MCB Welcomes Rita Miller and Marcia Newcomer and Bids Farewell to EJ Crane

Welcome Rita Miller

Rita Miller is a Program Director in the Cellular Dynamics and Function Cluster and comes to us as a VSEE rotator from Oklahoma State University where she studies the cytoskeleton and positioning of the mitotic spindle.

Rita is smiling to camera

What is your educational background?

I have been a biology nerd since my youngest days.  As a kid, I used to sit for hours and watch my older brother dissect his high school frog, dogfish shark, and pig.  I wanted to see how those organ systems worked, so I majored in physiology in college at Michigan State University.  I loved working in the lab as an undergraduate, so I went to Northwestern University for graduate school.  I studied cell biology there with Robert Goldman, using some of the early confocal microscopes to study keratin intermediate filaments. Those studies taught me a lot about protein purification and microscopy, but I wanted to know more about genetics and molecular biology.  So, I went to Princeton University and worked with Mark Rose as a Postdoctoral Fellow.  He taught me a massive amount about yeast genetics and cell biology.  I had my first daughter there in New Jersey and Mark always had great advice on raising daughters too!

When did you start working in MCB and what was your first week like?

I started at NSF the Tuesday after Labor Day, so early September 2018.  The first week was two days of training.  After a couple days of getting oriented to the computer system and then it was straight into helping manage a CAREER panel, followed by writing the acceptances and declination letters.  It was the fastest week ever!

What have you learned so far from your position? 

That NSF invests in people not just projects.

What are some of the challenges you have faced so far?

I think that it can be a challenge to Skype often enough with my graduate students back in Oklahoma.  Some students are more comfortable with Skype than others. But I have given them the “golden ticket” to call me whenever even evenings or weekends, so after some adjusting we have worked out a schedule that works for everyone.

Welcome Marcia Newcomer

Marcia Newcomer is a Program Director in the Molecular Biophysics Cluster and comes to us as an IPA rotator from Louisiana State University where she studies cell responses to environmental conditions and metabolic pathways.

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Louisiana State University, where I have a research program that focuses on the enzymatic production of lipid mediators of the inflammatory response. We are a group of structural biologists trying to define the molecular mechanisms these enzymes use to acquire their membrane-embedded substrates.  As a professor, I teach Introductory Biology for biology majors. This is a very surprising fate for someone who did all she could to avoid biology as an undergraduate chemistry major.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I see my position at NSF as a chance to be involved with an agency I consider essential to our ability to discover ways to improve the world in which we live. 

What was your first impression of NSF? Has this impression changed since you began?

Although I knew that the National Science Foundation funds more than the biological and physical sciences, I did not appreciate just how expansive its profile is until I started working here.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director at NSF?

One of the joys of life in academia is that you are constantly challenged to learn more. Serving as a program director exposes you to even more new fields and helps you enjoy the “big “picture” of scientific advances from a different perspective. It is a great experience.

Farewell to EJ Crane

EJ Crane served as a VSEE rotator for two years as a Program Director in the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster and returns to Pomona College where he studies microbiology and biochemistry of sulfur-based respiration.

EJ is smiling into the camera with sunglasses, he is holding a large metal stick with a sampling bottle attached and a hot spring is steaming in the background

How did your time at NSF influence how you will go forward with your research?

I had been doing interdisciplinary science before my time at NSF; however, my experiences there made appreciate interdisciplinary approaches even more.

What is next for you after your time at NSF?

I’ll be back at Pomona College, refocusing on my lab and courses. Based on what I learned during my time at NSF, the emphasis of my lab will change somewhat, and I will spend much more time focusing on trying to find connections in the many datasets that have been generated for microbial communities in a wide range of environments. My lab will continue to be experimental, but we’ll be taking better advantage of all the data on microbial communities that has already been obtained by others.

What personal goals did you accomplish while at NSF?

One personal goal was just being able to manage the workload as a program manager. I have been in academics for my entire career, so it was reassuring to know that I’m able to work effectively outside of the relatively isolated environment of my own laboratory and my experience at NSF showed me that I can translate these skills to other contexts.

What did you learn from your position?

I learned about several new areas of the molecular and cellular biosciences from the proposal review process, meetings, and my colleagues at NSF. I have a much better understanding of what the important and exciting questions are across the broad field, as well as in biology as a whole.

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