Pakistani astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala named dean at prestigious MIT University

Nergis Mavalvala has received several awards and honours for her research work and teaching. She has been serving as the associate head of the department of physics since 2015.

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Pakistani-born astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala has been named the new dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) School of Science. Mavalvala is the first female to serve as the dean at the University’s School of Science.

She is renowned for her work in gravitational-wave detection that she conducted as a leading member of the LIGO-Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. Nergis Mavalvala has received several awards and honours for her research work and teaching. She has been serving as the associate head of the department of physics since 2015.

Nergis Mavalvala: a brilliant researcher and educator

“Nergis’s brilliance as a researcher and educator speaks eloquently for itself,” said MIT President L Rafael Reif. “What excites me equally about her appointment as dean are the qualities I have seen in her as a leader: She is a deft, collaborative problem-solver, a wise and generous colleague, an incomparable mentor, and a champion for inclusive excellence. As we prepare for the start of this most unusual academic year, it gives me great comfort to know that the School of Science will remain in such capable hands.”

“I have had the privilege of working with some amazing people,” says Mavalvala of her time as associate department head. She credits the many students and colleagues she has worked closely with, especially [department head] Peter Fisher: “Through him, I’ve learned about leadership with compassion, with heart.”


Mavalvala was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. She attended the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Karachi, where she received her O-Level and A-Level qualifications. She moved to the United States in 1986 and enrolled at Wellesley College, where she received a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy in 1990. Before she graduated in 1990, Mavalvala and her physics professor, Robert Berg, co-authored a paper in Physical Review B: Condensed Matter. She also helped set up his lab. She went on to do her Ph.D. in physics from MIT in 1997.

Mavalvala is the younger of the two children. Mavalvala’s parents highly valued their daughter’s educational experiences and encouraged Mavalvala to pursue higher education overseas. Mavalvala was always interested in math and science as a child and believed that she was intrinsically good at it, in contrast to the humanities.

Mavalvala is often viewed as a role model for aspiring female scientists with roots in the Indian subcontinent. As a young child, Mavalvala was always involved in handy work and was not bound to stereotypical gender roles in subcontinent culture, that’s how her sister and she were raised. Mavalvala states that a lot of her success is credited to good mentors in both the United States and Pakistan that encouraged her academic ability.

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In a television interview in 2016, Mavalvala stated that “When everyone has access to education that’s when all the other things come into place… [You’ve] got to do what gives you pleasure, gotta find a way to do it. People should just do what they enjoy most and I think for all of society whether it’s in Pakistan or elsewhere we have to create opportunities for young girls to do what they’re good at and do what they love to do must cultivate the sense of wonder in a child.”

People in Pakistan expressed joy over the achievement of Nergis Mavalvala. They congratulated her for her achievement and lauded her hard work on social media.