The summer break here at George Mason is coming to an end, classes begin in about two weeks and I thought it would good to write a bit about my new life as a plain old professor here at the Schar School. When I left NSF in January, I had negotiated my return to the University to reflect the public policy experience involved in running the Biological Sciences Directorate. Additionally, it had become clear to me that after 23 years in one administrative role after another, I wanted a change in the direction of more time to teach and do research. So when it was approved that my faculty line would be moved from the Krasnow Institute to the Schar School here in Arlington I was really jazzed. There was the additional benefit that the commuting distance would be halved.
I did start though with some trepidation. I had effectively been out of academia for more than three years—that in spite of NSF’s program for supporting rotator to stay involved with research at their home institution. That might work at the Program Director level at NSF, but it’s really not practical when you are responsible for an entire directorate. As a result, I was very rusty from the standpoint of both teaching and research—the two things I would be expected to do as a professor. Hence, it was a real confidence builder to get a grant in the first weeks that I was back and to actually jump back into teaching (rather than worrying about it).
I find that these past months have been some of the most satisfying of my life from a professional standpoint. The sheer pleasure of quiet time to think about science rather than have to instantly react to some crisis is something not to be underestimated. And I have found that my interests extend across a much wider landscape than before I left Mason for NSF. My current grant is on AI. The next one will probably be on metagenomics. Who knows what will come next!