New MIT role for Maria Zuber; search for senior vice provost for research

September 7, 2023
Sally Kornbluth, President |

Dear members of the MIT community,

I write to share important changes in the leadership of our research enterprise – two steps I believe will advance MIT’s interests in shaping science and technology policy and in helping our faculty achieve their research goals, in part by easing the burden of research administration.

1. Maria Zuber to become MIT’s Presidential Advisor for Science and Technology Policy 

As the E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics, Maria is a pioneer in the mapping of planetary surfaces and interiors, work she has pursued through more than a dozen NASA research experiments to the Moon, Mars, Mercury and a number of asteroids.

In 2013, following eight years as head of our Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and a leave to lead NASA’s GRAIL mission, Maria agreed to serve as vice president for research, a post she has held for a decade with distinction. Her accomplishments include:

  • Spearheading MIT’s climate change strategy, including Fast Forward: MIT's Climate Action Plan for the Decade, published in 2021
  • Keeping our research enterprise running throughout the pandemic
  • Leading improvements for numerous labs and centers
  • Helping institute a systematic, MIT-wide approach to international engagements that present elevated risk and serving as a founding member of our Senior Risk Group (SRG)
  • Improving support, recognition and career pathways for postdocs and research scientists
  • Helping to stand up the Office of Research Computing and Data (ORCD)
  • And leading a multiyear effort to streamline MIT’s research administration, including the creation of the Office of Strategic Alliances and Technology Transfer (OSATT) and Research Administration Services (RAS).

Beyond this direct service to MIT, in her career Maria has served four US presidents. In the last decade, she has played an increasingly influential role in shaping national science policy, in particular as a member of the National Science Board (2013–18), including two years as chair, and, since 2021, in her White House role as co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

The growing importance of science and technology policy

From AI to climate, biotech to chip manufacturing, it’s increasingly clear that human flourishing depends on timely, farsighted science and technology policy. MIT has a natural duty to help inform and lead this work, and Maria’s scientific stature, DC experience and wide-ranging connections across academia, industry, foundations and government are a perfect match for the challenge.

Maria’s new role

I have therefore asked her to intensify her focus on tracking trends and seizing opportunities to inform and advance enlightened state and federal policy. With that shift, she will take on a new title: presidential advisor for science and technology policy (PASTP). As she does now, she will report to me and serve on Academic Council. She will continue to serve on SRG and provide strategic direction and advice to Lincoln Lab, Haystack Observatory, and campus labs, centers and initiatives connected to defense or national security. Her responsibilities will also include continuing to work with the director of the MIT Washington Office to set priorities, and developing and strengthening federal, state and NGO research partnerships.

I hope you will join me in thanking Maria for her outstanding service to the Institute as she takes on this new challenge.

2. Launching search for Senior Vice Provost for Research (SVPR)

With this change for Maria, oversight of our research enterprise will shift to a newly titled role – senior vice provost for research (SVPR) – which will now report to the provost, with a dotted line to me.

Shortly, we’ll launch a search for a senior faculty member to fill this position; Maria will continue in her current role until the SVPR is in place.

Provost Cindy Barnhart will write to the faculty soon with details of the SVPR job description, the leadership of the search committee and how to apply for the role. In the meantime, I urge any member of the community to recommend candidates at

An opportunity to lift boulders out of the way

This change in reporting structure is an early step in our response to something I heard over and over in my listening tour: that the administration needs to move decisively to reduce the burden and strain of research administration, in the interests of the productivity and well-being of our faculty and research staff.

The SVPR role is purpose-built for this assignment. In this and many other ways, it presents an extraordinary opening to create positive change for our entire research enterprise – and I encourage any interested faculty member to apply.


Sally Kornbluth