Nicholas Christakis to be next master of Silliman College

Nicholas Alexander Christakis, the Sol Goldman Family Professor of Social and Natural Science, has been named the next master of Silliman College.

President Peter Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway announced the appointment Feb. 26 in a joint letter to the Silliman College community. The appointment to a five-year term is effective July 1.

Christakis, whose work has ranged from individual patient care to the search for social and genetic threads that bind humanity together, is a social scientist and physician with appointments in the Departments of Sociology, Internal Medicine, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Biomedical Engineering. He is a 1984 graduate of Yale College, where he was a resident of Ezra Stiles.

“Professor Christakis is widely recognized as a visionary scholar and researcher,” said Salovey. “I am delighted to welcome Nicholas and his family to this new role in our community, and delighted for the students of Silliman College.”

Christakis’s research focuses on biosocial science, network science, and behavior genetics; he is director of the Human Nature Lab and co-director of the Yale Institute for Network Science. In addition to teaching his popular undergraduate course, Sociology 126, “Health of the Public,” his work with college students has included advising a number of student-run start-up companies.

He was selected by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and twice cited among the “Top 100 Global Thinkers” by Foreign Policy magazine. His book with James H. Fowler on social networks, “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives,” has been translated into nearly 20 languages. He practiced medicine as a hospice doctor until five years ago. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“My wife and I are proud to be Sillimanders,” Christakis said. “The residential college system is one of the most distinctive features of Yale. Its virtue lies in the way it provides an intellectual, social, and moral home for students, and Yale is remarkable for its commitment to this kind of education.”

After earning an M.D. and M.P.H. from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, Christakis began his career at the University of Chicago in 1995. Before coming to Yale in 2013, he spent 12 years as a professor of sociology and of medicine at Harvard, where he also served as master of Pforzheimer House at Harvard College from 2009 to 2013.

Christakis said his passions include public health, bad action movies, and good chocolate. He has a black belt in Shotokan Karate, which he acquired after training at Yale, and which he plans, “rather quixotically,” to dust off after a number of years. Joining him at Silliman as associate master is Erika Christakis, who is a lecturer on early childhood education at Yale’s Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy. A 1986 graduate of Harvard College, she has diverse experiences in child development, early education, public health, and journalism.

The Christakises have three children: Eleni, 17, a visual artist currently at boarding school in Massachusetts; Lysander, a sophomore physics major in Ezra Stiles College; and Sebastian, an East Asian Studies major at Harvard. The Christakises observed that their family is obsessed with international travel, the Vermont countryside, “Arrested Development,” and looking after high-maintenance pets — which have included a housetrained bunny.

Salovey and Holloway expressed their thanks to the members of the Silliman search committee — chair Dan Harrison, Kevin Boehm ’15, Jessica Brantley, Christine Hayes, Jerelyn Luther ’16, David Skelly, Samone Wheeler ’15, and Maxwell Wilkinson ’16 — for their work.

“And we offer our profound gratitude once again to Master Judy Krauss and Associate Master Ronald Krauss for their 15 years of extraordinary service, a legacy that will endure for generations to come,” Holloway said.

Christakis noted the unique role of the master in Yale College. “One of the main joys and challenges we have as human beings is to know and be known,” he said. “It is my hope to really get to know the students and give them a secure attachment to a Silliman community that lifts them up and fosters a spirit of adventure that comes from this sort of understanding.”