program director

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.

MCB welcomes Dr. Charles Cunningham, Program Director for the Cellular Dynamics and Function Cluster

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

 I am an Associate Professor in the Biology Department of the University of New Mexico where I have been a faculty member since 2005. Before that I spent 20 years working at research institutes in South Carolina, Norway, and Scotland. 

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I always enjoyed doing panel work for MCB and IOS and thought the time well spent even if it was a little stressful. The diversity of science I will be exposed to and the daily interaction with knowledgeable and interesting colleagues were a big part of the pull. Friends who have been rotators also encouraged me to apply.

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

A well-oiled machine that worked hard for its community and so far nothing has happened in MCB to suggest otherwise.

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

Use some of the independent research and development (IRD) time to write three manuscripts and think about my next proposal. I also think I might have a book in me but then everyone does! I also need to shed a few pounds.

What surprised you most about working at NSF?

The size of the workforce. As a scientist who applies for a grant you only ever think about your program director but once you get here you realize that there are so many other program directors even within MCB and a whole pyramid of support staff. I was also surprised that NSF was so generous with IRD – that really helps with the transition.

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

The initial challenge is just to absorb the information overload of the first week. It can seem overwhelming. I am also just working out what my relationship will be with the folks in my lab back home. How often do we need to talk on the phone and when is it appropriate for them to call me? They are a good bunch so I am sure we will have things on an even keel soon. As the work moves forward I think it is going to be a challenge to keep all the plates spinning but help is plentiful and I am mindful I am not the first program director NSF has hired so it can be done.

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

If you have the experience, it is the right time in your career, and if your partner/family is happy – go for it. I would also tell them about the hiring package and how that probably gives you a better home-work schedule than you currently have. DC is a pretty cool town, too.

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

Usually they are amazed that I appear to be ‘giving up research’ but when I explain that that is not the case they usually tell me what a great opportunity this is. A number of colleagues are interested in my experiences and want me to report back on the pros and cons as they consider whether to apply. They also like to throw in a comment about looking after their tax dollars.

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

I have been here over a month now and everyone has been super friendly – thanks. So far, ‘je ne regrette rien’. I am a big soccer fan (Liverpool), baseball fan (Yankees) and cricket fan (England) and, after 10 years, I am beginning to warm to (American) football and still looking for a team.

MCB welcomes Dr. William Eggleston, Program Director for the Genetic Mechanisms Cluster

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology and Director of the Integrative Life Sciences PhD Program at Virginia Commonwealth University, where I had been a faculty member since 1993.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

A desire to serve the community, to give back to NSF, to expand my knowledge, to recharge my research, to challenge myself, and based on visits as a panelist, to work with a group of great people who enjoyed working with one another.

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

A large organization with lots of very competent, very organized, very busy folks enjoying what they do, and doing their best to serve the scientists and citizens of the US. Nope, my impression has not changed other than to be even more impressed with how well NSF is organized, coordinated, and team-based.

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

Recharge my research and get at least two manuscripts written and submitted for publication, decide on where and how to move my research forward, get my weight down and health under control, and decide on the direction for the next phase of my professional career, between research/ academia, or continued public service in science policy.

What surprised you most about working at NSF?

The high amount of turnover due to large number of rotating program staff and how this impacts the teams, and how much of the job involves being offsite for teleworking, outreach, conferences and independent research and development (IR/D). I also was delighted that my past experience as a leader and with helping others learn about leadership skills has been recognized, appreciated and leveraged. I also am thrilled that the MCB leadership is working to continue to improve all aspects of the division.

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

As a rotator, the biggest challenge is being away from home most of the week. Communication with my current student actually is better because we are more organized and efficient during our scheduled chats and meeting each week. The other major challenge was balancing the on-boarding, training, and getting ready for the first panel during the first three weeks of being here. Getting guidance and information was easy, prioritizing what needed to be done first and what could wait was more challenging, but I received lots of guidance once I asked.

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

That NSF has a great work environment, is hugely intellectually stimulating, and that the work being done is meaningful, valuable, and valued. To rotators, I would add that NSF makes every possible effort to ensure (and encourage) continuation and enhancement of scholarship while here through IR/D and makes it possible to be home more than I expected through teleworking. I also would add that people here care and look out for one another. Since arriving, pretty much every night that I am here late, I am reminded of finding a better work-life balance, in a caring way. I did not expect that, and VERY much appreciate the genuine sentiment.

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

All of them have been thrilled, knowing that being chosen to work here, even for a short time, is a great honor. Those who know me best have commented that this very much fits with my current outlook on career and life, which has become focused on service and giving back. My wife has commented that I look no less tired, but instead of the worry lines, I now have far more smile lines than even just a month ago, and that yes, I have lost some weight since being here.

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

Being here has been all that I had hoped it would be and more, and I thank everyone for their help, smiles, patience, guidance and more patience as I get up to speed. I am really, really, really pleased to be here after deciding to take a chance to do something very different from what I was doing six weeks ago.  I am greatly looking forward to the rest of my time in MCB.

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.

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 Dr. Arcady Mushegian

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. Mushegian completed his doctoral degree in Virology and Molecular Biology at Moscow State University, Former Soviet Union. He currently works as a Program Director and Cluster Leader for the Genetic Mechanisms Cluster. Dr. Mushegian started working in MCB in December of 2012. As a cluster leader, Dr. Mushegian provides advice to investigators, coordinates the funding decision process, manages proposals, maintain cluster budgets, develops post-panel reports, coordinates cross-directorate activities including multi-disciplinary panels, and brainstorm with colleagues.

Dr. Mushegian’s area of expertise is in bioinformatics. Prior to joining NSF, he was the Director of Bioinformatics at the Stowers Institute for eleven years. In his spare time, he greatly enjoys traveling with his wife, keeping up with his children, reading books and blogs, eating figs and apricots, and growing parsley in a community garden.

This is MCB! Hear from Dr. Susanne von Bodman

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. Susanne von Bodman completed her doctoral degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She currently works as a Program Director and Cluster Leader for the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster. Dr. von Bodman started working in MCB in September of 2010. As a cluster leader, Dr. von Bodman is involved in Program Management, outreach activities, and community development activities. She also provides advice to investigators, participates on strategic working groups, represents NSF in international funding activities in the area of Systems and Synthetic Biology. She coordinates the funding decision process, maintains cluster budgets, develops post-panel reports, and coordinates cross-directorate activities including multi-disciplinary panels.

Dr. von Bodman area of expertise is in Microbial cell-cell communication, Biofilms, Biotechnology, and Genetic Engineering. Prior to joining the National Science Foundation, she spent 12 years as a professor at the University of Connecticut, Storrs Campus. In her spare time, she greatly enjoys playing golf, and appreciates all the diverse activities the DC and Northern Virginia areas have to offer.

This is MCB! Hear from Dr. Karen C. Cone

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. Cone completed her doctoral degree in Biochemistry and Genetics at Duke University. She currently works as a Permanent Program Director for the Genetic Mechanisms Cluster. Dr. Cone began working in MCB in January of 2009. As a program director, Dr. Cone manages the review and funding decisions for proposals submitted to Genetic Mechanisms. She also manages existing awards, which includes reviewing annual reports and processing supplement requests. Furthermore, she conducts outreach visits to prospective and current PIs. Dr. Cone is also the managing program director for the iPlant Collaborative, a large cyberinfrastructure project funded by BIO. She is also a member of several cross-disciplinary working groups that coordinate research activities across BIO and between BIO and other divisions.

Dr. Cone was a faculty member for 21 years in Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri.  Her research was focused in two areas: epigenetic regulation of gene expression in maize, and development of genetic and genomic resources for maize research.  Dr. Cone’s work involved both laboratory and field components; She had a huge corn field in the summer and spent a couple of weeks every January working in her winter nursery in Puerto Rico.

In her spare time, she likes to cook, eat, watch cooking shows on TV,  listen to NPR, read detective novels, do home improvement projects, garden, hang out with her pets (3 dogs and 1 cat) and her partner, and travel.