Watts Named A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell
Add to that esteemed list the name of Duncan Watts, principal researcher at Microsoft Research New York City. On May 6, Watts’ name joined the roster of honorees for that Cornell University program, established in 1965 in conjunction with the university’s centenary and named for the school’s co-founder and first president, Andrew Dickson White.
“The A.D. White program brings some of the world’s most distinguished scholars, thinkers, and artists to Cornell as ‘professors-at-large,’” said Steven H Strogatz, Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell. “We’re thrilled that Duncan Watts will be joining the ranks of such luminaries.”
A.D. White professors are appointed with a single mandate: to enliven the intellectual and cultural life of the university. They are chosen for a six-year term—which, in Watts’ case, means through June 2019—and are considered full members of the Cornell faculty. Currently, there are 19 active professors-at-large in the program.
“Duncan was chosen for this honor because he is a world-renowned scholar whose research launched ‘the new science of networks’ that has transformed the social and behavioral sciences and captured the public imagination,” said Michael Walton Macy, Goldwin Smith Professor of Sociology at Cornell. “His innovative applications of network analysis to the study of human behavior and social interaction have led him to become one of the most prominent and respected social scientists in the world. He is also a gifted writer and charismatic speaker who can make these scientific advances come to life for a popular audience.”
The A.D. White honor came as little surprise to Jennifer Chayes, a Microsoft distinguished scientist and managing director of Microsoft Research New York City.
“Duncan is one of the pre-eminent sociologists of his generation,” Chayes said. “What I find most exciting about his work is the way he combines the best of sociology and computation—asking well-posed and important sociological questions and using deep statistical methods to analyze the data. He never goes for pat answers; he probes until he understands what the data is trying to say, in all its complexity.”
Watts, of course, finds such testimonials flattering, but there is another reason why the appointment means a lot to him.
“First, it’s a huge honor to be included among so many luminaries,” he said. “And second, it’s particularly special to be so honored by my alma mater, which is where I did my work with Steve Strogatz on small-world networks, for which I’m probably still best-known.
“To be honest, at the time, I think nobody knew what to make of it, so it’s very gratifying to have Cornell, of all places, recognize the work.”
Watts was one of five new A.D. White Professors-at-Large whose appointments were announced May 6. The others:
The White professorship includes certain responsibilities, and Watts foresees himself being quite engaged in his new role.
“The minimal commitment is not that onerous,” Watts said, “just two visits to the Ithaca [N.Y.] campus for one week each over the course of six years, during which I might give a public lecture, teach some smaller classes, and meet with faculty and students.
“But my understanding is that many A.D. White professors spend considerably more time than that on campus, and given my deep ties and close physical proximity to Ithaca, I expect that I will, too.”
Watts’ research on social networks and collective dynamics has been published in such publications as Nature, Science, the American Journal of Sociology, and the Harvard Business Review. He also has written three books: