Susannah Tringe is Division Director for Environmental Genomics & Systems Biology in the Biosciences Area and Lead for the Microbial Systems Group at the DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI). She received an Early Career Research Program (ECRP) award in 2011, an event that helped propel her career forward. She shares her thoughts about the ECRP.
How did your research topic advance the strategic priorities of the Lab and the DOE?
Back in 2010, I was a research scientist in an emerging field called metagenomics, which explores microbial communities using DNA sequencing. I planned to use metagenomics to understand carbon cycling, including in wetlands. At that time, DNA sequencing was already being used in research, but whether it could be used to study carbon cycling was not yet proven. The Office of Science’s Biological and Environmental Research program was interested in studying carbon cycling and bioenergy, and my proposal allowed them to explore the use of this new technique.
How did your ECRP award help you in your career?
The ECRP was an amazing opportunity. It allowed me to build my own research program, to hire my own personnel independent of JGI, and get field work experience. The award allowed me to apply the DNA sequencing method in parallel with generating biogeochemical data and investigate patterns and correlations indicating which microbial processes might be in play. That was the start of a number of projects in the space; today my team and I are working on studying plant microbiomes, carbon cycling in wetlands, and wastewater treatment.
I continued to work at the JGI on user projects and other collaborative projects, but this allowed me to pursue and develop my own independent research projects, and helped me to advance within the JGI and the Lab. It also helped me build relationships with DOE program managers and better understand their goals and priorities when funding work at the national labs. This helped me in preparing later proposals as well as in managing JGI’s User Programs to achieve maximum impact.
What advice would you give early career researchers about how to successfully navigate the ECRP award process?
I advise applicants to study the DOE’s priorities from reports and literature and the actual ECRP call for proposals, before developing their own proposals. Today’s ECRP calls have very specific priorities; if your proposal aligns well with them, you stand a better chance of winning an award.
I also encourage researchers to get input from others. The ECRP is a great resource for developing people at the Lab, so lots of scientists are more than happy to help you with your proposal.