The NMDC Ambassador Program

Training and supporting early career researchers to engage with their research communities

2024 Ambassadors

Alejandro De Santiago is a bioinformatician in the Bik Lab at the University of Georgia where he uses long-read and short-read metagenomic sequencing to study the biodiversity of nematodes and the functional profiles of their host-associated microbiome. He previously obtained his B.S. in Microbiology from the University of California - Riverside.
Andrian Gajigan is a PhD candidate working in Grieg Steward's Lab at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. His research interests include microbial oceanography, marine virology, genomics, and gene regulation. Currently, he is focusing on phytoplankton viruses for his dissertation.
Becca Maher is the Marine Genomics Postdoc at Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island in Washington State. She is interested in the contribution of the microbiome to host resistance to disturbances such as climate change and disease in several systems including corals, zebrafish, and most recently, seagrass.
Buck Hanson is a microbial ecologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory where his work centers on understanding the roles of soil and root-associated microbiomes in biogeochemical cycling and ecosystem resilience. FAIR microbiome data is essential for knowledge sharing and communication, which is increasingly important for understanding Earth’s microbiomes, inspiring new tools and approaches for future challenges.
Chris Robinson is a 3rd year Ph.D. student with Dr. Irene Newton at Indiana University and studies the interactions of bacteria and mobile genetic elements within honey bee colonies. His current research, combining models from population genomics with metagenomic and Hi-C data, explores how accessory genes of bacterial pangenomes are distributed across honey bee microbiomes.
Daniela Betacurt-Anzola is a PhD student in the BMMB program at Penn State. Her research interests focus on the ecology of the gut microbiome and how it affects the host’s physiology and health. Right now, she's unraveling the dynamic interplay between the gut microbiome and dietary metals and how it influences their bioavailability in the host.
Emilie Skoog is a postdoctoral scholar at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I use multi-omic approaches to study microbial and viral ecology in extreme environments in order to better understand the limits of life on Earth and potential for life beyond this planet.
Giana Cirolia is a PhD candidate at the University of California Berkeley studying disease classification models in human microbiome data (specifically for inflammatory, autoimmune and digestive conditions like Inflammatory Bowel Disease). Her work focuses on ensuring that precision medicine models of microbiome data are equitable and accurate for diverse populations. She is particularly passionate about developing diet, exercise and stress reduction protocols that can positively influence the microbiome to prevent chronic disease.
Heather Skeen is a Research and Teaching Scholar at University of Connecticut and received her PhD from the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on understanding how ecological and evolutionary forces influence host-associated symbionts, with an emphasis on gut microbiota and disease ecology in migratory birds.
Iyanu Mumeen Oduwole is a PhD candidate in the Genomics  Science and Technology program at Bredesen Center, UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute. His research focuses on leveraging bioinformatics, metadata analysis, and applied machine learning techniques to enhance the cultivation and elucidate the adaptation mechanism of uncultured microbes, particularly those found in permafrost and deep cold subsurface environments.
Kacie Kajihara is a graduate student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Her research combines microbial ecology and data science to uncover indicators of microbiome stability across a Hawaiian watershed.
Kent Pham is a PhD candidate in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Kentucky. He is studying the ecological impact that hemp has on conventional cropping systems and its associated microbes.
Lennel Camuy-Velez is a Puerto Rican microbiologist studying invasive plant-microbe interactions. He works in Samiran Banerjee’s Microbial Ecology Lab, where his main focus is on understanding the mechanisms by which invasive plants recruit key microbes to establish themselves in a native ecosystem.
Lilian Caesar is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology at Indiana University, Bloomington, where she investigates host-microbiome ecology and evolution. Her current research focuses on characterizing the assembly and maintenance of multi-kingdom microbiomes in eusocial bees.
Maria A. Sierra is a Ph.D. candidate within the Tri-Institutional Computational Biology & Medicine program at the Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medicine. With a keen focus on virology, bioinformatics, and multiomics, Maria's research delves into the intricate world of microbiomes across diverse hosts and environments, from terrestrial to extraterrestrial realms such as extreme environments and the International Space Station (ISS). Her interdisciplinary approach encompasses the study of both established and emerging viruses, aiming to unravel their interactions with hosts, including their propensity to invade the central nervous system (CNS) and trigger conditions like encephalitis. Furthermore, Maria leverages her expertise to develop comprehensive genomic databases, facilitating the characterization of microbes in microbiome investigations. Maria is pioneering advancements in understanding the complex interplay between microorganisms and their environments, with implications ranging from health to space exploration.
Mark McCauley is a biological researcher at the United States Geological Survey focusing on mesophotic and deep-sea coral restoration. He is currently engaged in unifying over a decades’ worth of marine microbiome data, to help further ecosystem restoration and understanding ocean biodiversity before it is irreparably impacted by anthropogenic disturbances
Michael Sieler is a 4th year PhD candidate at Oregon State University. His research investigates how environmental factors interact to impact gut microbiome stability and resilience to influence host health.
Nicola received her PhD from Boston University, where she examined the role of the environment in structuring bacterial communities within corals. Now she is conducting postdoctoral research at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa manipulating bacterial community composition in the water column to examine the impact on mosquito larval fitness.
Patrick is a microbial biogeochemist studying how soil microbiomes assemble in high-elevation watersheds. He is currently a Project Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
Shane Roesemann is a graduate student at University of Wisconsin-Madison in the lab of Dr. Jason Kwan. He is interested in improving our ability to bin metagenomes by using more comprehensive marker gene sets, microbial ecology in general, and searching for novel secondary metabolites.
Viviana Alban is an Ecuadorian PhD student from Levy’s lab at the University of Washington. She is interested in understanding how environmental exposures, such as contact with animals and their feces, impact the gut microbiome of children living in Low and Middle-Income countries.
Winston Anthony is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He is fascinated by the microbiome and how we can use multi-omic approaches to increase knowledge gained through microbiome sampling.
Zachary Burcham is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He has a passion for the integration of multi-omics microbiome data and a particular interest in the microbes involved in host decomposition.
Zoe Hansen is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities and is currently investigating the ecology of microbial interactions among plant-associated microbes. She has explored multiple facets of microbiomes in her doctoral and postdoctoral work, ranging from metagenomics analysis of the human gut to characterizing competitive interactions within soil communities.

The NMDC Ambassador Program

The Ambassador Program utilizes a cohort-based learning approach to train and support early career researchers motivated to engage with their respective microbiome research communities and spread awareness and knowledge regarding data stewardship, metadata standards, and standardized bioinformatics workflows. Ambassadors from eligible institutions are also provided with a $1000 honorarium to defray costs.

The NMDC is seeking applications from early career leaders for its 2024 cohort of Ambassadors who are:

  • Familiar with the challenges of discovering, accessing, and/or reusing microbiome data
  • Committed to working with the NMDC to make microbiome data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (FAIR)
  • Motivated to engage with researchers in their community
  • Committed to inclusion, diversity, equity, and accountability (IDEA)


Ambassadors should meet the following criteria:

  • Early career researcher
    • Graduate student or a researcher within 12 years of highest degree
  • Generates and/or works with microbiome data
  • Works with at least one type of omics data
    • Amplicon, metagenomic, metatranscriptomic, metaproteomic, or metabolomic data
    • Experience working with multi-omics data is preferred
  • Willing to dedicate approximately 35 hours over the course of the year (~3 hours per month; see time commitment below)
  • Affiliated with a U.S. institution
    • Do not need to be geographically based in the U.S.

What will Ambassadors do?

Ambassadors will become official NMDC representatives and will be supported by the NMDC team throughout their one-year term. During the course of their term, Ambassadors are expected to (at minimum):


Ambassador activity Details
Contribute to training and template materials  Update content within NMDC-provided template presentations to reflect microbiomes relevant to their research community
Engage with their research community Host two workshops, presentations, or events: 1 event with immediate research community, 1 larger event (can be co-hosted with the NMDC and/or other Ambassadors)
Spread the NMDC mission Continually share updates on FAIR microbiome data and NMDC activities on any online platform (social media, website, NMDC newsletter, blog posts, etc.)
Promote IDEA best practices Demonstrate a continued commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity, and accountability (IDEA) principles
Learn about microbiome data stewardship Attend all NMDC trainings and be engaged throughout entire year-long term (see “Time Commitment”)

2024 Event Content

The 2024 Ambassadors will have the opportunity to choose their event focus area for the training materials they will contribute to and the events and workshops they will host. The three topics are focused on:

  1. Microbiome data stewardship, data management, and the NMDC Data Portal
  2. Microbiome metadata standards, metadata templates, and the NMDC Submission Portal
  3. Multi-omic data processing, standardized bioinformatics workflows, and NMDC EDGE

These topics can be presented individually, or in combination.


    Benefits of being an NMDC Ambassador

    Dedicated training

    Receive dedicated training on data management, sample metadata standards, microbiome data stewardship, multi-omic data processing, and standardized bioinformatics workflows, as well as the NMDC Data Portal, the NMDC Submission Portal, and NMDC EDGE 

    Training on IDEA principles as well as community engagement and event hosting


    Expanded professional network in a cohort-based learning environment

    Access to the NMDC team members as well as the NMDC’s large and diverse network of data scientists, microbiome researchers, and multi-omics experts

    Frequent virtual meetings with the other NMDC Ambassadors as well as the NMDC Champions; in-person microbiome meet-ups


    Recognition for service

    Co-authorship on NMDC training resources

    Co-authorship on publications highlighting the Ambassador Program

    Serve as an official NMDC representative 

    Recognition on the NMDC website and have your work continuously highlighted throughout NMDC online platforms

    Support and resources

    Funding to support NMDC events

    Administrative and logistical support for events

    Access to NMDC team members and expertise

    Provided with advertising and promotional materials

    Time Commitment

    The estimated time commitment for each Ambassador is on average 3 hours per month (~35 hours total for the year). This includes ~8 hours of training sessions, ~10 hours of meetings and planning sessions, ~6 hours of workshop and presentation time, and ~11 hours of individual work time. Optional drop-in office hours will also be hosted throughout the program. Ambassadors are expected to adhere to this time commitment, and researchers should not apply for the Program if they are unable to fulfill these commitments. Please note that this time commitment is an approximation, and it may vary slightly based on a variety of factors. A timeline is provided below for planning purposes:

    Program Timeline 

    Date Event
    January 8, 2024 2024 Program applications open
    February 9, 2024 Application deadline
    March 1, 2024 Cohort announcement
    Week of March 17, 2024 First Meeting
    Week of March 24, 2024 Training Session 1: Data Stewardship & NMDC Data Portal
    Week of March 31, 2024 Training Session 2: Metadata Standards & NMDC Submission Portal
    Week of April 7, 2024 Training Session 3: Standardized Bioinformatics Workflows & NMDC EDGE
    Week of April 14, 2024 Training Session 4: Workshop Logistics, IDEA
    Week of April 21, 2024 Workshop planning session
    Week of April 28, 2024 Ambassador presentation of event plans
    May 2024 – December 2024
    Ambassador-led smaller community event


    Ambassador-led event (Workshop or larger presentation)

    May 2024 – December 2024
    Monthly Ambassador check-ins
    December 2024
    End of term

    2023 Ambassadors

    Kiledal is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan. He received his PhD from the University of Delaware, where he studied concrete colonizing microbial communities. Read his NMDC Snapshot here. Kiledal's current research uses 'omics techniques to study cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes and the impacts of graft-versus-host disease on digestive tract microbial communities.
    Yadav is a current postdoctoral fellow in Earth and Environmental Sciences Area (EESA) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Read her NMDC Snapshot here. Her research area is focused on environmental microbiology, metagenomics and microbial ecology. Across her work, she implements standards in environmental metagenomics to improve data usability.
    Sprockett is a postdoc in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University. Read his NMDC Snapshot here. He earned his PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from Stanford University School of Medicine, and his current research focuses on applying ecological and evolutionary theory to better understand the assembly and transmission of host-associated microbiomes.
    Lin’s research focuses on plant-microbiome interactions in response to biotic and abiotic stresses. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University. Read her NMDC Snapshot here.
    Bias is a West Virginian with passions for microbiology, public health, and communicating data effectively to the public. She is an ORISE Fellow at FDA-CFSAN working with GenomeTrakr/CovidTrakr. Read more about Hope in her NMDC Snapshot.
    Keenum is a postdoctoral fellow in the NIST Complex Microbial Systems Group. Read her NMDC Snapshot here. She received her PhD in Environmental Engineering from Virginia Tech. Her work focuses on the effects of water and wastewater treatment on the resistome and microbiome.
    Shen is a recent Ph.D. graduate from Erica Hartmann’s lab at Northwestern University. Read her NMDC Snapshot here. Shen works at the intersection of indoor environmental microbiomes, public health, and data science. She optimizes metagenomics-based surveillance methods and investigates antimicrobial resistance in hospitals.
    Swift is a postdoctoral researcher for the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research at the University of Kansas in Dr. Maggie Wagner’s lab. Read his NMDC Snapshot here. His research explores plant microbiomes under abiotic stress, seeking to assess the ability of host-associated microorganisms to alleviate drought stress in maize.
    Rodríguez-Ramos is a Puerto Rican microbiome scientist and bioinformatician with experience in microbiology, computational biology, viral ecology, microbial metabolism, and biogeochemistry.  Read his NMDC Snapshot here. He is a specialist in multi-omic analyses and the integration of metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, and metaproteomics data.
    Finks received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine. Read her NMDC Snapshot here. Her scientific interests include understanding how microbial communities adapt to environmental (both in host-associated and free-living systems) change, and particularly in the context of biotic interactions where genetic information is shared, such as through mobile genetic elements mediating horizontal gene transfer events.
    Longley is a postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory studying the evolutionary consequences of interactions between soil fungi and bacteria. Read his NMDC Snapshot here. During his graduate studies at Michigan State University, Longley used various omics methods to understand how environmental stressors impact microbiomes associated with crop plants and reef-building corals.
    McDonald is a staff fellow at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. Read his NMDC Snapshot here. His research primarily focuses on characterizing the diversity of food-borne pathogens and antimicrobial resistance genes in animal foods.
    Pitot is a second year Ph.D. at Laval University, Quebec, Canada. He works in Alexander Culley’s Viral Discovery and Ecology Lab (ViDEL) and Sylvain Moineau's Laboratory. Read his NMDC Snapshot here. He focuses on biogeographic signal characterization, discovery, and ecology of giant viruses in the Last Ice Area in northern Canada.

    2021-2022 Ambassadors

    I'm excited about engaging with the research community to improve metadata standards!
    I'm excited to be a Champion to both learn and teach about making data in microbiome sciences as useful and reusable as possible.
    I'm excited to help make data open, accessible, and reusable to leverage our knowledge of marine ecosystems for research and conservation! 
    I am looking forward to collaborating with a group of people who share my passion for making data accessible.
    I’m looking forward to learning how to empower others to increase the usability and accessibility of microbiome data.
    I am most looking forward to sharing my excitement about the potential of metadata standards and engaging the larger research community to amass the same excitement.
    I am excited to contribute to the promotion of standards and practices that ensure high quality data are freely accessible to all.
    I’m excited to be part of NMDC and promote metadata standards because making data FAIR will ensure equal access for everyone to make new discoveries.
    I’m looking forward to networking with other people who are working at the interface of microbiology and data analytics, and helping elevate the visibility of metaproteomics in the omics informatics space.
    Making microbiome metadata FAIR is essential for future pooled or meta-analyses to understand the impact of the microbiome on human health and disease. I’m excited to contribute to this effort as an NMDC Champion
    I am looking forward to learning how to improve my communication about data and metadata with my colleagues.
    Thank you for your interest
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