YaleNews

Jeffrey Brock ’92, a mathematician, will serve as the inaugural dean of science for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, pending approval from the Yale Corporation, Dean of the FAS Tamar Gendler announced in an email to the FAS on Wednesday.

As FAS Dean of Science, Brock, who is the former chair of the mathematics department at Brown and the current director of its data science initiative, will oversee issues related to faculty in the nine biological and physical sciences departments within the FAS, including hiring, retention and promotion, and both long-term and day-to-day planning in the departments. In his capacity as dean, he will also eventually chair the physical sciences and engineering advisory committee and help lead the corresponding tenure and appointments committee alongside Gendler.

According to Gendler’s e-mail, Brock will join the FAS as a professor of mathematics on July 1, and assume the role of dean of science on January 1, 2019. Paul Turner, an ecology and evolutionary biology professor, will serve a third semester as acting FAS dean of science in the fall as Brock acclimates to the mathematics department and the University.

“There is a sense that this is a time when the University wants to think deeply and creatively about investment in basic science but also in how science can integrate with the campus whether it’s with the medical school or cutting across to the social sciences and the humanities,” Brock said in an interview with the News. “The opportunity to do something that has world-class depth in the sciences or mathematics at a place that promotes excellence in the humanities and the arts and the social sciences was really almost like a dream come true.”

Under Brock’s leadership as founding director, Brown’s data science initiative, an interdisciplinary effort among Brown’s applied mathematics, biostatistics, computer science and mathematics departments, secured funding from the National Science Foundation’s Transdisciplinary Research in Principles of Data Science program, also known as TRIPODS. Brock also worked with Brown’s Center for Biomedical Informatics to secure a National Institute of Health training grant for data science in the medical field.

Brock told the News that he hopes to use the skills he developed as director of Brown’s interdisciplinary data science initiative to encourage researchers to incorporate new techniques, such as those related to data science and mathematical modeling as well as interdisciplinary collaboration across divisions, into scientific research.

“To me, Yale is a place with just such tremendous potential in science, it has so many points of excellence,” Brock said. “My hope is that we can bring disparate groups together to invigorate science as a visible campus entity that can cut across all the different disciplines.

Brock added that through new tools like scientific computation, machine learning and mathematical modeling, math is becoming “vitally important” to science, on the rise rather than the decline.  

Brock’s research as a mathematician focuses on low dimensional geometry and topology, particularly hyperbolic geometry and, more recently, advance geometric and topological methods in the analysis of large, complex data sets. Brock has received continuous NSF support for his research since 1997 and was elected as a fellow of the American Mathematical Society last year.

Outside his academic work, Brock has a knack for music. During his time as an undergraduate at Yale, he was a member of the Whiffenpoofs class of 1992 and founded the original Vijay Iyer Trio with Vijay Iyer ’92, a Yale classmate at the time. With Iyer on piano and Brock on bass, the group recorded their first two albums while Iyer and Brock were Ph.D. students at the University of California, Berkeley. With a different drummer and bassist, the group would go on to be nominated for a Grammy in 2010 for best instrumental jazz album.

Now that the search for FAS dean of science, which began last year, has concluded, Gendler is one step closer to solidifying the administrative structure of her relatively new office.

Gendler, appointed as the first ever dean of the FAS in 2014, oversees faculty searches, appointments and promotions within the FAS, a role previously shared by Yale College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences deans, as well as overseeing the 50 departments that compose the FAS. In 2016, her office took responsibility for the FAS budget, a responsibility previously held by the provost. After the Provost’s Office transferred budget authority over the FAS to Gendler and her office, the FAS Dean’s Office transitioned from a system of divisional directors to a divisional dean system. While the job of divisional director was only part-time, the position of divisional dean involves a nearly full-time commitment, Gendler told the News last year. The position of divisional dean combines the traditional responsibilities of what used to be known as the divisional director — for humanities, social sciences, science or the engineering school — with the set of duties that used to be associated with the deputy provost for that same area of study.

With Brock set to assume the role of divisional dean of the sciences for FAS and with Amy Hungerford, an English professor, and Alan Gerber, a political science professor, already serving as FAS divisional deans for the humanities and social sciences, respectively, only the role of FAS dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences remains to be filled. Engineering professor T. Kyle Vanderlick stepped down from the position last December, and mechanical engineering and applied physics professor Mitchell Smooke currently serves as interim dean of SEAS.

In the fall, Gendler told the News that her hope is to fill the positions of FAS dean of science and dean of SEAS — as well as the FAS dean of Diversity and Faculty Development job — by July 2018.

Adelaide Feibel | adelaide.feibel@yale.edu