Meet DEB: Amanda Ingram


 

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Amanda Ingram

What’s your name and role here at DEB?

My name is Amanda Ingram and I’m a rotating Program Officer in the Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster.

Where did you go to school?

I earned a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Science from The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA and my Ph.D. in Plant Biology from Cornell University

Where is your home institution?

Wabash College, a small liberal arts college in Indiana.

Tell us about your research.

My main line of research involves understanding the evolutionary relationships among species of Eragrostis, commonly known as the lovegrasses. This is a fascinating and diverse group of C4 grasses—many species are polyploids, morphological and anatomical diversity abounds, and they grow in (and therefore must be collected in!) all sorts of interesting places. The genus also contains a cereal crop, tef, which is incredibly important in Ethiopian agriculture and is the grain of choice for making injera. I also dabble in educational and science communication research and mentor undergraduate research projects investigating mycorrhizal associations in orchids native to Indiana.

Why do you want to serve with NSF?

NSF has supported me at every key stage of my career, so I’m excited to give back to the Foundation and to help support our research community. I’ve also loved the time I’ve spent serving on panels over the years. Finally, I’m thrilled to be fully immersed in systematics research again—at my home institution, I spend a lot of time thinking and teaching broadly about a wide range of biological topics, so I’m looking forward to the time to focus on my true scientific passions while working closely with my colleagues in SBS.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF?

I’m looking forward to getting an insider’s perspective on how science policy is shaped, learning more about how funding decisions are made, and experiencing first-hand the wonderful NSF culture I’ve heard so much about. Plus, I’m excited to have a break from small-town life to enjoy lovely Alexandria.

 

Meet DEB: Matt Olson


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Merry with her human, Matt Olson.

What’s your name and role here at DEB?

My name is Matt Olson and I am a rotating Program Officer with the Evolutionary Processes Cluster.

Where did you go to school?

I earned a B.S. University of Texas, Austin, M.S. Louisiana State University, and my Ph.D. at Duke University.

Where is your home institution?       

Texas Tech University.

Tell us about your research.

I am an evolutionary ecologist, which means that I study how genetic and ecological factors influence how a species will change over time. My current scientific interests aim to understand how sex chromosomes (like the male Y chromosome) evolve in plants. Sex chromosomes are found in less than 5% of all plants, and in most cases, they have evolved very recently. Because they are young, we can study the formative stages of sex chromosome evolution including how they move around the genome and how ecological factors may influence their development. My work leverages a mix of ecology, genomics, bioinformatics, and molecular biology, so it is always very exciting and integrative. I often must collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines. One of my current collaborations is with colleagues in Chengdu and Nanjing, China, which has provided some great opportunities for both scientific and cultural exchange.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? 

Since I served on my first grant review panel, I have been impressed with the efficient, transparent, and ethical character of the NSF. I am keen to learn more about how the foundation functions, so that I can apply these ideals more broadly to other aspects of my work and personal life. I also have been fortunate to have several of my proposals funded by the NSF, and I would like to give back to the organization by serving in a more administrative role. Finally, I hope to draw on my experience as a scientist and teacher to help steer the foundation as we move into the future.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? 

I love working and exchanging ideas with other scientists. The National Science Foundation not only helps scientists to realize their goals via funding, but also serves as a nexus for interaction during panel reviews, site visits, and outreach. I am looking forward to meeting the large number of scientists that will be coming to the NSF during my rotation here and talking with them about their research and our common scientific interests. Who knows? Maybe we will come up with a new collaborative research idea that will solve some of the worlds’ great challenges!

Meet DEB: Megan Lewis and Michelle Bonilla


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Megan at the circular terraces at Moray in Peru

 

 

What is your name and role here at DEB?

I’m Megan Lewis and I’m a Program Analyst, which means I provide data analytics for the division as well as provide in-panel support.

How did you find out about NSF?

I’ve been working at NSF for over 3 years at this point, but prior to that I didn’t know much about it. I was looking for an internship with the federal government that focused on environmental biology and solving environmental issues through science rather than policy. NSF allowed me to learn what PIs were doing to understand these issues and how to solve them.

Tell us a little about what you studied in school.

I studied Biology at my undergraduate university with a minor in Environmental Studies. My focus was on ecology and biodiversity conservation. After which, I obtained my master’s in Environmental Resource Policy as well as a graduate certificate in Geographic Information Systems. My capstone project was an in-depth review of global shark conservation policies for a global non-profit.

Cats or dogs?

Doggos. I have a slightly neurotic mutt named Marshall whom I adopted almost 3 years ago.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

My first job at NSF was working for DEB as a Winter Student in the Arlington, VA building. Due to the limited appointment type, I transferred over to MCB (Molecular and Cellular Biosciences) as a Program Assistant and finally a Program Specialist. I’m excited to come back to DEB after some time away.

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Michelle visiting her family in Honduras.

What is your name and role here at DEB?

I’m Michelle Bonilla and I am a Program Assistant (PA) and I am learning all about the process of setting up panels, handling travel, logistics, and all the other tasks PAs are responsible for.

How did you find out about NSF?

I found out about the NSF through USAJobs.gov and I thought that this would be a great opportunity to learn and grow, professionally. Thank you, NSF, for this opportunity!

Tell us a little about what you’re studying in school.

I am currently working towards finishing my undergrad in Psychology with a minor in Forensic Psychology at Marymount University.

Cats or dogs?

Both! They both have different traits that make them unique and special.

Which member of the Scooby-Doo gang do you most identify with?

Daphne! I love fashion and anything that involves solving a crime or case. Who says you can’t be fashion forward and solve mysteries at the same time?

 

Meet DEB: Paco Moore


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Behind Paco is the town of Longyearbyen (administered by Norway).

Name: Paco Moore

Education: Michigan State University. Ph.D. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, B.S. Zoology, B.S. Interdepartmental Biology.

Home Institution: The University of Akron

Tell us about your research,

I am a systems biologist interested in the forces structuring scale dependent patterns and emergent properties. I am particularly interested in evolution of complex traits in structured environments. I do not have a particular research system but enjoy working across systems. I have worked with fish, tetrapods, crustaceans, vascular and non-vascular plants, eubacteria, fungi, and protists. My work is primarily lab based but also has small field, theory and bioinformatic components. My studies usually fall in what I would call evolutionary genetics, but at times my questions have led me into systematics, community and ecosystem ecology, animal behavior, development, anatomy, physiology and biomaterials research. The greatest privilege of my life has been to receive the support of my home department in a career that has sacrificed total productivity in search of the broadest possible view. If I were to look for a single lesson from my research it is that the question is not if, but how much, the dynamics of a system are altered by interactions we have not been exploring.

What made you want to serve NSF?

I enjoy the idea that I can help the environmental biology research community by giving back some of the mentorship I have been shown over the last 30 years. DEB tends to have a unique blend of researchers that often receive some of their funding from outside DEB. I relish the opportunity to nurture the development of the community’s core interests and progress in DEB science while also supporting the community in its exploration of those interdisciplinary links that help forge new directions in environmental biology. In a vibrant, dynamic field like ours, investigators at all career stages benefit from communication with their colleagues, be it through mentorship, discussion, or even debate and NSF supports and listens to that communication. Service at NSF will therefore also allow me to better understand the driving questions and ambitions of what I find to be the most engaging field of study, ecology and evolutionary biology.

What are you most looking forward to during your tenure at NSF?

First and foremost, I look forward to interacting with our community. I see a major portion of my job is to provide information on the logistics, limitations and priorities of various funding opportunities. The flip side of discussing opportunity is the discussion of failed proposals, and it might seem to be a less than rewarding part of the job. However, when informed by a program officer’s knowledge of the decision process, a discussion of declined proposals is perhaps the best door for an investigator into understanding how to succeed. For this reason, I look forward to discussions with the community at all stages of the funding process.

My second most anticipated activity during my time at NSF is to help promote research that elucidates the dynamics that lead to scale dependent pattern and emergent properties. New funding opportunities both within and across divisions (e.g. Rules of Life, Bridging Ecology and Evolution) provide an incentive to the community to explore the space between disciplines that will alter pattern and dynamics across scales. I am excited to be back at NSF at a time when I can help nurture the DEB community as it determines the directions that these new programs will take.

Meet DEB: Andrea Porras-Alfaro and Lynn Christenson


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Andrea Porras-Alfaro

Name: Andrea Porras-Alfaro, Population and Community Ecology Program Officer

Education: Ph.D. University of New Mexico, M.S. University of Puerto Rico, B.A. Biotech Eng. Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica.

Home Institution: Western Illinois University

Tell us about your research: I am a mycologist (study fungi) serving as a visiting Program Officer. I am interested in fungal ecology in general and the interconnections of this field with other areas of ecology. My research has been mainly focused on the diversity and function of mycobiomes and their symbiotic interactions with plant communities in agricultural and natural ecosystems. I am interested in the emergent properties that result from complex microbial interactions and novel fungal consortia with potential to ameliorate the effects of climate change. For example, we are currently studying fungi that can facilitate plant adaptation to extreme conditions including extended periods of drought and high temperatures. In my lab, we use a variety of techniques to study fungi including cultures, bioassays, sequencing, and field experiments. I study root-associated microbial communities in different systems taking advantage of long-term field manipulations in arid systems and grasslands across the US. I am also working on soybean and corn plantations in Illinois, and the symbionts in tropical orchids. I am also very excited about strategies to improve student mentoring and success and increase participation and interactions of students from very different backgrounds.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? The opportunity to serve the broader scientific community, specially, a diverse and talented generation of scientists. I think it is a privilege to be at the forefront of science, innovation, and creativity. I was fortunate early in my career to have mentors who served at NSF and I have always admired their dedication to serve the scientific community in general. Here at NSF, I will be able to see the review process from a different perspective and benefit from training that is already impacting my professional development and career. I am excited to help facilitate the support of high quality science, its impact in society, and a diverse community of researchers and institutions.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? As a Program Officer, I am excited about the opportunity to support new initiatives and facilitate the review process focusing on the primary mission of NSF. I hope to continue my mentoring role by opening new doors for researchers in the different stages of their careers, establish new professional relations, and be of service to the community.

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Lynn Christenson with her dogs Rane and Ki

Name: Lynn M. Christenson, Ecosystem Science Program Officer

Education: University of Winnipeg, State University of New York of Environmental Science and Forestry, M.S. and PhD

Home Institution: Vassar College

Tell us about your research:  I am an ecosystem ecologist with a focus on biogeochemical cycling in terrestrial systems. My research includes how climate change and other human activities (forest fragmentation and urbanization) interact with herbivores, plants, and soils to impact nutrient dynamics.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? I wanted to serve science from the ‘other side’ and to gain a better understanding of how basic science gets funded. Or in other words, I wanted to participate in the potential new directions that science can go by encouraging and developing programs for investigators!

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? I’m looking forward to meeting other people from other directorates and divisions from across NSF. I like to hear how other scientists/programs think about their questions and approaches. This will help me to think differently about how I ask my own questions and the approaches that I use in my own research.

Meet DEB: Stephanie Hampton, Division Director


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Stephanie Hampton

 

 

Name: Stephanie Hampton

Education: Ph.D. Dartmouth College (Ecology and Evolution), M.S. University of Nevada – Las Vegas (Biology), B.A. University of Kansas (Environmental Studies)

Home Institution: Washington State University

Tell us about your research: My core expertise is in aquatic ecology, particularly using statistical analysis of large data sets. I’m fascinated by the ways shifts in abiotic conditions can disrupt, strengthen, or even reverse the costs and benefits of organisms’ interactions with each other, often with dramatic consequences for ecosystems. Most recently I have been involved in collaborations that examine global patterns of warming temperatures and shorter winter ice cover on lakes, and thinking about how these changes alter relationships among plankton (the microscopic base of aquatic food webs). My interest in these topics mostly stems from 14 years of collaborative research on Lake Baikal in Siberia.

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Lake Baikal is covered with ice for 5-6 months each year. Frequently the ice is astonishingly clear, allowing a lot of sunlight to pass through, which can fuel big blooms of endemic algae. (Photo: Sergey Pesterev CC-BY-2.0)

 

It’s the oldest and most biodiverse lake in the world, with the highest rates of endemism. For example, over half of Baikal’s animal species are found only in Baikal. It’s also the largest lake, by volume, holding 20% of the world’s liquid freshwater – you could pour all of the Laurentian Great Lakes combined into Lake Baikal. As you can guess from the location in Siberia, it’s a very cold adapted ecosystem. A lot of the productivity occurs under ice, and warming temperatures seem to be shifting the balance between the cold-loving endemic species and the “cosmopolitan” species that are starting to find summers more hospitable. Baikal is an amazing place to work, with wonderful people, and I feel extremely lucky to have had this opportunity.

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The top predator in Lake Baikal is the Baikal seal, the world’s only  exclusively freshwater pinniped. (Photo: Sergey Gabdurakhmanov CC-BY-2.0) 

 

Beyond aquatic biology, I have other broad interests, and have gotten involved in diverse projects where my tools and perspective can be useful. For 7.5 years, I was Deputy Director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), the first of NSF’s synthesis centers, and also a leader in DataOne, a NSF-funded data confederation initiative for environmental sciences. These programs have offered unique opportunities to use my quantitative tools, as well as my perspective as a biologist, to do interdisciplinary “science of science” research. For example, we’ve analyzed data on productivity in scientific collaboration, community practices in sharing data, contributions of natural history to science and society, and trends in teaching students to work with big data sets.

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Ask me about rotifers! The most graceful and fascinating of the zooplankton… here is the tiny beauty Plationus patulus. (Photo: S.E. Hampton)

 

Why did you want to serve with DEB?: I have been orbiting DEB for most of my career. The breadth of my interests has familiarized me with a variety of NSF directorates and divisions, but clearly DEB is my home, where I know the community and the culture well. My interactions with NSF have included countless proposals and panels, (more easily counted) awards, my role at NCEAS, Chair of the Advisory Committee for the NSF Biology Directorate…

Basically, over the years, I have learned that NSF is chock full of people who are super sharp and care very deeply about our community. From outside NSF, I have done my best to support the health of the scientific endeavor, especially through my work at NCEAS and DataONE, as well as doing a wide variety of professional service. Now I have the opportunity to contribute much more directly to supporting the vitality of science by working within the Foundation, which is exciting. Also, anyone who has served on DEB panels knows that the people in DEB are really nice, smart, and they work hard – it makes the position really attractive!

What are you most looking forward to during your tenure at NSF?: Most importantly, I am hopeful that my energy, perspective, and experience will be useful in enabling our scientific community to achieve its goals. Personally I find it very satisfying to help people and groups who have good ideas and are willing to work hard. Our community is seeing a lot of change right now – not just that NSF BIO programs are moving to a “no deadlinemodel, but bigger, global changes too. Technology has transformed our abilities to do research at scales both finer and larger than previously possible. NEON data are now online after years of planning and preparation. Interdisciplinarity and multi-institutional collaboration are becoming more and more common. Digitization and cyberinfrastructure are increasing access to biological collections. Data stewardship, data sharing, and research reproducibility are also becoming more prominent in investigators’ research planning. I’m very excited to see the creative ways in which researchers will take advantage of the new opportunities afforded by all this change – using, reinforcing, and expanding the scope of the theory, analytical approaches, and natural history knowledge that already have propelled so much success in our fields.

 

Paula Mabee, Former Division Director, Bids Farewell to DEB


Paula Mabee, Division Director, BIO/DEB

Paula Mabee

 

After serving as Division Director for nearly two and a half years, I left DEB at the end of 2017, needing to return to my personal life and my academic home. After decades of NSF funding, panel service, and sending in ad hoc reviews, the opportunity to not only view, but to at least partially direct what happens behind the curtain, was immensely satisfying. And, from a personal standpoint, the time at NSF was probably one of the most interesting and fulfilling chapters of my professional life. Why? What did I learn about NSF to pass along to the DEB community, now that I’m on the “outside” again? What might you not know about the inner workings of NSF that I can share with you?

First and foremost, though previous participation as a panelist always left me with the feeling of trust in NSF, from experience on the inside, I can further say that I have enormous respect for the merit review processes put in place and the people who carry them out. The people – your scientific peers who are serving as Program Officers – and the administrative staff – that well-educated and carefully chosen cadre of personnel in DEB – are idealistically committed to the mission of supporting fundamental science for the well-being of the planet. They hold fairness as a core value and are scrupulous in its application. They also care about you as an individual; they take pride in your successes and pay attention to your journey through various career stages. Whether your proposal is awarded or declined, they have great respect for you. Unfortunately, given that nearly a third of the proposals received are well worth funding, and yet DEB success rates are much lower, POs are often the bearers of hard news. This is a tough position to be in – and out of their control – and yet one of their core values is to be as communicative and transparent with you as possible. They have my deepest respect.

Award decisions are made and justified by your scientific peers – the Program Officers serving at NSF – and my job included oversight of this process. For example, if a PO recommended declining a proposal that was deemed highly competitive by a panel (or, vice versa, recommending a proposal that was deemed non-competitive), an explicit and defensible justification was required. In each situation, I saw the thorough and thoughtful approach of POs in considering both the science and careers of the PIs.

And the science! Intellectually, it was really fun to read across the different proposals submitted to DEB. Great ideas in fundamental, diverse, and ambitious areas of science come into DEB. Part of the process for awarding funding involves presenting the list of proposals for recommendation or decline to the Division Director and Deputy Director. The POs pick out a few proposals that they find the most compelling or illustrative of what is happening in a field, and they describe the science to us. I was often filled with admiration for the ambition and vision of the science proposed by DEB PIs. The accomplishments of science and our understanding of the natural world are due to incredible people like you. And NSF recognizes this like no other institution.

Other things from my time at NSF:

  • DEB is responsive! When a directive or inquiry comes to BIO from our bosses, we answer pronto! Days are dynamic, busy, and long – think Madame Secretary and VEEP. Everything possible is being done to demonstrate the value of fundamental science to our nation!
  • The camaraderie in DEB is palpable. The teamwork between administrative and scientific staff is complementary and highly involved. We like each other 🙂
  • The learning curve for a rotator (PO or Division Director) is steep, but necessary and justified. It’s all about fairness!!! There are detailed processes that protect your proposal from reviewers or POs with a conflict of interest. NSF is looking out for you by training up the personnel responsible for handling your proposals.
  • Introspection, reflection. Where is your field going? What did you publish recently? What was the upshot of that workshop or meeting? Your NSF POs (and leadership) are listening. Retreats are a big thing in DEB – a time to hash over whether changes need to happen, to constantly re-evaluate whether NSF solicitations and DEB organizational structure reflects where your field needs to be.
  • Balancing the continued commitment to core programs with more specialized solicitations is one of the more stimulating aspects of serving as Division Director.   Discerning the future ‘fundamental’ or ‘core’ is best done as a team (see above).
  • It’s about the data. NSF – and DEB – has an appetite for remorseless analysis of the internal data relating e.g., success rates to gender, diversity, career stages, etc. To their dismay, little of this can be shared with you, i.e., the outside community, because these are data that are shared by PIs with the agency – not you. And NSF protects this.

I leave DEB filled with deep respect for the scientists serving in rotating or permanent roles at NSF and for the incredibly smart and committed administrative staff who are interested in spending their lives in service to furthering your science. It was a privilege to work with them. If you have the opportunity to serve DEB, please do – say “yes” to those requests for ad hoc reviews (especially – they are a major bottleneck in the review process), panel service, and the opportunity to be a Program Officer or Division Director. I am also grateful for the opportunity to meet the many scientists involved in the awesome science supported by DEB, likely many of you who are reading this blog.