Peter Salovey’s Vision of 21st-Century Teaching and Research

In late January, Yale University President Peter Salovey and six University professors, including Fellow for Global Affairs John Kerry, attended the world’s most high-powered annual gathering, the World Economic Forum at Davos. Yet one of the key subjects of the Yale contingent’s presentations there involved a matter not particularly associated with Davos or economics or high-powered gatherings of world leaders—namely, happiness.

Neuroscience has gained considerable ground at Yale in recent years as a leading funding priority, and Yale-sponsored research in the field has produced fascinating discoveries about the nature of human happiness—and its opposite. (Hint: Kill your phone.)

At Davos, at Yale Assembly, and at the Yale Explores NYC event last November, Yale Psychology faculty research on well-being and mindfulness (particularly that of Laurie Santos, Hedy Kober, and Molly Crockett, all of whom traveled with Salovey to Davos this year) has featured prominently in Salovey’s showcasings of cutting-edge work at Yale. Which makes sense: Salovey himself holds a Psychology Ph.D. from Yale and helped to found the field of emotional intelligence.

“Happiness” is of course not a traditional field of study but an interdisciplinary one—and “interdisciplines” figure prominently in Salovey’s vision of 21st-century research and teaching at Yale. At the 2018 Assembly, Salovey spoke forcefully of the need to “unite the humanities” and “break up siloes”: “The most interesting work in humanities research and teaching is cross-talk—bringing faculty members together across departments,” he said. “We seek to build communities that break down barriers created by [academic] departments housed in separate buildings.” Salovey has also repeatedly emphasized the importance of supporting research that is “data-driven” and “policy- and empirically-oriented … as opposed ideological or anecdotal.”

Finally, Salovey has in recent months extolled the astonishing advances being made at Yale in the fields of the data sciences; the environmental and evolution sciences; and particularly the groundbreaking field of quantum computing.

In the last of these areas, a team of Yale professors is putting itself in the running for at least one major world-historical prize, Salovey hinted at Assembly, though he shied away from offering further details. It appears that, however unscientific, the idea of the jinx haunts even the most psychologically well-balanced and rational among us.

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