Travel Awardees, Willey 2013

Joanne Willey, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Biology
Hofstra University,
Hempstead, New York
Award year: 2013
Dr. Willey’s research centers on the filamentous soil bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor, which has a complex, fungal-like life cycle and produces most of the antibiotics currently used in human and veterinary medicine. In exploring the processes and molecules that govern this differentiation process, Willey and colleagues found a class of conserved biosurfactants needed for cellular differentiation. After her lab’s initial description of the biosurfactant SapB, more than 100 other so-called lanthipeptides have been found in a diverse collection of bacteria. 
For Willey, the key to maintaining research relevance is the acquisition of extramural funding, as this provides not only equipment and supplies but also access to services such as genomic and proteomic analysis, and (more importantly) to the presence of a postdoc in the lab. However with respect to extramural funding, Willey says she is “keenly aware of the catch-22 many professors experience, particularly those at PUIs: getting the first grant depends on a strong publication record, but the data needed to publish can only be acquired if extramural funds are available.” 
As a research-active member of the faculty at Hofstra University, a principally undergraduate institution (PUI), Willey is an ardent advocate for undergraduate research as well as sustained research productivity. “During my 20-year career at Hofstra, I have mentored more than 75 undergraduates, many of them members of underrepresented groups, as about a third of the student body at Hofstra are minority students,” she says. “At any given time, my research team includes three to five undergraduate students, a master’s-level student, and a postdoctoral fellow.” 
Now that she is a “seasoned PI at a PUI,” Willey can offer valuable input to the undergraduate microbiology education community on the topic of grant proposal development. “I have served as a member of numerous NSF panels and have read many proposals submitted by undergraduate researchers (“RUI” proposals),” she says. “While some have been exceptional, it is not uncommon to find such proposals lacking for a want of guidance.” For this reason, Willey is happy to discuss research projects and assist in the development of RUI or AREA proposals (submitted to NSF or NIH, respectively). 

ASM-LINK Welcomes Your Input
Looking for advice on ways to enhance undergraduate learning or just hoping to start a conversation about innovative ways to involve underrepresented minorities in research? The ASM-NSF Leaders Inspiring Networks and Knowledge (LINK) programs welcome your interest. Contact the individual awardee for details. 
LINK is sponsored by ASM with support from National Science Foundation grant no. 1241970.