Meet DEB: Paco Moore


Paco.png

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


andrea pa

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.

lynn.jpg

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


Hampton_6

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.

Baikal_Maloe_More_ice_on_sunset_4_ccby_sergey_pesterev

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.

Nerpa_Baikal_seal_CCBY2_Sergey_Gabdurakhmanov_2

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.

Plationus_Hampton_crop_2

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.

Meet DEB: Kendra McLauchlan


Kendra

Kendra McLauchlan

 

Name: Kendra McLauchlan, Ecosystem Science Program Officer

Education: B.A. Carleton College, M.S. and Ph.D. University of Minnesota

Home Institution: Kansas State University

Tell us about your research: I am a paleoecosystem ecologist, so I reconstruct past ecosystems, usually by deciphering records preserved in soils, sediments, leaves, and wood. My research questions tend to center around controls on long-term nitrogen cycling, changing disturbance regimes (particularly fire regimes), and how fires and ecosystems interact over space and time. I have worked mostly in the upper Midwestern U.S. because of the solid foundation of paleoecology and abundance of good kettle lakes in that region. I am starting to work in the coniferous forests of the western U.S. as well because of the urgent questions about fire in those systems. My approach is solidly empirical: I generate new datasets and synthesize large datasets to understand ecosystem processes.

What made you want to serve NSF? Being a rotator at NSF had not really been on my radar, but I’ve always enjoyed panel service and admired the gold standard of merit review that NSF upholds. When this opportunity came up, there was an overwhelming amount of support from my colleagues, lab members, friends, and family. The work atmosphere is positive and fun, and the new building in Alexandria is gorgeous.

What are you most looking forward to during your tenure at NSF? Working with talented people across different scientific disciplines, on a shared mission of enabling cutting-edge science. That shared mission can be elusive to find at a university. There are so many creative and interesting types of science, and so many different funding opportunities. It will be really rewarding to help support the broader research community of ecosystem ecologists, particularly with the sometimes difficult process of developing ideas into fundable proposals. That, and panel dinners!

Meet DEB: Christina Washington


 

Christina

Christina Washington, Program Assistant

 

 

What’s your role here at DEB?
I am a program assistant (only a few weeks old!). I am learning how to handle travel and reimbursements for visiting panelists and how to set up future panels.

How did you find out about NSF?
I found out about NSF when I did a search of science-related positions and I did some research on the organization. I immediately connected with their mission and the great projects they support.

Cats or dogs?
Definitely dogs. Cats look right through you.

Cake or pie?
Cake or pie? I don’t think people have to choose. I’ll eat both!

Anything else?
Just a side note, I’m a HUGE sci-fi fantasy and superhero fan. I love Marvel and have watched all their movies twice (probably more, shhh!) and DC (which is ok). I love NSF so much. Everyone is nice and very welcoming. I can’t wait to learn more!

 

 

Meet DEB: Genevieve Dabrowski and Megan Parks


Gene.jpg

Genevieve Dabrowski

Genevieve Dabrowski, Program Assistant

What do you do here at DEB?

I’m a Program Assistant, which means I process travel paperwork, prepare for panels, and generally make sure staff and visitors are happy.

Tell us about yourself.

Being from a military family, I grew up all over the place, but my family is now settled in the D.C. area. I’m a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Panama, Sustainable Agriculture, 2014-2016) with an M.A. in International Environmental Policy from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. When not at work I like reading, dancing, improv comedy, and being outdoors.

How did you find out about NSF?

I searched on USAJobs and the NSF brought me in for an interview. Given my science and environmental background, it seemed like a perfect fit. Thank you, NSF!

Which character from the Wizard of Oz do you most identify with?

Toto, because he was always there to assist Dorothy on her travels, which is what I do here!

Anything else?

When I came home from Peace Corps in Panama, I brought my two best friends with me. (Lucy the dog and Jordan the cat)

Lucy

Lucy

Jordan

Jordan

 

 

parks

Megan Parks with her husband and her dog, Cappuccino

 

Megan Parks, Student Trainee, Administrative Support Assistant

What did you study in school?

I studied Environmental Biology at George Mason University, where I focused on sustainable development, ecology, restoration, habitat conservation, and environmental dynamics. I am very interested in topics involving Urban Ecology and Ecological Restoration.

What’s your title and job here at DEB?

I am a Student Trainee whose role is somewhat of a hybrid between Administrative Support Assistant and Program Assistant. Typically, I help visitors and callers, schedule conference rooms, maintain calendars, assist in pre-panel preparation, retire the records from closed awards, help with travel, create a variety of documents, and maintain office organization.

What do you like about working for DEB?

DEB brings in the most amazing food to share with colleagues. And everyone has been so kind and welcoming. I can’t wait to work with everyone and learn more about each of my coworkers!

Where would you like to travel to someday?

It has always been my dream to travel the world, but I think my first trip would be Norway. I have family in Norway that I would love to meet and there are tons of beautiful places I have seen (on Google Images) that I would like to hike.

Sandwiches or Tacos?

I would have to say that I am more of a taco person. Tacos have a perfect outside to inside content ratio and their filling possibilities seem to be limitless. Unfortunately, tacos do have one downfall — the amount of filling they can hold (but I think that’s where burritos come in). For anyone interested in the largest possible volume of a taco, here is a little taco math.

What do you enjoying doing in your spare time?

I enjoy a lot of things that end with –ing, such as hiking, camping, hanging (with family and friends), swimming, running and dancing (badly, I might add).