Carnegie Mellon University
July 11, 2023

Julie Downs Named Associate Dean for Research

By Stacy Kish

Julie Downs, a professor in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences, has been appointed associate dean for research (ADR) for Carnegie Mellon University’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, effective July 1. 

Downs succeeds Alessandro Rinaldo, who served as ADR from September 2021 to June 2023.

“I am grateful for Ale’s work as the college’s ADR, where he was instrumental in launching the Dietrich College Seed Grant Program and promoting our new and junior faculty through the Faculty Spotlight series,” said Richard Scheines, Bess Family Dean of Dietrich College. “I am delighted that Julie has agreed to become the college’s third ADR. Julie has a wealth of experience in human subjects research, has been supported by a wide range of funders, and is both thoughtful and innovative. I look forward to seeing how she will promote our faculty’s research, both internally and externally.”

While continuing her own research, Downs will spend 20% of her time focused on promoting the research of her colleagues across the college. In her new position, Downs will help faculty in the Dietrich College navigate research compliance and corporate-sponsored research. She will also represent the college in university-level discussions of research policy and practice.  

Downs received her Ph.D. in social psychology from Princeton University and joined Dietrich College in 1995. She is the director of the Center for Risk Perception and Communication. She has published more than 100 scholarly articles and has secured $12 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Population Affairs, more than $4 million from the National Institutes of Health and about $1 million for the National Science Foundation. 

Downs’ research focuses on social influences on decisions, particularly the impact of social norms on decision making.

“I study risky decision making, particularly with an eye toward interventions to make better decisions,” said Downs. “My work addresses adolescent sexual behavior, eating decisions, vaccination and risky online behaviors.”

Her work bridges the communication gap between academia and the general public to identify ways to develop accessible guidance. Through these efforts, she has created behavioral interventions that have been adopted in real-world settings and have won numerous awards, including Platinum Remi Awards at the prestigious WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival. 

“I am excited to expand my knowledge of what is going on in the college and try to identify new opportunities to facilitate connections between groups and find ways to streamline interdisciplinary research,” said Downs.