MCB welcomed Dr. Elebeoba (“Chi-Chi”) May to the Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) cluster this past November. Dr. May is serving a two-year assignment under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA). As a “rotator,” Dr. May will retain ties to her current institution and return to it with new insights and experience. As a program director, she’ll use her expertise to make funding recommendations; influence new directions in the fields of science, engineering, and education; and support cutting-edge interdisciplinary research. Keep reading below to learn more about Dr. May:

Chi Chi May headshotHome institution and roles:  Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Houston, where she teaches and heads a research laboratory focusing on systems biology research that intertwines computational and experimental methods to study host-pathogen and microbial community interactions. “We’re very interested in developing and using engineering approaches to understand how dynamics and environmental context impact observable phenotypes,” says Dr. May.

Why NSF?  Having both received funding from NSF and served as a reviewer, Dr. May values NSF’s stewardship role in fundamental research. She is excited about MCB’s role in promoting predictive biology, which she views as “undeniably critical” to the future direction of bioscience and bioengineering. “The chance to contribute to that larger effort from the prospective of an engineer was a unique and intriguing opportunity,” she observes.

First impressions?  First formed during her service on review panels, Dr. May appreciates NSF as an organization that invests not only in science, but in scientists — of all ages. “Since joining NSF, I see that same spirit inside NSF by how individuals are valued at all levels,” she says.

Personal Goals While at NSF?  As an academic, Dr. May’s goal is to learn and to broaden her perspective on the intersection of basic biological science and engineering sciences. During her time here, Dr. May says that she hopes to build on the work started by previous SSB program directors and further integrate computational and engineering approaches into the biological discovery process.

Surprises and challenges at NSF?  Dr. May has been surprised by the think-tank like atmosphere of MCB: “Assessing and thinking about where the division and where it should be going in various scientific fields is a key charge for the division,” she says. Her biggest challenge has been transitioning from the roll of full-time faculty member and the constant personal interactions with her graduate students, to remote interactions with them.

Advice to aspiring program directors?  “There are great learning opportunities that come with the role of program director,” says. Dr. May. “However, this is truly scientific service and requires that you take on the role and perspective of a steward for your larger scientific community.”

Reactions from friends and colleagues about your new role at NSF?  Overall, the feedback has been good, she says. “In general, I hear them say that this is a great and unique opportunity, and that I should make sure to enjoy my time at NSF (and Washington DC, of course).”


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