Carnegie Mellon University

A Letter from the Department Head

Welcome to the Department of Biological Sciences! It is a privilege to serve as Department Head because of the passion of my colleagues for our educational and research missions. Let me share my enthusiasm by summarizing some recent advances and accomplishments from the department.

Undergraduate education
We have continued to reduce class sizes for the introductory Modern Biology course by having more faculty offer sections. The sections are tailored to the lecturers' interests, such as personal genomics or cancer, to allow the lecturers to convey the significance of biological knowledge and research. Our goal is to provide an educational experience of the highest quality. We have also developed a new laboratory course for first-year students: Frontiers, Analysis, and Discovery in Biological Sciences. This year we have the students conducting CRISPR-based genome engineering project. This course captures some of what is distinctive about a Carnegie Mellon education: a focus that comes straight from research papers, and a small lab class with personal attention from the faculty.

Graduate education
We just welcomed the largest cohort of first-year PhD students we have had in a few years. Their interests align with the full range of faculty research programs, from Cell Biology to Infectious Disease to Development to Computational Biology to Neuroscience. Our ability to attract such a broad range of students reflects in part the increased flexibility in our PhD training program, which enables students to tailor their coursework to their interests. We also continue to expand the breadth and depth of courses for students in our MS program, which we run jointly with the Department of Computational Biology. 

New faculty 
A new tenure-track Assistant Professor, Dr. Huaiying Zhang, will join us in January 2019. She studies the biogenesis and function of RNA-based organelles, and has a unique background in Chemical Engineering that will help to bridge interests across colleges. The two new faculty who joined us last year, Drs. Eric Yttri and Leon Zhao, have already had outstanding success in competing for funding from the NIH and foundations. In addition, we have promoted a new teaching-track Assistant Professor, Dr. Natalie McGuier, who is strengthening our undergraduate laboratory courses. It is quite exciting to see our new colleagues reach such very high trajectories! 

Faculty recognition
Congratulations to Dr. Aryn Gittis, who has been promoted to Associate Professor with tenure, and to Drs. Luisa Hiller, Joel McManus, and Sandra Kuhlman, all of whom have been promoted to Associate Professor. We extend our congratulations and thanks to Drs. Chein Ho, David Hackney, and Alan Waggoner, who have entered Emeritus Professor status. We are grateful for their many years of service, and for the fact that they still join us for departmental events to share their wisdom and insight. 

I welcome your interest in the department. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.

Sincerely yours,


Aaron P. Mitchell, Ph.D.
Dr. Frederick A. Schwertz Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences 
Professor & Head, Department of Biological Sciences