NSF Seeking Key Leaders for Social Science Directorate

headshots of Lupia Sebrechts and Goroff
Arthur Lupia, left, Marc Sebrechts and Daniel Goroff.

Three key positions in the portion of the National Science Foundation focusing on social science will soon be open, and the foundation – the largest funder of academic social science in the United States — is conducting a national search to fill these key jobs.

Leading the list of vacancies is the head of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE), one of seven directorates within the NSF. Arthur “Skip” Lupia, the Hal R. Varian Collegiate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan, has helmed the SBE directorate for the past three years. Assistant directors or the NSF, as the directorate leaders are termed, are appointed for two-year terms with the possibility of an extension, and Lupia’s third year ends on Sept. 1.

Nominations for the position will be accepted through September 13; more information on opening is available here. The search committee will be led by former Census Director Robert Groves, executive vice president and provost at Georgetown University.

Drawing on over 25 years of research and leadership experience, Lupia has helped research institutions adapt to a media landscape that generates distrust in certain areas of study and muddies definitions of ‘expertise.’ But above all, Lupia has focused on soliciting and supporting transformative research. In an interview at the start of his term in 2018, he defined a successful NSF assistant director as someone who effectively leverages funding and partnerships to create opportunities for scholars with big ideas. “Their job is to do the work, my job is to clear a path,” he said. “So I’m trying to clear a wider path and a longer path so that they can do that.”

NSF is looking for a director who brings substantial research contributions in the behavioral and cognitive sciences, an understanding of the intersections between diverse fields of scientific scholarship, and comprehensive knowledge of the institutions at the forefront of SBE research. In a Dear Colleague’ letter, Lupia noted that the NSF is particularly interested in identifying women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities for consideration.

The SBE director oversees the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, the Division of Social and Economic Sciences, the SBE Office of Multidisciplinary Activities, and the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Two of those divisions will soon have vacancies at the top.

Currently, the NSF is looking for a new director to head Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, which supports fundamental research in the linguistic, anthropological, geographical, and psychological sciences. Marc Sebrechts, professor and chair of psychology at the Catholic University of America, will complete his three-year stint as division director on Aug. 20. As director, Sebrechts assessed trends specific to the behavioral and cognitive sciences, allocated funding, created partnerships with federal agencies and scientific organizations, and represented the division as a member of the SBE Directorate’s leadership team.

Applications must be submitted by August 19. The position requirements can be found on USAJobs.

A search for a new director of the Division of Social and Economic Sciences is also underway at NSF. Mathematician Daniel Goroff, a vice president and program director for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, has been on loan to the NSF as division director since October 2019. The application period for that position closed on August 6. 

The National Science Foundation was created by Congress in 1950 to keep the United States at the forefront of scientific discovery. For the fiscal year of 2022, the President’s Discretionary Request allocated $10.2 billion to the foundation to “tackle the climate crisis through climate and clean energy research, boost research and development, advance racial equity in science and engineering, and bolster U.S. leadership in critical and emerging technologies.” Although it is the smallest of the NSF directorates, the SBE Directorate will play a crucial role in fulfilling these goals: It supports fundamental research on human behavior and society, focusing on the ways that social, political, cultural, environmental, and economic forces shape people’s lives

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Ella Murdock Gardner

Ella Murdock Gardner is a corporate communications intern at SAGE Publishing and a student at Scripps College, where she studies English literature. With a background in journalism, marketing, and communications, Ella is passionate about clear, compelling writing.

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