Meet PKG: Alison Hynd, Assistant Dean


Coming from Devon in the southwest countryside of England, Alison Hynd took a long and winding road to join the MIT community. Now Assistant Dean at the PKG Center, Hynd grew up in a town of just one-hundred and twenty people. “It was super, super rural… lots of cows, green hills,” she says, laughing. But after completing her undergraduate degree in Edinburgh, where she studied archaeology, Hynd moved onto a wide range of field work and research opportunities. “I worked in Cyprus in Syria [after university],” Hynd says, “and then I went to Sheffield for graduate school, which I loved.” With her Master’s on hand, Hynd then went to work at the British Academy in Rome as an archaeology assistant, but soon found herself returning to school to get her PhD.

“That’s actually how I randomly ended up in cambridge,” Hynd says. “In my first year of my PhD. program, my lab mate asked me if I could fill in for her for a dig she usually did in Greece in the summer. I, of course, said yes.” In Greece, Hynd’s life took a turn when she met a graduate student from MIT. “We started dating,” she says. “And then we dated long distance, which had its endpoint.” And so, Hynd moved to Cambridge to be with her now-husband. “When I moved, I was just finishing my PhD., which is a really bad idea,” Hynd admits in good humor. “Never move somewhere when you’re in the middle of trying to finish a book.” But in spite of this “really bad idea,” the move to the states gave a Hynd a welcome new direction. “I didn’t quite know what to do with myself,” she says of that time. “The sort of thing I was doing [in my PhD] was really specialist and no one was really doing it. So, I needed a new start,” Hynd says, “and I was kind of ready for one anyway.”

Hynd had spent her Master’s and PhD working on fairly complicated and niche field projects based in an archaeological theory called FIBS: Functional Interpretation for Botanical Surveys. FIBS uses the idea that if you can get a swath of easily-measurable information from complex ecosystems, you can use these characteristics to predict what might happen if a change were to happen in that ecosystem. Hynd’s research, more specifically, was working to apply the FIBS theory retroactively to better understand the history and evolution of ecosystems. “It was very methodological,” Hynd says. “But basically, I spent a lot of time just picking flowers and measuring them.”

By the time Hynd made it to Cambridge and finished with her PhD, she was ready for a change of pace. “Andrew, my husband, was friends with a colleague, Amy Smith, from D-Lab,” Hynd explains. “There wasn’t any D-Lab at that point, but [Smith] had this thing called the Haiti Class.” After connecting with Smith, Hynd joined the MIT workforce for the first time and the rest was more or less history. Ever since, her roles at MIT have been many and varied. She started working part-time with Smith before D-Lab was formally indoctrinated. Following this experience, Hynd says she was taken on a little more formally as a Service Learning Assistant. And then, she joined the early team of staff who were running the IDEAS competition. “I was doing the IDEAS role part-time, and then I got asked to take on the fellowships as well,” Hynd says, and this is where she found her current place at PKG.

Soon, both programs grew too complicated to manage alone, and as they took off, Hynd advocated for each to be run and operated full-time by individual staff members. When that change took place, she had another decision to make: IDEAS or fellowships. “I’m a happy introvert,” Hynd muses. “At that time, I felt that IDEAS needed someone who was more inclined to ‘schmooze’… and I felt someone else could do that better than me,” she says of her decision to commit to heading the PKG fellowship opportunities.

Currently, Hynd not only takes on institutional roles at PKG, sitting on committees, thinking through risk management for students and building up experiential education and global education, but also relishes working with student on a one-to-one level. “The more program-focused part of the work is really helping students a lot with sort of thinking through how to get things done in reality,” Hynd says, an early motivator to her own projects that continues to motivate her to this day. “I mean, this sounds like a cliche, but I just really enjoy working with the students,” Hynd says. “The creativity and the variety of that work… it wasn’t what I was looking to do, it wasn’t what I was expecting to do, but when I found it, I was like okay, this is good.”

Hynd is looking forward to onboarding two new staff members to PKG this year. “There’s a sadness when people leave, but there’s also an excitement when you get new people coming in, what their skills and interests are, and how we can help students in new ways.”

Her go-to movie is the 1946 thriller-mystery, The Big Sleep. “I make my husband watch it all the time and he’s like, ‘Do you even follow the plot anymore?’” She says she doesn’t.   

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