From Nature magazine

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) director Subra Suresh on 5 February announced his resignation in a letter to agency staff, cutting short a six-year term after less than three years. He said he would leave the basic research agency in late March, in order to become president of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“In a way, I’m not surprised,” says Samuel Rankin, chair of the Coalition for National Science Funding, an advocacy group based in Washington DC. Rankin called the university job “a once in a lifetime opportunity” for Suresh.

During his brief tenure, Suresh became a champion for interdisciplinary research and international collaborations, says Rankin. In January, the director kicked off Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW), a programme to link graduate research fellows with labs around the world. And in 2011, he pushed to establish the Innovation Corps programme, which encourages scientists to develop business plans to commercialize NSF-funded research (See “Scientists, meet capitalists”). 

But Suresh is leaving the NSF at a critical juncture, when all government agencies are facing mandatory, across-the-board cuts. On 5 February, President Barack Obama called for Congress to seek a short-term budget solution to avert the looming cuts, which on 1 March would begin to slash the NSF budget by 5.1%. “He came here in the middle of all this budget cutting,” says Rankin. “Whoever is going to be in charge is going to have to worry about that.”

A former dean of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Suresh joined the NSF in June 2010 as the federal government began to wean itself off of a $3 billion economic stimulus package and the current budget crisis started to take shape. In his farewell missive, Suresh praised the agency’s achievements through “the turbulent times of the recent past”.

Suresh’s announcement came as a surprise to Arthur Bienenstock, a photon scientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and a member of the National Science Board, which oversees the NSF. “I had no inkling of it and I was looking forward to his continued leadership of the foundation.”

This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on February 5, 2013.