When September Doesn’t Mean Back to School

row upon row of empty seats in a large lecture hall

At this point in my life, two years into my role at the National Library of Medicine, I greet Labor Day with a bit of nostalgia. I was an academic for 30 years, and spent most of the 25 years prior to that as a student, doing the school thing from kindergarten through grad school. You might say that my epigenome has been shaped by the academic calendar, with the waning summer sparking excitement over the promise of a new school year, new things to learn, new friends to make.

In contrast, September here brings the last month of the federal fiscal year, and let me tell you, it is busier than all get out! We have to finish grant awards. We must renew, close out, or refresh contracts, confirm (or move) project deadlines, and account for the year’s work. In addition, we are in the throes of preparing the Congressional Justification for our budget one year hence, so as we’re putting fiscal year 2018 (FY2018) to bed, we’re also starting to prepare the FY2020 budget—all while Congress debates the FY2019 appropriations. It’s a budgetary juggling act to keep all the plans and paperwork moving, and my colleagues who deal with grants, contracts, budget, and procurement will be thoroughly focused for the next four and a half weeks, making sure the balls don’t fall.

But amidst the fiscal frenzy, there’s still a hint of the old, familiar September and the promises that come with it of new things to learn and new friends to make.

This coming year, FY2019, we’ll be wrapping our arms fully around data science. Joyce Backus is leading an NLM-wide strategy to improve the data science knowledge and skills of our entire workforce. Our NCBI team is re-writing the book on secure data access, taking a modular approach to identity management and data access. The Tox team, in collaboration with other staff across NLM, is migrating our essential toxicology resources to a more modern and robust platform. And those are just a few examples.

As for the new people to meet—we’ve just launched a search for three new investigators for our intramural program; we’re growing our complement of contracts management staff; and we’re adding new program managers across Library Operations.

So in some ways, it is like my old Septembers only somewhere else, a different location but the same sense of newness, excitement, learning, and opportunity.

I hope all the students stepping into the classroom or on to campus this year find the same exhilaration greeting them. May you, your teachers, professors, and parents have a bright and successful academic year. And may the rest of us find the continued promise of fresh opportunities and new, innovative ways to serve science and society.

Author: Patti Brennan

Director, US National Library of Medicine

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