MIT Neuroscientist Steps Down Following Hiring Controversy

Director no more.
MIT neuroscientist Susumu Tonegawa will resign as leader of the Picower Institute.

Donna Coven

The Nobel Prize-winning director of a neuroscience center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is stepping down in the wake of a controversy over the abortive hiring of a young female biologist in June. In a 16 November letter to MIT Provost Rafael Reif and Science Dean Robert Sibley, Susumu Tonegawa, who leads the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, said he would resign as director on 31 December, "when my appointment expires, so I can devote all my energy and focus to research."

Tonegawa's resignation comes 5 months after MIT's unsuccessful courtship of Alla Karpova, a postdoctoral fellow now at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Karpova ended up turning down a faculty position at MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research. On 2 November a panel examining the incident, in which Tonegawa sent "inappropriate" e-mails to Karpova to discourage her from taking the job, issued a report that criticized the conduct of Tonegawa and other faculty members. The report also said the behavior illuminated a lack of clear mission for the school's many-faceted neuroscience effort and turf battles between its various institutes (ScienceNOW, 3 November).

Tonegawa, who will remain on the faculty, said in his resignation letter that "I remain committed to helping foster a new spirit of collaboration in MIT's neuroscience community." Stanford University neuroscientist Ben Barres, who has closely followed the controversy, called the resignation "an important step forward in enabling a more collaborative and supportive environment in the neuroscience community at MIT."

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