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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

CSR’s McDonald Retires After 30 Years

Dr. Daniel McDonald smiles sitting at his office desk.

Scientific review officer Dr. Daniel McDonald retired in July.

It may seem that Dr. Daniel McDonald followed a linear path from graduate work to Johns Hopkins to serving in the Center for Scientific Review as a scientific review officer, a position from which he retired in July after 30 years.

In fact, he says, “Many times, it seems like an unseen and divine force led me on my path.” He has appreciated every twist and turn.

McDonald was born in the Washington, D.C., area but moved frequently because of his father’s job with the National Security Agency. He attended middle school in Ottawa, Canada. He originally wanted to enter West Point, but fate led him to St. Bonaventure University, where he majored in physics and met his wife Georgia.

Shortly before graduation in 1970, unsure of the next step, he spotted a flyer about fellowships in health physics sponsored by the Atomic Energy Commission. Accepted, he went to the University of Rochester. 

“The department [of radiation biology and physics] was robust,” he said, explaining that graduate students took an introductory course to learn about the faculty in order to choose their own areas of focus. “I ended up in bone biology in part because I connected with the strong group of folks in that field.”

He earned his master’s and Ph.D. with research on bone cell metabolism.

In 1975, McDonald moved to Maryland with his wife and then 1-year-old daughter for what he thought was a postdoc position in the Johns Hopkins Orthopaedics Research Laboratory.  

“What I found out was I wasn’t coming for a postdoc but to replace the person who interviewed me,” he said. “It was a surprise to say the least.” 

McDonald remained at Hopkins for a decade. In addition to receiving several NIH grants, his lab undertook contract work for NIH.

The “unseen force” that charted his life led him to NIH in 1986. Ready for a change, McDonald was about to join the National Institute on Aging when a government freeze prohibited new hires. After the freeze, the Division of Research Grants, now CSR, hired him.

McDonald managed 5 study sections, served as chief of 2 integrated review groups and orchestrated peer review for approximately 7,500-8,000 applications by involving nearly 1,500 extramural scientists. He fondly recalled the guidance provided by staff and study section chairs. “The collegiality was, and is, wonderful,” he said.

McDonald, in turn, fostered that collegiality with others. 

“Dan was a pillar of CSR,” said Dr. Rajiv Kumar, chief of the musculoskeletal, oral and skin sciences IRG. “He provided strong leadership in planning and implementation of peer review policies. While maintaining his commitment to NIH policies, he always nurtured a cooperative environment.” 

McDonald lives north of Baltimore. Despite a 114-mile round-trip commute, he was active in community life. A former baseball/softball and still-active tennis player, he coached youth sports for 20 years. He sings in several parish church groups. McDonald began birding 20 years ago, initially to share a hobby with his wife. They have birded in Central and South America and Australia. In October, they will visit South Africa.

Looking back at his career, he acknowledged that despite, or because of, the surprises along the way, he enjoyed the winding path.  

“This was an opportunity I never could have envisioned when I was younger,” McDonald said.  

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