As campus prepares for inaugural events, MIT's 18th President, Dr. Sally Kornbluth, visits the lab to talk with us about her move from Provost at Duke University in Durham NC to President of MIT. We talk about leadership, the early read on campus, and some thoughts about getting the job done.
We meet Lock the Quill's newest feet on the street, Danny and Dylan, of the Grounds Department, and we close the episode with an MIT presidents quiz with a number of students.
President Kornbluth's podcast, Curiosity Unbounded: https://news.mit.edu/2023/curiosity-unbounded-podcast-desiree-plata-0419
Podcast Instagram: @lockthequill
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It's inauguration weekend everybody, and campus is hopping. Dr. Sally Kornbluth, MIT's 18th president, sits down with us in the lab to talk about her move to MIT from Duke University, and her first few months on campus. She shares her thoughts on leadership, we get some scuttlebutt from her listening tour, connect with some friends and colleagues, and Sally and I iron out some important administrative matters.
Scott: Hey, Danny.
Danny: We got a lot to cover, so let's move quickly.
Scott: You got it.
Danny: First up, April's Lock The Quill Global Challenge Winner, who do you have?
Scott: This month's winner is Mark from Auckland, New Zealand. That's far but John from Indonesia still has the t-shirt. One more month to go for the Global Challenge, correct?
Danny That's it. Just one more.
Danny: All right, Scott. I want to give a new prize.
Scott: What would you like to do?
Danny: It's for the closest listener.
Scott: Well, I'm right next to you. Do I get a prize?
Scott: Oh, okay.
Scott: What are you thinking?
Danny: The Lock The Quill Provincial Award. I want to recognize Georgia for entering our Global Challenge, but because she only lives half a mile away, she got knocked out of the water by everyone else.
Scott: She really did, yes. Half a mile, yes.
Danny: Across the field.
Scott: Right. All right.
Danny: She gets a T-shirt just because she's great.
Scott: That too. And yes, and she is.
Danny: Okay. This week, we're speaking with President Sally Kornbluth. Did you know that Sally Kornbluth has her own podcast?
Scott: I didn't know that.
Danny: No kidding. Episode one came out last week.
Scott: Oh, no.
Danny: I'm for real.
Scott: Here at MIT?
Scott: Oh, did she already have it?
Scott: Oh, wow.
Danny: Yeah…. It's called Curiosity Unbounded. It's on MIT Open Podcasts, SoundCloud, probably others.
Scott: Oh, wow.
Danny: I'll put a link in the description.
Danny: It was really good…. We're also expanding the Lock the Quill infrastructure. We have two new roving reporters.
Scott: No way, no way. We have Roving Reporters now?
Danny: We do have Roving Reporters.
Scott: Wow. We’re somebody.
Danny: Dylan and Danny from Grounds Department.
Scott: Oh, no kidding. Yes. [laughs] Yes. I talk to those guys all the time.
Danny: I know. Everybody does. That's why they're the guys you want to talk to if you want to know what's going on on campus.
Scott: If you want to know what's going on. Yes, I will definitely. They're great guys.
Danny: We also test some of our students' MIT presidential knowledge. That's the episode.
Scott: Yes. That's a lot.
Danny: Yes. It's a smorgasbord of an episode. A “smorgasbord”?
Scott: Smorgasbord, yes. [chuckles]
Danny: All right. Thanks, Scott.
Scott: All right. We'll see you at the inauguration. See you this weekend.
Danny G: How're you doing!?! I'm Danny Gilligan from the Grounds Department!
Dylan Cohen: I'm Dylan Cohen from the Grounds Department.
Danny G: We're getting ready here for Dr. Sally Kornbluth's inauguration here at MIT. I was going to say, can I call her Sally or is it Dr. Sally Kornbluth? I think she likes Sally.
Danny: It's your job, not mine.
Danny G: Yes.
Dylan: [laughs] Well put.
Danny: What have you guys got going on?
Danny G: Too much.
Danny G: Guys, they're putting in a lot of hours. There's a lot of mulch going on around here. Cleaning up the whole place, getting the campus ready.
Dylan: We're very busy, it's chaotic, a lot of vendors, and tents, people, and lights, and setup.
Danny: The tents are insane.
Danny: Wait. How many tents are there? I see the big one on Killian. That's not a tent, that's a building!
Danny G: Yes.
Danny G: It's like a house.
Dylan: It is a house. There's quite a few. There's another in Hockfield Court.
Danny G: They're putting that up right now.
Danny: I heard rumors of a merry-go-round….
Danny G: …giant slides, fireflies…That's what I heard. The caterers from Marlborough. Oh, my God. The Barbecue place down in Marlborough.
Danny: It's barbecue?
Danny G: Oh, yes.
Danny: Okay. This is a hot topic.
Danny G: I heard that's going to be up at the court. That's what I heard. The Big Bash is Saturday, from 2:00 to 5:00 at Northcourt, Killian Court, and Saxon which is right next to Walker. Then, Sunday, these guys, the gardeners, and a bunch of guys are coming in to prepare the stage for the inauguration flowers, mulch, all of that. Then, the inauguration's Monday. Yesterday, we did about 450 barricades to put around the tent. Lot of work goes into….
Danny: How many yards of mulch are you moving around, do you know?
Dylan: Tractor trailer loads are coming in twice, if not three times a week, with 30 yards at a time.
Danny G: Yes. You got to be careful too when you're driving the trucks around with all the kids on their scooters and their bikes.
Danny: Those things are crazy! They're so fast.
Danny G: Oh, yes. They're flying. I mean, it's like a racetrack sometimes, so you got to be careful when you're out there working…. seriously.
Dylan: Yes, you do.
Dylan: It's definitely a busy time of the year, so I think we're prepared. You don't know until the event happens, but we've got plenty of staff, plenty of overtime hours ready to be worked. The guys are eager to help out any way possible.
Danny G: Then, boom. As soon as this is over, right into the graduation mode.
Dylan: This year they're putting in a new design-
Dylan: -for the flowers. I'm not going to give any spoilers away, but it should look really nice if things go according to plan.
Danny G: You know how things go around here sometimes, Dan. Always according to plan.
Danny: It always goes according to plan.
Dylan: We'll make it work.
Danny G: It'll work. It always looks nice. I mean, at the end, the work gets done and the place looks beautiful-
Dylan: It does look beautiful.
Danny G: -and everybody's happy.
Danny: Once that's over, then what?
Danny G: Hide.
Danny: Well, God bless you guys. The reason why this place looks so good is because you're working so hard.
Dylan: Thank you.
Danny G: Well, we try.
Danny G: Welcome to Dr. Sally Kornbluth. I think you're going to enjoy your inauguration weekend.
Dylan: Welcome. Campus is beautiful. I encourage you to get out and see it and interact with other members of the MIT community and we're happy to have you.
Danny G: It's going to be a big bash, really. It's going to be nice.
Danny: Looking forward to it.
Danny G: Yes, definitely.
Danny: I'm just delighted that you're here. I still can't get over it. I've seen your pictures, I've seen your videos, I've seen you speak and then to have you come here, it's just such a delight.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Well, likewise.
Danny: I think it says so much about you and your office, so thanks for dropping by the lab.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Totally fun.
Danny: Yes. You've been here since January. That's three months.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: That's three months. What have I done yet? [laughs]
Danny: Well, you've probably done plenty, but I'm just curious, how's the transition been? How do you like Cambridge? What's the welcome been like?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Everybody's been great, warm, welcoming, not the temperature, until today, but everybody's been great. I'm getting to know tons of people. I'm incredibly thrilled now when I'm in a meeting and I actually know everybody's name, it's very exciting.
Danny: You should tell me what that's like one day.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: [laughs] Yes. It's been nice, it's been great. Gray House is very interesting. You always wanted to live in a house with your kitchen on one floor, your bedroom on the next floor, your living room on the next floor. Saves calories. You can get a lot of calories going up and down the stairs. You don't really need a snack if you're on the third floor.
Danny: That's right.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: You just skip it.
Danny: Are you familiar with the Muddy?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I've heard about it, but I have not been.
Danny: Okay, well, you need to go because where you are, you could probably reach out your living room window and just get a beer from Mike. I mean, they are right across the grass.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I did not know that.
Danny: Oh, yes.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I did not know that. That's fantastic. Anyway, no, it's been great. We have these two dogs who are finding their way around the house.
Danny: What kind of dogs?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I have a Collie/Shepard mix and a little Chihuahua mixed with everything. He's very mean and in charge.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes.
Danny: You walk them around campus?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: We do.
Danny: That's good. Killian Court, do they play out there?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I have brought them to Killian Court. My little dog has marked Killian Court as his own.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: It's perfect.
Danny: Culturally, Durham, North Carolina to Cambridge seems to be a big difference. Is that true?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes, I think that's….fair…. The food here is fantastic. Italian food is not big in Durham. Deli food is not big in Durham, so that's actually been fantastic.
Danny: Did you go to the North End for Italian?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Where did I go? I have no sense of direction.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I have gone to Italian restaurants here that I've liked.
Danny: There are a few good ones I could give you the name of in Cambridge, and there are plenty, certainly in the North end.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Oh, yes. I'm going to take that list.
Danny: I can send that to you.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: We've had our bagels and white fish salad from Mamaleh's and S&S Deli, and so I've been enjoying that.
Danny: What about barbecue?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: That is true. I do like barbecue in North Carolina, but there's different kinds of barbecue, and I like the North Carolina vinegar based barbecue. It's pretty good.
Danny: That's a pulled pork.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: It's a pulled pork, yes.
Danny: Sweet tea.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Sweet tea.
Danny: What's up with that?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Sweet tea, if you have a sweet tea in your hand and you drop a few crystals of sugar into it, you can get some great precipitation.
Danny: No kidding, super saturated?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: You can super saturate. Yes, sweet tea is a thing. It's amazing. [laughter]
Danny: Now, I'm not a barbecue expert, but there's someone I wanted to call.
President Price: Hello, Danny.
Danny: President Price, how are you?
Price: Doing well.
Danny: Thanks so much for taking the call. Sally talks about food in Boston. She was pretty excited, but did admit that she missed the barbecue in North Carolina.
Price: Yes, we're well known for barbecue here. Yes, indeed.
Danny: Do you think Boston based barbecue holds a candle to North Carolina barbecue?
Price: [laughs] Absolutely not. I would not want to pick a fight with any of my fellow North Carolinians in any event. Yes, lots of debates about styles of barbecue because North Carolina is split east and west on different barbecue sauces, but it's a state that does love its barbecue, yes.
Danny: Now, don't go borrowing trouble. President Price and I talk about other things too. Just hold your horses.
Danny: I read an article in Duke Today in December, where you said, "From the very start of my career, my success was based not just on good ideas, but on getting the right people assigned to the right projects."
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Totally.
Danny: I've heard you speak here too, in some of the events, it seems like your superpower is creating an environment and a culture where people could do their best work.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: That and picking the right people. It's totally that. You have to figure out what people are good at, what motivates them, and also just make an environment where everybody has to treat each other well, treat each other with respect and courtesy. That can go a long way. People do much better when they're feeling happy about their lives and want to come to work every day. I had great experience with that in my lab. I had great experience with that in building my team, both when I was a vice dean at Duke and a provost at Duke. I'm coming here and I seem to have inherited a team I really like. I think we'll build on that.
Danny: Where do you think that comes from, this natural ability to pull people together?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I don't know. It's funny because I'm an only child. It certainly wasn't like settling sibling rivalry or anything. I don't really know. It goes back…It's funny, I talked to a bunch of different friends who were provosts. You'd be surprised how many of them, and same with presidents, were student government people. I was president of my senior class.
Danny: You were?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes. In a pretty very big high school. If you really enjoy that, that's a skill you can develop over the years.
Danny: Did you play sports at all?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: No. I did sing acapella though. That was very fun.
Danny: That's in a group?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: That's an ensemble.
Danny: You have to coordinate.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Absolutely.
Danny: What do you see as Sally's superpower?
President Price: Well, she is authentic. She is-- if you've met her you know -personable, relaxed, a lot of fun at the same time she's engaging. You will not find a more inquisitive or creative person. She’s open…she's honest in a respectful way and super collaborative. Just a team-oriented person. I would say authentic would be the word I'd use to describe Sally. I think well suited to serving MIT. She is a person who is deeply committed to problem-solving. She likes to ground her work in creative solutions to challenges. I think you will look far and wide before you find anyone else as well suited to living out mind and hand as a philosophy.
Danny: In the same article, Valerie Ashby, who was an assistant dean? or she worked in--
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: No, she was the Dean of Arts and Sciences.
Danny: Oh, at Trinity.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: At Trinity, which is the largest school at Duke Arts and Sciences.
Danny: I see. She's now president of University of Maryland, UMBC. I see. You said you admired one of her comments. It was, "Vision without resources is hallucination." Can you expand on that?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes. I don't know if she coined that or one of her colleagues said it, but I heard her say it and I thought it really resonated. It's very easy to be pie in the sky and it's also very easy to have fantastic vision or win friends very quickly if you have a lot of money to distribute. Part of being a good leader is to have a vision that you can actually achieve. And so, you need to articulate exciting things you want to do and either have resources to do it or at least have some plan to get the resources. I feel like one of my jobs as president is to help get the resources not only for things that I want to do but for what the community wants to do.
Danny: I was reflecting on that comment too. There's a vision - to me is the idea -marshaling the resources and putting it into action is getting it done.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Exactly. It's funny people talk about, “what's your big vision?” I'm starting to think about things I want to do, but the other thing I always say is that my own leadership style is what I call rapid incrementalism. Which is like, see something, do something, start moving to a big goal down the road, but react to things, to the changing environment. React rapidly, take your next step. Then three years down the line, five years down the line, you turn around and you've really gone some distance towards your goal.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: You have to know where you're going, but it's not always a straight line. It has to keep being adjusted.
Danny: You got the north star, but you're willing to make the changes as you need to.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yeah. You might head east and west, then east and west in order to go north.
Danny: Sure. Sounds like you're comfortable in ambiguity.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yeah…not, you know….I am….No more than anyone else I would say.
Danny: I don't know. Sometimes people aren't comfortable unless they know exactly what's happening.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: That's true.
Danny: That's a tough position to be in, I think sometimes.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: And in an environment with so many people doing so many different things, there's always going to be some ambiguity.
Valerie Sheares Ashby: Hi. It's Valerie Sheares Ashby calling. How are you?
Danny: Oh, I'm doing so well. Thank you for calling. How are you?
Valerie Sheares Ashby: I am so well, thank you. Happy to talk to you.
Danny: President Sheares Ashby and I chatted for a while. She just had her presidential inauguration at UMBC and is heading to MIT this weekend for President Kornbluth's inauguration. I wondered about Valerie's perspective on her time with Sally at Duke.
Valerie Sheares Ashby: She is so down to earth, she's never going to change. If people wanted her to be more or less of something at her core, that is not going to happen. Let me tell you, you're going to laugh more than you ever have while you get things done. She is hilarious. She is authentic to her core, down to earth, easy-going, and right alongside that is this brilliant mind, but a sense of humility - where she is able to listen even if she already knows the answer. She may be the smartest person in the room, but she's never going to show up with that. She just doesn't do that.
It is open, it is welcoming, it is humble, and because of that, what she's able to do, and I've watched her do it multiple times, is to really help people move forward around things that are challenging. If a lot of people disagree, you want Sally in that, you want her leading that. Because people will respect the fact that they have been heard, they know that it's authentic, and they know that she will take in what she needs to take in, and then she'll use her brilliant mind, in collaboration with them, to really move towards the solution that works for the institution.
I've watched her do that when I thought this thing is going to die before it leaves the gate, and lo and behold, it does not die. People come out of that knowing that they were heard and valued. That is some crazy superpower that she has. It doesn't come with one word, but it is a beautiful thing to watch.
Danny: Another thing that I love in this article that I read that really resonates with me, especially coming out of the pandemic. One of your initiatives was to find ways to have people spend more time on campus, coming out of the pandemic. You said, "We built our academic strategic plan around the notion of getting people together on campus to have random collisions.” That's that notion of serendipity, baud rate. What can we do to get more people back?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: It's hard. Not so much labs. People are coming into labs, but in intellectual areas where people could still work at home productively on their own stuff, you would also often find the departments fairly empty, and that diminishes the strength of running into your colleagues and talking about things. Even if you don't seem to need everybody else in the department to do your work, it enriches your work. This is particularly true for graduate students, I think, where they're early in their careers, all those interactions with random faculty members, random fellow students really make a difference.
It was easiest to think about in the student arena, where having more student events, both social and academic, you can bring them back. I think that's worked pretty well. But with faculty, if they feel like they're being as productive at home, I think it's harder.
Danny: Yeah, but I miss running into people in the hallway.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Absolutely. Absolutely. I agree with you. One thing that's come up in the listening tour that I've been doing quite a bit, is a place for faculty gathering, and whether it's a place for lunch or a place for drinks or whatever, it’s something that has come up over and over again and is worth thinking about. I remember when I was a grad student at Rockefeller, there was this great faculty bar that was also open to grad students, that you could run a tab, and it was deducted from your paycheck. Now, that may not necessarily be a good thing.
Danny: I love that idea. That's a brilliant idea. We pay cash at the Muddy.
Danny: The email that you sent out, there were a number of comments based on the listening tour that just went on. I did pick up that it would be nice if there were a place where we could gather.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes, definitely need to think about that further.
Danny: Have you ever considered getting back into the classroom?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I have a little secret here which is, my back in the classroom would be, it's almost going through the classroom. I did teach graduate students, but I spent my whole faculty career in a medical school. I never taught undergraduates. I became the provost without ever having taught a single undergraduate.
Danny: All right, I'll keep that between us.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: us and your millions of listening audience. [laughter]
Danny: That's right.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Med school faculty, I did a little med school teaching and then quite a bit of PhD student teaching, both in the classroom, obviously, and mentoring in the lab. But there was really no call on medical school faculty to teach undergrads.
Danny: I ask because I remember Paul Gray, who was president, when he retired actually from chairmanship from the MIT corporation, I believe, he went back into the classroom. It was so impactful, I think, for so many people to see that happen.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Wow. I don't know. I think honestly, if I were going to do something that was impactful, after the presidency, I'm not sure classroom teaching, but things like mentoring postdocs, grant writing mentoring for people, grant critiquing. There are things that I did that I felt like I could really add value to still - much more than teaching undergraduates probably. [music]
Danny: Can we talk about the listening tour a little bit?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes, please.
Danny: Talk about what that process has been like, who you've been speaking to, and what the bunch of things you're hearing?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes, I'm trying to get to every academic department, I'm trying to meet individually with every department head. I've been meeting, obviously with other administrators, but I've also met with random - well, not completely random, because people signed up - groups of staff, some student groups. Tonight, I'm going to one of the graduate dorms, I've been to Tang graduate dorm, meet with different student affinity groups, students from the Black Student Union, I met with some UA students, which I'll do again, I met with the Indigenous group. I'm trying to touch different areas of the campus as much as I can.
Danny: Are there threads that you're seeing?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes, and that page was meant to reflect that to some extent, which is…. first of all, everybody, no matter how many, if somebody has a gripe or complaint or whatever, that's still in the backdrop of everybody loving MIT and being so proud to be here and part of this mission. That I take as now a constant background. MIT does fantastic things and people are really proud to be enabling those fantastic things, so that's great. If I had to say things that could be, that are consistently said that we have to think about, it is an extremely decentralized place. There’s this business of letting 10 to the 6 flowers bloom, et cetera, means that if you want to organize something for the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts, it's an interesting challenge. How you get people across all the different silos to really work together to do something.
That place has a history of that, Rad Lab, and impacting the progression of the war. Now we think about the big problems like climate change, for example, how do we pull together when we've got 20% or more of the Institute working on something to do with climate change? How do you get them to all pull together, or at least pull together in subgroups to actually make a huge impact on these societal problems? I've heard that in a lot of places, I hear the word decentralized, decentralized. I hear the same things here, honestly, that I heard at my previous institution about administrative burden, bureaucracy, this seems to be the way in academia now.
We have to think about ways to facilitate everybody's work, thinking about research administration, how do we get the boulders out of the road so people can actually ride through. So I hear a lot about that. I hear a lot about career development in the staff thinking about how people can move up the ranks, what the ladders look like. It's not that people are unhappy here, but everyone can think of ways that they can make their environment better.
Danny: Sure, I mean, that's a hallmark of MIT, I think.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Exactly, exactly. That's another thing, I think people are incredibly entrepreneurial and they're very proud to talk about the incredible entrepreneurial things they're doing. If you stop a student here and say, "Hey, how are you?" It's only like 10 seconds before they tell you what they're working on, which is amazing. I have to say, throughout the whole organization, and this is true of any organization, leadership really matters. As we start thinking of these initiatives, programs, et cetera, thinking about which faculty are going to own these things and wake up every morning, and think about how to get it done, what key staff they want to partner with. To move these things forward, you need somebody who has ownership, accountability, and some degree of authority and autonomy.
Danny: How about bandwidth?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Bandwidth, that's the other problem here. Everybody's super busy doing things. I can articulate all these things, I can throw out ideas, I can talk to everybody, but I can't actually do it. Thinking about who the people are, who are going to do these things, and part of it's honestly harnessing things that are going on and harnessing bottom up things that people are excited about, and giving them the traction to get it done, that's a little bit different from some top down idea. Now, the great thing about climate change is there is so much going on, so thinking about how we harness those efforts and again, create synergies are a lot easier than starting de novo.
Danny: Exactly, but to your point, you need people to make this real.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Exactly.
Danny: For me, the mind and hand model, for me, the hand piece is not just like what we saw today…
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes, no, it is. It's like…the doers.
Danny: It's putting the idea into action.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Exactly.
Danny: You need people to be responsible for delivering.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes. I remember I was a graduate student and there was a Nobel laureate visiting our campus and I was in a group of students who was talking with him and he said because we at the time as students, you think you just really need to come up with that great idea. By the time you're a Nobel laureate you had a lot of ideas. He said ideas are a dime a dozen. It's the people who actually get them done.
Danny: That's the manus part of what this thing is.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Exactly.
Danny: I think it's a profound motto, quite honestly.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I think that's right. I think that's right. MIT is like the pinnacle of that in academia - of conceiving of great ideas, but actually seeing them happen, making them happen.
Danny: Applying it, making it happen.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Someone I worked for once said the best administrators in academia actually do what they say they're going to do. That's like 98% of being good at the job.
Danny: Say what you do and do what you say type of thing.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Exactly.
Danny: Which goes back to this idea of vision without resources hallucination.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes, exactly.
Danny: What's exciting you for what's post-inauguration?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I'd love to see these things. Part of the problem of going around and talking to everyone is you throw out a lot of things and I want to get to the point where I have a solid feeling they're going to be done. I'm looking forward to actually launching a lot of these things. Really moving things forward. I'm also looking forward to knowing more and more of the community. I'm not wandering around looking blankly people like, who are you? Also, you feel more at home the more time you spend someplace. I'm looking forward to that.
Danny: It took me at least a year to feel comfortable in any position.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I think that's right. I was at my previous place for almost 30 years. That said, I still remember I became provost in 2014. I've been a Duke since '94. But even so, starting a new job there, I just remember lying on the rug in my office one day thinking, "I don't know if I can do this, I'm so tired." You build-up muscle memory and the stamina to do the job. I'm looking forward to all the new and exciting things as they come along but I'm also looking forward to it in a way being almost routine to be here. I just feel that comfort.
Danny: I can't imagine after being somewhere for 30 years, what it's like to pick up and move. I admire -
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: It's been exciting.
Danny: - I think it's wonderful.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: The whole thing happened very quickly.
Danny: Yeah, what? You got a phone call one day?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Pretty much. That's how these searches work, right? There are a lot of presidential searches going on all over the country. I really was not looking to move because I was very happy where I was. I did look at one other place and decided I wasn't interested and I went back to the President of Duke and said, "Okay, I'm staying." That was going to be that. Like a week later, I heard from one of the search firms and they said, "Oh, MIT wants to talk with you." I'm like, "About what?" [laughter] I met with the search committee just as an informational thing - higher educational landscape - and they asked me if I wanted to come up in interview.
Then I was like, "What?" Then I decided to take a look. I have to say that MIT has always been …for biologists… the Mecca, so how can I not look? Also, we talked about all these societal problems, how could you not look at a place that has the potential to actually impact the world? Not self-aggrandizing like, I thought I could come save the planet. I just thought it was a place that has this potential, which would be really exciting to be part of. The other thing is my husband, who's now a biology professor here. When I mentioned MIT, he was like those cartoon dogs whose eyes turn - MIIITTTT. It seemed like a plausible move. My son was already here as a graduate student. He was fine about it.
Danny: He was okay.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: He was okay. That was definitely a plus for me too. Although he will finish in the not too distant future. It just seemed like an attractive move. I miss my friends and I miss a lot of aspects of life. I keep in touch. There's a lot of ways.
Danny: From the time you got the phone call, "Hey, people at MIT want to chat--"
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: It was very fast, because I went to interview, I don't know, maybe a couple weeks later, I don't remember the details. Then I got the offer here very soon thereafter. I was like, "Whoa, okay." I had to think about it a little bit for a moment.
Danny: No kidding. Your gut told you this seems right.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes, this seems right. Also very exciting, good fit. As I said, a good move for both me and my husband and right time of life to do it. I loved being provost at Duke, but I was a ninth-year provost. I wasn't going to do that very much longer. It just seemed like a really interesting opportunity.
Danny: Sally packed her office, put the dogs in the car and came up to Cambridge. See you later Krispy Kreme and Hardee’s. Hello, Duncan's and Friendly’s. [music]
It's 700 easy miles from Durham to Cambridge, but we still need to assess Boston road readiness.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Oh, New York. I loved it. I went to grad school at Rockefeller. I loved living in New York. Loved it.
Danny: That's right on JFK Drive, isn't it? It's right the East River side.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: It's right by the East River, yes.
Danny: So you're equipped to drive in Boston?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: No.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I never drove in New York, and Boston is insane. [laughter] In fact, I have done very little driving here, almost none.
Danny: By choice?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes.[laughs]
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: [laughs] I would rather walk, take a Lyft, get a ride, have my husband drive. I just don't really like to drive, and I could go around the rotary for the next 10 hours.
Danny: I was going to ask you about rotaries.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes, not good. Not good. I'm a terrible driver in any state.
Danny: That's fine. You'll fit right in.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: [laughs] So it seems.
Danny: Just harden yourself and get out on the rotary.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: That's right.
Danny: A rotary is an intersection. As soon as you're in it, you have the right of way. Did you know that?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: No.
Danny: Okay, so when you're entering the rotary, you yield to traffic that's on it.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes, but once you're in, you're going.
Danny: You're going.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Okay, good to know, but I really probably will do very little driving.
Danny: Can I ask what car you drive?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Subaru Forester.
Danny: A Forester, okay. I just want to make sure I don't yell at any Foresters in front of me. Just don't stop once you're in the rotary.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes, good idea.
Danny: Just keep going.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Good idea.
Danny: Have you gotten any parking tickets?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Funny, I have not, but my husband has already gotten one.
Danny: Was it on campus or--
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: No, no, no. It was off-campus.
Danny: Okay, well, you should tend to those.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Although one time I had an experience where I parked on my previous campus and a no-parking sign went up while I was parked. I was like, "What?"
Danny: Wait, this was in North Carolina?
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes, and I got a ticket. I was like, "That is not fair."
Danny: That's such a Cambridge move! That's genius!
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I was like, "This is not right."
Danny: That's exactly what they do here. They paint the curb red while you pull up.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Yes, right, while you're standing there. Exactly.
Danny: Speaking of recruiting, and getting the phone call, I just wanted to show you something here. I was reminded of this when your first email came out about unpacking boxes. I don't know if you're familiar with this company.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I am not.
Danny: Okay. Packing tape, boxes, you name it.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Okay.
Danny: Okay. For our listeners, I was hoping you could just read this address label.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Okay. [laughs]
Danny: Come on, bring it on!
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Daniel Braunstein, President MIT.
Danny: That's it! [laughter]
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: That is excellent. Are you entering that into forms? [laughs]
Danny: That's how it arrives!
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: That is so funny.
Danny: Okay. I hope that you're okay with that because every once in a while, I get the little thing of Tabasco sauce for free when I buy boxes.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: I think you should do that. Actually, if I have some stuff that I really don't want to do, I think you need to fulfill your responsibilities. [laughing]
Danny: Okay. Yeah, just pass it on. [laughter] Good. I'm glad we could still be friends.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Perfect.
Danny: I do have something for you.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: A bottle of Tabasco sauce. [laughs]
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Thank you.
Danny: This is just-
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: It's heavy.
Danny: It is heavy. This is a gift from the lab to you.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Oh, look at that. What is that? I will not say I already have this, the Machinery's Handbook 16th edition.
Danny: The 16th edition, so that was published-- This edition was your birthday edition.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Oh, that is fantastic.
Danny: If you're ever stranded, I think Machinery's Handbook and a toll-free number to McMaster-Carr will get you out of any tough situation.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: There you go, and I like that chapter on rivets. I'm going to read- [crosstalk]
Danny: Do you? Please, do. Rivets, forming tools, fasteners-
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Fantastic.
Danny: -ANSI thread standards, you name it.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Allowances. I like that, allowance and tolerance.
Danny: The tolerance section is the- [crosstalk]
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Allowances and tolerances any time.
Danny: Fits are in there too.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: And fits, there you go. Thank you. Thank you very much. I need the sticker too.
Danny: Yes, take the sticker. Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.
Dr. Sally Kornbluth: Very fun. Thanks very much.
President Price: Sally, you know you're terribly missed here in Durham, but you know as well we're so proud of you and so delighted to see you leading MIT. It's a wonderful institution. We know you will serve it as well as you served Duke all these many years. It is bittersweet in its own way. I will pass along at the Blue Devil is quite jealous that you're spending time with Tim the Beaver.
Danny: Someone on campus here said once a Blue Devil always a Blue Devil.
President Price: This is true. This is true. I'm sure Sally will catch Duke in action on the playing field now and again. She'll carry blue with her. It's not quite true that if you mixed blue and red you would come up with gray. But maybe if you made some mistakes along the way, you might, but one way or another, she will make this color palette work.
President Sheares Ashby: I cannot begin to thank you, Sally, enough for everything that you've done for me. You not only gave me an opportunity when I was not the likely - a normal fit for Duke, but you also provided an environment where you taught me leadership, demonstrated leadership, and you let me get my job. I think it's because of everything that I learned from you and with you that I am able to be in the position to even be considered for the job that I have today. I am forever grateful for your friendship, and your kindness, and your leadership and for taking a risk on a public-school girl to come to a place like Duke. So, thank you so very much.
Danny: Starting with our current president. Name them in reverse chronological order.
Anthony: I literally just forgot our current president’s name, like you asked me…and I just forgot. [laughter]
Danny: All right. We're starting with President Kornbluth.
Sandra: OK. I can do that. We have Sally Kornbluth. Then we have L. Rafael Reif.
Adam: Then I have no clue after that. This is terrible. You're going to use this? Yeah, you will use it.
Danny: [laughs] How can I not use it?
Sandra: Susan Hockfield.
Ben: Charles Marstiller Vest. Paul Edward Gray.
Danny: [laughs] He gets the middle names.
Sandra: I know this one. Isn't that Ho-Jo?
Sandra: It's because I love Ho-Jo. His legacy, God who was before Paul Gray?
Hector: Julius Adams Stratton. Oh that's from Stratton Student Center.
Danny: Yes. Is it making sense now? The buildings are named after presidents.
Hector: Yeah. It is actually crazy - I didn't know. James Rhyne Killian. Oh that is crazy. I didn't know he actually was like a president. Oh.
Ben: Samuel Wesley Stratton. Seven….This guy was president for like a month. [laughter] It was--
Gillian: Nichols……Thompson. He's back for another round.
Ben: Are we counting the acting ones? The acting one was…Thompson. Elihu Thompson - who was acting before and after. [laughter]
Danny: That's right.
Ben: Before him was….Maclauren.
Sandra: I don't know how he knows this many. I only got halfway through
Ben: Francis Amasa Walker. William Barton Rogers 2nd stint as President. John Daniel Runkel. And then the first president, William Barton Rogers.
Sandra: That's insane.
Danny: That's nuts. How on earth did you know that?
Danny: All right, Tony you've had about a week to study since we first met.
Anthony: That is correct.
Danny: Reverse chronological order. Starting with Sally Kornbluth.
Anthony: …ummmmmmm… [crickets chirping]
I want to thank President Kornbluth for hanging out with us down in the lab. Welcome, Sally! We hope you enjoy your inauguration. You know where to come if you need Tabasco sauce to just put your feet up. Thanks to Martha and Susan at the President's office for helping out with this little production. Thanks to President Price of Duke University and President Sheares Ashby of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, UMBC, and to our eyes and ears on the street, Danny and Dylan, and all our friends of the Grounds Department. This place looks awesome because of you.
Of course, thanks to our students Anthony, Ben, Sandra, Gillian, Hector and Adam. They ought to get HASS credit for participating in our presidential quiz, don't you think?
Most of all, thank you for listening. Have a wonderful weekend, everybody. We hope to see you at the inauguration.
[00:39:49] [END OF AUDIO]