Michael J. Tarr Reappointed Head of Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Psychology
“Mike is a great scholar, a great leader, and a great citizen,” said Richard Scheines, Bess Family Dean of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “He has expertly managed a complicated department, hired great new faculty, and helped me take the university to the next level in neuroscience. He has also devoted a great deal of time and effort to improving the department’s practices and processes with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion, an area in which the entire university community must improve. Mike cares deeply about the members of his department, our college and the university, and he works tirelessly to improve them.”
Tarr, the Kavčić-Moura Professor of Cognitive and Brain Science, has introduced a variety of initiatives to engage faculty, staff and students in charting the future of CMU’s highly ranked Department of Psychology. As part of this effort, he has built mechanisms for transparency and decision-making by launching an annual departmental retreat and committees dedicated to diversity and inclusion and strategic planning.
During his first term as department head, Tarr increased financial support for undergraduate, graduate and faculty research, and he secured funding to increase the size of the graduate program. The department has modernized the appearance of its public spaces and is shifting to a more equitable shared lab space and resources model. Perhaps most importantly, Tarr has recruited five new faculty to the department and developed a multi-year plan as the department undergoes a generational shift in its faculty.
Since joining CMU in 2009, Tarr has been instrumental in further advancing the university’s and the city’s positions in brain and behavioral sciences. From 2009 to 2014 he served as co-director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, a joint program between CMU and the University of Pittsburgh, and he has been an important contributor to the launch of the new Carnegie Mellon Neuroscience Institute.
Tarr is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Society and the Society of Experimental Psychologists, and was a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow. In 2018, he received one of four new Kavčić-Moura Professorships, designed to provide sustained, long-term support for scholars across the CMU whose breakthroughs and discoveries have the potential to impact the world where human life and technology meet. He also holds courtesy appointments in School of Computer Science’s Machine Learning Department and Robotics Institute.
Tarr studies the neural, cognitive and computational mechanisms underlying visual perception and cognition. He is interested in how humans effortlessly perceive, learn, remember and identify faces, scenes and objects, as well as how these visual processes interact with our other senses, thoughts and emotions. He also is interested in the connection between biological and artificial intelligence, in particular, focusing on how high-performing computer vision systems can be used to better understand human behavior and its neural basis. Conversely, he holds that effective models of biological vision will help inform and improve the performance of artificial vision systems.