Getting to Know MCB

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO STEVE CLOUSE

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.”

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO MARCIA NEWCOMER

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.”

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO SONAM AHLUWALIA AND LOURDES HOLLOWAY

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.“

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO DR. PHOEBE LOSTROH

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.”

This is MCB! Hear from Dr. Engin Serpersu

Serpersu head shot

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) supports fundamental research and related activities designed to promote understanding of complex living systems at the molecular, sub-cellular, and cellular levels. Behind our mission stands a group of individuals whose efforts and great work make this Division outstanding; we are proud to showcase their hard work via this blog.

Dr. Serpersu completed his doctoral degree in biochemistry Hacettepe University Medical School, Ankara, Turkey. He was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at Justus Liebig University, Giessen, West Germany, before completing postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. He began a teaching career in 1988 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he rose through the ranks to professor and served a term as chair of the Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology department. His areas of expertise include biophysical chemistry; protein structure, function, and dynamics; and thermodynamics.

Dr. Serpersu joined MCB in June of 2014 as a rotator (a two-year, temporary program director position) and is now a permanent program director, serving as cluster leader in the Molecular Biophysics cluster. As a program director, he manages proposal reviews and makes funding decisions. As cluster leader, he coordinates activities within the cluster and collaborates with other program directors as well as the broader scientific community to help ensure that awards funded by Molecular Biophysics contribute to NSF’s mission of transforming the frontiers of science and innovating for society. He is also on the CAREER (Faculty Early Career Development) Coordinating Committee and a member of the Oversight Group for National Facilities with the National Institutes of Health.

In his spare time Dr. Serpersu enjoys playing volleyball, attending antique auctions, and walking on the beach.

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

Farewell to Dr. Suzanne Barbour

MCB gives a warm send off to Dr. Suzanne Barbour, Former Program Director and Cluster Leader for the Cellular Dynamics and Function Cluster.

Dr. Barbour completed her doctoral degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She started working in MCB in November of 2013. As a cluster leader, Dr. Barbour provided advice to investigators, coordinated the funding process, managed proposals in the area of cell biology, maintained cluster budgets, developed post-panel reports, and served as a liaison to Education and Human Resources committees on undergraduate biology and graduate education.

Dr. Barbour has accepted a position as the Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Georgia. As a Dean, Dr. Barbour will be committed to enhancing the Graduate School Experience for students, faculty, staff, and administrators. Her vision, passion for Graduate Education, academic background, and leadership skills will unquestionably be a great asset to the University of Georgia’s Graduate School.

MCB staff wishes Dr. Barbour many successes in this new chapter of her career.

 

This is MCB! Hear from Claudia Garcia

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) supports fundamental research and related activities designed to promote understanding of complex living systems at the molecular, sub-cellular, and cellular levels. Behind our mission stands a group of individuals whose efforts and great work make this Division outstanding; we are proud to showcase their hard work via this blog.

Claudia Garcia has a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems from George Mason University. She is currently working on her second bachelor’s degree in Accounting. She came to NSF through the Pathways Program in February 2013. The Pathways Program in the federal government is designed to provide current students, recent graduates, and students with advanced degrees an opportunity to explore federal careers while enrolled in school. As Program Specialist, Ms. Garcia provides administrative support to the Molecular Biophysics and Cellular Dynamics and Function clusters. Furthermore, Ms. Garcia assists six program directors with the approval proposal cycle, which includes compliance checking, panel set-up, and award distribution. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and outdoor activities like biking and hiking.

MCB Bids Farewell to the Summer 2015 Interns

This summer, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences had the pleasure of hosting three summer interns. These outstanding undergraduate students culled through proposals, awards and annual reports to identify trends related to informal science education, minority involvement in broader impacts, and the impact of statistical and quantitative analyses on MCB-funded projects. The preliminary data produced by the interns generated several follow-up questions to be explored in the future.

Anita AlbanFullSizeRenderese, a rising senior at the University of Nevada, Reno, investigated informal science education in  active awards in the division. With the help of her mentors, she created a working definition of informal science education as any educational activity the PI participates in outside of the required curricula. These activities included training graduate and undergraduate students, K-12 outreach, lectures or blog posts targeted toward the public, and creating workshops and conferences. In addition to investigating the types of informal education, Anita also considered the length of time that principal investigators were funded, as well as their institutional resources. The division will use these data to continue to investigate what environments influence successful informal science education activities.

bio nsf

Melissa Sam, a rising junior at Northeastern State University used her love of math and statistics to learn more about the use of Big Data analyses in MCB-funded projects. Melissa included the use of both statistical methods, such as the Markov Model, network analysis, bioinformatics, and principal component analysis, and quantitative methods, such as mass spectrometry, NMR spectroscopy, ChIP-sequencing, and next generation sequencing, to define “Big Data Analyses” for her research this summer. She investigated the number of different statistical or quantitative methods per proposal, the costs associated with employing these methods, as well as the impact on the scientific community ( ie. papers, presentations, and book chapters).  Her research findings will be useful to the division whose priorities for research support include quantitative and predictive cell and molecular biology.

mikah

Mikah Barrueta,a rising senior at Otternbein University, spent her summer investigating minority involvement in the broader impacts of MCB-funded research by comparing promises to include underrepresented groups in proposals to reported outcomes in annual reports for a representative sample of awards. In addition, Mikah surveyed program directors and principal investigators to learn more about how the involvement of underrepresented groups is reported to NSF. She evaluated several topics including ways to improve reporting to better capture the demographics of participants in broader impact activities. Mikah’s data and analysis will be considered by the division, as it conducts follow-up research to address questions which emerged as a result of her research.