Jo Handelsman, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Development Biology at Yale University, was sworn as the Associate Director for Science at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on July 2nd, 2014. Professor Handelsman will advise President Barack Obama on the impacts of science and technology on domestic and international affairs.

Professor Handelsman received the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring in 2011. This award honors individuals and organizations devoted the academic and personal development of science or engineering students, especially those in under-represented groups. Handelsman formed the Center for Scientific Teaching when she became a Yale professor in 2010 after transferring from the University of Wisconsin. Together with her colleagues, she developed a course that equips mentors with skills and tools to better serve students from diverse backgrounds. Handelsman is also a co-author of the book “Scientific Teaching” used at colleges and universities nationwide to train mentors.

Handelsman’s receipt of the Hughes professorship recognizes her significant contributions to teaching and excellence in research. Handelsman’s lab focuses on microbial diversity and community function and aims to develop new antibiotics derived from the metabolic products of benign bacteria. Specifically, her research team are interested in understanding the genetic basis for stability of microbial communities, the role of a gut community as a source of opportunistic pathogens, and the soil microbial community as a source of new antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes.

Professor Handelsman has been a long-time advocate for women in the sciences. She co-founded the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute at the University of Wisconsin. In 2006, Handelsman served on the National Academies’ committee that wrote a report called “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering”. She strongly supports creating a fair work environment in particular raising awareness of the prejudices that hamper women faculty from being hired and promoted. A study lead by Handelsman reported surprising results on the pervasive and persistent biases for women of science, for which Nature named her one of “ten people who mattered this year” in 2012.

After being nominated by President Obama to serve as Associate Director for Science at the OSTP in 2013, Professor Handelsman said, “I’ve wanted to change and improve aspects of science for a long time. I’ve worked on national agendas quite a lot, and this is an opportunity to work on those agendas at a pretty high level, and with a team of people who are deeply committed to science… And who could turn down this president? He loves science.” Handelsman is on a 2-year public service leave from Yale. “I’m in the middle of my research career and I don’t want to lose that. I think there’s a limit to how long you can have a hiatus.”(1)

As a distinguished microbiologist, a leading innovator in science education and a passionate promoter of women in science, Jo Handelsman will bring considerable energy, enthusiasm, and dedication to her new position and make important contributions to the nation.


1. “Yale Microbiologist Picked White House Science Job” Science. News. People & Events. 5 August 2013. By Jeffery Mervis.

By Shannon Rao,
Business Development Assistant, CURE