A geology professor and geochemist and the psychology professor behind the popular undergraduate course “Sex, Evolution and Human Nature” are the first faculty members to be promoted to tenure this academic year.
At a meeting Thursday, Yale’s Board of Permanent Officers, a committee of all tenured, full professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, voted to offer tenure and full professorship to associate professor of geology Mark Pagani. Assistant professor of psychology Laurie Santos also received tenure, and was promoted to associate professor.
Pagani, who this past Thursday co-authored a guest column for the News about global warming and the United Nations Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, said his promotion did not come as a surprise to him.
“The promotion is a psychological relief because now I don’t have to move,” Pagani said.
In his studies, Pagani reconstructs ancient climates and carbon monoxide records to explain modern climate trends. Pagani teaches paleoclimatology and geochemistry courses, but he said he is interested in expanding his undergraduate offerings on the climate as debate over global warming increases.
“The field that I’m in is particularly suited to understanding and answering these modern questions people have been asking about climate,” Pagani said. “If they want to know more, they should come by and take classes and interact with us.”
Santos is currently researching comparative cognition, and studies the evolutionary basis for human social behaviors, such as prejudice, grouping and decision-based biases, in monkeys. She is the director of the Comparative Cognition Laboratory, or the “monkey lab,” and teaches a course for undergraduates interested in conducting research with capuchin monkeys.
Still, Santos she said she is best known among undergraduates for her course on evolution and sexuality, PSYC 171, commonly known as “Sexy Psych.”
“I don’t know why the undergraduates call it that,” Santos said.
For Santos, who said she was unsure she would ever receive tenure in her department due to low internal promotion rates, the promotion is “exciting” and comes as she and her colleagues, including professors of developmental psychology Paul Bloom and Kristina Olson, begin long-term research on social psychology in monkeys.
“Some of this work is really new, and we have a long way to go,” Santos said. “It’s nice to have the accessibility and the time to do it here at Yale.”
Santos came to Yale in 2003 after completing her doctorate in cognition, brain and behavior at Harvard. A former member of the Society for Neuroeconomics executive committee, Santos was named by Popular Science magazine as one of the “10 Brilliant Minds of 2007” for her work in the Yale monkey lab.
Pagani joined the Geology Department in July 2002 after conducting research at University of California Santa Cruz and Colorado State University, and he currently serves as an associate editor at the American Journal of Science. He also serves on the executive committee of the Yale Climate and Energy Institute.