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.


MCB welcomed Dr. Elebeoba (“Chi-Chi”) May to the Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) cluster this past November. Dr. May is serving a two-year assignment under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA). As a “rotator,” Dr. May will retain ties to her current institution and return to it with new insights and experience. As a program director, she’ll use her expertise to make funding recommendations; influence new directions in the fields of science, engineering, and education; and support cutting-edge interdisciplinary research. Keep reading below to learn more about Dr. May: (more…)

MCB welcomes Dr. Ranajeet Ghose, Program Director for the Molecular Biophysics Cluster.

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am a Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the City College of New York.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

The reason was two-fold: (1) Being a program director allows one to learn about science at the cutting edge beyond ones area of expertise. (2) The NSF has provided me with uninterrupted funding since 2004 starting with a CAREER award. This is an opportunity for me to give back.

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

My first impression was very positive and it continues to be so. There are some incredibly bright people working here who are quick to realize (and fund) the next big innovation.

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

Get a broader view of science, in general and molecular biophysics, in particular. This is an opportunity one rarely has in one’s research lab.

What surprised you most about working at NSF?

Nothing really. I have served on multiple panels in the PHY, CHEM and BIO directorates and have been a Committee of Visitors member in the past.

What are some of the challenges of serving as a rotator/program director?

It takes a little while to realize that one is not a panelist when running panels. One has to take great care not to editorialize and let the panelists do their job.

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

They should absolutely do it. It would give them an unprecedented opportunity to get a broad view of science than they normally would.

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

They worry that my own research may be affected. I tell them that with the Independent Research/Development (IR/D) program and flexible work hours (for an IPA assignee), it allows me to continue my research uninterrupted and supervise my students and postdocs. It actually forces me to organize my time better and perhaps makes me more productive.

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

I would say that this is a great place to work for rotators. The staff and other program directors are fabulous. I expect to leave the NSF a better scientist and a better manager.