Meet our faculty
Scholarship is at its best when it draws upon a diverse community. When individuals are exposed to novel perspectives from a broader group, their thoughts become more creative, and they generate innovative solutions they might not have otherwise considered. Here, Stanford faculty members share their breadth of life experiences and interests that fuel the dynamic learning environment on campus.
Associate Professor of Computer Science
“Humans are the only animals that can tell stories from seeing pictures. One of my projects involves teaching a computer how to do this kind of work, how to look at an image and determine what’s important and tune out the ‘noise.’ Combining language and vision isn’t easy, and every day it’s challenging to think of the most fundamental questions of what intelligence is. I like the feeling of being challenged and not completely at ease – we should reinvent ourselves and our research.
“Artificial intelligence is a deeply humanistic discipline. We tend to focus on the ‘cool’ factor, but what excites me and my students is the mission of changing transportation, health care, human communication and more for the better. Even still, deciding to dive into computer science and AI in graduate school was difficult. As an immigrant, I felt an intense personal responsibility to take care of my family, including my parents, who were then immigrants in survival mode. Pursuing graduate studies meant delaying the start of my working career, with unclear prospects after finishing graduate school. Ultimately, no one can give you this kind of pressure – it’s something you choose to take on, just as you choose to stay true to your responsibilities. When you know you’re staying true to yourself, you stay happy, even if things aren’t always easy.”
Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and of Bioengineering
“My first set of students recently graduated. Seeing them arrive at conclusions they weren’t capable of a year or two ago, and knowing that I was part of their maturation process, has provided some of my greatest moments of joy. One thing that’s invigorating about working at Stanford is the opportunity to influence the top students in the world, and to do so in an atmosphere that enables the pursuit of ideas and taking risks, regardless if they are proven successful.
“Teaching students is a natural extension of what drives my work, which is my deep desire to help people. But waiting for your work to finally reach the people you’re trying to help can be frustrating. Many of our efforts are motivated by translational research: putting the products we work on in the lab into the hands of people who need them. When you’re dealing with this kind of interdisciplinary medical research, the road can be hard and long. You need to be patient, willing to learn a language you’re not comfortable speaking, or to translate your work to people who don’t understand jargon. And you need to be able to endure the time it takes to pass through regulation. But the prospect of using biomedical optics to help people lead better lives is part of what motivates me every day.”
Associate Professor of Musicology
“As an undergraduate, I double majored in history and music; at that point I didn’t really understand that they could be intertwined. It wasn’t until I was a senior in college that one of my professors suggested that I pursue musicology, which is the study of the history of music. Earlier this year actually, my mother told me, ‘When you went off to study musicology in grad school, we didn’t know what you were doing… but we kept our mouths shut.’ And I’m thankful that my family didn’t plant a seed of doubt or skepticism back then, because I see that anxiety in more and more students: There’s reluctance to study something without a clear path toward a job and supporting oneself. I remember that sense of uncertainty myself as I searched for an environment where I could immerse myself in music, its history, and how it intersects with and informs our understanding of the world today.
I think the performing arts are exciting because they always have to be reincarnated: A musical score is a set of instructions from the past, and you need live people to reanimate it. So a musical work exists in multiple eras, from the moment it was first created through the most recent performance. The work I do on gender in opera is a perfect example of that. We can explore how changing ideas about gender inform our perception of operas from the past and our performances of them now. The gender systems and values of the past have changed so much, and we come to old artworks with new questions about modern people, voices, and new ideas about gender and sexuality. The arts are a wonderful place where the past and the present are in conversation. And here at Stanford, people are constantly in conversation with one another. During my time as the director of the program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, I saw how faculty and students in different disciplines were incredibly engaged with their material and with one another. People are very intellectually generous here.”
Associate Professor of Classics
“Studying the ancient Romans is like doing a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with only 53 pieces. When studying contemporary society, there’s no shortage of source material. With the Romans there’s much less, so we need to be creative to fill in the picture and bring it to life. I want to show students the rich variety within ancient cultures and their afterlives. They’re much more than just the columns outside the Supreme Court building. Let’s try to understand the hopes and fears of different communities around the ancient Mediterranean, even if they’re not the ones whose texts have survived.
“I focus on what happens when different groups of people come into contact: What persons, ideas and objects can we discern? What kinds of impact are involved? Generally speaking, it’s the victors that tell the stories, so we need to look for ways of going beyond that. It’s an intellectual challenge, but also an ethical one. In such ways we need a critical and self-aware dimension in our research. Stanford makes it easy to collaborate with scholars from different fields, and this has helped me develop a broader approach. In studying any society, ancient or not, language deserves to be a key element whenever possible. Regardless of your field, you can never know enough languages. Studying languages – even just a little bit, and even if a language is no longer anyone’s mother tongue – is fundamental if we’re going to be humble, respect different perspectives and see the breadth of human experience.”
Assistant Professor of Arabic and of Comparative Literature
“Nothing separates us from scholars working in Arabic and Persian 1,000 years ago. When those scholars did work in science fields like physics and optics, they didn’t have all the tools we have now, but when it comes to how metaphors work or how poetry is beautiful, we’re at the same level of expertise. We have access to the same raw material – our brains, our words, literature, the things we like reading. Now, the task in my research is capturing the quality of their work and translating it into something that people interested in language can benefit from today. It’s tremendous fun. If you have a familiarity with how a language works, you can better understand the things people say and do using that and other languages.
“And the things we don’t know are worth finding out. Society needs universities that produce knowledge, including knowledge that doesn’t seem to have any immediate impact and doesn’t seem to be immediately monetizable. The process of translating something tells us about ourselves and where we are today. That’s the payoff – you get to think about how we humans find out knowledge.”
Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences
“My dad and I do similar work. He was a geology major in Taiwan and moved to the United States to do graduate work in material science research. I’m the youngest of three daughters, and none of us were interested in what he was doing when we were young, but we ended up peripherally learning more about it because he worked long hours during weekends. We’d regularly visit his lab and see a lot of cool stuff going on, but he never pressured us to pursue his line of work. I think he knew that if he did, we’d push back.
“Later on, after I made the difficult decision to take a hiatus from pursuing a graduate degree in a line of research I was no longer certain I wanted to follow, my dad offered to show me around his workplace. After seeing what he and his colleagues were doing, I became captivated with their projects and went on to pursue graduate research in a similar field. Now, I’m working to understand how materials from inside the Earth behave at extreme conditions, such as high pressures and variable temperatures. In my lab, we try to simulate the conditions inside our planet. We then study how lattice structures and atoms rearrange, and how the properties of materials change as a result. It’s exciting for me because it involves things that people haven’t seen before. We’re discovering new geological materials that nature knows exist, but that no person has ever seen.”
Associate Professor of History
“My research on racial passing really began when my aunt told me a story about a family member who passed as white in the 1940s. Our family member resisted assuming the life of a white woman, but her mother insisted that this was the best – if not the only – way to succeed in Jim Crow America, so her daughter agreed. Years passed, and the daughter married a white man and had children. Then, her mother called and begged her to come home because her father was dying. Her daughter had no choice but to say, ‘I can’t. It’s not possible.’ At that point, she was a white woman and there was simply no turning back. My aunt’s magnificent storytelling and this personal connection to racial passing inspired me to delve into the history of how racial passing affects families, and to explore the pain, loss and separation that resulted.
“It is critically important to study race now. We must study race, gender, class, sexual orientation and the intersections of these identity categories. We are dealing with many unresolved issues that stem from the long and enduring history of white supremacy. We have to understand the history of white supremacy so that we can challenge and dismantle it. It’s inspiring to teach students who are so courageous in wanting to confront issues of racial injustice, economic inequality, sexual violence, sexism and multiple forms of discrimination. My students have taught me to constantly be aware of what’s happening in the current moment. To be effective teachers and historians, we must connect historical knowledge to our own times. We must help students to see their place in our history and to give them the tools to create a more just world.”
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
“I’m always looking for ways to make connections between humans and science. I’m currently studying the development of an artificial sense of touch for humans, particularly for its applications in medicine and rehabilitation. I’ve always been interested in human-machine interactions, but I didn’t always know I wanted to be an engineer. When I first entered college, I was considering becoming a lawyer because I like working with people. But then I took an introductory mechanical engineering class and fell in love with the field when I discovered how technology allows you to directly improve people’s lives.
“Part of our research efforts to improve the future of human health and quality of life is developing minimally invasive medical robots for pediatric patients. These robots demonstrate enormous potential because they can precisely execute difficult maneuvers. Although some successful surgical robots exist, they’re too large for use on small children in certain procedures. One idea we’re pursuing is personalized surgical robots. These are made possible through 3D printing, medical imaging, and virtual modeling — which would allow mechanical engineers and surgeons to work together to create robots customized for an individual’s body and needs. These tailored machines would minimize the invasiveness of operations and advance the precision of procedures, significantly reducing patients’ recovery time and risk of infection.
“To introduce robotics to groups that would otherwise be underrepresented in our field, my lab runs an outreach program to conduct introductory engineering sessions with small groups of students. We demonstrate what robots can do outside of the movies and show them what a diverse team can look like in practice. I strive to make my lab a good role model for diversity, and outreach allows me to share my vision for inclusion with more of the world, as well as provides the opportunity to positively influence younger generations.”
Assistant Professor of Art and Art History
“At times, art has been an escape from a reality that I didn’t see myself as being a part of. It’s served an escape from some of the brutality I’ve witnessed. It’s a space where I’m able to make things right and whole, where I can question things and craft my own method for reorganizing the world. It’s also an opportunity for me to step outside of what’s happening around me and become a mirror, creating things that reflect where we are as a culture. I’m part of the culture, but as an artist, a portion of me feels that it’s my job to step partially outside of it in order to record it. I love what I do: it allows me time and space to process, question, and create. My field also allows me to explore and advocate for areas of our world that aren’t getting enough attention. Ultimately, art is a way to remake and redirect the world. I’m lucky I get to spend my life doing that.
“I’m a photographer because ultimately that’s the way I look at the world, and it’s the medium I always return to. One nice feature of saying you’re a photographer is that everybody knows what that means and can relate to it. I think that in a way, being a photographer has simplified identity for me, while still leaving it open-ended enough to define the aspects of it that I want to. Photography is everywhere, and people connect with it on a personal level. Everyone’s taking photos and storing them, daily. Most people may not know what to do with them, how to categorize them, or if they’re good or bad, but we all have catalogs of our lives that we’re carrying around wherever we go.
Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics
“It’s an exciting time to be an aerospace engineer. There have been amazing breakthroughs in the field, such as the realization of rockets that can launch, land and launch again. My research group is developing micro- and nanoscale sensors that can survive and function within extreme conditions found on the surface of Mars, Venus or within rocket engines. It’s thrilling to think that our work could eventually impact space exploration.
“Deciding which engineering problems to solve and how to pursue the best solutions can be challenging. After completing my doctorate, I didn’t know which career path to choose. I ended up taking a job in industry, which opened my eyes to the challenges of commercialization and taught me how to transition a design concept to an actual product. However, I realized that I missed being in an academic research environment, so I took a nontraditional path and became a postdoctoral researcher after working in industry. It was a risky career choice, and people close to me questioned my decision, but the move was a helpful deviation in my career path. As a postdoctoral researcher, I learned how to run a lab, mentor students, teach classes, write proposals, and eventually, I decided to pursue a career in academia. Now, as an assistant professor, my work is multifaceted – I’m never doing the same thing every day – and I get to work with amazing students.”
Associate Professor of Pediatrics (Infectious Diseases) and of Microbiology and Immunology
“We’re really like walking planets to the microbes that inhabit us. For me, looking in the microscope is like being in a submarine, exploring landscapes that most people will never get to see. Shrinking through the porthole of a microscope and exclaiming ‘Mira!’ (Look!) with my students brings me back every day to the sense of wonder that gave me the courage to pursue higher learning.
“In a similar way, a place like Stanford is really made special by the communities of people working and studying here. The freedom to brainstorm with all of these brilliant people is the campus’s biggest asset. I grew up in Mexico, and it was very challenging leaving my home to attend college in the United States, but I was lucky to be able to explore what I wanted to do. That’s one of the reasons that I stayed in the United States. This country lets you pursue things that are luxuries in other places. Along the way, I’ve learned that the personal and cultural history you bring to the medical profession is just as valuable as your medical training – so don’t forget who you are. Even studying biology, you can see that diversity creates resiliency, and increases the number of solutions to problems.”
Assistant Professor of Medicine (Hematology) and of Genetics
“When I was really young, I was fascinated by space exploration. I thought about becoming an astronaut because it allows you to go out and discover the unknown. In my current work with genetics and medicine, I get to do that, but instead of looking outward, I look within. During my undergrad years I became obsessed with the idea of studying how bacteria and viruses can impact our health when I learned that they could be associated with and cause cancer. After completing a PhD in biochemistry and finishing my medical training, I began a postdoctoral fellowship, which was right around the time that genomics became a fast-growing field. Suddenly, the ability to sequence genomes was at our fingertips. This lent itself well to better understanding the organisms that live within us and on us. While I was still a postdoc, I put together the genome of a newly discovered bacteria. There was something special about being part of such groundbreaking work. That’s when I decided I wanted to go after discovering new organisms, understanding what they do, and applying this knowledge to medicine. We’re discovering new things in our lab every day, so it’s an opportunity to fulfill my desire for a sense of wonderment while working to improve medicine and help people.
“There’s always an opportunity to learn when you work with people. While caring for cancer patients, I’ve had the opportunity to see how people savor and appreciate each day. I try to take the sadness and stress that comes with the job and channel it into motivation and appreciation for life. Being by my patients’ sides as they go through difficult times has allowed me to see some of the best of human nature, which I value deeply. It’s important to me that my trainees understand that there are people and stories behind the samples that we evaluate, so that they can be emotionally connected to our mission. Everyone here is intellectually committed to the work, but that can only take you so far. Having an emotional connection to your work allows you to be truly invested in what you do. For me, another component of that investment is a desire to engage the entire world in our efforts in order to improve global health equity. I think we have a duty to push the forefront while also bringing up the rear by sharing our discoveries and collaborating with researchers from around the world.”
Jennifer DeVere Brody
Professor of Theater and Performance Studies
“I come from a long line of academics, and that history has been hard-earned. My parents met in graduate school in 1959, and because they were an interracial couple, their marriage would have been illegal had they not been in a northern state. After they graduated, my father’s advisor reached out to a university through the “old boys’ network” because this was before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had been established and before jobs were advertised publicly. My parents were told that the institution had met their quota for Jews and wouldn’t hire my mother because they didn’t accept black professors. Fast-forward 30 years, and they both got jobs at that same institution. Now that I’m the director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, I get to drive the mission to increase faculty diversity and carry on their legacy. As a black queer scholar, I don’t often see my identity reflected in the faculty at Stanford, but we’re working to make this a place where everyone of all faiths and persuasions feels welcome and can pursue their interests, where we can learn from one another and have truly robust intellectual discussions.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t explored and stayed open to new conversations, possibilities, and life paths. As an undergrad, I was a Victorian Studies major, and early in my career I wanted to be a manuscripts librarian. One of the first fellowships I was awarded was at the British Library, where Marx used to study. While working there, I discovered 75 plays about black women and slavery in the 19th century and these ended up becoming an integral part of my first book project. About 15 years ago, I switched from English to theater and performance studies, which looks at a wider range of material than just the printed word. I’ve always loved thinking about the ways in which art is a matter of social justice. At one point, I thought I might want to be a museum curator, but I’m very glad I became a professor; I like the variety, the new questions that emerge, and the opportunity to work with Stanford’s number-one asset—its brilliant students.”
Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering and of Mechanical Engineering
“Natural talent is helpful, but I think grit is far more important. I come from a very modest upbringing, and my parents taught me and my siblings that education was vital – that working hard and studying would open a lot of doors. That’s definitely been the case for me. My perseverance has served me well: For every 10 good ideas I think I have, maybe one or two of them actually pans out. People see the one or two successes, but no one sees the other eight failures, which can give a false impression of ease. People talk about taking risks and overcoming failures, but we only celebrate “the unicorn,” the company or project that becomes a billion-dollar success. I’ve realized that the people who eventually make it in their field have failed in different ways; it’s much more important to stick with something than it is to have some sort of inherent gift.
“I’ve always had an appreciation for science; ever since I was a kid, I’ve been curious about how things work. In bio-inspired engineering, we look at nature for inspiration to solve engineering problems. We then begin to figure out how to translate a given biological system into new and useful technology – such as wind turbines that are inspired by how fish school together in a group, which we can implement in wind farms for sustainable energy production. At Stanford, I’ve found that chance encounters often lead to unexpected and fulfilling research collaborations where each team member considers a project from a different angle: Some people think about the biological effects of a solution, while others consider the social or economic implications. One of the great things about our campus is that you have all of these different perspectives in one place – which was a huge draw for me when deciding to come here.”
Associate Professor of Music
“Anything worth designing is worth designing beautifully. There’s an art to shaping our world in a way that’s both useful and human. Only recently have I realized that my work with music and technology is unified by design, specifically a notion of ‘artful design.’ We can’t simply ‘smush’ disciplines together and hope things work out – and design is how we fit all the elements together in the right place and order to create something new. Stanford is a place where creative things happen naturally at the intersection of many different disciplines, and such an intersection is where I work and play. And the weather here is pretty good, too.
“It’s not enough to follow your interests – you have to fight for them. Back when I was an undergrad, there was no academic program that combined computers, music and design. Even as I pursued it out of interest, it was with constant doubt in my mind: ‘By doing this, am I shooting myself in the foot, or ultimately making myself unemployable?’ The one reassurance was knowing that if I were to ‘fail,’ it would be without regret because it was done out of solid interest. Looking back, life feels like a feedback loop, and I seem to be living what I am working on. And much like the book I’m currently writing, and the design process itself, I have no idea how it will turn out – and along the way, it’s enjoyable, sometimes agonizing, but always filled with curiosity.”
Professor of English
“Stories – narratives – are very powerful. I love literature for what it can teach us, what it makes us feel and how we use it to communicate with each other. The first book I remember really affecting me was the children’s book Striped Ice Cream by Joan Lexau. It moved me deeply. Raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I grew up around Mexican Americans and Native Americans. I did not know any African Americans at the time and would not meet any for several years. And so the book powerfully framed my understanding of what kind of people African Americans might be. The experience provided an early lesson in the power of narrative to create understanding and foster empathy.
“As much as I loved reading as a child, I did not always know that I would – or even could – be a professor. And my path to Stanford was by no means a smooth or straight one! Few people know that for the first 10 years of my young adulthood, I was involved in electoral politics in Houston, Texas – I was, in fact, a political wife. At that point, I would never have believed it if you told me that I would ever be a professor at Stanford.
“But my love of reading and my desire to seek out answers to some of humanity’s most fundamental questions took me on the path to graduate school and academia. Now, in my ongoing conversations with scholars across the disciplines, I research how narrative shapes the schemas through which people understand race and other significant issues in the world today.”
Kathryn Gin Lum
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
“Studying religion lets me ask what people care deeply about and what they do about it. Being a historian allows me to spend time in dusty archives hearing what they have to say. I enjoy telling stories rooted in archival finds and love sharing the richness of American religious history with students at Stanford.
“One thing that people don’t often realize about studying religion is that religious concepts can offer a unique window onto seemingly non-religious people and environments. ‘Religion’ doesn’t just have to mean traditions like Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Buddhism. The features of many religions – such as myths, rituals and end-times scenarios – can be found in environments that seem secular, too. Stanford, for instance, has myths about its founders and rituals like fountain hopping. The culture at Stanford, and Silicon Valley in general, instills a drive to save the world and preserve our minds through technology. Stanford creates community and a shared sense of identity as much as many churches or temples. Understanding how humans are religious is key to understanding what it means to be human in the world, both historically and in the present.”
Associate Professor of Theater and Performance Studies
“In India, performance is part of the everyday life of the city. You can’t escape it – whether it’s cinema, visual performances or your cab driver bursting into song. I started acting at a young age and have always been in love with reading, particularly Shakespeare and Chekhov. As I grew up, I wanted to understand drama, not just as words on a page, but also as stories carried by actors’ bodies. Even when a theater is dark and empty, it is still a very affective space.
“At Stanford, many students use performance to draw attention to issues of social inequality. Our students’ commitment to social justice moves me – they’re what I love the most about Stanford. Many students are drawn to my classes because they’re interested in questions of racial, gender or queer justice. Their creativity pushes the boundaries, and although one might assume that studying theater and performance studies means you emerge as an actor, the field is a good training ground for a variety of careers, including law, consulting and education. The humanities-based curriculum develops students’ abilities in critical thinking and writing, leadership, stage presence and collaboration, all essential skills for a range of careers.”
Associate Professor of Philosophy
“This past year, I took physics, math and chemistry courses with freshmen. It’s much easier the second time around – I’ve figured out how to learn! When you spend your time as a teacher carefully trying to explain things to others, it makes you better at understanding others’ explanations. Indeed, one of my professors last year taught me physics when I was a Stanford undergraduate. These classes may seem like they don’t have much to do with philosophy, but to make real progress on some central philosophical questions we need to look carefully at the interconnections between philosophy, science and mathematics.
“I think philosophy has often not been taught effectively. We often throw students in the deep end of the swimming pool by giving them difficult classics or hard contemporary research articles. More students would be interested in the humanities if they were given courses that met them where they are. I’ve also been studying non-Western intellectual traditions in the hopes of redesigning my classes so that they do a better job of assessing why we’ve ended up doing the kind of philosophy we do. We need to give our students the tools of rational, critical thinking so that they can engage in difficult conversations even when their disagreements are generated by deep differences in background worldviews.”