Perhaps it is fate that all the monkeys Laurie Santos, a Harvard Ph.D. student in psychology, works with are named after Yale psychologists — Paul Bloom, Frank Keil and Karen Wynn. In January 2003, Santos will leave her furry friends behind in Cambridge, Mass. to join their namesakes in the Yale Psychology Department.
“I’m very excited to come,” Santos said. “Yale has an amazing department. The people have incredible research records and it’s going to be great to have them as colleagues.”
Santos informed Peter Salovey, chair of the psychology department, of her decision yesterday morning via e-mail, in which the first line read “Two words: Boolah Boolah.”
After receiving her doctorate degree next June, Santos said she plans to remain at Harvard as a post-doctoral student in the fall and also conduct some field research in Puerto Rico before coming to Yale in the winter.
Santos specializes in the evolution of human cognition and studies the mental capabilities of monkeys and other non-human primates. A major area of her study concerns the primates’ theory of mind, which explains the way primates perceive the mental states of other primates.
Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield said Santos’ versatility will help fill gaps in the department and allow inter-disciplinary study.
“The kind of work she does bridges a lot of different fields and interests within psychology,” Hockfield said. “So this appointment is very important.”
Wolf Yeigh, assistant provost for science and engineering, said the main obstacle in Santos’ recruitment was finding laboratory space for monkeys needed for her studies. With the cooperation of John Bollier, facilities director at the School of Medicine, the recruiting committee was able to find laboratory space for Santos’ primates at the Medical School.
Despite the distance from the Psychology Department, Santos said she was pleased that her monkeys would be housed near other animal facilities and veterinarians.
Teaching at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, Santos said she hopes to offer some new courses that appeal to a wide range of students.
“I hope to start teaching a really big class on behavioral biology and evolutionary psychology,” she said. “And I hope it attracts people from lots of different majors, not just psych majors.”
In addition to her teaching, Santos said she would like to have a great deal of undergraduate involvement in her lab and even organize a research trip to Puerto Rico during Thanksgiving break.
“I’ve been working with monkeys in Puerto Rico for the past eight years, since I was an undergrad,” she said. “You get really important hands-on field research in a really concentrated period of time.”
In addition to her impressive credentials, Yeigh said Santos, who is half black, will contribute to the department in other ways as well.
“In terms of bringing diversity to the faculty of arts and sciences, she’ll be a wonderful addition,” Yeigh said. “And she’ll be a great role model for both women and under-represented minorities at Yale.”
Santos said Yale’s commitment to diversifying the faculty played a significant role in her decision.
“I hope I’m someone that students can look up to,” she said. “It’s a great testament to Yale that they make an effort to pay attention to it. I think it’s something that Harvard should pay more attention to.”
Because of her credentials, Salovey said the department had to extend Santos their best possible offer.
“Her work and her talent are very attractive to lots of universities,” Salovey said. “So we had to sell her on the idea that, intellectually, there was no psychology department in the country that would fit her better.”
Santos was just as enthusiastic about coming to Yale.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision,” she said. “Yale was definitely my first choice.”