division director

Meet Dr. Basil Nikolau, Our New Division Director

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From the very start of my professional career, I’ve seen the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a major influence in shaping the direction of science. I’m excited for this opportunity to impact the processes that help guide the science priorities of the nation.

Since joining MCB as the newest Division Director several weeks ago, I am appreciative of the work done by my predecessors. I specifically want to thank Dr. Theresa Good for her excellent work as Acting Division Director for the past 16 months. Her commitment to keeping MCB moving forward maintained a sustainable platform on which to build. I look forward to working with a Deputy Division Director with so much experience and vision.

My career has come a long way since 1988, when I mailed 15 copies of my first 50-page grant application via Federal Express during my first year as an Assistant Professor at Iowa State University. Although that application was not funded, I was pleasantly surprised the next year when I received a call with the news of my first successful award to study biotin-containing enzymes in plants. That grant was the first in a series of projects, primarily NSF-funded, that built a research program focused on acetate (or acetyl-CoA) metabolism in plants.  Ultimately, we were successful in developing a program that provided the biocatalytic core of the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC).

Over the years, I have served at NSF as an ad hoc reviewer, a panelist, and as a member of various Committee of Visitors panels. I’ve been impressed by the dedication and collegiality of program officers and the administrative support staff as they work together serving a vibrant and diverse research community. Serving as Division Director will be an opportunity to give back to the organization that has supported my career. I see this role not only as an opportunity to support the NSF community but also to have a hand in contributing from the ground-up to the science priorities of the country.

During my time in MCB I look forward to supporting the strong scientific research programs this directorate is so well known for, as well as overseeing upcoming changes. The transition to the “No Deadlines” proposal submissions process, along with NSF’s “10 Big Ideas” and especially the “Rules of Life” initiative, are aimed at increasing the opportunities for NSF to fund research that crosses levels of biological organization. This is a pivotal time for NSF, and I feel fortunate to have this opportunity to lead MCB as we find ways to fund more complex, interdisciplinary projects that have the potential to dramatically advance the biological sciences. I also look forward to working with the great team in place here. Even after a few short weeks, I feel welcomed and impressed by just how efficient and dedicated the team here is.

Thank you,

Basil Nikolau

Meet Dr. Linda Hyman, Our New Division Director

It’s a true pleasure to say hello to the MCB community by publishing this blog post on the first day of my service as the Division Director. It would be an understatement to say I feel truly honored to serve in this role. I am delighted to join a group of dedicated Program Directors and staff that have as their core value service to our community and support of the exciting and impactful science that our grantees carry out. However it would be untrue if I didn’t admit to a little nervousness.

My very first order of business is to welcome a CAREER panel and that puts up front and center a thank you to the reviewer community without whom we could not do our job and to whom the system depends. Please keep doing what you do so well and thank you in advance! My next order of business is to embark on a listening tour both within NSF and with our major stakeholders. I’d like to hear what’s on your minds, what gets you up in the morning and what keeps you up at night. My proverbial (and e-) door is open so feel free to reach out and share your thoughts with me. I hope to meet as many of our community as possible, either physically at NSF, at a scientific meeting, or where ever our paths might cross.

Next – a big shout out to Greg Warr who so ably kept this DD seat warm; and to Theresa Good who I can already tell will shepherd me through this transition period with her commitment to excellence, competence and generous help.

Lastly many people have asked me why I wanted to take on this challenge. The answer is….. I cannot imagine a more worthwhile use of my time and energy than supporting this community and advocating for our science while continuing to learn new things every day. Happy new academic year, happy end to fiscal 2015 and cheers to FY16!

A Word from Dr. Gregory Warr, Acting Division Director

We all in MCB want to express our sincere gratitude and appreciation to Dr. Warr for his great service as Acting Division Director. During his time, Dr. Warr worked diligently in support of the Foundation’s mission. His excellent judgment, pragmatism, and collaborative approach led the division to new heights of excellence. Thank you, Dr. Warr, for your hard work and outstanding contributions to MCB.

It’s been an interesting, challenging and rewarding year that I’ve spent as the acting Division Director of MCB, and I’d like to take this opportunity to give you some idea of what the job has been like. Although the NSF is in many respects an academically-oriented agency whose mission is (in brief) to promote the progress of science, nothing in my near three-decade career as a professor in academia prepared me adequately for this position. While we work for the President of the United States, we are actively engaged with the broad academic community we support (who also serve, as sterling proposal reviewers), to whom we owe transparency and accountability. We are responsive to Congress in their oversight functions; and we bear in mind that we are investing the taxpayers’ money for the future benefit of society. It’s fair to say that a Division Director’s responsibility is to manage all of this in as seamless and efficient a manner as possible, which of course couldn’t happen without the strong professional skills of the Division staff, both administrative and scientific.

The Federal Government is a complex organization, but someone somewhere has seen every challenge that can crop up, and knows how to solve it. Knowing who that person might be is an essential aspect of the job! In addition to responsibilities as an administrator and manager, the Division Director is also involved in strategic planning, which involves not just the Biological Sciences Directorate and other units at the Foundation, but also other federal agencies and our international partners. Strategic initiatives may gestate slowly in the Federal Government, so it is important to take the long view. While I’ve enjoyed my year as acting Division Director, I’m very much looking forward to returning to my position as a Program Director, where I will be engaged very directly with evaluating and supporting the best and most exciting science that our community can propose to us.

I wish Linda Hyman, our incoming Division Director, the best of success in the position and hope that she will find it as enjoyable and rewarding as I have done.

Gregory Warr
Acting Division Director

A Word From The Acting Division Director, Dr. Gregory Warr

Dr. Gregory Warr

Dr. Gregory Warr

It is my pleasure to welcome you to this new MCB blog! The MCB blog is designed to enable faster and more efficient communication with our community of PIs and to provide a forum in which the community can let us know their thoughts and comments.

The blog will host the MCB Newsletter (published twice a year) and will also provide to the community news about our programs, proposal and award statistics, the highlights of research supported by MCB, and much more. The Division will post to the blog at least once a week.

Broadening participation is one of the two merit review criteria at the NSF, and unlike the other criterion (intellectual merit), broader impacts continue to generate some confusion for our PIs. We will use this blog, in an ongoing process, to explain the broader impacts criterion, and to highlight outstanding examples of broader impacts from MCB PIs.

You are encouraged to use this blog as a source of information and as a venue in which your thoughts can be shared with us and with the broader community. Don’t hesitate to send us your comments and suggestions not just on the blog but also on the Division and its programs.

Best wishes,

Greg Warr
Acting Division Director