Welcome

MCB WELCOMES TRESA SCRUGGS PROFFITT AND PHOEBE LOSTROH

Welcome Tresa

Tresa Proffitt is a program assistant in MCB.

A photo of Tresa smiling into the camera with a tree behind her

What is your educational background?

After graduating from Lynchburg College with a B.A. in Music Education and a minor in Biology, I taught in the public schools for several years. I am especially interested in neuroscience-based educational practices and am currently pursuing a M.S. in Biology with a concentration in Neuroscience at George Mason University where I am researching adolescent brain development.

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

I began in July as a program assistant for MCB. I am most looking forward to learning more about the grant-review and panel administration process. It is fascinating to read about what researchers all over the country are studying and see some of the accomplishments that have been made possible through NSF support!

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

One of the things I have always admired about NSF is their commitment to funding not only exciting new research, but also proposals that will also have broader impacts in their community. I have only seen a little bit of one panel so far, but I can tell that the panelists and NSF staff work very hard to filter through all the proposals (and paperwork) to choose the very best ones to recommend for funding!

What have you learned so far from your position?

So far, I have learned a lot about the different checkpoints that proposals and awards undergo throughout the entire process. It’s a lot of small tasks, but I think it is necessary to ensure that proposals have all the required components and that awardees use the money how they promised.

A fun fact about me:

I enjoy playing fiddle in my free time and used to perform regularly in a traditional Irish/Appalachian music band!

Welcome Phoebe

Dr. Phoebe Lostroh is a rotating program officer through the Visiting Scientist, Engineer, and Educator Program (VSEE); she comes to MCB from Colorado College.

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

A picture of Phoebe smiling into the camera in an office setting.

I am on scholarly leave from Colorado College, a private liberal arts college with about 2,000 undergraduates.  I teach six courses a year there, ranging from Mentored Research in Molecular Biology and Introduction to Molecular & Cellular Biology to Microbiology:  Genes, Molecules, and Infection and Virology.  I just published my first book, titled The Molecular and Cellular Biology of Viruses.  For fun, I’m learning to play the card game called duplicate contract bridge, and I sing.  I also volunteer with Science Riot, an organization that teaches scientists to do stand-up comedy routines as an outreach activity.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I jumped at the chance to be a rotating program director in the division of Molecular and Cellular Biology because I want to have an impact on science beyond that which I can have at my home institution, and because when I interviewed, it was obvious that the division is a stellar workplace.

What personal goals would you like to accomplish while at the NSF?

I am very excited to work on the funding process because I know from personal experience that NSF grants lead both to important scholarly discoveries and transforming people’s lives.  I would like to meet people who are making policies related to undergraduate STEM education and research at primarily undergraduate institutions to talk to them about my students’ experiences.  I would also like to talk to anyone who is interested in reaching outside science toward the humanities to encourage collaboration across those boundaries.

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

People are curious about how the funding process works; everyone also wants to know how much money basic research costs and how much of the federal budget goes to NSF.  The only science questions anyone has asked me upon learning about my new position have been about climate change – I think people are hungry to hear about this topic from a scientist they can personally talk to.  Everyone also wants to come visit, so they ask about the museums and other attractions in the DC area.

MCB Welcomes Summer Intern Jamie Helberg

Each year the National Science Foundation hosts summer interns from across the United States. This summer, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences staff is excited to welcome Jamie Helberg. Read below to learn more about Jamie and the project she’s undertaking for MCB.

Welcome Jamie Helberg

I grew up in Los Angeles, California and am the proud daughter of Cuban and Colombian immigrants. This fall, I will be entering my senior year at Pitzer College. Pitzer is a member of the Claremont Colleges-a unique consortium of five undergraduate colleges and two graduate institutions. I am majoring in Environmental Analysis with a Spanish minor. Following my bachelor’s degree, I aspire to attend graduate school to study agriculture and food security. This summer, I will be focusing on whether resilience and productivity of applicants to MCB awards correlates with demographics by evaluating resubmission rates. Overall, I hope to consolidate this data in a manner that coherently recognizes how NSF funding can lead to groundbreaking research while simultaneously diversifying our nation’s scientific discoverers. 

MCB Welcomes Rita Miller and Marcia Newcomer and Bids Farewell to EJ Crane

Welcome Rita Miller

Rita Miller is a Program Director in the Cellular Dynamics and Function Cluster and comes to us as a VSEE rotator from Oklahoma State University where she studies the cytoskeleton and positioning of the mitotic spindle.

Rita is smiling to camera

What is your educational background?

I have been a biology nerd since my youngest days.  As a kid, I used to sit for hours and watch my older brother dissect his high school frog, dogfish shark, and pig.  I wanted to see how those organ systems worked, so I majored in physiology in college at Michigan State University.  I loved working in the lab as an undergraduate, so I went to Northwestern University for graduate school.  I studied cell biology there with Robert Goldman, using some of the early confocal microscopes to study keratin intermediate filaments. Those studies taught me a lot about protein purification and microscopy, but I wanted to know more about genetics and molecular biology.  So, I went to Princeton University and worked with Mark Rose as a Postdoctoral Fellow.  He taught me a massive amount about yeast genetics and cell biology.  I had my first daughter there in New Jersey and Mark always had great advice on raising daughters too!

When did you start working in MCB and what was your first week like?

I started at NSF the Tuesday after Labor Day, so early September 2018.  The first week was two days of training.  After a couple days of getting oriented to the computer system and then it was straight into helping manage a CAREER panel, followed by writing the acceptances and declination letters.  It was the fastest week ever!

What have you learned so far from your position? 

That NSF invests in people not just projects.

What are some of the challenges you have faced so far?

I think that it can be a challenge to Skype often enough with my graduate students back in Oklahoma.  Some students are more comfortable with Skype than others. But I have given them the “golden ticket” to call me whenever even evenings or weekends, so after some adjusting we have worked out a schedule that works for everyone.

Welcome Marcia Newcomer

Marcia Newcomer is a Program Director in the Molecular Biophysics Cluster and comes to us as an IPA rotator from Louisiana State University where she studies cell responses to environmental conditions and metabolic pathways.

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Louisiana State University, where I have a research program that focuses on the enzymatic production of lipid mediators of the inflammatory response. We are a group of structural biologists trying to define the molecular mechanisms these enzymes use to acquire their membrane-embedded substrates.  As a professor, I teach Introductory Biology for biology majors. This is a very surprising fate for someone who did all she could to avoid biology as an undergraduate chemistry major.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I see my position at NSF as a chance to be involved with an agency I consider essential to our ability to discover ways to improve the world in which we live. 

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

Although I knew that the National Science Foundation funds more than the biological and physical sciences, I did not appreciate just how expansive its profile is until I started working here.

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

One of the joys of life in academia is that you are constantly challenged to learn more. Serving as a program director exposes you to even more new fields and helps you enjoy the “big “picture” of scientific advances from a different perspective. It is a great experience.

Farewell to EJ Crane

EJ Crane served as a VSEE rotator for two years as a Program Director in the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster and returns to Pomona College where he studies microbiology and biochemistry of sulfur-based respiration.

EJ is smiling into the camera with sunglasses, he is holding a large metal stick with a sampling bottle attached and a hot spring is steaming in the background

How did your time at NSF influence how you will go forward with your research?

I had been doing interdisciplinary science before my time at NSF; however, my experiences there made appreciate interdisciplinary approaches even more.

What is next for you after your time at NSF?

I’ll be back at Pomona College, refocusing on my lab and courses. Based on what I learned during my time at NSF, the emphasis of my lab will change somewhat, and I will spend much more time focusing on trying to find connections in the many datasets that have been generated for microbial communities in a wide range of environments. My lab will continue to be experimental, but we’ll be taking better advantage of all the data on microbial communities that has already been obtained by others.

What personal goals did you accomplish while at NSF?

One personal goal was just being able to manage the workload as a program manager. I have been in academics for my entire career, so it was reassuring to know that I’m able to work effectively outside of the relatively isolated environment of my own laboratory and my experience at NSF showed me that I can translate these skills to other contexts.

What did you learn from your position?

I learned about several new areas of the molecular and cellular biosciences from the proposal review process, meetings, and my colleagues at NSF. I have a much better understanding of what the important and exciting questions are across the broad field, as well as in biology as a whole.

mcb welcomes three new staff members

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…)

WELCOME ACTING ASSISTANT DIRECTOR DR JOANNE TORNOW

A headshot style photograph of Dr. Tornow, she has short grey hair and is wearing black glasses, a blue suit, and a blue necklace.

MCB extends its warm welcome to Acting Assistant Director for the Biological Sciences (BIO), Dr. Joanne Tornow! Dr. Tornow started as a Program Director here in MCB. She has since gone on to take leadership roles in several directorates throughout the agency, but we look forward to having her back in BIO. Dr. Karen Cone, Genetic Mechanisms Program Director says, “Joanne was the Division Director who hired me back in 2009!  She was a terrific role model and I’m glad to have the opportunity to work with her again.” Take a moment to go check out the BIO BUZZ’s newest blog post, “Q&A: Getting to Know Dr. Joanne Tornow,” to hear more about her.

 

 

 

 

MCB WELCOMES DR. JAROSLAW MAJEWSKI, PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR THE MOLECULAR BIOPHYSICS CLUSTER

 

A headshot style photograph of Jaroslaw, Jarek, in a black suit in front of a black backdrop. He is wearing a polka dot tie and red pocket square and half-smiling into the camera.

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am currently a Staff Scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory  (LANL) in Los Alamos in NM, and also an Adjunct Professor at Department of Chemical Engineering at UC Davis. In general, my area of scientific expertise covers using neutron and x-ray scattering to investigate nano- and meso-structures, including bio-interfaces (lipid membranes, interaction of membranes with bio-toxins, Langmuir-Blodgett monolayer films films and living cells) and soft-matter systems (polymers, etc.) in different environments. At LANL I was also involved in many aspects of solid-state physics and science connected with national security and actinides properties. I am currently an American Physical Society (APS) and Neutron Scattering Society of America (NSSA) Fellow.

What attracted you to work for the NSF?

I was interested to explore new career avenues as well as to use my experience to influence science outside the lab.

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

My first impression was that NSF is a well-functioning institution with a friendly working environment and well-deserving of its impressive reputation. The organization has a clearly established mission, well-trained personnel, and extremely nice people all around. My first impression has only changed in that these observations have become even more evident over time!

What personal goals would you like to accomplish while at the NSF?

I would like to use my time at NSF to learn how science is supported from the view of a funding agency. I am interested to see the ways NSF uses to get to know the community we support  and to understand their scientific needs. I hope to obtain a more global picture of how federal agencies like NSF work and use this information to develop connections and knowledge. I also hope to visit the scientific places NSF supports and to better understand the scientific outcomes of the funded research..

What has surprised you most about working at the NSF?

That such tremendous work is done is such short time and with such efficiency. I have been continually impressed by the tight connection between the science communities and NSF Program Directors who support them. I have also been impressed at the huge spectrum of expertise, experiences, and ideas of the NSF staff.

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

I have to admit that the beginning was rather overwhelming: to learn so many new things in a short time (the panel season was approaching when I started) and to deal with/memorize/try to understand the science described in the proposals while knowing that any decision might be consequential for science. I was fortunate to have the support of my fellow Program Directors through this time and have learned so much.

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

It is a tremendously rewarding job but a lot different from regular activities of a scientist. It is a job well-suited for people who have a lot of experience in the scientific community and know their science well – I still find myself needing to learn many things at NSF despite my 20+ years’ experience as a scientist.

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

My friends and family, even those not as familiar with the extent of NSF’s work, are very impressed and think that working at NSF is very noble.

A photo of Alexis Patullo in her graduation gown for George Mason University. Alexis is standing in front of a fountain and holding green and yellow pom-poms.

WELCOME TO MCB ALEXIS PATULLO!

Hear from Program Assistant Alexis Patullo.

What is your educational background?

I recently graduated from George Mason University with a bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science and a minor in Biology.

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

I started working at NSF in September 2015 as a Pathways Student in the Office of the Assistant Director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences. Later that year, I transitioned to a detail position, which is a short term preview of another role that develops new skills, within the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB). Upon graduation, I was eligible for a Program Assistant position in MCB, and I applied because I thoroughly enjoyed my detail in the Division. As a Program Assistant, I support the Genetic Mechanisms (GM) and Systems and Synthetic Biology (SSB) programs.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

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.

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.

Welcome to MCB Ann Larrow!

Hear from Program Specialist Ann Larrow

What is your educational background?

I have an Associate degree in science lab technology with a concentration in histotechnology; a BA in History; and an MS in Organizational Development and Leadership (a cross-disciplinary degree from Sociology and Political Science). I recently completed coursework for the Project Management Professional certification and have taken a variety of other self-study classes over the years.

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

I started as a Program Specialist with MCB on July 11, 2016.

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I was looking for a position where I could continue building a solid resume for professional development. Learning that MCB is interested in creating/maintaining a flexible, adaptable organization by staffing it with creative, forward-looking people was intriguing.

What have you learned so far from your position?

I was impressed with the professionalism of employee orientation; loved hearing HR refer to new hires as “Top Talent,” then following up by inviting us to attract similar talent by updating our Linked In profiles; and have been thrilled with the reception and helpfulness of staff members throughout the building. I have been impressed with what I’ve seen of how the organization uses technology to manage processes and look forward to learning more about where it works best, where it doesn’t work as well, and helping to plan and implement improvements. As for my job duties…ask me in a month or so.