January 18, 2016

With deep sadness we regret to inform you that Dr. Nalini Ambady lost her battle with leukemia yesterday. The following is from the Help Nalini Now Facebook page:

“It is with deep regret that we write to inform the Tufts community that Nalini Ambady, former Professor and Neubauer Faculty Fellow in the Department of Psychology, passed away the morning of October 28 after a long and valiant fight against acute myeloid leukemia.
Born in Kerala, India, Nalini earned her M.A. in Psychology from the College of William and Mary and her Ph.D. from Harvard. She began her faculty career at the College of the Holy Cross before moving to Harvard, where she remained until 2003. She joined the faculty at Tufts the following year where she remained until 2011 before moving to Stanford University.

Nalini was a world-renowned social psychologist in the area of interpersonal perception and communication. She was perhaps best known for her work on the extent to which social perceivers form accurate first impressions of others based on very limited exposures, or “thin slices” of interactions. This research was described in detail and played a central role in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book, Blink. Her research bridged areas within the field of psychology, ranging from cross-cultural perspectives to social neuroscience. She was the recipient of a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award, a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and an American Association for the Advancement of Science Behavioral Science Research Prize, among myriad additional honors.

As highly-regarded as Nalini was for her research, she was just as well-known throughout the field for her dedication to mentoring students, post-doctoral fellows, and even junior faculty. She received mentoring awards from Tufts, Harvard, and the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools. Her former graduate students and post-docs now populate the faculty of psychology departments including Dartmouth, Northwestern, UCLA, Georgetown, Chicago, Hawaii, MIT, Penn State, Indiana, Denver, Stony Brook, and Toronto.

Nalini was one of the brightest people and most productive research psychologists we have ever met. But she was never too busy to read over a paper for you, offer input for a new study design you were working on, or simply open her office door to talk about anything that was on your mind. Her trademark tenacity—which contributed to her rise through the ranks to become the first Indian-American woman to teach Psychology at Harvard, Tufts, and Stanford, and was the hallmark of her battle over the years with AML—was balanced by a generosity of spirit that manifested itself in annual pumpkin carving parties at her house for graduate students and a fiercely loyal cadre of collaborators, co-authors, and protégés.

Those of us who knew her best, though terribly saddened by her passing, remain buoyed by the happy memories of our highly-decorated colleague in less guarded moments, whether confessing with a laugh to her fear of driving on the streets of Boston or conquering an even greater phobia by singing karaoke at the tenure celebration of a junior colleague (alas, per her instruction, no video documentation remains). Ultimately, the extensive efforts to find a bone marrow donor for Nalini could not save her life, but we are also gratified by the knowledge that at least 5 other individuals were successfully matched with donors as a direct result of drives inspired by Nalini’s fight to draw attention to the underrepresentation of individuals of South Asian descent in marrow donor registries.

Nalini Ambady will be greatly missed. Not just by her colleagues from Harvard, Tufts, and Stanford, and not just by the dozens of students and psychologists she mentored in a career cut too short. Her mark on the field of psychology will remain a deep and wide-ranging one. We at Tufts were fortunate to work alongside her for 8 years, and are all better scientists, colleagues, and mentors for having known her and called her a friend. Nalini is survived by her husband, Raj Marphatia, and two teen-aged daughters, Maya and Leena. As profound as her loss is for the field, our deepest sorrow stems from her loss as a mother and devoted spouse. But we are comforted by the knowledge that her family will benefit from the strength, tenacity, and courage that Nalini displayed throughout her life.”