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Research flows freely among disciplines and departments — and nowhere is this truer than in SoE.

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November 2014

The response to my first newsletter was very positive, and I’ve decided to continue to use this as a form of regular communication. One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is how the definitions of the boundaries among our departments are becoming more porous with time.

Talking with our faculty this past summer about their research, I found in many cases I could not guess their department without the cheat sheet I carried listing their names and departmental affiliations. At Stanford, research flows freely among disciplines, departments and even schools, and nowhere is this truer than in SoE. And although our faculty members have always worked together, the blurring of disciplinary boundaries has only accelerated in recent years.

This has happened in part because of our faculty’s continuing ability to evolve and find new ways of solving problems. To a large degree, the future of SoE’s faculty is the future of the school, so it’s useful to look at some basic faculty facts:

  • SoE has 240 tenure-line faculty: 133 full professors, 55 associate professors and 52 assistant professors—an enviable career-stage distribution.
  • The SoE faculty is increasingly gender-diverse. Although there is still much work to do, female faculty in the school increased from 8 percent to 15 percent in the past 15 years.
  • While progress is slow, the proportion of underrepresented minorities in our faculty has increased by 2 percent to 7 percent in the 10 years between 2003 and 2013, according to the best available figures from the university. We know we still have a long way to go and are working hard to improve this.

 SoE’s tenure-line faculty grew by a modest ~10 percent over the past 15 years, in part due to the addition of Bioengineering as a department. Yet 54 percent of tenure-line faculty are new to the school in that same period. This has happened quite naturally as faculty hired in the ‘60s and ‘70s – who propelled the school to excellence – retired and new positions opened. At the same time, we have hired faculty differently in recent years; many new faculty were brought in through broad-area searches in which departments cast their nets widely and chose the most outstanding candidate in a broad pool rather than to fill a specific programmatic requirement.

Although each new generation thinks about engineering differently, all SoE faculty are committed to problem solving, big ideas and making a better future. As we pursue these goals, I see faculty approaching research and teaching in new and even more powerful ways. We have increasing numbers of joint appointments across departments and across schools. Graduate students move freely among departments. This is fantastic for the school, but at the same time, it moves us into uncharted territory for the future. Many departments are envisioning missions that are broader than in the past.  At the same time we are maintaining the core disciplinary strengths that are the foundation of the school and educating undergraduates in exciting new ways, redesigning our curricula and rethinking the undergraduate experience.

In the coming months, I will be engaging our faculty in thinking deeply about our future and how we want to grow into it. I am sure we’ll have some interesting and lively conversations, which I look forward to sharing with you.  


Persis Drell

Frederick Emmons Terman Dean, Stanford School of Engineering
James and Anna Marie Spilker Professor in the School of Engineering
Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Physics, Stanford University