CSR’s Politis Retires
Dr. Alex Politis, chief of the infectious diseases and microbiology integrated review group (IRG) at the Center for Scientific Review (CSR), retired in June. He served as IRG chief for 19 of his 23 years at NIH. Politis likened parts of the job as chief to his days of coaching basketball, baseball and soccer teams.
“I operated the IRG like a team,” he said. “There were circumstances where we had to scramble to get things done despite obstacles. The unit needed to act together. Motivation was a major issue. Respect for one another was another major issue. It all happens in athletics as well as administrative-type situations like an IRG.”
Politis grew up playing sports, especially soccer, north of New York City. He credits good teachers in high school and the State University of New York in Cortland for cultivating his interest in biology.
He discovered his love of teaching while in graduate school at Florida State University. Politis continued teaching during his doctoral and postdoctoral research and training at the University of Maryland and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS). He was a research fellow, associate and assistant professor at USUHS from 1988 to 1994.
While at USUHS, Politis served as an ad hoc reviewer for the Journal of Immunology. In 1994, he joined the journal staff as assistant editor.
“That job introduced me to peer review and science administration,” he noted. “When I applied to CSR as a review officer, it seemed a natural fit.” He joined CSR as a scientific review officer of the immunological science study section in 1998, then became IRG Chief in 2002. Although he had little previous management experience, and some colleagues cautioned he may not like it, “my absolute favorite part of the job became building the team,” he said.
“He has always been a wonderful, supportive, uplifting colleague,” said Dr. Sally Amero, who also joined CSR in 1998. After leaving CSR to become the NIH review policy officer in OER, Amero would regularly ask Politis for help in training new extramural staff and in peer review policies and procedures.
“Review staff are tightly connected,” she said. “He was cognizant of that and promoted cooperation and respect across NIH. He also has a knack for using humor to make a point or communicate complicated messages.”
From 2015 to 2020, Politis teamed with CSR scientific review officer Dr. Gagan Pandya and Dr. Robert Eisinger, senior scientific advisor in the OD, to work on the $20-million Antimicrobial Resistance Diagnostic Challenge Prize, a project co-sponsored by NIH and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).
“Alex was important in developing the criteria in how the proposals would be reviewed,” Eisinger said. “He also ensured that reviewers had relevant technical and scientific expertise to evaluate this novel competition.” On this and other initiatives, Eisinger added, “Alex has been on the cutting edge of how to keep the NIH review process aligned with where the science is and to ensure that peer review is a level playing field.”
For Politis, retirement so far has included travel to visit family, woodworking and golfing with his son. “I showed him how to play when he was 3 or 4 years old,” he said. “Now he’s giving me lessons.”