Podcast by InnovatorsBox®

Curious Monica: Season 3

Ep 3: Building Common Grounds with Curiosity in Science with Dr. Jonathan Madison

Curious Monica – a Podcast by InnovatorsBox®. Hosted by Monica H. Kang.

The Curious Monica podcast features candid conversations with innovators in thriving organizations across various industries. In each episode, host & founder of InnovatorsBox, Monica Kang interviews her friends in diverse fields about what they do and why they love what they do. If you’re curious too, you’ll gain incredible insight into the workplace patterns that can change the way you think about work, no matter what industry you’re in or who you are.

…and anywhere else you listen to Podcasts

How do you build a career in science and education? It’s a question Dr. Jonathan D. Madison, Program Director for the Metals and Metallic Nanostructures Program at the National Science Foundation (NSF), has been asking to be where he is today.

In our conversation, Jonathan shares how he got into science as a career, how he honed his leadership skills, and what helps him manage his time and energy with all the different workloads he has as a leader today. He also shares how we need to rethink how we address the lack of representation in STEM and helps us look at it scientifically. Most importantly, he reminds us that humility, communication, and patience are important leadership skills and values to hone. Whether you are new to science and metallic nanostructures or not, you’ll walk away being inspired and empowered.

As we honor Black History Month this February, we proudly spotlight Jonathan’s insightful journey into science and inclusive leadership. Connect with Jonathan Madison on LinkedIn and contact his team at NSF (National Science Foundation).

Ready for a narrative that transcends boundaries? Subscribe to Curious Monica by InnovatorsBox, where host Monica H. Kang unfolds stories that inspire. Visit curiousmonica.com for more empowering interviews.

Guest: Dr. Jonathan Maidson

NSF, Program Director

Jonathan D. Madison is the Program Director for the Metals and Metallic Nanostructures Program in the Division of Materials Research (DMR) within the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS). Jonathan joined NSF in 2021 as a Visiting Scientist, Engineer, Educator (VSEE) and became a permanent program director in 2023. Prior to NSF, Jonathan was a Principal R&D Scientist at Sandia National Laboratories (Albuquerque, NM), where he contributed to Sandia's mission for over a decade as a staff member in the Center for Material, Physical and Chemical Sciences. Jonathan’s research interests focused largely on solidification in a variety of metallic systems as well as experimental and computational techniques for the quantitative study of microstructure in three-dimensions.

His experimental techniques centered on mechanical serial-sectioning and x-ray tomography while his theoretical activities focused on kinetic Monte Carlo approaches. His work provided multi-scale characterization and models that enabled insights and solutions for material selection, failure analysis, process/vendor qualification and component design. Dr. Madison has authored over (35) papers in peer-reviewed and archival journals; (7) Department of Energy published technical reports; (1870+) citations; (4) journal covers; (2) U.S. DoE software copyrights; (1) U.S. patent; an h-index of (18) and has successfully hired, funded, and mentored (9) undergraduate students and (4) post-docs before moving into program management.

A few of Jonathan’s accolades include: Sandia National Laboratories Early Career LDRD Award (2010); Lead Guest Editor-Special Issue on 3D Materials Science, IMMI (2014); ABQ Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40” (2015); and the 29th BEYA Award’s “Most Promising Scientist in Industry” (2015). Madison earned his B.S. from Clark Atlanta University in Engineering Science with a concentration in Mechanical in 2003 and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Materials Science & Engineering from the University of Michigan in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

Episode Shownotes

1. Title of the Episode:
Building Common Grounds with Curiosity in Science with Dr. Jonathan Madison

2. Host:
Monica H. Kang

3. Guest:
Dr. Jonathan D. Madison, Program Director for the Metals and Metallic Nanostructures program in the Division of Materials Research at the National Science Foundation (NSF)

4. Key Topics Covered:

  • Dr. Jonathan Madison’s journey into science and his role at the NSF
  • The significance of metals and metallic nanostructures in science
  • The impact of mentorship on Dr. Madison’s career
  • NSF’s mission and goals, including advancing research, accessibility, and global leadership
  • Strategies for managing time, stress, and fostering effective communication
  • Leadership principles and building consensus within teams
  • Importance of diversity and representation in STEM fields
  • Celebrating Black History Month and acknowledging black innovators

5. Highlights:

  • Dr. Madison’s transition from research and development to a pivotal role at NSF
  • Insights into the exciting advancements and discoveries in the field of metallurgy
  • The profound influence of mentors throughout Dr. Madison’s academic and professional life
  • Strategies for impactful leadership and teamwork in scientific research
  • Discussion on enhancing representation in STEM and the role of HBCUs in education

6. Quotes from Dr. Jonathan Madison:

  • “Being able to find common ground lets you begin to build rapport, and once you build rapport, then you can have a path to maybe move forward.”
  • “It should be your mission to get to spaces where you’re not the smartest person and you can learn something from someone else.”
  • “We have to stop treating underrepresentation like it’s an unsolved problem… We actually do have some examples that we can utilize and learn from.”

7. Some people suggested that we should learn from:

  • Chris Emden, author of “Ratchetdemic: Reimaging Academic Success”, and advocate for innovative education in STEM
  • Jarvis Givens, author of: “Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching”, and educator focusing on African American educational history
  • Carter G. Woodson, author of “Miseducation of the Negro”, father of Black History Month, originally, Negro History Week

8. Resources Mentioned:

  • “Ratchademic” by Chris Emden
  • “Fugitive Pedagogy” by Jarvis Givens
  • Works of Carter G. Woodson

9. Contact Information for Dr. Jonathan Madison:

10. Closing Thoughts by Monica Kang:
Monica Kang emphasizes the importance of marrying passion with profession and encourages listeners to bring their passions into existing infrastructures to influence change. She highlights the value of learning from the experiences and insights shared by Dr. Madison and invites listeners to engage further by reaching out or exploring the NSF website.

11. Episode Length and Release Date:
Episode Length: Approximately 50 minutes
Date of Release: Feb 20, 2024

 

 
 
 


00:01

Monica H. Kang
What is it like to build a career in science and research? What skills would you have to hone, and how do you choose what to work on when there are so many things that you can work on in science? Jonathan would say patience, persistence, and humility are key variables to your success in that question today, Jonathan D. Madison is the program director for the Metals and Metallic Nanostructures program in the Division of Materials Research at the National Science foundation. He’s been with NSF since 2021, but prior to that, he has an extensive career in research and development and as a scientist, including sandian national Laboratories, as well as many other places that you might have heard. As you check out his bio, one of the things that you’ll quickly notice is how diverse and also creative his strategy and approach has been. 


00:59

Monica H. Kang
And in fact, the thing that I was also impressed as a non scientist getting to know Jonathan was just how his passion and curiosity to connect the dots in really fine coming grounds across different industries was the secret sauce in how he built many bridges that he has today. It’s no wonder that many have recognized him under one of the best scientists and most promising scientists in the industry to look out for early on throughout his career, consistently. So what are you waiting for? Let’s dive into the conversation, learn about how Jonathan built his career in science and research. As we continue to celebrate black History Month at black innovators around the world. Let’s dive in. 


01:44

Dr. Jonathan Madison
One of the things I was so inspired is in your journey getting into science and of course, government work. And just to be direct, let’s break it down. What does it even mean in layman’s term, of what a metals program and NSF’s Division of Materials Research is all about and what your role is as a program director? 


02:06

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Sure. Yeah. So I manage the metals and metallic nanostructures program. And so what that means is I manage NSF’s merit review process for all proposals that come in focused on fundamental metals research and evaluate them for their opportunity in terms of investment, what science can come out of it, and ultimately help make recommendations on what science gets funded and gets the opportunity to be pursued. 


02:32

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Thank you so much for that. I had a chance to share your story a little bit earlier before we kick started. I am still very curious. I mean, your resume is so impressive and inspiring, but there must have still been a very starting point of, like, geez, like young Jonathan thinking about, I want to get into science one day. Do you remember when that might have been for. 


02:55

Dr. Jonathan Madison
I mean, it’s a pretty interesting. I, you know, developed a passion for STEM and science when I learned that I had an opportunity to get some scholarship money to go to school to actually pay for it, because I had no money by majoring in science, technology, engineering, and math. So choosing a stem field actually provided a way for me to have my education paid for and be able to finance it when I had no other means to really do so. So it really created opportunity for me that I was happy to pursue. I had good grades in high school and science and math, and so I was okay. But I really developed a passion pretty quickly when I realized it was an opportunity and a path towards being able to do something more that I had no means to pursue otherwise, but to. 


03:38

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Still build on that science is just such a broad field as well. Even with that, was there still, like, an early moment of, like, jeez, do this part of science? Or maybe one day I want to have a job. Like. 


03:56

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Was a. I was an undergrad, actually, and I had the opportunity to intern in the summers. And so the summer of my sophomore year, I interned at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, actually. And I had a mentor who was a metallurgist. His name is Dr. George Spanos. And he really introduced me to metallurgy, and it was exciting. He introduced me to the iron carbon phase diagram, and I learned, man, this is the underpinnings of so many things that we depend on today. Bridges, cars, structural materials, skyscrapers. I mean, the things that we’ve built our modern world out of. A lot of these things are based in metals. 


04:37

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so it was extremely exciting, and it was just eye opening that I could be able to play a role in identifying, potentially, the next set of materials that we might make something out of someday. So, to me, that was extremely captivating, extremely exciting, and that’s really what fueled my interest to be not just in science general, but specifically in metals and metallurgy. 


05:02

Dr. Jonathan Madison
I see. And again, excuse me, because I’m newer to the field, and like many of our listeners, I’m learning about it. I’m curious because I think so much has changed in science and technology in the past few decades. And so the beginning of when Jonathan started that of like, jeez, I want to dive more into it to now, when you’re actually leading and seeing so many of the initiatives, I’m curious, what’s been kind of the biggest changes? Is it the way how we use metals is the way how we understand it? I’m curious for somebody who’s learning about it for the first time, yeah. What has changed? What’s so cool about being in the space now? 


05:39

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Sure. I think that’s a great question. So one of the basic items that’s so exciting about science and research specifically is that you’re literally learning new things. And so I think in many cases, we know a lot about metals to some degree, but what we’re able to learn in terms of the specificity and the details, we’re able to get much more closer to a lot of the intricate details that we had no way of seeing or observing. For decades, people theorized certain things, but we’re just now getting to a point where we can actually see some of those things and actually experimentally observe them. That’s super exciting. Right. And in some cases, these observations lead to discoveries in which we found out theory is not quite right or. 


06:23

Monica H. Kang
Not quite what we thought it was. 


06:25

Dr. Jonathan Madison
These are very exciting discoveries because it then opens the door to ways that we might be able to optimize or use materials, specifically metals, in ways we didn’t anticipate or know that we could. 


06:36

Monica H. Kang
Are there examples you can share? 


06:40

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Let’s see. So, for example, one of my areas that when I was on the bench doing work, were doing a three dimensional reconstruction. So, looking at how microstructure the very smallest elements of metals, how they form, how they exist, and how they evolve. And we found when we can look at material in three dimensions, we actually found out some of our observations from looking at things in two dimensions were incorrect. Right. For example, one of my mentors was looking at laughs. This is getting very technical, but looking at laughs that intersect grain boundaries, right? And so when you look at something in 2d, you see something. So maybe to make it simple, right. If you’re looking at a ball and you were to cut it in half, you would see a circle, right? And so you might hypothesize like, oh, yeah. 


07:28

Dr. Jonathan Madison
So I cut this material lots of places and are circles everywhere. And so there’s nothing but rods going through the whole thing because they’re all circles. Everywhere I cut is circles. But if you can look at it in 3d, then you might see, well, these aren’t just rods. These are actually spheres. Right? And so when you begin to try to understand how something will break, how something can move, how something can bend, the way rods respond is very different than the way circles will respond. 


07:52

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Right? 


07:52

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so this is one example, extremely simplified, in which we’re able to learn more about materials that sometimes debunks previous theories, but then informs how we might use a material in the future with a more accurate understanding of how it actually exists in the world. 


08:09

Monica H. Kang
Very cool. I think at least definitely with the example, that’s something many could relate. And so I think it’s good that we got to geek out a little bit and learn a little bit more about the fun field you’re in, taking a step back, going back into your chapter of your journey. So. Okay, great. That’s a cool industry I want to maybe explore. And then after that, I believe you got a chance to also work at Sandia National Lab for about eleven years in New Mexico. How was it like working at a national lab, which is also in itself a very unique opportunity and a little different where you are now, which we will get there in a little bit, but bring us back to how that experience was for those who is probably like, I don’t even know what that means. 


08:46

Monica H. Kang
What does it mean to work at a national lab? What are even the type of jobs and what are the skills that was important. So bring us back to what happened there. 


08:53

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Yeah, so Sandia is FFRDC, federally funded research development center. There’s several across the country, and they all have various missions and activities. And so I won’t talk too much about Sandia’s mission per se. People can look it up, but in terms of my interaction, I got the opportunity to work on a variety of different applications, a variety of different material systems, and got to use literally world class tools and equipment to do so. And so I think one of the things that national laboratories provide, just in general, they provide a really great opportunity to work on things that are focused on some national interest. Right. Something that is in contribution to the larger whole. 


09:38

Dr. Jonathan Madison
But they typically bring together persons that are experts across so many different fields because national labs cover so many different spaces and expertise areas, but they also are spaces that have tremendous resources in terms of equipment and labs. 


09:54

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


09:55

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so oftentimes academic researchers will partner with persons at national laboratories because they can provide access to certain equipment that maybe they don’t have themselves. So I think maybe the biggest takeaway, I think, from my time at Sandia is I really got opportunity to work on a lot of different things, but to do it with some really fantastic, outstanding scientists across so many different fields, and to do so with extremely advanced and up to date equipment. So it was an amazing experience. 


10:23

Monica H. Kang
That’s really cool. And I can imagine also a lot of different skills and also experiences that you built. Tell us, for instance, looking back at that time, who are people who inspired you probably to lead you to continuing the path where you are. 


10:41

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Interesting. So I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had some really amazing mentors through my life. Any success I’ve had, I really credit it to them because they were always able to see beyond where I was at currently and get me to think a little bit bigger. I think one important piece to maybe identify, appreciate and maybe even to give acknowledgment to is that although I’ve picked up new mentors along the way, as I’ve continued my professional journey, those mentors that I had in the beginning along each stage, they continue to be tremendous resources to me in my life. So, for example, I had an undergraduate research advisor and he was instrumental in helping me figure out grad school and what to do next. 


11:34

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And then when I went to undergrad, when I left undergrad and went to grad school, I have an amazing thesis advisor that helped me plot a path not just understanding things technically and developing myself as a scientist, but also figuring out what to do in terms of a career. And then even in between those times, all the internships and opportunities I had, I gained a lot of additional. So it wasn’t so much that I picked up a new mentor per se at Sandy or, I mean, I worked with several people that were fantastic and several people did become mentors, but I think I’ve developed a cadre of mentors just along the way. And at each juncture in my life they’ve been so helpful in helping me navigate what those next steps are. 


12:15

Dr. Jonathan Madison
So it’s hard to say pick one because I’ve just collected, I think, so many along the way, but they’ve been with me the whole time and they’ve been so instrumental in every turn and every evolution of my career. 


12:28

Dr. Jonathan Madison
That’s amazing. And I know which we’ll get a chance to dig a little bit deeper, which is probably related to why you are also very dedicated to mentoring and giving back and why you care so much about the equity and making sure we have more different voices in this industry, in this field overall, which we’ll talk about in a little bit. But thank you so much for sharing that. It’s a reminder that mentors are everywhere and we should proactively build those relationships. Building on it. 


12:55

Dr. Jonathan Madison
I’m also curious because one of the things, as you’ve highlighted, and I think I also relate because when I worked in the nuclear weapons security in my previous role before I started my business for innovators box working with a lot of different people are exciting but also can be a challenge because that brings different personalities, different people are passionate about different perspectives, who are very gung ho about their opinions. What has helped you, looking back, navigate those different conversations and problem solving when you’re working in such a high end creative ideation space? Because it could very easily go to a different path that we don’t want of conflict. What skills has helped you? 


13:37

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Yeah, having a lot of conversations, actually. When I was younger, I was a very shy child. I didn’t like talking so much. Yeah, I was nervous, but I got a lot of practice at it. And my parents were always talking to people and working with others and helping others do things. So there are a lot of people in our house, and I just got the opportunity to talk to a lot of people from a young age. 


14:07

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


14:08

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so all those experiences were like a little nerve wracking. I developed a skill set to learn how to talk to people. And one of the skills that I think I developed very early on was learning how to find common ground. Right? So we may be very different, everyone’s different in different regards, but in almost every scenario, if you are thoughtful enough, if you are creative enough, and if you can listen well enough, you can identify and find commonalities, things that you share that are of interest. 


14:41

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


14:41

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so that was one skill that I think I developed very early that has served me tremendously through my career. 


14:48

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


14:48

Dr. Jonathan Madison
No matter how difficult the conversation is. Right. No matter what challenge the topic have to broach or maybe how big you need to think to maybe to overcome a challenge, finding some commonality and common ground, it lets you begin to build rapport, and then once you build rapport, then you can have a path to maybe move forward. And so that is one huge skill that was tremendous. And learning how to find common ground. I think another skill that I developed along the way was learning how to ask good questions. My thesis advisor, we had many conversations, but one conversation that just sticks in my memory that I will cherish to this day. I was on a visitation campus visit for graduate school. 


15:37

Dr. Jonathan Madison
I was coming out of undergrad and going to graduate school, and there was a campus visit, and it was like all the prospective students and then potential mentors, and it was a dinner and a banquet to speak all this stuff. And were talking because were sitting at the same table and I asked her, I was like, you’re extremely accomplished. You’re there. Obviously, I would want to come to this huge university. Go blue. I would obviously want to come here. It’s clear why I would want to come here. But what is it in me that you think would make me a good fit or someone that you would want to take on as a student? Right? And she said, well, you ask good questions, having a deep and scientific curiosity, that’s not something that you can teach. And so that really stuck with me. 


16:34

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so I’ve always endeavored to ask good questions, no matter the scenario, no matter the environment I’m in, because you can always learn something from someone else. And thirdly, this is getting pretty long answer, but the third skill that I picked up is not so much a skill as it is a way of being, which is remaining humble and realizing that no matter how much you acquire, no matter how much you may learn, there’s always going to be someone that’s smarter. And it should be your mission to not stay in spaces where you’re the smartest person. It should be your mission to get to spaces where you’re not the smartest person and you can learn something from someone else, because if you’re the smartest person, then you’re probably not learning in that room. Right. 


17:17

Dr. Jonathan Madison
So if I’m the smartest person in a room, then I’m making my goal to get out of that room and to get into another room where I can learn so I can continue to grow and continue to advance. 


17:25

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


17:25

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so staying humble keeps you open to being able to learn from others and not think that you have the answer all the time. 


17:30

Monica H. Kang
I love that. I mean, finding common grounds, asking good questions, being humble, I mean, that’s the mantra that I know many of our listeners would resonate very much. And I think it’s a powerful reminder that, I think part of the joy, a chance to have these conversations with so many experts and leaders like you is a reminder that, hey, we might all be in different fields, but there’s a lot of beautiful commonality of what it makes to the quality to be consistent. All three of those, no matter where people might be heading their career, are going to be truly important and meaningful. I can actually bet listeners I’ve got a chance to experience this firsthand from Jonathan. 


18:11

Dr. Jonathan Madison
When we first met in 2023, were speaking at an event together, and I was so inspired, and I thanked Jonathan deliberately, many times, because what happened was were at a panel together, NSF was recruiting, and we’ll talk about NSF. I know you’re all curious about it still. We’re going to get there. And I had a chance to speak about one of the disability innovation projects that I’m working with a team. And I was just really inspired. Jonathan really took the time. I’m like, I’m a nobody. I’m still also learning in very early stage. But here’s Jonathan, like, taking the time, learning not about me, but all the other panelists who was in the session, and not just emphasizing the stories, but taking the time to research the audience. 


18:52

Monica H. Kang
And the particular event that were at was Comic Con, where it could be very goofy. But also the question, like, how is this connected to science? And you might be surprised a lot of things, because if you see comic, there’s a lot of science and technology introduced and how we get into fan and the slides and storytelling Jonathan prepared in helping make sure that we had a very thoughtful, very deep conversation, immediately was all possible. Because the three and many things he just highlighted, he does it by practice. I just want to back it up and how I was inspired to want to have him back, to have a deeper conversation here. So let’s now dive into finally, what is NSF? Because after your one full time at Sandia and building all these skills and having these aha. 


19:36

Monica H. Kang
Moments, you had also then made that transition to NSF. Was NSF something in your radar for a while? And what does NSF even stand for? For those who are new and learning about this for the first time? 


19:47

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Sure. No, I really appreciate the question. So NSF stands for the National Science foundation and just a little bit of history. So NSF as an agency is very unique within the government because it’s the only agency that is established explicitly for the purpose of science. And so NSF’s mission is to promote the progress of science, to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare, and to secure the national defense and for other purposes. That was the language that was provided in 1950 in the congressional act that erected the National Science foundation to translate that into today’s terms. What does that mean? That means NSF fundamentally promotes science by investing in research to expand our knowledge in the areas of science, engineering, and education. 


20:34

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so funding science and education isn’t something that NSF does in the side that is our core business, and that is why we exist. And so our director has a few specific goals and initiatives that he’s driving, specifically these in contribution to the mission. They’re specifically looking at advancing research into future means in future and future investments. So how do we enable the technology of tomorrow? By investing, by investments that we do today. Also, accessibility. Inclusion. Right. Meaning we want to provide opportunity for anyone from any background anywhere in the country, to be able to contribute to the scientific enterprise. 


21:16

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


21:16

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so we do that through our investments. And then thirdly, global leadership means leading by our values, leading by our commitments, and standing by not just our decisions, but our decisions to make the world a more productive place by science and contributing to the overall good. And so that’s what NSF does. That’s what NSF’s mission is. And that’s know, my work at the National Science foundation is in contribution to, I just do it within the sphere, specifically of metals. 


21:45

Monica H. Kang
It got it. And so why then make that move? I know you were doing a lot of exciting things in cindy, and how did that opportunity came to you? 


21:53

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Yeah, again, great question. So I was doing my thing. I was happy. I was publishing papers and doing science, and it was great and mentoring students, but doing kind of one at a time and postdocs, and that was fantastic and super fulfilling. But I got to a point in my career where you begin to think about impact, right. And you begin to think about what can I do that can be more impactful than what I’m doing now. Right. And so I think I was certainly having an impact in science, but working at the National Science foundation created an opportunity to be able to have a much broader impact. So instead of mentoring one postdoc directly, now through my work as a program director for the Metals and Metallic Nanostructures program, I can potentially make decisions that touch postdocs across the country. 


22:46

Dr. Jonathan Madison
I literally help participate in the process that impacts the research that is done across the country and numerous institutions all across the globe. I value that. Right. And I appreciated that. And so to me, that was a great opportunity to be able touch science at a broader level and be a resource, but also a positive and helpful steward for my field in a way that is responsible and is a tremendously awesome responsibility. So I’m happy to be able to participate in that service. And so hopefully, I am doing the field well, and my colleagues appreciate the effort to steward the program in a way that’s helpful to the field. 


23:36

Monica H. Kang
That’s wonderful. And so you came to NSF, I believe, at 2020, 01:00 a.m.. I, remembering correctly. 


23:43

Dr. Jonathan Madison
That’s correct. 


23:44

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so now it’s been few years. Thank you for coming during the pandemic. Post pandemic, like around that time. That’s still a big move, transition, as you mentioned, more responsibilities, more impact. How are you also setting in the city? Because life in New Mexico and then Washington, D. C. Greater DC area is a little different. I hope you’re liking it. I’m in DC. 


24:07

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Monica. Yes, it is. Very different. Cost of living. Yes, that’s a change. Weather. That’s a change. Yeah. But it’s great. I think my wife and I, we have a young daughter, and so the opportunities and things that we’re able to expose her to in the city, in the DMV area, it is just unparalleled. And so for all the changes that are a little bit a higher challenge in terms of just life, we count them well worth it for the opportunities that we’re able to expose our daughter to now and participate in ourselves. So it’s transition, but it’s been a good one. It’s been a good one. 


24:47

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Definitely a lot of good museums. So good to look forward to and be inspired by. 


24:52

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Absolutely. 


24:53

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Going back to your now time at NSF to continue to build on that. Tell me, for instance, what your day to day looks like, because the big picture that you shared, I think part of me is like, that’s so cool. But also like, oh, my gosh, that sounds like a lot of responsibility and very busy as well. So how do you make sense of your time? What does your schedule looks like? Bring us there. 


25:14

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Yeah, a lot of reading. It’s a lot. And a lot of reading, a lot of writing and a lot of communicating quite frankly, and so communicating everything from responding to Pis, you maybe have questions, write about the process. 


25:30

Dr. Jonathan Madison
What does PI. For those who know what it is? 


25:32

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Yeah, no, great clarification. So, principal investigator. So those are the names. That’s the title of the person that is submitting a proposal. Principal investigator for research. And so engaging with principal investigators that maybe are interested in putting in proposal, or they want to put in a different proposal because they were funded in the past and want to look at something different and engaging with them to answer their questions, help them navigate the processing all the proposals that come in, identifying reviewers because something that may not be apparent to persons that are not familiar with NSF program directors don’t have the authority to make awards or not make awards. So what we manage the merit review process, which means we identify experts all over the country and all over the world, literally, that are experts in areas that are being proposed to be worked on. 


26:23

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And those experts then weigh in on those proposals and they make assessments and they say, well, this is really good for this reason. This could be improved for this reason, or this is answered problem, potentially. And so we source reviewers that then opine on the quality and the merit of the proposals and the science that is suggested. And then we take all of that feedback from all of these reviewers on every proposal, multiple different reviewers, and then make recommendations based upon the feedback we get and the evaluations from the experts that have been provided. And so NSF is a steward. We’re not a dictator. We’re helping the field identify what they feel as a field of professionals and trained practitioners in an area, it will be the most cutting edge science and the most impactful investments that can be made, because fundamentally. 


27:13

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Right, I mean, there’s a lot of great science, but we can’t fund everything. And so there’s always the item of prioritization day to day. I’m managing that process for the field and for all the proposals that come in, as well as working across the agency on other agency wide activities that require the expertise of a variety of different practitioners in variety of different fields and different areas. 


27:37

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Got it. Well, tell me more about time, energy and stress, how you make sense of all of, and communication, because as you’re sharing it, I think those are four things coming to mind, like how does he fit in 24 hours? I hope he’s sleeping. I do think Jonathan sleeps. He has family time sometimes. 


27:58

Dr. Jonathan Madison
I sleep sometimes. 


28:00

Dr. Jonathan Madison
So tell me more, like what has helped you? Because throughout, actually, your career, you’ve had many roles, like what you’ve just shared, and even more so, especially at NSM, because you’re needing to keep track of the entire time zones and different types of projects and keeping track of trends. How do you manage your time? And. 


28:20

Dr. Jonathan Madison
A. That’s a great question, Monica, and that’s something I’m always trying to improve and get better at. I think one key that I try to live by don’t always succeed, but one key is to try touch things only the number of times they need to be touched. Right. So, for example, if something comes in the queue that is very easy to take care of or simple, straightforward, don’t put that off till later, if you can take care of that now. 


28:54

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


28:54

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so a lot of the pis that are funded in my program, I think they can appreciate and probably will testify. When I’m asked a question, I try to respond rather quickly, and I think sometimes they’re surprised how quickly I respond just because it’s not because I don’t have other things to do, but it’s because I don’t want to have touch it later if it can be resolved now. 


29:13

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


29:13

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so being able to kind of prioritize those things that can be done quickly, I think that’s an important skill. Right. Getting the easy things done is not particularly challenging. Right. That’s why they’re easy things. But being able to identify what is easier or less challenging, other things that I think takes a bit of skill. And if you get real adept at, I think you can save yourself a lot of time. So that’s one of my keys to kind of managing time. You also mentioned stress. I manage stress by choosing not to be stressed out. Right. There’s some things that fit in your box, and you should do a good job. And I make it a point to do the best job possible within my capability and capacity to do things as good and as best as I can. 


30:00

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so people that know me will be like, yeah, that guy, he’s a little much, right. I take my responsibilities in my box very seriously. Right. And so there aren’t too many things that are in my box that are half done because I don’t believe in doing half work. Right. So I operate at a very high level in things that are within my capacity, the things that are beyond my responsibility, that aren’t my decisions to make. I don’t stress over those because I can’t change those, right. And so knowing where my box ends and where others begin, I think that’s important. And accepting that limitation and then letting others do their job, I think that’s another way I manage stress, right. 


30:41

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Because at the end of the day, if I’ve done all that I can do, I can sleep at night, right. And my sleep is very important because I don’t get so much of it. I can’t afford to forfeit any of it. That’s how I’m able to. When my hat is a pill, I go to sleep. I don’t toss and turn because I know that I’ve done all that I can and all that I could, and that’s what helps me sleep at night. So that’s time, stress and sleep. That’s kind of my keys to my daily existence. 


31:11

Monica H. Kang
Got it. I’m hearing a lot of intentional boundary setting, which I think is very powerful and impactful. Tell me a little bit more about your leadership style. How would you describe your leadership style? What’s your strength and where is there. 


31:24

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Is you want to. Yeah. I love this question. And we could have a whole podcast about leadership. So whenever we want to talk about leadership, please have me back. I’m super enthused and energized by leadership as its own domain. I think I read a lot on the topic and I’m always trying to evolve not just my understanding, but my practice in that space. And so I’ve done a variety of different personality. Help me, what’s the word? Personality evaluations and try to put you in. 


32:05

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Yes. 


32:10

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Myers Briggs strength binder. Dunham. Yeah, done it. I don’t want to derail talk about the assessments because everyone’s like, oh, I don’t like that one. Or, oh, yeah, I love that one. I don’t want to be divisive, but I will say some of the things that I’ve picked up from many of them, many of the different assessments is that I’m a consensus builder, meaning I try to find, kind of going back to some of my things I mentioned earlier. Right. I try to find common ground when leading teams. I try to find what is our shared goal? What do we all have passion around and interest, and what is the overlap space in that ven diagram. Right. So what can we maximize in terms of the things that we all agree on or all think are important? 


32:57

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And then in spaces and scenarios where we don’t all necessarily have the same passion, which happens all the time, what are things that we can agree on are important? And then let’s put those goals in front of us and let’s keep those goals in front of all of us. So we’re working towards the same scoreboard because I find that in some cases, particularly when teams have trouble gelling or working together, it’s because people are working on different things. Having a scoreboard that you keep in front of you to say, hey, this is what we are working towards. Are we advancing on this and putting it back in front of us? That’s another, I think, key that I’ve tried to work into my leadership style so we can keep the team unified, whatever that group is. So we’re working towards the same ends. 


33:43

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And I think a third tent pole or third aspect of that is checking individually. No matter how big the team is, your team is composed of, hopefully, persons, right. And so those persons all have constraints, interests, things that are going on outside of that team, things that are internal challenges or struggles or excitements that they have. And understanding where your teammates are individually sometimes can help you come upon outsized opportunities in terms of motivating them or incentivizing them or encouraging them. And so I make it a point to check in with people individually because they’re not just members of the team, they’re people. And people have other things going on besides just what you’re working on together. And so understanding those, one, helps you build rapport, but two, it also helps you understand what is occurring with them. 


34:43

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And maybe they can’t contribute at a certain level because of this thing. And if you could help them with that thing, maybe they can even become a better teammate. 


34:50

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


34:50

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so you never know what you find out. But sometimes you find out the keys towards helping your team become more successful, because that person can now be fully present and engage and bring their gifts to the table in a way in which they weren’t able to previously. So time spent on doing orthogonal things that benefit your teammates, sometimes those things can be crucial to the success of your actual team. 


35:13

Monica H. Kang
Absolutely. And speaking of recognizing the value of individuals and different people, contribution. Going back to one of the big themes of mentorship that we brought earlier, we’d like to revisit, because you also spend a lot of time outside of that to give back to communities and are part of both formal and informal mentoring programs. Tell me over a little bit more. I think it’s not a surprise. Many of us are aware that there’s a lack of representation in Stem, and many are trying to address that effort. What’s the cause of it? What can we do to address it? And tell me your thoughts on that whole topic. 


35:50

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Yeah, I think a lot about this topic, Monica. In my work, we mentioned earlier, accessibility, inclusion. This is one of Director Ponchanathan’s focuses and drives. It’s an aspect of the work at NSF. Right. Globally, not just mean, you know, the agency. Right. How do we drive inclusion and access to the scientific enterprise? I think about a lot of my personal life. I’m an african american male, and it’s not uncommon for me to be the only African American in many spaces that I’m in. Right. It’s a reality. And I also do a lot of volunteer work. Right. In this space in terms of, you know, creating opportunity for. For others that may not be present or are present in an unrepresented status. I have a lot of thoughts on this one, but I will exercise restraint and maybe just share a couple of thoughts. 


36:53

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And one is, I think we have to be specific about what we’re talking about. Right? And so, scientific method. Right. I’m a scientist. Right. Maybe one big part of the scientific method. State the problem. Right. If you state a problem that is innocuous, that is undefined or ill defined, and is not clear, then your chances of solving that problem are very small. Right. We have to be specific about what we’re talking about. So questions like, well, how do we increase the number of underrepresented. Okay, what are you talking about? 


37:30

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


37:31

Dr. Jonathan Madison
I mean, are you talking about latino? Are you talking about African American? Are you talking about Pacific islanders? What are you talking about? And so being specific around what population, what group we’re trying to improve the representation of. That’s a big piece. 


37:47

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


37:47

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so just minority. I’m not even a fan of that word. I don’t like that word. I don’t use that word for many other reasons, but that, as a label, is so broad, it’s not very helpful. 


37:58

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


37:59

Dr. Jonathan Madison
So I have to be specific about who we’re talking about. That’s one. And then two. I think you also have to be specific about, like, well, who are we talking about doing something? Who’s doing something? Right. So persons that maybe aren’t represented, or we’re talking about persons that maybe represent decision making bodies within the larger infrastructure. And so I think on the side of persons that are on the decision making side, I think one thing that we can do, and we need to do is we have to stop treating underrepresentation like it’s an unsolved problem in the sense that there are no examples of progress. I mean, it’s not true. 


38:31

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


38:31

Dr. Jonathan Madison
We have many different examples of how persons and groups that are, quote, unquote, underrepresented have become a larger portion of the population. 


38:41

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


38:41

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so, for example, we’re talking about black history. We’re in black History Month. Right. So talking about African Americans, right. We have many examples of institutions that increase and produce African Americans that participate in stem at amazing rates. And those institutions are called HBCUs, historically black causing universities. They’re 3% of the population of american universities and colleges, but they produce somewhere on the range of 20% to 25% of the bachelor’s degree holders that are african american in STEM. Right. That is an amazing statistic. 


39:16

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


39:16

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so they’re doing a lot of different things that are very helpful. Right. So we need to consider those things, and I think many institutions do, but we have to stop treating like it’s an unsolved problem. And then secondly, and there’s also a lot of institutions that aren’t HBcUs that are doing some amazing things, that have taken things from the HBCU model and then implemented those at majority institution. 


39:37

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


39:37

Dr. Jonathan Madison
I think UNBC, the Meyerhoff Scholars program. I mean, phenomenal program. 


39:42

Monica H. Kang
Right. 


39:42

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And there’s several others that are replicating those in majority institution environments. So I think stop treating it like it’s an unsolved problem. And we don’t have any really good examples of how to do it at scale. I think we actually do have some. 


39:53

Monica H. Kang
Right? 


39:53

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so we also have to appreciate that the implementation is specific. And so what works for the goose does not necessarily work for the gander. So there’s no one size fits all solution. But there are many examples that we can utilize that we can learn and piece together solutions, right? And so we do this with science all the time. Right. We don’t think that because this works for magnesium. So this is always going to work for every other metal. Right. Anytime we talk about science, we don’t talk about that level of generalization. So I think we need to not talk about that, not use that level of generalization or generalizable solutions to situate the scenarios of underrepresentation. That’s on the side of majority institutions, right, and majority agencies and situations like that. 


40:37

Dr. Jonathan Madison
But I think on this other side of persons that may hail from underrepresented populations, I think one key is to appreciate and understand that your mentors, they may not look like you, and that’s okay. And that’s okay, right? And so don’t wait to find someone that, well, he looks like me or she looks like me, so I can do this. Don’t get me wrong, being able to see yourself in the role is important. I’m not discounting that. But to start and to get into a field and get into an area where you’re underrepresented in terms of maybe your group, however you identify yourself, then chances are the persons that you identify initially will not look like you. That’s why you come from a group that’s underrepresented. 


41:24

Dr. Jonathan Madison
So being able to appreciate that and realize that and accept that is good and is important because getting in to a space is costly. And there’s some other challenges to being the first in a space. But understanding that those that mentor you initially, they may not look like you and they may not have the same life experiences. But that’s okay. Because if you’re willing to stick it out, then you might be able to be the person that does look like the next person that comes along. And their interest might be a little bit easier, a little bit less challenged, and the inertia might not be as high for those that come after you. 


41:59

Monica H. Kang
That is so powerful. And I love the thoughtfulness and I hear the science and the data that you’re sharing with us to keep in context, which is so important. Building on that, to celebrate black History Month. One of the questions I have asked all my guests this month so that we do all a better job as listeners and participants to introduce this to new people that we can learn from. So could you do shout outs of three innovators who you. They can be in science, they can be in different fields, but who happen to be black innovators that you would recommend us all to learn about? And I’ll double check with you after the show so that I have the correct spelling so we can put it in the show notes. 


42:39

Monica H. Kang
But could you shout out three people that we should all learn from who happen to be black innovators? 


42:45

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Oh, wow. 


42:46

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Not just this month. 


42:47

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Okay. 


42:48

Monica H. Kang
Continue to learn from them. 


42:50

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Wow. Okay. So this is a very good question. Wow. That’s powerful. I do have some. And so one, Chris Imden. Chris Imden, he is a professor, and I think he’s out of New York, but he’s written several books. A book that he just wrote, or a book that he wrote recently that I’ve just finished devouring, I think, last year, is called Ratchademic. And in it, he presents a new model of education, particularly stem education and engagement for young people that is based upon not only cultural relevance, but also being very. I won’t say not just creative, but being very intentional in terms of the pedagogy utilized. Right. And unlocking creativity as opposed to encouraging rope memorization. He has many other different thoughts, but that’s just kind of a sound bite a piece. Yeah, he’s prolific. 


43:52

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Another person that I would encourage, and this is not stems explicitly, but it is education. And he writes a lot about the educational experiences of African Americans in this country and puts it in a context that I think is so powerful. His name is Jarvis Givens. He’s a professor at Harvard University. And he’s written a book I’m reading now, actually. It’s called fugitive pedagogy. And he talks about the educational expectations as well as educational advancements of African Americans and how through history, actually, African Americans have been very devoted to education. So much so they did it at the expense of their lives in many cases. So he talks about that, and he puts it in the context of Carter G. Woodson. And then actually, the third person I would recommend is a historical figure. So those first two are contemporary persons. 


44:47

Dr. Jonathan Madison
The third person is actually, I think, Carter G. Woodson. So he was African American. He’s long since been gone, but he pioneered black History Month, which was initially called Negro History Week. And so he did a lot of things. And he was actually probably one of the most well educated African Americans of his day. He spoke three different languages, German, Spanish, English, and one other language. But he went to Harvard. He taught in the Philippines and was the son of slaves. And so he did. Amazing. And he had a lot to say about the educational system and how we could be successful in terms of educating all the population, not just those that maybe or have the opportunity to be educated pre civil war. 


45:42

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so he’s another person I think is worth looking into and worth learning about because he had a lot of critiques, but he also had a lot of thoughts to offer around education and how understanding your culture and your place in history impacts your ability to not just learn, but see value in what you’re learning and drive you towards becoming a contributor of knowledge to a greater enterprise. 


46:09

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so those are the three persons that I would offer for the audience to consider and to look at and to view their writings and to look more into, because I think not only they have very important, impactful things to say, I think the lives they live themselves are tremendous examples of what not just can be, but how you mix your passions with your profession to produce something that’s not just culturally relevant, but beneficial to the community and to all that’s so inspiring. 


46:41

Monica H. Kang
We’re definitely going to make sure we have the correct spelling. So, folks, again, who’s listening, you’ll probably be able to find the show notes, come to our website, or if you get lost, just simply ask [email protected]. So we make sure that you get to learn who these three individuals are, including Jonathan. So now you have four people to get a chance to learn from. We covered a lot of different grounds. Jonathan, time has already passed so much. Thank you so much for being here, sharing your story, inspiring us all in what we can and cannot do. I think I’m going to remind ourselves about the importance of communication, and communication, common grounds. Any other final words of wisdom that you want to share with the innovators out there, no matter where they are? 


47:18

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Yeah, I do. And that’s the thought that when we find things that we’re passionate about, oftentimes we may think that, I enjoy doing this thing, but I can never make a living at it. And some people say, hey, this is the thing I like. So I’m going to figure out how to do it and forget everything else. And I just want to encourage the audience and the listeners to think about marrying your passion with your profession, but doing it in a way in which your passion is able to intersect even traditional roles. Right. And so even if you, as an innovator, maybe your role and your employment is not a traditional role, that’s fine. I want to encourage everyone to think about how the things that you’re passionate about can have an intersection with kind of the established infrastructure on many different things. 


48:18

Dr. Jonathan Madison
And so I found a way to be able to bring in my passion on education and science and access to underserved populations with my role as a program director, because these are goals of the agency at large. And so it’s important to have persons that are passionate about things that are also parts of larger systems so that passion can be inserted and realized in those larger systems. Because if we don’t bring passion to places that are already existing, then the chances for those existing places to change and evolve is sometimes very small. So I just want to encourage everyone to remember your passions, but also think about how you can utilize your passion, not just to do something different, but to influence existing infrastructures, because they need passion and they need people so important. 


49:07

Monica H. Kang
Find your passion, think about all the different skills, work on it, remember the quality. What’s the best way, Jonathan, that people can follow up with you and learn and stay in touch with you? 


49:18

Dr. Jonathan Madison
Yeah, so I am on LinkedIn, but I also am a program director, so I don’t give out my name and my phone number, two willy nilly. But the NSF website, www. NSF. Gov is a great place to find out more about NSF. And you can find me there particularly for our interest match. And you have a technical interest, but I’m also available via LinkedIn as well. So love to connect. And obviously I think I’ve shared some things that I’m passionate about. And so if we have shared interests, shared goals, would love to work with you. 


49:50

Monica H. Kang
Love it. Well, Jonathan, thank you so much for joining here. I’m so glad we can have you. Thank you folks for tuning into another episode. We will see you next week with another story. So thank you so much. I’ll see you later. Bye. 


50:09

Monica H. Kang & Team
Thank you so much for tuning in to another episode at Curious Monica. I’m your host and executive director of the show, Monica King, founder and CEO of Innovators Box and Little Love. Shout out to our team who made this show possible for you today. From Innovators Box Studios Audio engineering and producing Sam Wehmerd Audio Engineering assistance Ravi Ladd website and marketing support Cree Panday Graphic support Leah Orsini Christine Aribal original music by Innovators Box Studios and executive producing, writing and editing and interviewing and all jazz by me, Monica Kang I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation. Please send us a note for any feedback and suggestions and questions that you have at [email protected] have a wonderful day and see you soon. 

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