. ^ Zhang, Hong; Kelly, Gail; Zerillo, Cynthia; Jaworski, Diane M.; Hockfield, Susan (1 April 1998). "Expression of a Cleaved Brain-Specific Extracellular Matrix Protein Mediates Glioma Cell InvasionIn Vivo". The Journal of Neuroscience. 18 (7): 2370–2376. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.18-07-02370.1998. PMC 6793111. PMID 9502798.
  9. ^ "Rochester Review • University of Rochester". Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  10. ^ "Women's Union set to honor Hockfield Nov. 21". MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 16 November 2005. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  11. ^ "MIT's Susan Hockfield will receive Pinnacle Lifetime Achievement Award from Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce". Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  12. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  13. ^ "2005 Summit Highlights Photo". MIT President Dr. Susan Hockfield with a fellow member of the Academy, Her Excellency Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of Latvia, and her husband Imants Freibergs, during the reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  14. ^ "2008 Summit Highlights Photo". The President of MIT, Dr. Susan Hockfield, shares her views on creativity at the International Achievement Summit.
  15. ^ "Susan Hockfield and Thomas Byrne, Medical Professors at Yale, Are Wed". The New York Times. 3 March 1991. Retrieved 7 January 2007.

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by 16th President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Succeeded by