Meet Dr. Susan Koester -
A brain science specialist, she’s forging ties between BSF and the NIH
Dr. Susan Koester has always wondered why things are and how they came to be. When she was young, she watched nature shows and was fascinated by all the lands and animals she saw. Growing up, she knew that a career in science was unusual for a woman, and instead of shying away from that challenge, she was determined to face it head-on.
Dr. Susan Koester
She has done so much more than that. As Deputy Director of the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) Division of Neuroscience & Basic Behavioral Science, she oversees the institute’s largest research grant division. With an annual budget of $350 million, the division supports research ranging from human genetics through molecular, cellular, integrative and systems neurobiology relevant to mental disorders. Dr. Koester also co-chairs the Interagency Working Group on Neuroscience for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and is the co-leader of the NIH Common Fund Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project.
Even with so many responsibilities, she was excited about the opportunity to join BSF’s Board of Governors. Thanks to her dedication and leadership, BSF has developed an increasing partnership with the NIH. Dr. Koester believes this benefits both organizations.
“BSF has already established a solid reputation within the NIH,” she said. “There are many times when I have mentioned BSF to people here at NIH and they will tell me how they had a BSF-supported researcher in their lab, or they are already familiar with other BSF projects.”
Dr. Koester said that reputation is becoming even stronger thanks to BSF’s participation in the Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience (CRCNS) program. An ambitious effort under the auspices of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NIH, the CRCNS program supports collaborative activities that will advance the understanding of nervous system structure and function, mechanisms underlying nervous disorders, and computational strategies used by the nervous system. Thanks to BSF, Israel is one of three nations (Germany and France are the others) working with US scientists in the program.
Computational neuroscience provides a theoretical foundation and a rich set of technical approaches for understanding the principles and dynamics of the nervous system. Building on the theory, methods and findings of computer science, neuroscience, engineering, biology and mathematics, as well as physical, social and behavioral sciences, computational neuroscience depends on a broad spectrum of top-notch scientists, doctors, and researchers who can analyze complex data and uncover new ways of examining all levels of the nervous system.
“In my experience, it’s often very effective to bring US and Israeli scientists together under this computational approach, because their talents complement each other, and this can lead to very promising discoveries,” Dr. Koester said.
Dr. Koester received her Ph.D. in Neural Sciences from Washington University. She has been with the NIMH since 1997, serving in a number of capacities that have included research, grant management, and policy making.
It is this diverse experience, as well as Dr. Koester’s deep connections with many of America’s top scientists and researchers, that make her such a valuable member of the BSF Board, according to Al Teich, BSF Board Chair.
“Dr. Koester has really strengthened our connections to the NIH. She also has a tremendous amount of experience in areas such as grant management,” Teich said. “As BSF works to provide grants to worthy American and Israeli scientists, it’s a great advantage to count on the input from someone who has responsibly managed such a large portfolio of grants.”
On top of that, Teich said Dr. Koester is “a very congenial colleague who is easy to work with. That’s a big plus any way you look at it.”
When she’s not “on the clock,” what does one of America’s top brain research administrators do to refocus her brain? She relaxes by knitting and hand-spinning. Only, with her complex and curious nature, she does more than that.
“It’s all about the sheep and the wool,” she says, laughing. “I just have to do a lot of research about the whole procedure. It’s just part of who I am.”