Spencer Swansen recently joined the division in June as a program assistant.
What is your educational background?
I attended Seattle Pacific University during undergrad, with degrees in Biology (BS) and Ecology (BS). I was fortunate to be a part of an NSF-funded REU over the summer of 2014 at UC-Riverside, studying fungal interactions at the Center for Plant Cell Biology. Afterwards, I started a Peace Corps Masters International in Forest Resource Management at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. For my Peace Corps service, I was a Youth in Development volunteer in northern Thailand, teaching life skills and English. For my Masters research, I surveyed the community on their perspectives toward land use and potential land conversions. After two amazing years, I closed service two weeks before Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated around the globe in response to the pandemic.
What has surprised you most about working at the NSF?
One thing that has surprised me about NSF is the intention behind the funding. I will admit that as a student (especially in forestry classes) I grew tired of academia and felt it was an echo chamber with self-perpetuating systems and structures. I have been very pleasantly surprised since starting work at the NSF, though. Not only is there a focus on funding transformational research, whether high risk or otherwise, but there is also a focus on broadening participation and giving more people the opportunity to pursue a passion for science and research. In just a few weeks, I have come to learn that everyone working at NSF shares these intentions. In my role I will be supporting those who make decisions on funding, organizing panels and processing awards and more. I will also get to be exposed to amazing research, and I can already tell that my love for science is being rekindled (sounds cheesy, but it’s true!).
What is your educational background? I received a Ph.D. in microbiology from Texas A&M University, although my primary training was in molecular biology. I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Davis, and Stanford University. While in Dale Kaiser’s laboratory at Stanford, I studied the gene regulatory networks associated with bacterial biofilm formation. As an independent researcher, I continued studying bacterial gene regulatory networks using systems-level approaches and started new projects on bacterial natural products (secondary metabolites).
What attracted you to work for NSF? I have been working in MCB for seven years as an expert. What originally attracted me to NSF was the recommendation of my Syracuse University colleague, who had just completed a two-year rotation with MCB. Since starting in MCB, I have been a program director in the Genetic Mechanisms cluster and the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster. I enjoyed learning about a variety of research areas, funding exciting science, interacting with the research community and interacting with my colleagues in MCB. I would say that all these things attracted me to the permanent program director position in Systems and Synthetic Biology.
When friends or colleagues find out that you work at NSF, what do they say or ask? For the most part, my colleagues ask about the funding process at NSF and whether they should contact a program director. Of course, the answer to this question is always yes.
How has your relocation to the area gone? I haven’t relocated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I’m looking forward to it.
Mariam Tahir – Mariam joined MCB as a program assistant in March.
What were you doing before you came to NSF? I returned from Peace Corps service in June 2019. I served in Costa Rica for two years as a Community Economic Development volunteer. Some of my projects included working in the local high school giving STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) courses to an empowerment group for girls, and running workshops in art and creative critical thinking painting murals for community service after school (which was a blast!). I also worked at the local bean factory training my host sister in bookkeeping, taught several English classes, and started a bird-watching club in the area. I miss my beautiful community and its people. Pura Vida!
Since I’ve returned to the US, I worked part time at Junior Achievement, teaching financial literacy and professional development to elementary school and high school students.
What has surprised you most about working at the NSF? The culture! I was a little hesitant about how my background would fit, but the NSF and MCB culture has made me feel super welcome and shown me that everyone is very open to always learning different ways of doing things. The culture is super inclusive, academic, and full of healthy competition. It’s a perfect blend. Our team is always willing to help me learn but also find new ways of doing something new/better.
How has your relocation to the area gone? DC is SO lovely – I am happy being here in this new adventure. I get to indulge in hiking, a great salsa dancing scene, awesome food and incredible history. I cannot wait to check out the museums when they reopen. Although I do miss living 30 minutes from the Jersey Shore, my family, and being super close to NYC, I know I can always visit on the weekends.
Valerie Maizel – Valerie joined MCB in 2011 as an administrative support assistant. She started her new role as program specialist in the Division of Chemistry in April.
What are you most looking forward to next? In my job, I worked hard and learned new skills that helped me to qualify for a detail as a program specialist in MPS/CHE (the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences’ Division of Chemistry). I was very pleased to be selected to become an official program specialist. I look forward to working with my new team and working with their exciting programs.
What was working at MCB like? The staff was very positive and caring. I felt welcome there and everyone was receptive to my ideas.
What did you learn from your position? I acquired new skills in the financial aspect of NSF.
MCB has welcomed three new staff members to its ranks during the past several months. Dr. Manju Hingorani, who filled a rotator position as program director during 2014-2016, returns to MCB as a permanent program director in the Molecular Biophysics cluster. Allison Burrell, science assistant, joined MCB this past January; Bridget Johnson, program assistant, followed in March. Learn more about the unique experiences each brings to her respective role below.(more…)
I often walked through the NSF atrium on my way to another job. Every time I thought, I should stop in to see what NSF is all about. As I looked for student internships on USAJOBS.gov, I came across a Pathways position at NSF. After reading more about what NSF does and finding out that several of my professors were either awarded NSF funding or served as NSF Program Directors, I decided to apply. It seemed like a great opportunity to put the skills I have to good use while taking classes and continuing to learn about science.
What have you learned so far from your position?
I think one of the most important things I have learned is the importance of teamwork and effective communication as most tasks involve several people and moving parts. Learning new technologies and procedural changes that reflect updated policies or regulations means that most days I feel like I learn something new in my position.
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.