NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

CSR Associate Director Swartz Retires to Ohio

Dr. Karyl Swartz
Dr. Karyl Swartz

Dr. Karyl Swartz grew up in Wooster, Ohio, where she returned after her recent retirement from the Center for Scientific Review. She attributes her varied career to “different paths that opened at just the right time.” One common thread was her commitment to advancing her own research while working to involve more underrepresented minorities and women in biomedical and behavioral sciences. 

“Karyl came to CSR [in 2011] as director of the Division of AIDS, Behavioral and Population Sciences,” said Dr. Richard Nakamura, former CSR director. “But from my perspective, her major mission was to help the underserved within the health arena.”

Swartz led CSR’s Early Career Reviewer (ECR) program. ECR has developed more than 3,000 qualified scientists without NIH review experience to participate in CSR study sections. “It helps people enter the review process, learn about it and become more able to write successful grant applications to NIH,” she said. “It was very gratifying to be part of it.” Preliminary data show high female and underrepresented minority participation, and that the program does promote careers.     

“Karyl’s interest in supporting minorities and women in science made her an excellent match for guiding the ECR program,” said Dr. Noni Byrnes, CSR acting director. “And her enthusiasm certainly contributed to its success.”

Swartz entered the College of Wooster in her home town with a plan to work with people with developmental disabilities. The college is known for its undergraduate independent study program, which exposed her to research.

“Once I entered graduate school, there was a shift in my interests,” she said. “Rather than the educational aspect, I realized I wanted to study cognitive processes in animal models, especially monkeys.” Her interest in behavior, such as mother-infant attachment interactions, led her to study more basic behavioral processes, she explained. She earned her Ph.D. in psychology at Brown University. 

Swartz taught and ran a lab at Lehman College of the City University of New York for 25 years. In addition, “Lehman gave me an opportunity to pursue my interest in diversity and promoting underrepresented scientists,” she said, noting that the Bronx college has a large underrepresented minority enrollment. She directed several NIH-funded programs to support minority students and faculty in science, including the NIMH Minority Research Infrastructure Support program and the NIGMS Minority Biomedical Research Support program. 

At Lehman and while a scientist with the Great Ape Trust of Iowa from 2004 to 2011, Swartz became a research associate at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington. She spent 13 years studying memory organization in orangutans. 

“One of the great aspects about working with great apes is that they are not just data, they are individuals. You get to know them and they know you,” she said. Although the research ended when she came to NIH, part of her leave-taking from the Washington area included visiting the orangutans, especially a favorite named Bonnie. 

Swartz returned to Wooster with her two large Leonberger dogs. “I’ve come home and it’s a good fit,” she said. After becoming re-acquainted with her home and college town, she plans to do community work and possibly return to primate research in some way. 

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