Celebrating a Career in the Behavioral and Social Sciences at NIH

When I took on the role of Acting Director of OBSSR, I was daunted by multiple responsibilities that came with the role, but particularly the task of writing a monthly blog. However, time flies and I can’t believe that this is blog number 17! I hope some of them have been useful and informative for you. I will be retiring from NIH soon to take on new challenges and experience new adventures. In this blog, I want to reflect on the role of the behavioral and social sciences research at NIH and how I have seen it grow and flourish over time.

Prior to joining NIH as a Public Health Service officer in 2006, I spent 10 years as an active-duty clinical health psychologist in the U.S. Air Force. My career jump to NIH was based on my excitement about being able to contribute to shaping and advancing the behavioral and social science research (BSSR) vision and initiatives. I worked 11 years at NIDDK and now almost 6 years at OBSSR. While I can’t say it was always a smooth road or that there were no challenges along the way, I have never wavered in my appreciation for the agency and the people who work here. I am proud of how the BSSR community at NIH continues to support advancing the NIH mission. In my 17 years at NIH, the BSSR portfolio has grown--not just in dollars (which is good news), but also in very meaningful new areas of research. For example, when I arrived at NIH, implementation science was a relatively new and emerging field. Many scientists were not even sure what it was or whether it belonged in the NIH portfolio. Now implementation science is a thriving part of the NIH research portfolio at most Institutes and Centers across the agency. NIH has also committed to understanding and addressing social and structural determinants of health in important new ways. These changes in the research portfolio reflect the growing recognition/acknowledgment that mitigating or preventing disease and advancing health and wellbeing equitably, requires interdisciplinary team science. It is critical that we build an evidence base that allows us to address the multiple levels and factors that influence by improving or hindering health. I am honored to have been at NIH during these times of change and growth.

In my first Director’s Voice blog I noted: “The road ahead involves addressing many longstanding and somewhat intractable challenges to how we integrate behavioral and social science and how we conduct science. As I believe Tom Hanks said in a League of Their Own, “It's supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.” These sentiments remain as true today as they did then, but I know the BSSR community is more than up to successfully achieving this challenge.

I am so grateful for my career at NIH. What stands out most for me is my admiration and appreciation for the people inside and outside the NIH that I have been able to work with. I am consistently impressed by the passion in the field to improve health through research, ask tough scientific questions, and push the boundaries of what is usual in service of what is necessary.

I don’t regret a minute of my NIH career. Some of that is related to where I think I have been able to meaningfully contribute scientifically, but largely, it is because of the people I have had the privilege of working with. I look forward to following the continued progress of behavior and social science research from a different vantage point in the future.