Getting to Know MCB

MCB: Still Open for Business

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) would like to assure the scientific community that the Division is still fully operational. MCB is committed to supporting the community and accomplishing the mission of the National Science Foundation (NSF). While Program directors and staff are working virtually during this time, MCB continues to welcome your proposal submissions, participation in MCB’s virtual Office Hours, virtual panel service, and general communications.

The Division understands the immense impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on research, institutional closures, and personal life. If you find yourself struggling to meet a deadline for proposal or award report submissions, please contact your MCB program director. In accordance with NSF Implementation of OMB Memorandum M-20-17, MCB is flexible in considering extensions.

Stay in the loop by regularly checking the NSF coronavirus information page, NSF Twitter page, the BIO Buzz blog for the Directorate for Biological Sciences, and of course subscribe to the MCB Blog.

Please review the Dear Colleague Letter on COVID-19 inviting submissions of Rapid Response Research (RAPID) awards related to the virus. For specific questions or comments, please reach out to an MCB program director.

Welcome and Farewells

Stephen DiFazio joined the Genetic Mechanisms cluster in January, beginning a one-year term as a temporary program director (“rotator”) in the Visiting Scientist, Engineer and Educator (VSEE) program.

A picture of Dr. Stephen DiFazio

What were you doing before you came to NSF? I am a professor of biology at West Virginia University. My research program focuses on woody plants in the Salicaceae family (cottonwood, aspen, willow). I work on a wide variety of topics, but most recently my interests have centered on the molecular basis of sex expression and biotic interactions, with particular focus on identifying and characterizing the genes responsible for sex dimorphism and sexually antagonistic loci.

What attracted you to work for NSF?
I have served on the Genetic Mechanisms panels three times, and greatly enjoyed the experience. The best part was learning about the cutting-edge science and exciting ideas laid out in the proposals. But beyond that, I was fascinated by the highly choreographed process, and the efficiency with which we thoroughly considered dozens of complex proposals over the course of just a couple of days. I really wanted to see behind the scenes and learn about the up-front work and the systems in place to facilitate things.

What have you learned so far from your position?
It appears that impact of the transition to the no-deadline policy will take years to fully manifest, but I think that most signs point toward an overall improvement in both the process as well as the quality of advancements resulting from the funded research.

How has your relocation to the area gone?
I’m really happy with my relocation thus far. I’m enjoying Alexandria and environs, and I’ve got a good living situation. Plus, the biking is really great, so I will have plenty of opportunities to indulge in my favorite pastime. Once the novelty wears off, I’m sure I’ll be missing my wife more, but Morgantown, my home, is close enough that I expect we’ll be spending many weekends together. I’ve also left my research lab in a good place, so I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to return to my former life once this stage of the adventure concludes.


Matthias Falk recently completed a two-year term as a rotating program director in the Cellular Dynamics and Function cluster, joining the group under the VSEE program in December, 2017.

Dr. Matthias Falk

What is next for you after your time at NSF?
I have several ideas I want to pursue, including crowdfunding organized by my university.  I am exploring how to fulfill one of my dreams of combining science with arts by organizing an evening of science, music, and body expression here at Lehigh University.  I am also looking at developing an outreach program aimed at high school students in Pennsylvania, using my knowledge of microscopy to spark excitement and interest in the biological sciences.

What was the highlight of your time at NSF?
Calling young investigators (assistant professors) to let them know that their investigator-initiated or CAREER proposal would be recommended for funding was the highlight of my tenure.  To be able to have such an important influence on the scientific career of such gifted researchers was an amazing experience, and to hear and feel the excitement my phone call unleashed is something I will never forget!

What did you learn from your position?
I see grant and proposal writing with a different set of eyes now that I have seen firsthand how many factors beyond good science influence the review process and funding decisions.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director at NSF?
Becoming a rotating program director is a great way to give back to the scientific community and an amazing opportunity to capture the breadth of science. To be immersed in that day after day and to participate in executing and shaping this endeavor is very exciting. It’s particularly opportune to engage in such a position and build on one’s past career accomplishments, and help guide the future scientific endeavor based upon one’s own significant footprint in science.


A photo of Dr. Devaki Bhaya

Devaki Bhaya served as a rotating program director in the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster, joining the group under an Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) assignment in December, 2016. She returned to her home institution (Carnegie Institution for Science) this past January.

TOP FIVE OF 2019: MOST POPULAR POSTS OF THE YEAR

From broadening participation to increasing diversity and inclusion, MCB’s five most-viewed posts published in 2019 showcase our most read topics. Looking for ideas on how to improve your broader impacts? Read about Dr. Jewett’s BioBits kits. Interested in transitioning to a non-academic STEM career field? Dr. Cooper discusses how she ended up in university administration after a career as a researcher. New to NSF or interested in brushing up your reviewing skills? Read tips from MCB program directors on writing effective reviews.

In 2020, the MCB blog team looks forward to sharing information about exciting outreach efforts, funding opportunities, and more! Subscribe to notifications (on the right side of this page) to be the first to know what’s on MCB’s mind.

1. TEACHING CRISPR IN THE CLASSROOM: A NEW TOOL FOR TEACHERS

Students using BioBits kits.

Dr. Jewett developed a new method of teaching CRISPR – a gene editing tool – using BioBits kits. (Published June 7)

2. OPPORTUNITY AND INTENTION: NEVER SAY NEVER

Dr. Adrienne Cooper from Florida Memorial University.

Dr. Adrienne Cooper’s transition from STEM student to researcher to university administrator. (Published April 19)

3. HBCU-UP EIR: WEBINAR ON WRITING COMPETITIVE PROPOSALS

HBCU EiR Program graphic describing the solicitation.

MCB hosted a webinar on writing competitive proposals for faculty at HBCU institutions in March. (Published March 8)

4. BROADER IMPACTS — IF IT WORKS, KEEP DOING IT

High school and undergraduate student working together in O'Donnell Laboratory.

Dr. Allyson O’Donnell’s broader impact activity – “near peer mentoring” – pairs high school students from under-represented minorities with undergraduates in her lab. (Published June 27)

5. TIPS FOR WRITING EFFECTIVE REVIEWS

Tips for writing effective reviews infographic.

MCB Program Directors provide their top five tips for writing useful and informative reviews. (Published February 20)

NSF BIO 2020 Distinguished Lecture Series

The first of four lectures hosted by the Directorate of Biological Sciences 2020 Distinguished Lecture Series will be held January 22, 2020, 11-12 PM Eastern Standard Time. Dr. Michael Lynch, Arizona State University, will present his talk, titled “Evolutionary Origin of Cell Biology’s Scaling Laws.”

Attendees may attend in person or virtually; in either case, registration in advance is required. Please visit the BIO BUZZ blog for details on registration or visit the  lecture series event page.

MCB is Hiring a Permanent Program Officer

The division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) is accepting applications for a permanent Program Officer to join the Cellular Dynamics and Functions cluster. Program officers are an essential part of NSF’s mission, primarily responsible for the administration of the merit review of submitted proposals; managing an effective, timely peer review process; ensuring broad participation of reviewers and increasing involvement of under-represented groups; and building an award portfolio that supports the vision and goals of the National Science Foundation and MCB.

Applications must be received between December 3, 2019 and December 17, 2019. Applicants must have a Ph.D. in a science or engineering field relevant to any of the scientific areas encompassed by MCB, plus six or more years of successful research, research administration, and/or managerial experience. For a full list of qualifications, application materials, and benefits see the full job announcement.

MCB Office Hours Nov. 13

During this Office Hour we will discuss Award types and Funding Mechanisms followed by an open Q&A session. Questions should be broad and of potential interest to others.

Division Leaders and Program Directors from all four MCB clusters: Cellular Dynamics and Function (CDF), Genetic Mechanisms (GM), Molecular Biophysics (MB), and Synthetic and Systems Biology (SSB) will be present.

DATE: Wednesday, Nov. 13
TIME: 2-3 pm (Eastern Standard Time)
REGISTRATION LINK:
https://nsf2.webex.com/nsf2/onstage/g.php?MTID=e8f6e83805a92d4976895ee2f6addbe42

Register to participate and submit your questions via this link.

Click on the link “Subscribe to NSF-MCB” (right side of the page) to receive notifications of new posts as well as the link for each month’s Virtual Office Hours event.

Virtual Office Hours! NEW!!!

MCB now holding office hours!
Wednesday, Oct. 9 2-3pm
(and the 2nd Wednesday of every month)
Bring your questions! 
Join us remotely to listen and learn!

At MCB’s first Virtual Office Hour on October 9, MCB Division and Deputy Division Directors (Basil Nikolau and Theresa Good) as well as cluster leaders/representatives (Charlie Cunningham, CDF; Karen Cone, GM; Wilson Francisco, MB; David Rockcliffe, SSB) will give an overview of the MCB division, its clusters, and their respective priorities. The meeting will be held via WebEx. Participants may submit questions via the Q&A function. Questions should be broad and of potential interest to others.

At each Virtual Office Hour thereafter, MCB plans to discuss a specific topic, followed by an open question and answer session. Registered participants may post questions during the Virtual Office Hour.  Click on the hotlink to register – and be sure to select “Join by browser” when the option appears on your screen.

*Click on the link “Subscribe to NSF-MCB” (right side of the page) to receive notifications of new posts as well as the link for each month’s Virtual Office Hours event.

Reintegrating Biology: Last Chance

This is the logo for Reintegrating Biology.

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences wants to hear what you think!


Although registration for participating in one of two Virtual Town Halls will soon close, there’s still time to make your voice heard in the discussion about the directions you’d like to see funded by the National Science Foundation.  

For more information, read the post, “Integrating Biology” at BioBuzz, the blog of the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences, Office of the Assistant Director.

MCB WELCOMES TRESA SCRUGGS PROFFITT AND PHOEBE LOSTROH

Welcome Tresa

Tresa Proffitt is a program assistant in MCB.

A photo of Tresa smiling into the camera with a tree behind her

What is your educational background?

After graduating from Lynchburg College with a B.A. in Music Education and a minor in Biology, I taught in the public schools for several years. I am especially interested in neuroscience-based educational practices and am currently pursuing a M.S. in Biology with a concentration in Neuroscience at George Mason University where I am researching adolescent brain development.

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

I began in July as a program assistant for MCB. I am most looking forward to learning more about the grant-review and panel administration process. It is fascinating to read about what researchers all over the country are studying and see some of the accomplishments that have been made possible through NSF support!

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

One of the things I have always admired about NSF is their commitment to funding not only exciting new research, but also proposals that will also have broader impacts in their community. I have only seen a little bit of one panel so far, but I can tell that the panelists and NSF staff work very hard to filter through all the proposals (and paperwork) to choose the very best ones to recommend for funding!

What have you learned so far from your position?

So far, I have learned a lot about the different checkpoints that proposals and awards undergo throughout the entire process. It’s a lot of small tasks, but I think it is necessary to ensure that proposals have all the required components and that awardees use the money how they promised.

A fun fact about me:

I enjoy playing fiddle in my free time and used to perform regularly in a traditional Irish/Appalachian music band!

Welcome Phoebe

Dr. Phoebe Lostroh is a rotating program officer through the Visiting Scientist, Engineer, and Educator Program (VSEE); she comes to MCB from Colorado College.

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

A picture of Phoebe smiling into the camera in an office setting.

I am on scholarly leave from Colorado College, a private liberal arts college with about 2,000 undergraduates.  I teach six courses a year there, ranging from Mentored Research in Molecular Biology and Introduction to Molecular & Cellular Biology to Microbiology:  Genes, Molecules, and Infection and Virology.  I just published my first book, titled The Molecular and Cellular Biology of Viruses.  For fun, I’m learning to play the card game called duplicate contract bridge, and I sing.  I also volunteer with Science Riot, an organization that teaches scientists to do stand-up comedy routines as an outreach activity.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I jumped at the chance to be a rotating program director in the division of Molecular and Cellular Biology because I want to have an impact on science beyond that which I can have at my home institution, and because when I interviewed, it was obvious that the division is a stellar workplace.

What personal goals would you like to accomplish while at the NSF?

I am very excited to work on the funding process because I know from personal experience that NSF grants lead both to important scholarly discoveries and transforming people’s lives.  I would like to meet people who are making policies related to undergraduate STEM education and research at primarily undergraduate institutions to talk to them about my students’ experiences.  I would also like to talk to anyone who is interested in reaching outside science toward the humanities to encourage collaboration across those boundaries.

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

People are curious about how the funding process works; everyone also wants to know how much money basic research costs and how much of the federal budget goes to NSF.  The only science questions anyone has asked me upon learning about my new position have been about climate change – I think people are hungry to hear about this topic from a scientist they can personally talk to.  Everyone also wants to come visit, so they ask about the museums and other attractions in the DC area.