Getting to Know MCB

This is MCB! Hear from Uebonda Denise McGee

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.

Uebonda Denise McGee attended the University of Phoenix and began providing administrative support to MCB in March of 2008. Ms. McGee greatly enjoys working with the Genetic Mechanisms and System and Synthetic Biology clusters. As Program Assistant, Ms. McGee provides customer service, travel, and panel support to the division and the scientific community. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music, reading books, and shopping.

This is MCB! Hear from Valerie Samantha Maizel

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.

Valerie Samantha Maizel graduated from Fairfax High School in 2009. She then went to Northern Virginia Community College and began providing administrative support to MCB in 2011. Ms. Maizel greatly enjoys working for an organization that promotes science. As Administrative Support Assistant, Ms. Maizel handles travel arrangements, scheduling, correspondence, and other activities to enable the Division to meet its responsibilities. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, movies, and participating in several different social clubs.

Welcome to MCB Arvin Tahami!

Hear from Arvin Tahami, the newest member of the MCB Division.

What is your educational background?

I have a masters degree in Biotechnology from California State University, San Marcos.

What is your position? When did you start working in MCB?

I started two weeks ago as a Presidential Management Fellow. I work as a Biologist in MCB.

The Presidential Management Fellowship program is led by the Office of Personnel Management to recruit recent graduates from graduate programs into federal service. Recently OPM has added an additional STEM track designed specifically for recent graduates with a background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. My appointment is in the PMF STEM track.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

Scientists working on important projects to advance our basic understanding of science rely on funding from organizations like the NSF to carry out their work. My role at the NSF allows me the unique privilege to play a part in making sure that our nation’s top scientists, working on worthy projects with the potential to have the highest impact, can apply to the NSF for the funding they need.

What have you learned in the first two weeks of your position?

I am very excited to be a part of MCB. Everybody here is very passionate about our mission. So far I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to observe a couple proposal panel reviews. It has been very fascinating watching scientists debate the merits of each proposal being reviewed. Peer review is central to the advancement of science. Using this process to evaluate funding proposals is very fitting with the foundation’s mission. I’ve learned a great deal about how review panels evaluate proposals by watching them in action.

Dr. Kamal Shukla Honored by the Biophysical Society

Biophysical Society

Photo Courtesy of the Biophysical Society.

Dr. Kamal Shukla, Program Director in the Molecular Biophysics Cluster in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, was recognized by the Biophysical Society as the 2015 recipient of their prestigious Distinguished Service Award. Recipients of the Distinguished Service Awards have made an exceptional contribution to the field of biophysics and in its advancement outside of research.  Dr. Shukla was recognized for “his tireless efforts in promoting research at the interface between the biological and physical sciences and exceptional leadership in uniting scientists from across many Directorates at the National Science Foundation.”

Dr. Shukla is an Elected Fellow (2000) of the AAAS and has received many awards from the NSF, including the Director’s Distinguished Service Award in 2010. Join us in congratulating Dr. Shukla as the Division celebrates this outstanding recognition.

MCB’s New Program Director: Manju Hingorani

MH_011315What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am a Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Wesleyan University, a liberal arts university in Connecticut whose claim to fame (in addition to Joss Whedon) is a small, vibrant PhD program (mainly) in the sciences. I have a research laboratory with two post-doctoral associates, three PhD and three undergraduate students who study the kinetic mechanisms of DNA replication and repair proteins. I also teach introductory molecular biology, upper-level biochemistry, and graduate level enzymology courses. Of course, I’m not teaching courses right now during my rotation at NSF.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I think it was destined since my first year as an independent PI when I received that most exciting phone call about my proposal from MCB program director Patrick Dennis. I felt overwhelming gratitude to the NSF for trusting me as a scientist, and with that came the desire to give back. A few weeks after that call, I was asked to serve as a reviewer and that turned out to be a wonderful experience of course. I think that NSF’s policy of inviting members of the science community to manage grant funding on a rotating basis is just brilliant. The chance to experience finding and funding good science was too exciting to pass up.

Also, I am a big city girl from Bombay, India, and Washington DC is very alluring.

Plus, my pharmacologist spouse and I have engaged in the two-body…let’s not call it a “problem”, let’s call it the two-body “minuet” over decades across Ohio, Mississippi, Michigan, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and, most recently, Switzerland. He works in Maryland now, so the chance for me to work for NSF at the same time is almost too good to be true.

What was your first impression of NSF? Has this impression changed since you began serving as a rotator?

It’s surprising that coming to NSF has felt more like coming home than a new and unusual experience. Everyone has been welcoming and so good about sharing information in detail—before I even know what I need to know—my impression of the community has been very positive. The fundamental culture is dedicated to serving science and scientists, and everyone I meet is pulling toward this goal. This shared trait makes working with so many different personalities comfortable and fun.

Perhaps it helped that I arrived right after the CAREER proposals came in this summer. The workload is relatively less intense during this period, and starting off by reading the best ideas of young PIs was a rather uplifting experience.

What were the personal goals you most wanted to accomplish while at NSF?

I don’t have any particular personal goals to accomplish while at the NSF. I look forward to advancing science from this very different and much broader perspective than usual. And it would be nice to become a more effective advocate for basic research and science education after this experience.

What surprised you most about working at NSF?

How easy, albeit exhausting, it is to maintain a well-functioning laboratory back home while working at NSF. Between Skype and FaceTime and Google Hangouts and instant messaging and even a phone call now and then, my group members keep in touch with me more effectively than when I’m on campus. Happily, their independent thinking, writing and presentation skills are showing steady improvement.

What are some of the challenges of serving as a rotator?

Getting a handle on all the opportunities available to fund research scattered all over the building.

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

If I were writing a Personal Ad on behalf of the NSF, it would be:

“Sixty four-something entity with a well-rounded appetite for adventures in science seeking persons deeply interested in research and education to help spend money well. George Clooney looks not necessary.”

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

I started at NSF a couple of months ago, so my colleagues recognize that I am only just finding my way around the organization, and haven’t asked too many specific questions about funding opportunities yet. I expect that will change soon. However, as a successful professor and woman in academia, I’ve been called to dispense advice since the beginning of my career, and I continue to do that. But now I think they think I’ve become more sage, pretty much instantaneously (I promise to use my new powers responsibly.)

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?

Yes. I urge everyone to take the KTtSOTA pledge.

(Keep Trying to Spell Out Those Acronyms)

Summer Interns Shine at MCB

Last summer the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences hosted 3 summer interns pictured above. NSF’s Summer Scholars Internship Program (SSIP) is designed to develop undergraduate and graduate student potential through exposure to relevant science and engineering policy, research, and education issues and programs. The students come to NSF for a ten-week summer experience to work in an office that aligns with the students’ academic interests.

Summer 2014 MCB Intern Ariel Parker (second from the left above) shares her experiences:

What was your project while at NSF?

My project was to study the representation of underrepresented minorities (URM) in MCB proposal submission and award allocation. In addition, I began to collect data about the increasing number of proposals submitted by PIs who choose not to report their gender or race/ethnicity.

How did your experience enrich your university experience?

This internship provided my first experience in science policy.  Before this past summer, all of my science experiences were in laboratory research; I had no knowledge of how science policy and funding worked.  This summer at NSF taught me that science is not just the research but is also about outreach, education, and ensuring that research can be funded.  This internship expanded my ideas about what science entails and about science careers. At my college, I now have a greater appreciation for basic science research and am exploring some of the alternative science careers I learned about at NSF.

What was your favorite part of the internship?

I enjoyed everything about the internship – the helpfulness of all my mentors, the openness of the program directors, the group meetings, and the division retreat.  However, I think my favorite part was the trip to the Plant Biology 2014 Conference in Portland.  It was here that I saw how important NSF’s and specifically MCB’s work is: many of the posters were possible due to funding from MCB/NSF, and a great number of principal investigators came to the NSF co-sponsored workshop to learn about funding opportunities.  I learned a lot on the sixth floor of the NSF building, but it was not until I went to the conference that I saw first-hand how far-reaching MCB’s work is.

Do you know a graduate or undergraduate student who might be interested in a summer internship at NSF? For more information on the Summer Scholars Internship Program, please contact Sherrie Green, Program Manager, at or visit: