In another era, the appointment of Susan Hockfield, Ph.D., as provost might have been remarkable because of her gender. But since the 1970s, three other women—Hannah H. Gray, Judith Rodin and Alison F. Richard—have held Yale’s top academic post.

“What is perhaps more unusual in my appointment as provost at Yale is that I’m a scientist,” Hockfield, the William Edward Gilbert Professor of Neurobiology, said in December. Hockfield, who was appointed dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1998 and reappointed last fall to that post by President Richard C. Levin, is the first medical school faculty member to hold either position.

In her new job, she is the university’s chief educational and administrative officer, overseeing academic policies and activities throughout the university. All deans report to her, and she has institutional responsibility for the allocation of resources, chairing the university’s budget committee.

In an interview, Hockfield said she is excited by the opportunity to serve during “a terrific new era for Yale” in which the university is focusing on science and engineering, internationalism, the rebuilding of the campus and, most recently, review of the Yale College curriculum. “The university is more unified and the campuses really talk to one another,” Hockfield said. And compared to a decade ago, a time when the physical plant had declined drastically, its buildings and grounds are in great shape. “Yale is now in a fabulous period of renewal. Who would have guessed that a 300-year-old university could turn as sharply and move as quickly?”

Hockfield, who joined the Yale faculty in 1985, has retained her laboratory on the third floor of Sterling Hall of Medicine while serving as graduate school dean. She directs a program of research focusing on the development of the mammalian brain, with a special interest in the progression of brain tumors, especially gliomas. She is the author of more than 90 scientific papers and is primary author of the text Molecular Probes of the Nervous System: Selected Methods for Antibody and Nucleic Acid Probes. She hopes to continue her scientific work while serving as provost but doesn’t yet know to what extent that will be possible. Her focus is on the work ahead.

“I have said that being graduate school dean is the best job in the university, because of the breadth and diversity of the academic activities of the graduate school,” she said. “But the provost engages an even larger array.”

Hockfield succeeds Alison Richard, an anthropologist who has been named vice-chancellor of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. President Levin announced in January that Hockfield will be succeeded as graduate school dean by Peter Salovey, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Psychology and deputy director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS, based at the School of Public Health.