farewell

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO DR. ELEBEOBA MAY

Dr. Elebeoba May joined MCB in November 2017 as a program director in the Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) cluster and ended her almost four year term as a rotator under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) in June.

Photo of Dr. Elebeoba May

What was the highlight of your time at NSF?

Hands down the people I worked with, and second, the new cross-cutting initiatives I had a chance to help develop were the highlights of my experience. From walking into the building and seeing the NSF mural to exiting the elevator (sometimes unsure which way to turn) and seeing the giant paper snowflakes the MCB staff hung as holiday decor, it was always clear that people – my colleagues –  are the heartbeat of NSF and they were the greatest thing about being at NSF. 

Every day that I had the chance to interact with my MCB colleagues in the halls of NSF (pre-COVID) or on Zoom was a highlight for me. I could always count on having impromptu scientific discussions sometimes after being startled in the hallway (you know who you are), or following my perfectly timed but unintended interruption of a colleague’s lunch (sorry), or even as I wandered the halls searching for chocolate or KIND bars (we all do it). It was even more rewarding when those discussions turned into a nugget of an idea and eventually into a new initiative in the form of a DCL or solicitation.  I’ve had the chance to be a part of the process of growing such new ideas into an initiative a couple of times and that was extremely fulfilling and something I had no expectation of when I first joined MCB.  It’s a real testament to our MCB and BIO leadership that as rotating PDs, we have the opportunity and are encouraged to not only think outside of the box but to build programs across disciplinary boundaries and boxes. In sum, through the people and programs at NSF, I gained unique perspectives and a greater appreciation for the vastness and interconnectedness of science and the importance of the people who do the science.

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

My encounters with NSF started as a graduate student and later with my first review panel, which was for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). Those two experiences and service on many other review panels that followed made me think of NSF as a group of people that cared about science and the groups of people doing the science. Not much has changed in my original impression of the Foundation, but I think that my experiences have repeatedly affirmed those initial thoughts and made me realize that my first impression was just the tip of the iceberg of the integrated Intellectual Merit and Broadening Participation charge that NSF stewards and champions. I found that this dual focus on excellent science and inclusive science are woven into the DNA of MCB and BIO. But one part of my impression that did change, or was a bit revised, was how NSF goes about realizing these goals. I originally saw NSF mainly as unilaterally establishing programs or guidance to which we, the community, would respond. However, I now understand NSF is a steward of these areas, but the community of basic science, engineering, mathematics researchers and educators have to be engaged and partner with NSF to realize these goals. This change in perspective will undoubtedly influence how I view and realize my responsibility to continue to engage with NSF post my tenure as a program director. 

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

Do it! And, perhaps it’s not so bad to do it when you’re mid-career. My experience was so much more than I expected. I learned a lot of what I would categorize as “behind the curtain” stuff, such as how the Foundation sets priorities and how to differentiate those seemingly (from the outside) blurry lines between programs. One rather rewarding aspect of my experience was the ability to see the tangible impact of the programs we managed and developed on my community.  It was fulfilling to have the occasion to shine a light on areas and communities that have the potential to be highly impactful but have not received much attention or investment. The ability to be part of the conversation, engage new voices in the community, and make a difference broadly on the trajectory of individual investigators has been a uniquely rewarding experience. My time in MCB is something I am grateful for and will carry with me for the rest of my career.

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO DR. KAREN CONE

Dr. Karen Cone joined the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) in January 2009 as a program director in what was known then as the Genes and Genome Systems Cluster, now known as Genetic Mechanisms. She now serves as science advisor for the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

“Karen has been an extraordinary colleague and mentor to new PIs in the community and to new Program Directors in MCB and across NSF,” says her former division director in MCB, Theresa Good. “We in MCB will all miss her scientific vision, her willingness to take risks to support new activities in both science and broader impacts, and her ability to clearly communicate to PIs, her peers, and NSF leadership about all aspects of NSF operations. We, however, know she will have an opportunity to contribute to a larger organization in her new role.” 

What was the highlight of your time in MCB?
Working in a friendly, supportive team environment has been a delight. Having the opportunity to interact with talented staff and fellow program directors to review and fund exciting science has been a rewarding experience. Another highlight has been the opportunity to engage with countless members of the scientific community.
One of the things I loved about my job as a faculty member was mentoring and advising, and I have loved having the opportunity to continue that work by talking with investigators about their research ideas and coaching them on how to get funded by NSF.

What has surprised you most about working at NSF?
When I first came to NSF, I was surprised by how much I didn’t know about the agency. I thought my many years of NSF experience—as a PI and a panelist—had provided me with unique insights. However, when I arrived, I discovered I knew very little about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into reviewing and making funding decisions on grant proposals. I was immensely grateful for the formal and informal training that helped me learn the ropes. I learned (again and again) that there is an answer for every question and a process for every eventuality. I also learned what an amazingly nimble agency NSF is; we have a huge array of mechanisms to fund good science. I tell prospective investigators all the time that if you can imagine an innovative scientific advance, we can probably figure out how to fund it!

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a program director at NSF?
I would say do it! For me, this has been an amazing growth experience. I arrived as a well-trained geneticist with a background in microbiology, biochemistry, plant genetics, and genomics. Thanks to the many opportunities I have been given to engage with colleagues in programs at division, directorate and foundation levels, I am leaving MCB with a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the breadth of science funded across NSF. The experience has definitely made me a better scientist.

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO BRIDGET JOHNSON

Bridget Johnson joined MCB in March 2018 as a program assistant. She became a program specialist in July 2019.

Former NSF employee, Bridget Johnson, standing in front of a National Science Foundation banner.

What is next for you after your time at NSF?

I have accepted a position as a life scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency in northern California. I will also continue to work part-time on my Master of Natural Resources degree from Virginia Tech. Although it’s sad to be leaving NSF, I’m grateful for the experience and look forward to this next step in my career.

What was working at MCB like?

MCB has been a great place to work. It’s a very collaborative, congenial environment with a dedicated staff. During these difficult times, the team has been particularly supportive of each other while adeptly continuing the agency’s mission. Another benefit of working in MCB is the snacks! When we were working physically in the office, there were always goodies shared at staff meetings and potlucks. I can only hope my future workplaces are as welcoming of sweet tooths.

What did you learn from your position?

I’m thankful that MCB gave me the chance to work at NSF, which has provided me a great transition into federal service. I gained experience in administration, event coordination, finance, and data analysis. I had the chance to work on a number of interesting projects, including the Synthetic Cell Ideas Lab, the webinar series for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Excellence in Research (HBCU – EiR) program, and NSF’s research collaboration with the United Kingdom Research Institute (NSF/BIO – UKRI/BBSRC). This year in particular has driven home the vital importance of funding science, and it was an honor to play a small role in support of that goal. I’m especially grateful for the professional relationships and friendships that I developed with NSF colleagues over the years.

MCB WELCOMES MYESHIA SHELBY AND BIDS FAREWELL TO ALIAS SMITH AND ALEXIS PATULLO

Myeshia Shelby – Myeshia joined MCB in June as an intern through the NSF Summer Scholars Internship Program and the Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network.

What is your educational background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s in genetics and human genetics.

What were you doing before you came to NSF?
Before being accepted as a summer intern at NSF, I was completing the fall semester of my PhD program at Howard University where I am part of a translational neuroscience research team.

What was your first impression of NSF? Has this impression changed since you began?
I honestly had no idea what took place at NSF, to the point that I asked if research was conducted on premises. After orientation, it was made clear that NSF is a funding entity for research in science and engineering.

What personal goals would you like to accomplish while at NSF?
I plan to use this opportunity to make new professional connections and gain insight as to how NSF fulfills its mission to support scientific research.


Alias Smith – Alias joined MCB in August 2017 as a Fellow sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He transitioned to the role of science associate in April 2019.

What was the highlight of your time at NSF?
The highlight of working at NSF, specifically within MCB, was being able to work collaboratively with great colleagues on a wide array of projects. I have had the pleasure of working with MCB’s division leadership, program directors, and administrative staff, and in all cases I have learned a lot and had the opportunities to have a lasting impact at NSF and in the community we serve.

What is next for you after your time at NSF?
For the next chapter of my career I will remain at NSF, moving from BIO/MCB to the Emerging Frontiers and Multidisciplinary Activities (EFMA) office in the Directorate for Engineering, where I will serve as an associate program director.

What personal goals did you accomplish while at NSF?
My time at NSF began as an AAAS Fellow. At that time, I was exploring career options, primarily deciding whether to stay in academia or move on to federal or private sector work. After working as an AAAS Fellow and subsequently as a science associate in MCB, I decided that remaining in a federal agency would be best for me with respect to personal growth and the lasting impact I could have on the community. For example, I have been able to develop outreach methods that have the potential to reach a diverse set of faculty members from around the country, directly impacting their understanding of opportunities at NSF.

Would you have done anything differently looking back at you time at NSF?
Looking back at my time at NSF, the main thing I would do differently is reach out to more people across the Foundation to learn about their interests and projects. There is a wide range of expertise represented at NSF and I now know there are many mechanisms to tap into that collective consciousness. I am looking forward to the fact that I am remaining at NSF, and I plan to take full advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as I can from the people around me.


Alexis Patullo – Alexis started as a program assistant in June 2016; she transitioned to program specialist in 2017 and is now a management and program analyst.

What was working at MCB like?
MCB was my first “big kid” job right out of college and I could not have asked for a better place to start. Everyone was always supportive and continually challenged me to be the best I could be. MCB is great team environment and I am going to miss working there. I have learned a lot about NSF these past few years, and hope to use my skills as I transition to my new position.

What is next for you after your time at NSF?
I will be staying at NSF as a management and program analyst in the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

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.

FAREWELL TO DR. SUSANNE VON BODMAN

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(Left to right); Dr. Charles Cunningham, Dr. Wilson Francisco, MCB Deputy Division Director Dr. Theresa Good, Dr. Steven Clouse, Dr. Richard Cyr, Dr. Susanne von Bodman, Dr. Engin Serpersu, Dr. Greg Warr, Former CBET Program Director Dr. Friedrich Srienc, and Dr. Bill Eggleston

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) gave a warm send off to Dr. Susanne von Bodman, former Program Director and cluster leader in the Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) program. Among the many reasons she enjoyed her time at NSF are “interacting with amazingly bright and forward thinking colleagues across the agency who share a commitment to advancing molecular and cellular biosciences through cross-disciplinary collaborations; getting to know a community of remarkable investigators in the fields of Systems and Synthetic Biology; the camaraderie between colleagues at the NSF and a fun, but dedicated staff creating many opportunities for memorable social events and recreational experiences outside of work; and living in the greater DC area with its art, food, music, sports, museums, and recreation.”

As cluster leader, Dr. von Bodman provided a clear vision and direction for how best to support investigator-driven scientific proposals. She noted, “I believe that Systems and Synthetic Biology will change the field of molecular and cellular biology as we know it. Recognizing that biology is non-linear; the responses to perturbations uncertain; and the whole being greater than the sum of its parts necessitates the integration of mathematical and computational biological research.” Dr. von Bodman offered a few words of advice to young investigators; “Have a conversation with mathematicians, computation biologists, physicists, and/or chemical and bio-engineers about your projects because it may be eye-opening.”

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Back row (left to right): Dr. Stacy Kelley, Dr. Reyda Gonzalez -Nieves, Kelly Parshall, Dr. Karen Cone, Ann Larrow, Philip Helig, and Alexis Patullo. Front row (left to right): Valerie Maizel, Megan Lewis, Dr. Susanne von Bodman, and David Barley

After her years of service to the NSF, Dr. von Bodman is most looking forward to golfing, biking, hiking, and traveling; spending time with her four wonderful grandchildren; reading books she has never finished; and continuing the renovations on her cabin in West Virginia. Dr. von Bodman also plans on “following the science we funded, and learning about the next exciting scientific frontiers.” Lastly, in her words, “I wish to take this opportunity to thank all of you within and outside the National Science Foundation who made my experiences in academia and as a Program Director at the NSF most enjoyable and rewarding. It was a privilege to serve and get to know this community of talented researchers and educators. I particularly valued your service as reviewers and panelists; it is ultimately you who drive the science forward! The very best wishes – Susanne (Susi)”

All of us at MCB thank Dr. Susanne von Bodman for her many years of dedicated service as a Program Director and cluster leader. We will miss Susi’s outspoken advocacy and passion for the science and investigators she supported. We wish her lots of enjoyment in this new chapter.

A few words by Dr. Parag Chitnis, Former MCB Division Director:

“At NSF, Program Directors can make major impacts on the directions of science. In the 1980s, DeLill Nasser’s bold and substantive support of Arabidopsis as a model system revolutionized plant biology. In the 1990s, Kamal Shukla catalyzed the field of computational molecular biophysics. Around 2007, Dr. Greg Warr proposed realignment of programs within MCB, leading to the creation of a Networks and Regulation cluster, when it became clear that projects using network analysis were increasing in signal transduction, cell biology, metabolism and genetic regulation. Dr. Susanne von Bodman, an ardent proponent of systems approaches and synthetic biology, served as a Program Director in this cluster. The cluster was ultimately renamed Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) due to Dr. von Bodman’s leadership fostering these fields in the MCB portfolio. Her leadership in ERA-SynBio was also responsible for many rewarding partnerships with EU funding agencies. MCB had strongly favored interdisciplinary research including areas at the interface with engineering (e.g. metabolic engineering and quantitative systems biotechnology). However, Dr. von Bodman, in collaboration with Dr. Theresa Good, strengthened interactions with engineering far beyond what was historically done. Joint panels and co-funding led to many productive discussions and exciting opportunities for supporting truly interdisciplinary research.

Around 2010, Susanne von Bodman fostered synthetic biology as a major tool to decipher the molecular rules of life. Like DeLill and Kamal, Susanne von Bodman has been an unapologetic proponent of excellence in science and an ardent supporter of young investigators. Like them, she emphasized projects with bold approaches and transformative impacts, often ignoring ‘other factors’ and overly bureaucratic policies. She catalyzed science frontiers in systems and synthetic biology and built strong connections to leverage science investments. She recruited top notch panelists and depended on their advice to understand the frontiers in systems and synthetic biology. She identified CAREER awardees with great potential to be leaders in systems and synthetic biology, many of whom have now made prominent contributions to the progress in these fields. Her impacts on the science supported by MCB has been phenomenal and will last long after her retirement.”

FAREWELL TO DR. MANJU HINGORANI

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First Row (Left to Right): Dr. Karen Cone, Dr. Theresa Good, Dr. Manju Hingorani, Dr. Charlie Cunningham; Second Row (Left to Right): Keshanti Tidwell, Dr. Stacy Kelley, Dr. Linda Hyman, Dr. Susanne von Bodman, and Dr. Wilson Francisco

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) gave a warm send off to Dr. Manju Hingorani, former Program Director in the MCB Genetic Mechanisms program.

During her two year tenure at the NSF, Dr. Hingorani worked with investigator-driven proposals submitted to both the Genetic Mechanisms and the Cellular Dynamics and Function programs. As a rotating Program Director, Dr. Hingorani managed proposal reviews and awards and responded to inquiries from principal investigators conducting fundamental research related to the central dogma of biology. Dr. Hingorani noted she particularly enjoyed managing CAREER proposal reviews because it gave her glimpses of potential future leaders in science and education. Dr. Hingorani also aided in the review of NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program proposals, appreciating the chance to serve in a program that has benefitted students from her home institution.

As Dr. Hingorani returns to her position as Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Wesleyan University, she looks forward to reconnecting with her students “in 3D,” in her laboratory, and in classes. Unfortunately for us, she will take most of her Swiss chocolate stash back with her!

MCB would like to thank Dr. Manju Hingorani for her service, and we wish her all the best in the future. If you are interested in serving like Dr. Hingorani as a rotating MCB Program Director, please contact us at 703-292-8440 and read the rotator Dear Colleague Letter.