We asked James C. Bean, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, to discuss the goals of this bold initiative, as well as what faculty should know about it and how they can get involved.
Why is now the time to launch this initiative?
We’re beginning to implement the Northeastern 2025 academic plan, and one of the things we want to do is to expand on our use-inspired, interdisciplinary-focused research initiative in the previous academic plan.
We’ve already created institutes that are grand challenge-based interdisciplinary research programs. Through this initiative, we want to bring in people who fit that mold—people who are interdisciplinary, who are leaders in their fields, and who can help us achieve these grand challenge impacts. It’s also aimed at helping us bring in clusters of people across our schools and colleges that give us preeminence in areas that are important to our strategic directions.
How will this initiative advance the goals of Northeastern 2025?
Over the past decade, we’ve built research areas of preeminence in sustainability, security, and health. This initiative doubles down in those areas. We are in a place now where we can recruit some of the best faculty in the world. We’ve been doing that, and we want to do more of that.
What are the key things about this initiative that current faculty should know?
It’s an opportunity for them to think about who the top people are in their fields that would be great additions to our university. They can, through their deans and directly through the provost’s office, put those ideas forward. We’ve actually already had some incredibly preeminent people call us saying, “We saw the announcement on this. Would you like to talk to me?” So it’s definitely attracting the attention we hoped it would.
This initiative is a great opportunity for faculty, the colleges, and interdisciplinary faculty groups to participate in how we’re going to implement Northeastern 2025.
What is the timeline?
These are definitely more difficult hires than junior appointments. They usually involve multiple people and relocating very substantial laboratories with a large number of grants. So they can be complicated. And people are usually very ensconced in where they are, so the discussion can go on for some time. But this is the big game, and we need to be prepared to play it well.
How have current faculty and their work made this initiative possible?
It’s been absolutely critical. The faculty who have built the institutes and other preeminent groups have been the prototypes for this initiative. We’ve done them on an ad hoc basis so far. The best example we’re known for right now is the Network Science Institute. But this is really an attempt to formalize that and work off what we’ve learned from building these institutes to take our game up a notch.
What research fields will converge with Northeastern 2025 and this hiring initiative?
A lot of it will be guided by the humanics principles in Northeastern 2025. We want to see a lot more groups that involve both STEM and non-STEM faculty working together. For example, robotics and how they’re going to interact with humans, and how law and policy are associated with cybersecurity. We already have a fair amount of that collaboration in the policy area, in the Global Resilience Institute and the Coastal Sustainability Institute, so we really want to push forward on this. Interdisciplinary collaboration between computer science and engineering is good, but it’s even more exciting when we’re talking about computer science and English. We have some really good examples of this in the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks, and we’re trying to use these as benchmarks.