Farewell to NSF from Penny Firth

How does one say thank you after almost 24 years of opportunity and excitement? My time at NSF has been an extraordinary part of my life, and I am deeply grateful to my co-workers and our remarkable – inspirational – environmental biology community. Our successes have been forged through respect and common goals, and I sincerely appreciate your communications through the years. You helped guide me in so many ways: through things you said, through proposals you submitted, and of course through your research and education activities.

Thank you for conceiving keystone ideas and testing new and classic theoretical constructs. Thank you for participating in our gold-standard peer review system. Thank you for recognizing that broad participation is an imperative.

Over my decades at NSF I have practiced persistence, cooperative leveraging and trust. I’ve helped initiate interdisciplinary and integrative programs such as Water and Watersheds, Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems, and Dimensions of Biodiversity, and education initiatives like Vision and Change. I’ve been a big supporter of sustaining a robust core that can accept and review any fundamental research question in our fields. I have applauded the novelty and productivity of synthesis centers and the groundbreaking research of science and technology centers.

Thank you for asking questions across spatial scales and evolutionary time, and forecasting our shared future. Thank you for acknowledging the ubiquity of microbial symbionts in every biological frame of reference, and seeking to understand their secrets. Thank you for your attention to the dynamic networks of interactions that produce evolutionary innovations and ecological services.

I am immensely proud of each and every one of our staff here at NSF. Permanent staff and rotators from the community make up a whole that is much more than the sum of its parts. I am profoundly impressed by their talent, dedication, commitment, passion, and just plain hard work.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge, your skills and your data. Thank you for mentoring the next generation, and the former one too. Thank you for supporting broad career horizons, experiential learning, and concept literacy. Thank you for your devotion to real, working international partnerships.

It has been a special privilege to serve DEB and NSF. I’ve been motivated, humbled, and – just often enough – amused. Exciting times lie ahead, and I am confident that DEB and its community will continue to advance with a remarkable blend of creativity, opportunism, and entrepreneurship.

Thank you.

Penny Firth, Division Director, NSF/BIO/DEB


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