With the passing of Carolyn W. Slayman, Ph.D., in December, the School of Medicine lost its first and only deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs. She served in that position for 22 years, as faculty throughout the school marveled at her influence and ability to keep up with advances in clinical and biomedical research during a time of significant expansion of clinical and basic science faculty. It was clear as well that she would be virtually impossible to replace. In light of the tremendous growth of the medical school as well as the increasing complexity of almost every aspect of academic medicine and research, her responsibilities have been divided among three deputy deanships that were filled in July.
Linda K. Bockenstedt, M.D., the Harold W. Jockers Professor of Medicine (Rheumatology), will serve as deputy dean for faculty affairs. Michael C. Crair, Ph.D., the William Ziegler III Professor of Neuroscience and professor of ophthalmology and visual science, will serve as deputy dean for scientific affairs (basic science departments). Brian R. Smith, M.D., chair and professor of laboratory medicine, of biomedical engineering, of medicine (hematology), and of pediatrics, will serve as deputy dean for scientific affairs (clinical departments).
“Our new deputy deans will work closely as a team to ensure that faculty receive the support they need to succeed and thrive,” said Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine. “I’m confident that they will continue Carolyn’s legacy admirably as they implement their collective vision on how to best support faculty.”
The three deputy deans will draw upon their unique expertise in their new roles. Bockenstedt’s experience includes serving as director for professional development and equity, a position created in 2006. She became associate dean for faculty development in 2014. Having worked closely with Slayman on faculty affairs, she had already taken on many of those responsibilities in the months leading to her new appointment.
“We’ve had an unprecedented number of requests for faculty positions from the departments since January,” she said. “Ultimately, we want to help all faculty members understand their position at Yale along with the opportunities available to them, the appointments and promotions process, and faculty development, so they can be successful in their careers.” She is committed to engaging the entire faculty so that they have a voice in the decisions that affect them.
Smith views his new position as an extension of his role as chair of laboratory medicine, in which he will continue to serve. He recently chaired the Ad Hoc Committee on the Clinician-Educator Track that is charged with clarifying and updating the track’s criteria for promotion. He also chaired the Research Committee of the Association of Pathology Chairs. The committee formulated a physician-scientist pathway that was certified by the American Board of Pathology in 2014, a process that helped prepare him for his position as deputy dean.
Smith acknowledges that the challenges he faced when he started his career more than three decades ago are greater, as both the competition for research funding and the necessity of mastering an ever-growing body of clinical knowledge have increased. “It used to be that you could live in a very small area of science and know all of it,” he says. “Now you have to reach out across totally different disciplines, which is exciting but requires more work.”
Crair served as deputy chair of the Department of Neuroscience and director of graduate studies for the department until his appointment as deputy dean. A team player who is often quicker to advocate for his colleagues than for himself, he is looking forward to making positive contributions on a larger scale. “I hope to help build the sciences, not just at the School of Medicine, but across the university,” he said.
Crair’s vision includes establishing an environment in which, despite the uncertainties of NIH funding, the school supports investigators at a baseline level that allows them to continue to do research even in the face of funding challenges. “As we get older we have more perspective, and it’s easier to see past a couple of years of fluctuations,” he said. “But for our junior faculty, not knowing the future of research funding can be debilitating.” He will also look for ways to increase diversity, noting that “we learn from those diverse views—in part shaped by diverse backgrounds—that bring a different perspective.”
All three will continue to lead active research programs. Crair has developed optical imaging techniques to study neural development. He has made fundamental contributions to the understanding of neural activity in the developing brain and demonstrated that early spontaneous activity as the brain is forming is an essential part of normal brain development. He is currently exploring the mechanisms by which this activity is generated and how it shapes brain circuit development.
Smith conducts bench and clinical research on the interface between inflammation and coagulation, focusing on biomaterials and the pathophysiology of blood disorders caused by immune reactions. He also studies cellular immunotherapies. Bockenstedt is internationally recognized for her research on the host immune response to tickborne spirochetal infections. Her current research employs a systems biology approach to understand the diverse clinical manifestations of Lyme disease, and uses molecular profiling to identify host factors that determine the outcome of infection.
As deputy deans, the three professors are beginning to function as a unit as they work across departments to provide and support academic opportunities for faculty and promote an increased spirit of collaboration in the school’s culture. They unanimously acknowledge that while Slayman’s shoes are difficult to fill, they hope that their combined efforts and different perspectives will afford them broader reach as the school continues to grow. Reflecting on the legacy left by Slayman, Smith said, “I was fortunate to have her as a role model. Now we just have to think back and ask ourselves, ‘What would Carolyn do?’ ”