Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Job Ad: Program Fellow in Symbiosis at Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

Program Fellow, Science
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s science program supports exceptional scientists, invests in new technologies, and brings together new scientific partnerships. We believe in the inherent value of science and the sense of awe that discovery inspires. We believe that unleashing the potential of inquiry and exploration not only leads to scientific progress, but can also deliver important societal benefits. We take risks and look for opportunities to transform or create entire fields.
To complement activities in the Marine Microbiology Initiative (MMI) and other current science program grantmaking, we seek a program fellow to explore opportunities for further foundation impact in the realm of symbiosis. Here, we refer to symbiosis as the interactions between microbes (bacteria, archaea, and protists) and animals, plants, fungi, and other microbes. We also consider the role of viruses in these relationships. We consider symbiosis broadly in terms of habitat (terrestrial and marine), degree of interdependence (transient, obligatory, endosymbiotic, and that which results in organelle evolution), and time (ancient to modern).
The Position
The fellow will synthesize information regarding the state of symbiosis research and related fields in the U.S. and abroad. The fellow may also work on related topics that link with MMI and other current symbiosis grantmaking at the foundation.
The fellow will report to the MMI program director, and will work with MMI team members, colleagues in the science program, and across the foundation as needed. This role requires a highly developed ability to collaborate. Experience with or an ability to rapidly learn academic, government, and private funder structures and cultures is paramount.
The Program Fellow role has a term of 12 months, with the possibility of renewal for up to 12 additional months. Those with a relevant advanced graduate degree—as well as researchers considering a sabbatical—are welcome to apply.
Key Responsibilities
The fellow will:
  • Collaboratively explore opportunities within the realm of symbiosis, working with the MMI program director, MMI staff, and others.
  • Synthesize and present written and spoken communications of findings to internal foundation audiences; discuss and debate findings using the foundation strategic lenses.
  • Establish connections with relevant external communities and efforts, as appropriate.
  • Depending on needs, may develop and conduct workshops and other in-person forums.
Experience and Education
The ideal candidate will possess:
  • A Ph.D. in a relevant field (required).
  • Postdoctoral experience in a relevant field and/or other science-related post-graduate experience (required).
  • Demonstrated interest, initiative, and track record in the broad area of symbiosis and evolution of organismal interactions that includes microbes.
  • A track record of collaborative multidisciplinary work.
  • Experience working constructively within a team of diverse expertise, experience, and perspective.
The ideal candidate will also have:
  • Exceptional communication skills (speaking, writing, and listening).
  • A flexible, creative and positive approach to problem solving in a highly collaborative team environment; comfort with ambiguity.
  • An ability to view the big picture and long-term goals while keeping in mind tactical short-term ramifications.
  • Experience with contributing to and/or coordinating large, multi-stakeholder projects and events.
The ideal candidate will demonstrate the following attributes that describe how we at the Foundation strive to do our work with each other and our partners.
  • Committed to Excellence
  • Passionate
  • Collegial
  • Open and Honest
  • Humble and Self-Aware
Compensation and Benefits
Compensation includes a competitive base salary and an excellent package of health, retirement savings and other benefits.
Application Process
Applicants must be legally authorized to work in the United States. Pursuant to the San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance, we will consider for employment qualified applicants with criminal histories in a manner consistent with the requirements of the ordinance.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is an equal opportunity employer. All correspondence will remain confidential.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Guest Blog Post on Citizen Science: What Academic Scientists Can Do More Of

The front lines of science education and expanding scientific literacy are not in the ivory towers of universities, but in pre-college science education at all levels. Discover the Microbes Within! The Wolbachia Project has put many of us in contact with some of the most inspirational people we know - educators that love science, work hard, and want to bring that love to countless middle and high school students, and sometimes younger levels. Since 2007, the Wolbachia Project has been working with Carolyn Wilczynski. I first met Carolyn at a Wolbachia Project workshop held at Cornell University during that summer, and a couple of days ago, I received this message from her. It struck a chord with me, and perhaps it will do the same for you. She has agreed to let me post the message as she wants it to go: "as far and as wide as possible!  There are kids out there who LOVE science.  I hear them say it and I see it in their actions.  They need scientists to inspire and encourage them.  A little goes a long way.  Truly."


This school year, I started up a science club, hoping to encourage students to pursue a study of something - anything related to science or science inquiry.  A small grant from our district alumni foundation helped to fund the endeavor and I was able to buy supplies, pay entrance fees, get kids to/fro the fairs, and buy t-shirs and food.  We all learned a lot.  I took 10 kids to the local science fair and 8 advanced to the regional fair.  2 will now advance to the state-level and who knows beyond that!  Not too bad for a novice!

Perhaps because of my own bias towards organismal biology, most of the projects were biology based and most included some manner of organismal biology.  From Madagascar hissing cockroaches detecting pesticides in produce to humans yawning to evolutionary relationships of fish species using protein gel electrophoresis.  The projects were varied.  The work to get there was insanely time consuming (which is why you haven’t heard much from me lately!).  One thing I’ve learned is that while science depends on peer review and feedback, not so with science fairs.  It took a personal request to the local fair coordinator to reach out to a judge to provide feedback to a student.  That feedback resulted in a “highest honor” placement and a top award at the regional fair.  Kids are quick learners!  I hope that my suggestion to provide feedback to all students at the local science fair next year is taken to heart. 

The other lesson learned is that the majority of judges at science fairs are engineers and the sponsors are engineering organizations.  I realize that it’s a sample size of 2, but I reach out to all of you to volunteer to be a judge at a local, regional or state science fair.  Volunteer to speak at a science fair - again, the bias is towards engineers, The mindset of an engineer vs scientist is a bit different, though admittedly there is a lot of overlap.  Some of my students who did projects on organismal biology left yesterday’s fair discouraged.  One boy kept asking me what he’d done wrong.  I had no good answer for him.  His project was good, scientifically sound and completely appropriate for a science fair.  Yet he came away with only a certificate of participation.  One girl was asked by an engineer judge, why she provided water in her cockroach enclosures, since they might cause the produce to get moldy faster.  Nice suggestion, except that even roaches need to drink water.  The cleverness of her study was lost on trying to solve the problem of mold: scientist vs engineer. 

Lastly, if you are members of professional societies and have any ability to do so, I would encourage sponsoring an award.  While monetary awards are always appreciated by the fair sponsors and the kids (even as little as $25 goes a long way to say “way to go”), certificates or books also make good awards.  The local geological society in our area provided a fossil specimen.  Who wouldn’t love a rock as a prize?  Students know in advance who the sponsors are and the projects coming to the fair reflect that.  So again, basic science is left in the dust.  These young people, whether or not they become scientists, will at the least become voters in the future.  Science fairs give them a good appreciation for what scientists do and may pay dividends in support of science in the future. 

The New York State Science Congress is June 4th in Buffalo (, if you can find a way to support basic science in some way at this fair, I encourage you to do so.  Or perhaps forward this to friends and colleagues who live nearer to Buffalo.  Or if you can reach out to ESA, ABS, BSA, or whatever professional organization that you belong to, it would support science in those fields. 

Thanks for reading my soapbox speech! 


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Overdue community effort on getting the hologenome concept right

More and more, it is becoming clear that the population biology processes affecting animal and plant phenotypes interface with ecosystems science and the ecology of host-associated microbiomes. Indeed, the so-called individual animal or plant is increasingly appreciated as a "holobiont" comprised of the host plus all of its associated microbes. Resultantly, all genomes of the holobiont have been termed the “hologenome”. These terms and associated concepts are relatively new and liable to misinterpretation. Our new preprint at bioRxiv is a community effort to pull various biologists and philosophers together around a definitive set of arguments that accurately reflect the original literature. As the largest collection of authors to date in this area, spanning fifteen junior and senior investigators in the life sciences and philosophy, we think this article will encourage productive discussion to stimulate new ideas and understanding on holobionts and hologenomes that consider the link between phenotype and genotype. I hope you check out the short piece. Feedback is most welcome!

Getting the hologenome concept right: An eco-evolutionary framework for hosts and their microbiomes