Emory Report

May 8, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 32

Don Stein: Retirement, yes. Retiring, no way.

by Eric Rangus

So, Don Stein, how would you like to be remembered?

"Oh, that's a tough question," said the soon-to-be-retired Dean of the Graduate School, leaning back in his chair.

"In this day and age, I think just being remembered for a year would be a goal in its own right," he said, half-jokingly. "The average term of deans across the country is three-to-four years, so just being remembered as someone who occupied the office is probably an accomplishment."

Stein, whose almost five-year term will end May 31, then got down to business.

"I think I'd like to be remembered as someone who strengthened the graduate school, who helped ensure and sustain the quality of its programs, and who helped to enhance the reputation of the graduate school beyond Atlanta, Georgia and the South," he said.

Then he paused.

"I think that's plenty," he said. "It's probably very ambitious."

Ambitious, yes. Impossible, no.

"Don Stein has done a very good job," said President Bill Chace. "By that I mean he has wrestled with complex issues in a clear, rigorous and wholly professional manner. As a scientist trained in very sophisticated and important procedures, he has helped teach Emory how to model itself after the best of academic life."

After seven years as dean of the graduate school at Rutgers-Newark (N.J.), Stein took over the deanship at Emory in September 1995. Since then, Emory's Graduate School has enriched several academic areas. Among them:

  • Ph.D. programs in nursing and biomedical engineering, the latter in collaboration with Georgia Tech.
  • a new graduate division in physical, materials and computational science (PMACS), which is a mix of physics, chemistry, math and computer sciences.
  • a master's program in clinical research.
  • a summer program at the University of Salamanca in Spain.

Stein also has led efforts to strengthen the Teaching Assistant Training and Teaching Opportunity (TATTO) program, which began in 1992 under his predecessor, George Jones, and is now a model for other universities around the country, and he has seen the growth of the Institute of Jewish Studies. Two efforts are currently in the planning stages, one a Ph.D. program in the business school and the other a study abroad program at Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg, France.

"When I was at Rutgers, it used to take an average of five years to create a new Ph.D. program; so, working with the faculties and staffs of the various schools, we've worked very fast to create a substantial number of new, very exciting graduate programs," Stein said.

"Don Stein has overseen the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in an era of tremendous grwoth," said Provost Rebecca Chopp. "His passionate concern for teaching and research have been demonstrated by this era of growth."

The number of dean's teaching fellowships has also risen during Stein's tenure. In fact, two have just been created to send a pair of students to Dillard University, a historically black college in New Orleans, for a year of teaching.

While the number of graduate students at Emory hasn't climbed much--mainly because there's no room on campus to put them--the quality has gone up (test scores, diversity of background, higher retention rates, better placement after graduation, increasingly higher quality of dissertation and thesis work).

One of Stein's most lasting accomplishments is the graduate school's postdoctoral fellow policy, which like the TATTO program, has become a benchmark nationally.

"This needed attention because a lot of postdoctoral fellows, especially those from abroad, weren't always afforded the same kind of treatment and protection that you would expect at a major university," Stein said.

So, a comprehensive plan was set up that determined a minimum stipend level, set term limits (ensuring that the postdocs would not be excluded from certain benefits normally afforded to people working on long-term projects), spelled out the rights of the postdoc and the responsibilities of the mentor, and defined postdoc activities as a training experience, not a work experience.

"We wanted to make sure it was really a training experience for [post-doc fellows] and that they were given a certain level of protection that would be accorded to any member of the faculty or staff," Stein said. "A distinguished research university such as Emory needs to have a leadership role in doing that."

Stein is retiring as dean only--he will remain on the faculty as Asa G. Candler Professor of Psychology and Neurology and one of the country's leading researchers in brain trauma. He has written close to 200 articles and papers and written or edited 15 books. The 16th will be a history of neuroscience.

When Stein began studying brain injuries in the 1960s, the prevailing opinion was that nothing could be done. Stein's views ran against the flow. He felt injuries were treatable, he just wasn't sure how.

"I began work in an area where less than a handful of people were working," he said. "Everybody believed that once an injury occurred in the adult brain there was no possibility of recovery, no possibility of regeneration."

Stein earned his bachelor's in experimental psychology and a master's in experimental-comparative psychology at Michigan State University, and began his career doing clinical psychology at a Veterans Affairs hospital there. Many of his patients had served in World War II and Korea, and Stein saw that conventional treatment of brain injuries might not be the best course of action.

"I saw many things that I just couldn't deal with from the point of classical psychotherapeutic techniques," he said. "It became immediately clear to me that I'd have to learn much more about how the brain works."

Stein has spend the better part of the last 30 years searching for answers to that question. Specifically he has focused on treating brain injury and has experimented with several methods--pharmacological, hormonal--and some of his most notable recent work has been in studying the sex differences in recovery from brain injury and how certain female hormones can help treatment for both sexes.

Stein's future clearly will include more than simply reminiscing about the past.

"After 13 years of being a dean, I just felt that it was time, to get back to the faculty and complete this very important cycle of my life," he said. "In the time I have left before full retirement, I really want to see this lifetime of work reach its culmination, which is to go from the bench--the basic research laboratory--to the clinic."

So, Dean Stein, how do you think "retirement" will be?

After searching a couple seconds for the right words, he blurted them out.

"I think it'll be great, actually," he said. "My life will be easier, less complex. I will be more in control of my life, rather than having someone else control my calendar."

Stein said he will spend more time concentrating on his personal life: traveling for pleasure, writing, indulging his interests in art and art history--maybe even returning to school for a degree in the subject.

He also will continue his work in the academy. For instance, last month he received a Fulbright Scholarship to work in Paris next fall.

"I just hope that I can continue to contribute to the field and the training of my students, as well as to the development of my profession as a whole," Stein said.

And that is perhaps the easiest way to be remembered.

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