It was the right move.
Yeterian, professor of psychology, retired in June after 40 years at Colby, including a dozen years as vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty. He held two endowed chairs in psychology, chaired the department for two stints, and was health professions advisor. All of this was accomplished as he also did his own research in nonhuman primate neuroanatomy, which he is continuing after leaving the Hill.
None of it would have happened had a Colby search-committee debate over his credentials tipped the other way. Yeterian was completing his post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard when he saw a job posting at Colby and decided to apply. It was late in the search, and a candidate had been offered the job but passed. The committee liked Yeterian’s letter, his liberal arts background (Trinity College), but wondered if his Harvard Medical School researcher profile would be the right fit. In the end, they took a chance.
“You were only in Boston, so we figured all it’s going to cost is mileage and your meal,” a committee member confided after Yeterian was hired.
Fortunately for all involved, in 1978 Colby was moving from a teaching institution to a community of teachers/scholars. Yeterian turned out to be the perfect fit for the classroom—and the administration.
It was President William R. Cotter who first approached him in 1994 about the dean of faculty job, but Yeterian demurred because his Boston-based research team had just landed a major grant. Cotter asked if he would consider the job in the future. “Just to end that conversation expediently, I said, ‘Sure,’” Yeterian recalled.
Four years later he was in the job—and stayed for 12 years. “It was the most challenging thing I’ve done in my life,” Yeterian said.
He returned to psychology in 2010, but he’d never really left. Yeterian taught early in his tenure as dean and continued his research throughout. Now his career is coming full circle as he retires from Colby but continues research in neuroanatomy (with Nikos Makris, director of the brain imaging lab at Massachusetts General Hospital-Charlestown) funded by a five-year $3.8-million grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health.
Apart from his sabbatical work, it’s Yeterian’s first full-time research stint in four decades. Does he have regrets? “None at all,” he said, recalling being told by one colleague pre-Colby that he shouldn’t waste valuable research time talking to undergraduate students.
“That,” he said, “turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.”