Meet DEB: Robyn Smyth & Daniel Thornhill

Name and Cluster: Robyn Smyth, Ecosystem Sciences Cluster (Rotator)

Education: UC Santa Barbara, PhD 2010; University of Vermont, MS 2003; Cornell University, BS 2000

Home Institution: Bard College

Tell us about your research: I am an aquatic ecologist focusing on the interactions and integrated effects of mixing and light on primary productivity and other processes in pelagic environments. My work is collaborative, at the interface of biology and engineering, and involves a combination of field studies, high frequency sensor data, and mechanistic models. I am a co-PI on an Long-term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB) project investigating ecological tipping points in lakes experiencing browning and eutrophication in northeast Pennsylvania. I am also committed to broadening participation in science and improving scientific literacy through outreach and stakeholder engagement. To that end, I serve on the Committee for inClusive Collaboration for the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) and Council of Science Advisors for Lake George, my hometown lake in the Adirondacks of New York.

Tell us about your NSF Experience/History: Between my MS and PhD, I was a Sea Grant Knauss fellow at NSF in the Directorate for Geosciences. During this time, I provided support to NSF’s Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education (AC-ERE), the cross-directorate Biocomplexity in the Environment program, and the Biological Oceanography program. The experience of working at NSF at that very early career stage was inspiring and transformative. My approach to science has been very influenced by the research challenges highlighted and addressed by the Biocomplexity program, particularly the call for greater interdisciplinarity.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? Having spent the last nine years at a primarily undergraduate liberal arts college, I am ready to re-engage with the frontier of research as a Program Officer in the Ecosystem Science Cluster. I also look forward to sharing my experience as a researcher at an institution that on the one hand has a limited capacity to support externally sponsored research but on the other hand has been a global leader in broadening access to higher education.

Name and Cluster: My name is Daniel Thornhill and I’ve just joined the Systematics and Biodiversity Sciences Cluster on a several month detail.

Education: University of Georgia, PhD; Michigan State University, BS

Home Institution: I’m a permanent Program Officer at NSF in the Division of Ocean Sciences. I also am an affiliated faculty member at Auburn University.

Tell us about your research:  My research interests span benthic ecology, coral reef ecosystems, symbiosis, population genetics, evolution, and conservation biology. I’m fascinated by nearly all aspects of ecology and evolution! Most of my work has examined the diversity of coral reef organisms, particularly the symbioses between corals and photosynthetic dinoflagellate symbionts that underlie the remarkable productivity of these threatened ecosystems. I’ve also dabbled in a few other areas, including the biology of deep-sea chemosynthetic ecosystems, population connectivity in Antarctic invertebrates, endangered species policy, and even gray wolf conservation.

Tell us about your NSF Experience/History:  I’ve been a Program Officer at NSF for seven years in the Biological Oceanography Program. I began at NSF as a rotator in 2014 and was hired into a permanent position in 2017. In addition to my work in Biological Oceanography, I am involved in various cross foundation programs like the Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID), INCLUDES, and the Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) Program, where I am current serving as working group chair.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure with DEB?  I am excited for the chance to meet new colleagues, forge new connections, learn about a different part of NSF, and gain some fresh perspective. This is also a chance to return to my roots; some of my earliest experiences as a scientist were in systematics and phylogeny. 

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