In a press release from the School of Public Health last Thursday, Dean Sten Vermund welcomed Yale epidemiology professor Melinda Irwin as the school’s first associate dean of research. The new position is a component of the University Science Strategy Committee’s plan to prioritize STEM fields at the University.

As the new associate dean, Irwin plans to increase research collaboration between graduate schools both at Yale and across New England. She also hopes to update and implement recommendations from her work as the chair of the School of Public Health research advisory committee to improve research as a whole. Spearheading these causes, she said, will result in more impactful scientific breakthroughs.

“I want to really improve our research infrastructure so that faculty can do more innovative and clinically meaningful research that allows them more time to focus on the science and the collaboration and less on all the administrative aspects,” Irwin said.

Irwin, who assumed her new position on Feb. 1, said she is very aware of the difficulties researchers face when navigating the administrative aspects of research. In her new position, she will pull from over 18 years of experience writing grants and dealing with independent review boards to help researchers be more productive.

In addition to her experience as a researcher, Irwin has worked as the assistant director for population sciences at the Yale Cancer Center and as the deputy director of public health at the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation.

According to Vermund, Irwin’s leadership in these roles and her research experience made her an excellent candidate for the associate deanship.

“She is an experienced and successful professor and has had considerable experience in nurturing and facilitating research in the public health space,” he said. “This is helpful background as she seeks to do that across the breadth of the Yale School of Public Health.”

While the associate deanship is new, it is not the first position at the school to fulfill certain duties of the role. Vermund said previous part time positions at the school helped researchers submit grants and write studies, but his team soon realized that a full-time faculty member wholly dedicated to research would be more appropriate to fulfill these duties.

“Being a research-intensive school, we have many policies that can improve the competitiveness of our faculty, improve the efficiency of their research enterprise and also their grant writing to secure new funding. All of these imply the need for a lot of attention paid to this agenda,” he said.

Irwin is a recent alumna of Drexel’s yearlong Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine program, or ELAM, in which female researchers are taught the skills to succeed in future executive roles in public health. For the program’s capstone project, Irwin worked closely with Vermund to create a research committee for the School of Public Health focused on improving its research climate.

Vermund said graduates of the program — including Irwin — are well poised to take on leadership positions throughout the public health world.

“When you look at ELAM grads, they are now populating deanships and associate deanships and deputy chair positions all over the country,” he said.

Both Irwin and Vermund believe a prevalent theme of the associate deanship will be collaboration. One of Irwin’s first priorities in her new position is to meet with faculty on an individual basis to address obstacles in the grant-writing process and to create an inventory of shared resources between Yale graduate schools, which researchers can tap into as needed.

For now, she said, these plans are sticky notes on her desk at the School of Public Health.

“I’m an obsessive sticky note person,” she said. “Every day there are new things I want to get to and it’s really exciting, but of course there are some major priorities that have to get done sooner rather than later.”

The School of Public Health was founded in 1915.

Matt Kristoffersen |