What was working at IOS like?
I’ve got two answers, a serious one and then a fun one. On a serious, professional level, working as a rotating program director was a fantastic way to do three things: (1) help other researchers find funding opportunities, think about how to organize their research teams, revise declined proposals, and understand how build well-organized proposals that highlight how their work advances science; (2) assist my colleagues at NSF in deciding how to allocate our limited resources to researchers in ways that support NSF’s mission, and (3) help create new initiatives for addressing and responding to emerging research and societal needs. Working at this national level was eye-opening and exhilarating. On the fun side, I have to say that many times I found myself saying, “I’m in NERD camp!” My colleagues at NSF were excited about their work, loved talking about science, and were eager to have conversations that were always exploring the edges of what we know and how we work and train as scientists.
What was the highlight of your time at NSF?
Every day, it was a thrill to go to work — remotely and in-person — and learn from people who were super-smart, focused on doing excellent work, and willing and able to help me learn how to do the challenging job of being a program director. Learning and training are built into working at NSF, so it becomes natural to be continuously learning new things, moving out of your comfort zone, and discovering ways to be useful to the enterprise. I love learning, so this makes the job joyful.
What personal goals did you accomplish while at NSF?
As late-career scientist, I was looking for new challenges and new ways to contribute to organismal biology. To put it in emotional terms, I was worried that at this stage in my career I was in danger of “aging out” of being a productive scientist. But my experience was valued, sought out even, by NSF! Being valued let me step out of my emotional insecurity and focus on and enjoy learning the job and finding ways to meet the challenges of helping NSF serve the US community of scientists and engineers.
What are you most looking forward to next?
I’m returning to my job as a professor at Vassar College, a small liberal arts college. Here the challenge I’m looking forward to is helping our undergraduates see the wide range of opportunities available to them in science and engineering. In Biology, students tend to come in thinking about medicine. While that’s a great path for many students, others don’t know about options. My experiences at NSF have let me learn about an incredibly rich and diverse world of science and technology out there. So I’m looking forward to being a better advisor.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director at the NSF?
It’s a great opportunity to serve the scientific community, meet great people, and learn.
Michelle Elekonich, Acting Division Director of IOS at the time, said about Dr. Long, “It was a great pleasure to have John as part of the IOS team. John’s creativity and enthusiasm for IOS science and the IOS scientists will be missed!”