New Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard is working to maintain the strength of graduate programs in an era when the University is limiting spending.

Because of constraints on University funds, the graduate school reduced the number of students admitted last year by about 15 percent. Pollard, who served as chairman of the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department before he was appointed dean last spring, said he would like to expand the school in coming years, in part because Yale is expanding its medical faculty on the new West Campus, and graduate students are important parts of faculty members’ research teams. But he said he does not yet know what next year’s class will look like.

Pollard is currently the only administrator responsible for the core of Yale’s faculty to come from a science background: University President Richard Levin is an economist, Provost Peter Salovey is a psychologist and Yale College Dean Mary Miller is an art historian. Pollard succeeded Jon Butler, a professor of American studies, history and religious studies.

“It is not necessary to have a scientist in the graduate dean’s role,” Levin said in and e-mail, “but it is very helpful to have a scientist occupy at least one of the key leadership positions overseeing the faculty of arts and sciences.”

Professors and students interviewed said Pollard brings a competitive edge and energy to the position.

Professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology Joel Rosenbaum said Pollard is competitive in his research and also in the rest of his life.

“I use to run with him,” he said, “and if I beat him, he probably never forgot it, and he usually ended up beating me in another run.”


Pollard said that along with bringing more funding to the graduate school, he also hopes to improve the mentoring of graduate students and provide better child care for faculty and students.

Those Ph.D. students who are accepted to Yale receive full financial support for at least five years, Pollard said, but many science and engineering students are supported by federal training grants and other sources. This is a problem because science and engineering students at Yale do not have to choose a research lab until the end of their first year, Pollard explained, and the agencies making these grants prefer that students not switch research labs.

“It doesn’t look good when we’re competing for grants with other universities,” he said.

Pollard said he hopes the University will someday provide all the funding that science and engineering students receive for their first year. University President Richard Levin said he is working to find donors for this purpose.

Some of Pollard’s plans are less dependent on finding funds during tight economic times.

For example, he said many departments have effective mentoring programs, and he wants to expand the use of their methods across the graduate school. He said he is investigating best practices in different departments, such as the meetings about research projects and articles in the field that often take place between science faculty and students. Pollard said he also wants to provide better child care for faculty and students within the University.

“I am aware that many graduate students and young faculty members are challenged to find affordable options for their young children that are compatible with their academic responsibilities,” he said.


Pollard was chair of the committee charged with finding Butler’s replacement, but a number of committee members suggested that Pollard was the strongest candidate, Levin said. Before Levin offered him the job, Pollard had planned to both spend more time in his lab and traveling, but he said he is pleased to have the opportunity to serve as dean of the graduate school, and that his personal plans can wait five more years.

Pollard said he has grown accustomed to balancing administrative work, research and teaching. He will still teach his cell biology class in the spring, he said, though he will probably take lesser roles in the other two classes he teaches in the spring to focus on his duties as dean.

“A large part of it boils down to having a good filing system, which I think I’ve figured out,” he said. “A lot of mechanical tasks must be done.”

He said he is continuing his research, which focuses on how cells move and divide. Rachel Lee ’11, who works in his lab at the Kline Biology Tower, said Pollard has a passion for science and teaching.

“He is approachable, takes time to give meaningful feedback, and clearly enjoys helping people to grow,” she said.

Pollard founded and directed the Department of Cell Biology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., in 1977.