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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NIGMS’s Haynes Retires After 35-Year Federal Career

Haynes in dune buggy with lake behind her.

Dr. Susan Haynes rides into retirement after a 35-year federal career. She will spend part of the time at her Idaho cabin near Payette Lake (shown here).

Photo: Carl Baker

“I’ve always been a fly person,” said Dr. Susan Haynes on the eve of her retirement from NIGMS. 

Those pesky insects that feast on brown bananas and other overripe fruit in your kitchen were a key part of Haynes’ career. As a scientist working in the field of developmental biology, she turned to fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) to answer fundamental questions about the formation of egg cells and sperm. She taught graduate students about fruit fly genetics and even started a local Drosophila interest group. 

“Advances in my field have exploded dramatically because new tools and methods have made it possible to ask and answer more complex questions,” she explained.

For the last dozen or so years, Haynes played an integral role in its progress—not as a scientist but as a research administrator. In her positions of program director, branch chief and twice-serving acting director in NIGMS’ Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology (GDB), she coached young scientists on getting their first research grants, mentored other program staff on interacting with grantees and laid the groundwork for new initiatives.

“She always put the investigators first, us second and herself a distant third,” said Dr. Dorit Zuk, GDB division director. 

When Haynes joined NIGMS in 2005, she was already familiar with its mission and programs. After receiving her doctorate in molecular cell biology from Rockefeller University in 1982, she completed a series of postdoctoral fellowships, including one funded by NIGMS’s F32 training program and hosted at NICHD. She stayed on at NICHD as a senior staff fellow and investigator until 1999, when she moved across the street to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. An NIGMS research grant helped her establish and carry out her fruit fly studies.  

This in-the-trenches experience of applying for and receiving her first R01 grant helped Haynes understand the grant applicant’s perspective and appreciate the importance of offering an objective viewpoint.

And it rubbed off on Haynes’ colleagues. “Susan led by example,” said Dr. Kristine Willis, whom Haynes hired and trained. “She conveyed the importance and responsibility of being a program director and set top-level standards for performing the job.”

Staff outside of NIGMS also benefitted from Haynes’ wisdom and approaches. For 4 years, Haynes presented at and moderated group discussions in an NIH training program for new program directors. 

As science advanced, Haynes’ portfolio of grants shifted. For several years, she oversaw projects that were pushing the boundaries of stem cell biology. As a result, she got involved in the NIH stem cell task force, which explored the promise and challenges of this field. Haynes also organized workshops that brought together NIGMS-funded stem cell biologists to share their progress and discuss the resources and knowledge needed to drive the field forward.  

Haynes’ other responsibilities included developing and directing a program that provided supplemental funding for collaborative research projects and co-chairing the NIGMS strategic plan steering committee. 

“Susan is a true NIH’er whose historical perspective and deep scientific knowledge have aided NIGMS in so many ways,” said Dr. Judith Greenberg, NIGMS deputy director and former GDB division director. “She will be missed.”

In retirement, Haynes plans to finally focus on herself. “It will give me an opportunity to rediscover my hobbies,” she said. At the top of her list—gardening and watercolor painting. 

She’s excited to begin this phase with her husband, Dr. Carl Baker, who recently retired from NIAMS. They plan to spend part of each year at their cabin in Idaho. Maybe she’ll come to love fishing flies, too.  

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