A jack-of-all-trades in the U.S. science policy arena, Bruce Darling says that becoming executive officer of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) will put him right exactly where he wants to be: in the middle of a "problem-rich environment" at an institution with the talent and resources to make a difference.
Darling, now vice president for laboratory management at the University of California (UC), was named today to the job of overseeing day-to-day operations at NAS and its operating arm, the National Research Council. He replaces William Colglazier, who last fall became science and technology adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. NRC employs 1100 people and has an operating budget of about $300 million.
The son of a U.S. foreign service officer who grew up in South America and is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, Darling, 59, has worked within the UC system since 1980. He spent 15 years at the University of California, San Diego, before taking on the job of overseeing the university system's relationship with the state and federal governments. He played a major role in restoring ties between UC and the Department of Energy that were frayed after national security breaches and management missteps more than a decade ago threatened its long-time role as contractor for DOE's Los Alamos and Livermore national laboratories.
His résumé demonstrates an ability to seize opportunities when they come his way. His first job after graduating from UCLA with a degree in international relations was as a grants officer at the National Science Foundation (NSF). But within a few weeks he became the unofficial interpreter for the director of the Mexican equivalent of NSF, CONICYT, during a visit to the foundation. That ad hoc role gave him a taste for national science policy that has never waned, he says.
His lack of an advanced scientific degree or any experience in a lab has never been a problem, he notes. "You earn respect by doing a good job," he says. And he confesses, "I get a vicarious pleasure in seeing the accomplishments of others in science and medicine."
Darling says he has long admired the work of his new bosses—presidents Ralph Cicerone of NAS, Charles Vest of the National Academy of Engineering, and Harvey Fineberg of the Institute of Medicine. But he says it could be several months before he can orchestrate "an orderly transition" at UC and take up his new job.