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New Leadership at the NICHD Child Development and Behavior Branch

One of the newest programs within the CDBB is run by Associate Chief and psychologist Dan Berch and is focused on math and science cognition and learning.

By Karen Studwell

In March, Peggy McCardle was selected as the new Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch (CDBB) at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). McCardle had been Acting Chief for approximately a year following the departure of psychologist Reid Lyon. In May, McCardle and Dan Berch, Associate Chief of the CDBB, sat down with APA Executive Director for Science Steve Breckler and Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer Karen Studwell to discuss some of the new directions and opportunities for psychological scientists within the branch's research portfolio.

Given the prominent role that Lyon played in the President's education reform efforts, the branch became particularly well known for its work on reading and reading disabilities. McCardle emphasized that, while reading remains an important research topic, there are other priority areas as well within the branch and views this time as an opportunity to educate investigators about the broader mission of the branch that ensures a balance across several domains of child development and behavior research.

One of the newest programs within the CDBB is run by Associate Chief and psychologist Dan Berch and is focused on math and science cognition and learning. The program was established in 2002 and supports basic and intervention research on math and science cognition from infancy through the undergraduate years, including research on both normal and atypical development in these areas.

Valerie Maholmes, manages the portfolio on Affective and Social Development/Child Maltreatment and Violence. In June, NICHD held a strategic planning meeting with developmental psychologists and other researchers to identify future funding priorities in the program.

Lynne Haverkos directs the Behavioral Pediatrics and Health Promotion Research program that is focused on risk behaviors and risk prevention.

And in June, Jim Griffin, a psychologist who has spent the past few years at the Institute of Education Sciences, joined NICHD as the director of the Early Learning and School Readiness research program. The program encompasses the Interagency School Readiness Consortium, which examines preschool curricula that integrate various areas of learning and child development. In addition, a new consortium is being formed of grantees who have recently been funded to develop new, theory-driven measurement approaches for use with young children, designed universally for large-scale studies and diverse populations.

Lisa Freund directs the Developmental Cognitive Psychology, Behavioral Neuroscience, and Psychobiology Program that funds everything from basic developmental cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience research to basic and cognitive neuroscience to behavioral psychobiology.

McCardle herself still directs the program on Language, Bilingualism and Biliteracy Development and Disorders, but also has been covering the Human Learning and Learning Disabilities program formerly directed by Lyon, which has been renamed the Reading, Writing, and Related Learning Disabilities program. The Branch is currently recruiting for a program director in Reading, Writing and Related Learning Disabilities.

While there is a high concentration of behavioral research within the CDBB, McCardle also pointed out that there are program staff across the NICHD who are interested in behavioral research, and investigators should not overlook funding opportunities in these other branches. Staff from several NICHD branches have initiated a Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Consortium to share ideas about how behavioral research can be incorporated across the institute and into NIH-wide initiatives like the Roadmap.

McCardle sees continuing research opportunities for psychological scientists despite the recent cuts to the overall NIH and NICHD budgets, while recognizing that there remain deep concerns within the scientific community about the likelihood of receiving NIH funding. McCardle offered some good news for those seeking funding from her branch, whose budget was nearly $130 million in FY05. Psychologists applying for CDBB programs have fared quite well despite budgetary constraints affecting the Institute and the NIH overall. This is due in part to the traditional policy at the NICHD to fund research based on the quality of the applications as judged by peer review. Under this approach to decision-making, CDBB has received a significant share of the overall NICHD budget based on the high quality and scientific merit of applications in those areas of research.

For new and experienced investigators alike, McCardle recommends talking with program officials at the Institute before applying for funding. These discussions can help stimulate new ideas or assist researchers in enhancing their proposals to meet both the branch's priorities and the high standards to which the peer reviewers will hold them.

Representatives from CDBB will be available for consultations for those attending the APA convention in New Orleans. Valerie Maholmes will be a panelist at the session titled "Practical Guide to Federal Funding for Child-Adolescent Mental Health" on Friday, August 11, from 2:00 - 2:50 pm, and the session titled, "Research and Training Funding: Discussions with Representatives from Federal Agencies." This session is sponsored by the APA Women's Programs Office, to be held on Friday, August 11, from 11:00 am - 12:50 pm. Lisa Freund will Chair an invited symposium, "Symbol-Minded Primates-Cognitive Competencies and Future Directions," to be held Thursday, August 10, from 9:00 - 10:50 am. Both Maholmes and Freund will be glad to answer questions and discuss potential grant ideas while in New Orleans.

More information about the branch, how to reach specific program directors, and descriptions of specific research programs can be found online.

For information about the application and review process, write to any branch program director, or visit the Grants webpage.