Getting to Know MCB


Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I am a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. My research focuses on identifying and defining the roles of key proteins involved in fungal growth and cytokinesis using the model filamentous fungus, Aspergillus nidulans. Currently, the project centers on one of these proteins, the A. nidulans ortholog of the serine/threonine kinase Protein Kinase C (PkcA). The ongoing objectives of this project are to identify growth- and cytokinesis-related proteins, which are bound by PkcA in vivo and how the protein complexes work. We like to describe the work as defining a PkcA module that contributes to growth and cell division. My home institution is a primarily undergraduate college, so the bulk of the work is done by undergraduate students who perform experiments, help plan the next steps in the project, and even contribute to writing up the results.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I’ve served as a panelist several times, and each time I’ve served, I found extreme satisfaction in reading grant proposals and writing reviews. I enjoyed the panel experience even more. Being involved in discussing proposals during panels allowed me to see how other scientists viewed the work, which gave me great insight into how projects are viewed from different perspectives. This has helped me critique my own work and research approaches, which I think has helped me develop as a scientist. My interactions with panelists and MCB staff were engaging, and MCB staff always made me feel welcomed. I’ve always found the MCB staff to be a supportive and fun group.

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

I would recommend to anyone who might be considering serving as a Program Director to reach out to Program Directors to express interest in serving as a panelist, especially if they haven’t previously served. Panel service allowed me to get to know NSF well, become comfortable with MCB staff, and build relationships with many of the staff with whom I now work. This has made my transition to the job much smoother than I think it would have been had I not formed these relationships beforehand. Serving as a panelist also gave me valuable insights on the role of the Program Director that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and this knowledge has given me a head start in adjusting to the job, now that I’m here.

When friends or colleagues find out that you work at NSF, what do they say or ask?

When I tell friends and family members that I work at NSF, they understandably imagine that I’m working in a state-of-the-art research lab, on the government’s most important and confidential projects. They seem to get extremely excited about that prospect. I, of course, let them know that the job doesn’t entail working in a research lab at all, and they typically respond with a slight tone of disappointment. However, their enthusiasm recovers when I say something like, “I’m helping to determine the science research agenda for the nation by identifying the most promising research that will advance society.” Family and friends agree with me that it’s really cool to have this amazing opportunity to do that work. Science colleagues are familiar with NSF’s mission, and they too are excited that I’ve been afforded this amazing opportunity to be an NSF Program Director.

Dr. Ishita Mukerji

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I was working at Wesleyan University in Middletown CT.  At Wesleyan, I am in the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department, and I run our Molecular Biophysics program.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

NSF was very helpful to me early on in my career and I could see firsthand the impact that agency can have both on an individual and a field.  I am excited to learn more about the science that NSF funds and, of course, the new types of science NSF is hoping to catalyze through the various initiatives.  

What is your position and what are you most looking forward to?

I am a rotating program director (IPA) in the Molecular Biophysics cluster.  I am looking forward to giving back both to NSF and the Molecular Biophysics community.

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

The NSF as an organization has been very welcoming, and everyone I’ve met and worked with has been helpful and friendly.  This impression has only been re-affirmed over the past couple of weeks that I’ve worked here. It’s been a little challenging to be completely remote and starting a new position.  I’m looking forward to relocating to the area and being in person a couple days a week.  My husband and I are just generally excited about moving to the area, as we’ve heard that DC is a really fun place to live.


David Barley joined NSF and MCB in 2008 as a student participant in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program. He advanced through the administrative ranks, serving in multiple capacities for MCB and other divisions in BIO. David is now a Program Support Manager in MPS/PHY.

What was the highlight of your time at BIO?

During my time in BIO, solving problems in panels was something I did on a regular basis.  I’d say a “highlight” of my time in BIO would be for a panel I supported in IOS.  On day one, the panel goes on as normal, the day concludes, we all go home.  Day two, I walked into the panel room to find that all the rental laptops we ordered had disappeared.  While Program Directors, panelists, and other staff were in shock, I immediately contacted the laptop rental company to determine what had happened.  Thankfully, the laptop company hadn’t wiped the computers yet, so all of the notes and panel summary templates were saved.  The company returned the laptops to NSF not too long after and set everything up again.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about working at NSF?

I’d tell newly incoming staff to be ready to learn and be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they arrive.  For PDs, this means reaching out across Clusters, Divisions (or Directorates) to find unique funding opportunities that may be relevant to their program’s needs.  For Administrative staff, I’d recommend joining a working group (especially NSF-wide working groups) as they give you a chance to meet staff outside of your direct team.  I learned a lot from working group discussions, especially when staff from other directorates explained how they accomplished the same goals as I did but used different tools and practices.

Marielle Robinson joined MCB as Program Assistant in August of 2022.

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I was working as a federal contractor for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) located in Arlington, VA.  I previously worked for AFOSR as a budget analyst technician and program analyst over my five-year span as a federal civilian.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

The work-life balance, new learning opportunities, and the endless possibilities of career advancements within the organization. 

What have you learned so far from your position?

I was able to attend the MCB Admin Staff Meeting, which was a wonderful introduction to the projects that are currently being worked on inside the MCB division. Even though I have been doing a lot of the required training on LearnNSF for my onboarding, I was able to gain valuable insight into what was to come, which made me eager to contribute some of my strengths to the team.

What has surprised you most about working at NSF?

The amenities offered within the building for employees.  This building is very different from my last job!  I also love how everyone is willing to assist with my onboarding process to make the transition go smoothly.  I’m very excited to meet more of the team within the BIO directorate and to work on my assigned duties.


Dr. Karen Cone, Acting Division Director 

MCB is excited to announce the return of Dr. Karen Cone to MCB as Acting Division Director, starting in August 2022, while Dr. Theresa Good serves a detail as Acting Deputy Assistant Director in the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO). 

Most recently, Dr. Cone was a science advisor in the Office of the Assistant Director for BIO. There she led NSF’s activities in Understanding the Rules of Life, coordinated the cross-BIO funding opportunity Integrative Research in Biology, served as the executive secretary for the NSF-wide Bioeconomy Coordinating Committee, and managed the Biological Sciences Advisory Committee.  

Dr. Cone is not new to MCB. She previously served as a program director in the Genetic Mechanisms cluster. During her service, she established herself as an extraordinary colleague and mentor to new PIs in the community and to new Program Directors in MCB. She has also served as the managing program director for the CyVerse cyberinfrastructure collaborative and Acting Deputy Division Director for both the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems and MCB.  

Prior to joining NSF, Dr. Cone was a professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Her research expertise is in plant genetics and genomics, with emphasis on epigenetics and chromatin-mediated regulation of gene expression. 

Per Dr. Cone, “I am excited to have the opportunity to be back in MCB.  I look forward to renewing old relationships and forging new ones.  MCB continues to stand out in BIO in its service to the research community, and I am happy to help support this important mission.” 

Per Dr. Good, “MCB will be in great hands with Karen at the helm.  She is well respected for her leadership and scholarship both inside and outside NSF and has a reputation of innovating in the ways she supports broader impacts.  She is the right person to lead MCB during this transition.  I’m thrilled that she was willing to take on this new responsibility.” 

We are excited to steal Dr. Cone back from the front office – even if only temporarily. We are also looking forward to hearing Dr. Good’s stories and new perspectives once she returns from her detail.  


Steve Clouse has been a program director in MCB for six and a half years. He was hired as a full-time rotating program director (VSEE) in MCB in January of 2016, working on site at the previous NSF headquarters in Arlington, VA. Steve switched to part-time program director in August of 2017, working remotely from Oregon and traveling to Alexandria, VA for panels and retreats.

What was the highlight of your time at NSF?

There have been many highlights. To work with my MCB and other NSF colleagues to fund the best possible science in cell and molecular biology and broaden my scientific perspective from a focus on my own individual research to interdisciplinary approaches, was definitely a high point. I also enjoyed working with a broad spectrum of principal investigators from the pre-submission stage of determining whether their work was appropriate for Cellular Dynamics and Function, through the review process, and finally the award or decline decision. Managing awards and following their progress was rewarding as were discussions with PIs about how to address reviewer comments for those proposals that were declined. The several large, interdisciplinary projects and research networks I was involved with, were particularly interesting.

What are you most looking forward to next?

After a career spanning more than 40 years in various aspects of scientific research, I am looking forward to more free time and more time spent outdoors. Living in Oregon definitely facilitates outdoor activities. I also look forward to more uninterrupted time to spend with family and traveling.

What personal goals did you accomplish while at NSF?

My research was funded by NSF continuously for 30 years, starting with an NSF postdoctoral fellowship in plant biology in the 1980s and concluding in 2016 with a final grant on plant proteomics before retiring as professor from North Carolina State University. I wanted to contribute something to NSF before fully retiring and also be exposed to the breadth of science that NSF funds. My six and a half years at NSF helped me achieve that goal and was a nice transition from retiring as an active faculty member, while still being involved in science and research from a different perspective.

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

Being a Program Director is a very worthwhile endeavor, particularly if your research program is well established and can continue to function efficiently with periodic visits back to the home institution. MCB is a great place to work. I was impressed by the collegiality of the program directors and senior management and the helpfulness and skill of the outstanding administrative staff.

Division Director, Theresa Good, said about Dr. Clouse, “Steve has been a pleasure to work with for these past six years.  As a AAAS Fellow, Steve is a highly accomplished scientist who is deeply connected to the plant science community.  As such he has not only been a great program director but also a great mentor to scientists seeking funding from MCB.  While I am glad that Steve and his wife will now have more time to hike in Oregon and travel in retirement, I will miss his quiet humor, sound advice, and steadfast commitment to NSF and its mission.”


Marcia Newcomer joined the division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) in July 2018 as a program director. She became a cluster leader in July 2020.

What was working at MCB like?

Working in MCB was a great experience, especially for someone who has spent so many years in academia. Seeing the funding process from this perspective provides a much fuller understanding of the government’s efforts and role in supporting basic research. The environment in MCB is highly cooperative, and there are many opportunities to coordinate with other divisions and directorates. 

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

I would highly recommend serving as a Program Director. It is a great opportunity to be introduced to research areas well outside of one’s sphere of expertise. In some sense, it is almost like being a graduate student again, when you are excited about the research possibilities before you. It is also inspiring, because you work with so many colleagues and reviewers and are constantly reminded that there are dedicated people in this line of work who have a sense of fairness and an appreciation for how basic research can have a tremendous impact on our quality of life. You also come to appreciate government investments in research facilities, and the role of these facilities in expanding our scientific reach and providing a highly skilled workforce. 

Theresa Good, MCB Division Director said of Dr. Newcomer, “It has been a delight to work with Marcia these past four years.  She jumped in head-first, pushed us to continue to push the boundaries of the research we fund, and hasn’t stopped making a difference.  She’s been involved in developing programs for postbaccalaureate scientists, expanding the role of AI in molecular biophysics, and leveraging convergent science to prevent future pandemics.  Just as importantly, she has shared her warmth, humor, and sense of excitement for science with all of us.  We wish her the best back at LSU.”


Sonam Ahluwalia joined the division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) as a program assistant in August 2020.

What was working at MCB like?

MCB is a unique division, where people are always looking to improve procedures, share creative ideas, and empower PIs. MCB is a place where any individual can uncover their talents, rise above challenges, and experience a true team environment. I was able to learn incredible skills during my time here and explore other career interests.

What was your first impression of NSF? How did that change over time?

My first impression of NSF was that it was just a government organization that funds science. However, over the years I have learned that NSF is beyond just a federal agency, but embodies forward-thinking, progression, efficiency, and love for all science.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about working at NSF?

Do it! There is much to learn and more to gain.

MCB Division Director, Theresa Good, said about Ms. Ahluwalia, “Sonam was the first person to start in MCB during the pandemic.  There was so much uncertainty, but she just took it in stride.  She learned quickly, volunteered for just about everything, and was unafraid of any challenge.  I can’t wait to see what she does next in her career. “

Lourdes Holloway joined MCB as a Pathways summer student in 2015 and began working as a program assistant in 2018. She became a program specialist in 2019.

What is next for you after your time at MCB?

My next step in my career remains at NSF, moving from BIO/MCB to the Division of Graduate Education in the Education and Human Resources Directorate as a program analyst. In this new position, I will be primarily supporting the Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

What was working at MCB like?

Starting out as a summer student working on records retirement to a program specialist working closely with the operations manager on division finances/operations, it’s been an amazing experience! I am so glad to have started my professional career with MCB, largely due to my colleagues and leadership. MCB is full of dedicated, supportive, and talented staff, which made this experience more rewarding. I appreciate that MCB supports cross-training and development in areas outside of your normal duties. It has allowed me to grow tremendously and develop new skills across various subjects. 

Where can undergraduate or graduate students learn about training opportunities at the NSF?

I would highly recommend current students and recent graduates interested in working at the NSF to consider the Pathways Program. It’s a great way to get your foot into the federal workforce and NSF offers a variety of experiences and positions. I had a great experience and it put me on the path I am still on today. Broadly, there are an incredible amount of training opportunities supported by the NSF. That includes programs run by the Division of Undergraduate Education and by the Division of Graduate Education as well as NSF funding opportunities for undergraduate students and graduate students.

MCB Division Director, Theresa Good, said of Ms. Holloway, “It was my privilege to work closely with Lourdes on a number of projects.  I got to see firsthand how talented she is.  It has been a pleasure to watch her grow in her skills and accomplishments.  I hope her new Division knows what a jewel they have in Lourdes.   We all wish her the best in her new position.“


Olaf Corning joined MCB as a science assistant in early March.

Photo of Olaf

What attracted you to work for the NSF?
The NSF had been a subtle but steady influence on my undergraduate education, funding the research around me and enabling friends to pursue PhDs, but it wasn’t until I was interning in Congress that the desire to work at the Foundation seized me.

In the wake of the NSF’s 70th anniversary, the Hill was embroiled with debate over the NSF’s future. As Congress discussed Vannevar Bush’s intent, the numerous successes of the agency, and the challenges it could still solve, I realized this was a place I wanted to work. The Foundation is filled with people fundamentally committed to the celebration of knowledge, expanded access to science, and acceleration of scientific innovation. I am tremendously excited to be able to participate in the NSF’s mission and learn about how it operates and can grow with the needs of the Nation.

How was your relocation?
As smooth as it gets: I was already here! I moved to DC in 2016 for my undergraduate degree at the George Washington University. I’ve come to love the city. Washington, D.C. is incredibly walkable, has beautiful architecture, fantastic local parks, and a tremendous variety of available activities. Having grown up in a rural area in Florida, I am particularly enamored with the Metro. The stations and trains are a great resource and are their own peculiar art form. People here are friendly and quick to make friends. DC sees a lot of turnover and people compensate for it. If you are considering relocating to DC, you are sure to feel welcome.


Phoebe Lostroh joined MCB in July 2019 as a rotating program director and served in the Genetic Mechanisms (GM) cluster and the Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) cluster.

Photo of Dr. Phoebe Lostroh

What was the highlight of your time at NSF?
The highlight of my time at NSF was working on the CARES Act COVID-19 RAPID queries on behalf of MCB. Because of that work, I met so many other NSF people across the whole Foundation and I got to contribute to an urgent national need. Even when it was sometimes exhausting, it always felt great because we were all pulling together to lead the national basic science response to the crisis.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director at the NSF? Working as a program director at NSF is a great opportunity for anyone who is looking to expand their administrative skills and scientific breadth. There are new things to learn literally every day, and the Foundation is very thoughtful about how to bring rotators on board and train us. MCB, in particular, is strongly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as to great science. It has been an honor to serve with everyone in MCB.

MCB Division Director, Theresa Good, said about Dr. Lostroh, “Phoebe contributed to MCB in so many ways beyond Program Management.  I would routinely get emails from people from the community telling me how grateful they were that she talked to them at their senior citizen center or helped their community set up their COVID testing.  One of her greatest talents is being able to communicate science to anyone, and even make some of us laugh about it.  You’ll have to ask Phoebe directly where to see her perform science comedy in Colorado Springs.  We’ll miss her passion, her dedication, and her humor.  But I am sure that Colorado College is happy to have her back.”

Welcome to MCB Cliff Weil!

Cliff Weil joined MCB in July 2021 as a program director in the Genetic Mechanisms cluster.

What is your educational background?

I have a B.S. in Genetics from the University of California, Davis and a Ph.D. in Genetics and Development from Cornell University.

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

Before joining MCB in July 2021, I was a professor at Purdue University focused on genetics, molecular biology, and genomics of plants, particularly maize and sorghum. I have a special fondness for transposable elements, which were first described in maize, and their interactions with the DNA repair machinery. I’ve also worked on microtubules and as a part of groups trying to interface engineering with biology. From 2017-2020, I was a program director in the NSF Plant Genome Research Program in the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS).

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I’m really excited about being able to facilitate getting the best science supported and about helping develop new directions for Molecular and Cellular Biology.. It is a great group of colleagues in MCB, and I really like the dedication to the work that everyone shares and the free flow of ideas. These are crazy times with the pandemic, but NSF has barely skipped a beat and there remains incredible opportunity to develop new ideas and to broaden the community of scientists. I’m thrilled to be a part of that.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director (*or applying to a position) at NSF?

Definitely do it! It’s a lot of work but totally worth it, interesting (sometimes in unexpected directions), and a lot of fun. You will learn a TON. I really like living in the DC area, so if you can do that, you should, but the remote working has been amazingly seamless.

When friends or colleagues find out that you work at NSF, what do they say or ask?

“Can you get me some money!?” I always tell them to send me a one-pager… I think my kids were least impressed with that answer.

Welcome to FY22 – Recap of MCB funding opportunities and priorities

Greetings from all of us in Molecular and Cellular Biosciences at the National Science Foundation! 
The new federal fiscal year FY 2022 is underway and we are looking forward to all the exciting science you will propose and accomplish in the coming year.

Stay Informed on News and Updates by Following the MCB Blog
Watch this space, where we will announce funding opportunities and tell you about virtual and in-person venues to talk with MCB program officers. The blog is also where we share information about the MCB portfolio and announce new funding opportunities. Look here, too, if you are interested in rotating or permanent employment opportunities in MCB. 

Keep up to Date on Upcoming and Past Virtual Office Hours
We use the linked Virtual Office Hours site to share an archive of advice from program directors to applicants. The recorded sessions and files walk through a variety of topics from how to prepare a budget, tips for developing broader impacts activities, and how to submit a proposal to suggestions for writing effective, constructive reviews.

Check out a Quick recap of MCB Highlights to Kick Off the New Funding Year

Engage with MCB Virtually
For the time being, MCB will continue to have virtual review panels and program directors will visit scientific meetings virtually, too. If your conference, department, or institution would like a virtual visit, don’t hesitate to contact a program director to see what can be arranged. All of us at MCB look forward to serving you in the year ahead.


Spencer Swansen recently joined the division in June as a program assistant.

Photo of Spencer Swansen.

What is your educational background?

I attended Seattle Pacific University during undergrad, with degrees in Biology (BS) and Ecology (BS). I was fortunate to be a part of an NSF-funded REU over the summer of 2014 at UC-Riverside, studying fungal interactions at the Center for Plant Cell Biology. Afterwards, I started a Peace Corps Masters International in Forest Resource Management at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. For my Peace Corps service, I was a Youth in Development volunteer in northern Thailand, teaching life skills and English. For my Masters research, I surveyed the community on their perspectives toward land use and potential land conversions. After two amazing years, I closed service two weeks before Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated around the globe in response to the pandemic.

What has surprised you most about working at the NSF?

One thing that has surprised me about NSF is the intention behind the funding. I will admit that as a student (especially in forestry classes) I grew tired of academia and felt it was an echo chamber with self-perpetuating systems and structures. I have been very pleasantly surprised since starting work at the NSF, though. Not only is there a focus on funding transformational research, whether high risk or otherwise, but there is also a focus on broadening participation and giving more people the opportunity to pursue a passion for science and research. In just a few weeks, I have come to learn that everyone working at NSF shares these intentions. In my role I will be supporting those who make decisions on funding, organizing panels and processing awards and more. I will also get to be exposed to amazing research, and I can already tell that my love for science is being rekindled (sounds cheesy, but it’s true!).