Meet DEB: Andrea Weeks and Thomas Turner


Andrea Weeks


Name: Andrea Weeks, Systematics and Biodiversity Science Program Officer

Education: B.S., Cornell University, PhD, University of Texas, Austin

Home Institution: George Mason University

Tell us about your research,

I am a visiting Program Officer and I am a plant systematist, which means I describe new species, discover how different species are related, and test hypotheses related to their evolution and historical biogeography. I have studied the tropical tree family Burseraceae, which is also known as the Frankincense and Myrrh Family, in particular the myrrh genus, Commiphora.  My research has more recently branched out to include plant groups native to the mid-Atlantic region of the United States near my home institution of George Mason University. People who are not biologists are typically surprised to learn that we still have much to discover about the species in our own backyards.

What made you want to serve NSF?

I have been fortunate to receive several awards from the National Science Foundation in the last decade, and I want to give back to the National Science Foundation and the community of my peers who supported my research and that of my students. The team-based approach of NSF was also very compelling to me, as was the opportunity to learn about new frontiers in biology.

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

The merit-review process at the National Science Foundation is widely regarded as the gold-standard among scientific agencies world-wide.  I am looking forward to both learning how we engage the community to push science forward as well as contributing to this effort.


Thomas Turner


Name: Thomas Turner, Population and Community Ecology Program Officer

Education: B.S., Ohio University, PhD Florida International University

Home Institution: University of New Mexico

Tell us about your research,

I am a visiting Program Officer and I am an ecologist and evolutionary biologist who studies the distribution and abundance of aquatic organisms in desert rivers and streams. I am most interested in discovering how short- and long-term changes to river flows affect aquatic biodiversity.  Desert rivers are dynamic environments that pose special challenges.  Organisms must cope with rapid changes in resource availability and fluctuations in the intensity of interactions with other organisms.  Desert ecosystems also challenge scientists because we must devise experiments and make observations that capture and illuminate key biological processes against a backdrop of rapid and sometimes radical change.  In my research, I involve students at all levels to help prepare them for careers in environmental science and conservation.

What made you want to serve NSF?

The prospect of working at NSF was exciting to me for many reasons.  As a scientist, I wanted to learn about new areas of research and work creatively to find ways to advance science in general.  I am a research administrator at my home institution so I wanted to learn more about opportunities that would fit the research expertise of the faculty and students at the University of New Mexico.

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

I most look forward to meeting and working with colleagues from diverse backgrounds that share a common goal of making science more integrative and inclusive, and advancing the best research in the country.  I am also grateful to live near the coast and the opportunity to spend some time in streams, rivers, and estuaries here.


Meet DEB: Daniel Gruner and Kathryn Cottingham


Daniel Gruner










Name: Daniel Gruner, Population and Community Ecology & Macrosystems Biology

Education: A.B. in Biology, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, Ph.D. in Zoology, University of Hawai‘i, Mânoa, HI

Home Institution: University of Maryland

Tell us about your research,

I am a rotating Program Officer and an entomologist and ecologist interested in species interactions in food webs, the maintenance of biodiversity in ecological communities, and the biogeography of both, particularly on islands. Generally, I seek to test fundamental ecological theory in empirical systems and, using synthetic approaches such as meta-analysis, to apply basic principles to understanding and mitigating the impacts of global climate change and the spread of invasive species. In recent years, my projects have focused on mangrove-marsh ecotones in Florida and the Caribbean; evo-ecological community assembly and biogeography on Pacific Islands, primarily Hawaii; experimental manipulations of herbaceous plant communities in the global Nutrient Network; and on the ecology and integrative biology of invasive forest insects, such as the European Sirex woodwasp and the emerald ash borer.

What made you want to serve NSF?

The National Science Foundation has provided support for my research at every career stage, enabling numerous projects that would have been impossible otherwise. In the scientific tradition, we rely on peer review and public financial support to advance scientific progress, and we commit to serve our peers and institutions in kind. Foremost, I came to NSF to serve the scientific community and the greater population who rely upon science and support it with their tax dollars. I also expect to learn a great deal from colleagues at NSF and from the PI community that will help me better communicate my ideas and broaden participation in science.

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

When serving on review panels, I enjoyed diverse colleagues coming together to debate the merits of proposals at NSF. It is a privilege to read a broad array of interesting proposals, to meet new colleagues, and hear new perspectives while gleaning lessons for best practices in writing grants. Although we cannot fund all projects that come to NSF, the objectivity and fairness of the NSF review process has always been striking. As a rotating Program Officer, I look forward to diving deeper into this process behind the scenes and learning to hold this standard. At the very top of my list, I can’t wait to make those phone calls to early career scientists to announce their first major NSF award.


Kathryn Cottingham


Name: Kathryn Cottingham, Population and Community Ecology

Education: B.A. Drew University, M.S. University of Wisconsin at Madison, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin at Madison

Home Institution: Dartmouth College

Tell us about your research,

I am a rotating Program Officer and an aquatic ecologist with a strong side interest in the applications of ecological principles to problems in both environmental and human health. I typically approach problems using a mix of modeling, experiments, and field observations, as appropriate for the research question, and because my undergraduate training was in both mathematics and biology, I have a strong quantitative bent (although I can’t pretend to keep up with all the new, exciting techniques being developed in both modeling and statistics!).  Right now, I am particularly interested in the cyanobacterial taxa that have not read the limnology textbooks and are blooming in economically-valuable, low-nutrient, clear-water lakes located within mostly forested watersheds.  I want to understand what is causing those blooms, both within a summer and on longer time scales, and to evaluate whether there are management strategies that might keep the blooms from getting any worse in the future.

What made you want to serve NSF?

Being a rotator is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I see this position as an opportunity to give back to the broader ecological research community while also learning from the experience in ways that I hope will enrich my research and that of my trainees, collaborators, and institutional colleagues.  The seed was planted nearly 20 years ago, when my postdoc mentor, Tom Frost, rotated through DEB.  Tom spoke so highly of the experience – both professionally and personally – that I put it on the bucket list early in my time as a faculty member.  Since then, I have been eagerly awaiting the time when my kids would be old enough to take advantage of the many opportunities available in the DC-area that are not available in rural Hanover, New Hampshire.

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

I am particularly excited to learn more about the full breadth of research that is being done across the country and around the world, especially in the DEB fields with which I have little firsthand experience, and to help make that research possible.


Meet DEB: Matthew Carling and Christopher Schneider


Matthew Carling



Name: Matthew Carling, Evolutionary Processes Program Officer

Education: B.S. University of Michigan, Ph.D. Louisiana State University

Home Institution: University of Wyoming

Tell us about your research,

I am serving as a rotating Program Officer which means I do all the same tasks as permanent Program Officers (facilitate panels, make funding recommendations, day-to-day grant administration, etc.) but I’m also representing my community of investigators here at NSF for a few years before I return to my home institution in Wyoming. As an investigator, I am a museum-trained ornithologist and most of the work in my lab involves trying to understand the mechanisms and processes underlying speciation and adaptation. For example, we have a number of projects focused on using naturally occurring hybrid zones between closely-related bird species to understand both the generation and maintenance of reproductive isolation. As the curator of the University of Wyoming Museum of Vertebrates, I am also actively engaged in building and using museum collections not just for research, but also to engage the public in myriad ways.

What made you want to serve NSF?

The prospect of joining a dynamic and dedicated group of fellow program officers and staff working as a team to help push science forward. Plus, I’m not going to lie, there are better restaurants here than in Wyoming.

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

Community service. A core part of the mission of NSF is “to promote the progress of science,” and, to me, that involves working closely with the scientific community to identify the best ways to do exactly that – promote scientific progress. I am also looking forward to trying to help PIs, particularly early-career PIs, in any way I am able so they can better understand what makes a successful proposal.



Christopher Schneider

Name: Christopher Schneider, Systematics and Biodiversity Science Program Officer

Education: B.S. Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR, M.A. University of Texas at Austin, Ph.D. University of California at Berkley

Home Institution: Boston University

Tell us about your research,

I am serving as a rotating Program Officer. I am a broadly trained vertebrate zoologist, systematist, and evolutionary biologist specializing in the study of frogs and lizards. Much of my career has been spent studying the mechanisms that generate the remarkably high biodiversity of mountainous regions in the tropics, which comprise only about 5% of the world’s landmass, but may contain two-thirds of the world’s vertebrate animal species. I use a combination of expeditionary field work and molecular genetic analyses to test hypotheses about the origin of species, their history and biogeography. I have worked in Australia, Brazil, West Africa, Sri Lanka, Ecuador and the Caribbean and I continue to marvel at the stunning diversity and variety of species, many new to science, that we study.

What made you want to serve NSF?

NSF is the hub of some of the most exciting science on the planet and I’d imagined that working there as part of a purpose-driven team to support science would be deeply rewarding. Yet, somehow, the time was never right. My responsibilities to graduate students and my home institution (Boston University), a child in school, and a spouse’s career all conspired to make a move to NSF seem implausible. In addition, I love the academic life of scholarship, teaching, research, and student mentorship, so was not in a hurry to set that aside. But late last year the stars aligned. My lab became smaller and more manageable, the Systematics and Biodiversity Sciences Cluster in the Division of Environmental Biology had an opening, my wife accepted a great job offer in the area, and my child went off to college. Needless to say, I am thrilled to finally be working with the outstanding scientists and staff at NSF.

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

A key part of NSF’s mission is to support the basic sciences that drive innovation and understanding. It is exciting to be part of that mission and I look forward to working with my colleagues and staff to support the best science, develop new research funding opportunities, and maintain the vibrant atmosphere of exploration and discovery that advances science and education and inspires the public.


Meet DEB: Cody Bowles, Program Assistant


Cody at Yellowstone National Park

Tell us about yourself. I’m an NPR aficionado, news and policy fanatic, and recent graduate of George Mason University.

What do you do here at DEB? I’m a Program Assistant with DEB. I work to plan and organize panels for the Evolutionary Processes and Systematics and Biodiversity Science clusters. I help arrange travel for panelists, coordinate meeting logistics, and troubleshoot any technical issues that may arise.

Where are you from? Richmond, Virginia.

Which member of the Scooby-Doo gang do you most identify with? Definitely Velma! I have an orange sweater, lose my glasses often, and tend to be a bit dorky.

What do you like about working here? I love the environment and the people here at the National Science Foundation. I’ve been here less than a year, but everyone has been nice and welcoming.


Meet DEB: Caroline Robertson, Program Assistant


Caroline and her pup, Gracie


What’s your role here at DEB? I am a Program Assistant with the Ecosystem Science and Population and Community Ecology Clusters. One of my favorite tasks is coordinating travel arrangements (no, really!) because it breaks up my day and gets my brain going.

What did you study in school? I have a degree in anthropology from SIU Carbondale where I focused on cultural transmission of historical violence (see here for my senior thesis for a better understanding of what I enjoy studying). Currently, I am in school at American University studying Public Anthropology for a master’s degree and continuing to focus on the cultural transmission of historical violence (stay tuned for the online archive I am creating). I am scheduled to receive my degree in August after I finish my thesis, so wish me luck!

What do you love to do in your spare time? Spare time? What is that!? When I’m not doing school work, I spend any spare time playing with/training my Australian Shepherd puppy, Gracie! She takes up most of my fiancé’s and my time, but we love her for it!

Hamburgers or hotdogs? Depends who is cooking it, but if it’s a restaurant, then hamburgers!

Why do you enjoy working with DEB? DEB is full of kind people who are a joy to work with! There are many different personalities here that all have their own charm. I am happiest when working with people and so love to work with the diverse crowd that is DEB (I am an anthropologist after all).


Meet DEB: Olivia (Kirby) Dzurny, Admin. Support Assistant

Name: Ms. (for now- I’m newly engaged!) Olivia (Kirby) Dzurny

Tell Us About Yourself. I’m from St. Louis, Missouri and a student at George Washington University.o2

What do you do here at DEB? I’m a Program Assistant with the responsibilities of an Administrative Support Assistant.  This means I help organize and set-up panels and help coordinate travel for visiting panelists.

What are you studying in school? Creative writing and international affairs – however, most of what I have learned while in college has come from experiences outside the classroom, such as my positions with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo.

How did you find out about NSF? I looked for science-based organizations that needed management help!

Cake or pie? Pie – unless it is cheesecake…or unless the cake is actually ice cream.

What do you like about working here? I truly love being surrounded by people who are experts in their field. I love to learn! Having the ability to sit in on panel discussions or lectures is a huge benefit to my position. The people are nice, too.

Where do you want to travel one day? I want to live in New Zealand – partly because of the Lord of the Rings, but mostly because it is gorgeous.

Anything else??? I am interested in studying animals and hope to find a career in helping support museums, zoos, and aquariums around the country. More than anything, I’m an explorer at heart. Traveling and writing are my two biggest passions in life.


Meet DEB: Prosanta Chakrabarty, SBS Program Officer

Meet DEB: Prosanta Chakrabarty, SBS Program Officer

Basic Profile

Dr. Chakrabarty searching for cave-dwelling fishes in Honduras.

Dr. Chakrabarty searching for cave-dwelling fishes in Honduras.

Name: Prosanta Chakrabarty

Education: BSc. McGill University, 2000 (Zoology), Ph.D. University of Michigan, 2006 (Evolutionary Biology)

Home Institution (Rotators): Louisiana State University

NSF Experience/History: I’ve been a Program Director for just a few months, but I’ve been on a couple of review panels, and an external site visit team. I also have had several awards (and many misses) from NSF. Because I had a good view from the outside, I thought it would be good to see how the sausage is made inside NSF.

Research Experience/History: I’m an ichthyologist, and I’m interested in knowing how fishes are related to one another to better understand evolution and Earth history. For instance I work on blind cavefishes, and some species that are each other’s closest relatives are found far apart, even on different continents; because they likely haven’t moved out of their cave habitats, they act as little time capsules telling us how the landmasses around them were once connected. The DNA of these animals can reveal the last period that two groups of organisms last shared a common ancestor. The DNA can reveal a great deal about the biological history but also provide insights into geological history. [Here is a link to a short (<5min) talk I gave on the subject:  ]

My lab is mostly focused on freshwater and marine fishes from the Neotropics (the Caribbean, Central and South America) and the Indo-West Pacific (everything from the Persian Gulf, Japan, Australia, Madagascar, etc.). As a natural history curator (I’m curator of fishes at the LSU Museum of Natural Science), I am charged with building a collection of specimens and DNA samples to help us better understand the Tree of Life of fishes. My lab and I do at least two or three international trips a year, as well as many local ones, to build a collection that is diverse and can be used by researchers around the world to study fishes. I also teach both Evolution and Ichthyology at the undergrad level at LSU. I enjoy teaching very much as well.

Competitions I currently work on: As a Program Director in the Systematics and Biodiversity Sciences Cluster, I’m handling pre-proposals, full proposals, and DDIGs (Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants) related to phylogenetic systematics grants in the Division of Environmental Biology.



Describe your current IR/D activities: I came to DEB to give back to NSF and to my community. I also came to get an overview of my field. I’ve been very focused on systematic ichthyology, and since getting tenure a few years ago I wanted to learn how broad phylogenetic systematics really is and where it is going. I’ve been giving a few talks in academic settings including at natural history museums and universities centered around the theme – “What is the Future of Systematics?” I know that is an obnoxious title (who am I to say what the future holds?) – but I’m looking to hear answers not to give them. I think from where I sit I get a good overview of where people are pushing the field forward, so I’m kind of on a listening and reading tour.

I’m also part of a project with one of my postdocs back home at LSU, Brandon Ballengée. He and I have some work through a AAAS funded project called “Crude Life: A Citizen Art and Science Investigation of Gulf of Mexico Biodiversity after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill”

This project is an art/science/outreach convergence to gather data on endemic fishes potentially affected by the 2010 spill while raising the public awareness of local species and ecosystems that may be unfamiliar to them. We will be creating a portable art-science museum of Gulf biodiversity that will go on tour in the region. On my next IR/D trip my lab and some locals will seine the beaches in one of the areas hit hardest by the oil spill. We will bring a portable lab and have locals look at all the creatures swimming under their feet that they have been missing. We will explain how the spill can be harming these species even five years later.

One thing you wished more people understood about DEB and why: I think many people in science think that NSF is a candy store and don’t understand why everyone can’t get some candy. It’s a bit more complicated than that. In my experience, NSF is more like a bank giving out loans. You want a loan? Tell us how you will use the money, and how it will better your field and potentially influence society – when you achieve these outcomes, that’s how you pay back the loan. There is only so much money to go around. If we gave everyone a little money, it would be very little. It wouldn’t be enough to do transformative science or to hire postdocs and pay graduate students who are the next generation. Instead in DEB we are trying to target science that will really make a difference, or that has the potential to do so, and give those projects enough funding to see an impact. I’m really proud of that.

Tell your awesome fieldwork adventure story: I’ve been on nearly 30 foreign field trips now, so I’ve got some stories for sure. Most of them I can’t share here, or maybe anywhere. I’ll refer you to my fish lab blog for some of them.

Dr. Chakrabarty on a collecting trip on the Amazon River.

Dr. Chakrabarty on a collecting trip on the Amazon River.

I can tell you about my recent trip to Panama which we just did in May before I came over to NSF. We went to the Darién Gap – an area I’ve been trying to go for years – the logistics of getting here are very complicated politically. This region is, geologically speaking, young. It was the last section of a sea separating Central and South America to close up. And, the fauna and flora reflects that position linking the North and South American continents. My postdoc Fernando Alda made that trip come together, and we had an amazing time collecting freshwater fishes with the local Emberá Indians. Everything about hiking into one of the last undeveloped areas in the Americas in the shadow of harpy eagles and sloths, far from any city, and in search of new species was something that was very special.

On one night our local guide wanted to catch some dinner and went out with my snorkel, diving flashlight, and a spear. We watched while he shot spikey armored catfishes (Ancistrus), big tetras and cichlids. When we turned off our headlamps and watched him floating in the stream with his bright torch against the darkness it looked like he was floating in space. When he came up he mentioned seeing a striped “macana” – which is the local name for electric knifefishes (the family of fishes related to electric eels). We hadn’t seen any of these yet so I asked Fernando which one he means – “Gymnotus” he said. “We better go get it,” I replied – I didn’t know these South American species were in Panama. It turns out that Fernando was the one that discovered they were in Central America with the first record in 2012 []. Fernando rushed out with a portable amplifier that we can use to translate electric fish signals into sound. We stuck the cables under root mats and listened for their calls – Fernando understood their language – and could recognize the species by listening to the pattern – by the volume he could even determine their size. I was with him when he heard what he thought was a big Gymnotus deep in the roots, we missed a couple times with the dipnet, and then on one attempt we saw the characteristic striped patterns of Gymnotus. I’ve never seen anyone so happy to get a fish. Fernando leapt and danced across the stream as if he had just won the Superbowl. I was glad to see such passion for natural history. The fish was gorgeous too, a long (nearly 2’) dark-green headed relative of the electric eel. It is a fantastic fish, only the second record of the genus in Panama…or is it something else? Something new perhaps? We are looking into that now – stay tuned.

What would someone find you doing in your down time? I love exploring this part of the country with my wife and twin daughters. Part of the reason I wanted to come to NSF was to give them a new experience. My girls, who are identical twins, have been to five countries outside of the U.S. and they are great travelers. Like their parents, the girls love seeing and learning about animals, so we’ve been hitting up all the zoos, aquariums, and museums we can find. We are planning to do some camping trips next.

Who do you admire, and why? Sylvia Earle is one of my heroes. One of the few people to have been in some of the deepest parts of the ocean, and she is such a great inspiration to so many people. I had the opportunity to meet her a couple times this year and just found her so down to Earth and approachable, as well as wise; she is also very giving of her time. She has served in government as Chief Scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and has been a curator and professor, but always an explorer first. I’d like to be thought of in the same way. She blazed her own path in the 60 and 70s when women were not well represented in the sciences – but she pushed through and made it easier for people from underrepresented groups to move up the scientific ladder: that’s also one of my goals – to broaden participation in STEM fields.

I also really admire my permanent colleagues here in DEB. They don’t get much credit, and their job is largely thankless because from the outside it is hard to know what happens inside NSF. Now that I’m on the inside I see how much the other Program Officers sacrifice and the amount of time they put in for the benefit of others. They are really fighting for science and for scientists. I’m only here as a rotator so I’m glad that they are spending the time teaching me how things are done and why things are done the way they are. My colleagues here are definitely the best part of being at NSF.