program director

MCB WELCOMES LORETTA JACKSON-HAYES AND ISHITA MUKERJI 

Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I am a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. My research focuses on identifying and defining the roles of key proteins involved in fungal growth and cytokinesis using the model filamentous fungus, Aspergillus nidulans. Currently, the project centers on one of these proteins, the A. nidulans ortholog of the serine/threonine kinase Protein Kinase C (PkcA). The ongoing objectives of this project are to identify growth- and cytokinesis-related proteins, which are bound by PkcA in vivo and how the protein complexes work. We like to describe the work as defining a PkcA module that contributes to growth and cell division. My home institution is a primarily undergraduate college, so the bulk of the work is done by undergraduate students who perform experiments, help plan the next steps in the project, and even contribute to writing up the results.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I’ve served as a panelist several times, and each time I’ve served, I found extreme satisfaction in reading grant proposals and writing reviews. I enjoyed the panel experience even more. Being involved in discussing proposals during panels allowed me to see how other scientists viewed the work, which gave me great insight into how projects are viewed from different perspectives. This has helped me critique my own work and research approaches, which I think has helped me develop as a scientist. My interactions with panelists and MCB staff were engaging, and MCB staff always made me feel welcomed. I’ve always found the MCB staff to be a supportive and fun group.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director at NSF?

I would recommend to anyone who might be considering serving as a Program Director to reach out to Program Directors to express interest in serving as a panelist, especially if they haven’t previously served. Panel service allowed me to get to know NSF well, become comfortable with MCB staff, and build relationships with many of the staff with whom I now work. This has made my transition to the job much smoother than I think it would have been had I not formed these relationships beforehand. Serving as a panelist also gave me valuable insights on the role of the Program Director that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and this knowledge has given me a head start in adjusting to the job, now that I’m here.

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

When I tell friends and family members that I work at NSF, they understandably imagine that I’m working in a state-of-the-art research lab, on the government’s most important and confidential projects. They seem to get extremely excited about that prospect. I, of course, let them know that the job doesn’t entail working in a research lab at all, and they typically respond with a slight tone of disappointment. However, their enthusiasm recovers when I say something like, “I’m helping to determine the science research agenda for the nation by identifying the most promising research that will advance society.” Family and friends agree with me that it’s really cool to have this amazing opportunity to do that work. Science colleagues are familiar with NSF’s mission, and they too are excited that I’ve been afforded this amazing opportunity to be an NSF Program Director.

Dr. Ishita Mukerji

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I was working at Wesleyan University in Middletown CT.  At Wesleyan, I am in the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department, and I run our Molecular Biophysics program.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

NSF was very helpful to me early on in my career and I could see firsthand the impact that agency can have both on an individual and a field.  I am excited to learn more about the science that NSF funds and, of course, the new types of science NSF is hoping to catalyze through the various initiatives.  

What is your position and what are you most looking forward to?

I am a rotating program director (IPA) in the Molecular Biophysics cluster.  I am looking forward to giving back both to NSF and the Molecular Biophysics community.

What was your first impression of NSF? Has this impression changed since you began?

The NSF as an organization has been very welcoming, and everyone I’ve met and worked with has been helpful and friendly.  This impression has only been re-affirmed over the past couple of weeks that I’ve worked here. It’s been a little challenging to be completely remote and starting a new position.  I’m looking forward to relocating to the area and being in person a couple days a week.  My husband and I are just generally excited about moving to the area, as we’ve heard that DC is a really fun place to live.

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO DAVID BARLEY AND WELCOMES MARIELLE ROBINSON  

David Barley joined NSF and MCB in 2008 as a student participant in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program. He advanced through the administrative ranks, serving in multiple capacities for MCB and other divisions in BIO. David is now a Program Support Manager in MPS/PHY.

What was the highlight of your time at BIO?

During my time in BIO, solving problems in panels was something I did on a regular basis.  I’d say a “highlight” of my time in BIO would be for a panel I supported in IOS.  On day one, the panel goes on as normal, the day concludes, we all go home.  Day two, I walked into the panel room to find that all the rental laptops we ordered had disappeared.  While Program Directors, panelists, and other staff were in shock, I immediately contacted the laptop rental company to determine what had happened.  Thankfully, the laptop company hadn’t wiped the computers yet, so all of the notes and panel summary templates were saved.  The company returned the laptops to NSF not too long after and set everything up again.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about working at NSF?

I’d tell newly incoming staff to be ready to learn and be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they arrive.  For PDs, this means reaching out across Clusters, Divisions (or Directorates) to find unique funding opportunities that may be relevant to their program’s needs.  For Administrative staff, I’d recommend joining a working group (especially NSF-wide working groups) as they give you a chance to meet staff outside of your direct team.  I learned a lot from working group discussions, especially when staff from other directorates explained how they accomplished the same goals as I did but used different tools and practices.

Marielle Robinson joined MCB as Program Assistant in August of 2022.

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

I was working as a federal contractor for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) located in Arlington, VA.  I previously worked for AFOSR as a budget analyst technician and program analyst over my five-year span as a federal civilian.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

The work-life balance, new learning opportunities, and the endless possibilities of career advancements within the organization. 

What have you learned so far from your position?

I was able to attend the MCB Admin Staff Meeting, which was a wonderful introduction to the projects that are currently being worked on inside the MCB division. Even though I have been doing a lot of the required training on LearnNSF for my onboarding, I was able to gain valuable insight into what was to come, which made me eager to contribute some of my strengths to the team.

What has surprised you most about working at NSF?

The amenities offered within the building for employees.  This building is very different from my last job!  I also love how everyone is willing to assist with my onboarding process to make the transition go smoothly.  I’m very excited to meet more of the team within the BIO directorate and to work on my assigned duties.

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 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.”

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT: BIOLOGICAL SCIENCE ADMINISTRATOR (PROGRAM DIRECTOR)

Directorate for Biological Sciences - 5th best place to work in the federal government

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences is looking for one Permanent Program Director for the Genetic Mechanisms cluster. The cluster supports inventive research to address fundamental mechanisms involved in the organization, dynamics, processing, expression, regulation, and evolution of genetic and epigenetic information.

Program directors are an essential part of NSF’s mission, primarily responsible for the administration of the merit review of submitted proposals; managing an effective, timely peer review process; ensuring broad participation of reviewers and increasing involvement of under-represented groups; and building an award portfolio that supports the vision and goals of the National Science Foundation and MCB.

For more information and to apply, please visit USA Jobs for more information before the vacancy closes on September 1, 2021.

Life after Proposal Decline: Call Your Program Director

Headshot of Dr. Karl Thompson, Howard University

Of course there is a lot of emotion involved with a decline,” says Karl Thompson, Associate Professor of Microbiology at Howard University. He admits that when his proposal to the Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Excellence in Research (HBCU – EiR) solicitation was declined two years ago, he hesitated to contact Pamela Clarke, his university’s Director of Research Development. “I knew she would tell me to reach out to the program director,” he says. She did.

A week later, Thompson called Anthony Garza, program director in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), about the declined proposal. The conversation with Garza helped Thompson recognize the need to improve an aim and to recruit a collaborator to supplement the specific expertise needed on the proposed project. The conversation also affirmed for Thompson that the division was interested in the research area covered by the proposal, he says. Encouraged, Thompson submitted the revised proposal to MCB’s core solicitation (NSF 21-509). This time, the proposal was funded.

Thompson first applied to the EiR solicitation after attending MCB’s first webinar-based workshop for potential applicants. Participating in the mock panel review was a valuable experience, he says, and the webinar overall helped him understand and work with NSF structures.

To develop as an outstanding scientist, you’re going to have a lot of failures—and all of that is learning. – Karl Thompson

“If you make it, you have a track record of declines. To develop as an outstanding scientist, you’re going to have a lot of failures—and all of that is learning,” says Thompson. A review of proposal submissions by 10 of MCB’s most widely recognized awardees indicates that of nearly 300 proposals submitted, nearly half were not funded.  

“I am resilient,” says Thompson, “but it’s not that simple, because I had people along the way who guided me.” He offers this advice to fellow researchers: “Do the mourning. Do the denial. Then snap out of it.” And, call your program director!

MCB is Hiring a Permanent Program Officer

The division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) is accepting applications for a permanent Program Officer to join the Cellular Dynamics and Functions cluster. Program officers are an essential part of NSF’s mission, primarily responsible for the administration of the merit review of submitted proposals; managing an effective, timely peer review process; ensuring broad participation of reviewers and increasing involvement of under-represented groups; and building an award portfolio that supports the vision and goals of the National Science Foundation and MCB.

Applications must be received between December 3, 2019 and December 17, 2019. Applicants must have a Ph.D. in a science or engineering field relevant to any of the scientific areas encompassed by MCB, plus six or more years of successful research, research administration, and/or managerial experience. For a full list of qualifications, application materials, and benefits see the full job announcement.

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.

MCB WELCOMES DR. CASONYA JOHNSON, PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR THE GENETIC MECHANISMS CLUSTER

Casonya Johnsonbiology

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am an associate professor in the Department of Biology at Georgia State University. I teach courses in genetics to students at all levels and conduct research with my students to investigate the underlying mechanisms by which transcriptional regulators direct post-embryonic development—in other words, we want to understand how the molecules that regulate the process of making RNA from DNA affect the development of an organism after the embryo stage.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I was attracted by the opportunity to be at the forefront of cutting edge research, to expand my own knowledge of my research field, and to understand how funding trends are directed.

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

My first impression was that the impact of NSF (on science as a whole) extends far beyond the individual research laboratory. I have only been here a month, but my impression stands.

What are the personal goals you most want to accomplish while at NSF?

I want to learn as much as I can, about everything I can; to find ways to broaden my research focus; to find ways to communicate to the research community the ways in which NSF supports research; and to find ways to better engage the general public so that everyone can understand the need for and benefits of basic scientific research.

What has surprised you most about working at NSF?

I think I am most surprised about how much support – from IT to administrative to security – is offered here. That type of support is sometimes missing in academia, so I am used to spending time trying to figure things out for myself, when here all I need to do is ask for help.

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

The learning curve is very steep. The biggest challenge is fighting the feeling that I’m not moving fast enough to get things done. The other challenge is making sure that my students and my personal research do not suffer while I am here.

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

Do it! Your colleagues at NSF will help you succeed and at a minimum, you will leave with a much better understanding of how NSF works.

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

All have responded “What an amazing opportunity!” Then, they ask if I like it and who is taking care of my lab.

FAREWELL TO DR. MANJU HINGORANI

manju farewell 2

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.