Joan Sereno to lead NSF’s Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences Division

A portrait of Joan Sereno on a blue background.

NSF welcomes psycholinguistics researcher and leader Joan Sereno.


June 23, 2022

Psycholinguistics researcher Joan Sereno has been selected to lead the National Science Foundation’s Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences Division. Sereno will guide more than a dozen NSF research programs spanning multiple areas of study including psychological, cognitive, anthropological and geographical sciences. She will serve as division director through NSF’s rotator program, which recruits U.S. scientists, engineers and educators for limited-term leadership positions of up to four years.

Sereno is a professor and researcher in psycholinguistics — a field focused on the cognitive and psychological processing of language. Her research explores the fundamental neural functions underlying language comprehension and production and their application to how languages are taught and learned. Sereno is co-director of the Phonetics and Psycholinguistics Laboratory at the University of Kansas and was chair of the university’s linguistics department. She has served in several other leadership positions including chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Linguistics and Language Science Section. Sereno earned her doctoral and master’s degrees in linguistics from Brown University.

“As a researcher and scientific leader, Dr. Sereno has advanced our understanding of how the human mind learns to do an extraordinary thing: communicate through language,” says NSF Assistant Director for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Kellina Craig-Henderson. “We are excited that she is joining us at NSF and leading our efforts to support research focused on exploring the nature and development of the brain, human behavior, interactions with the environment and other areas critical for the prosperity and well-being of people in the U.S.”

“Understanding human behavior is key to unlocking new discoveries in many scientific disciplines as well as broadening the communication of those discoveries to other scientists and the public,” says Sereno. “I’m honored to join the National Science Foundation and look forward to supporting the groundbreaking work being done by so many behavioral and cognitive science researchers.”

Sereno begins her NSF appointment on Aug. 29, 2022. She succeeds outgoing division director Marc Sebrechts, who has led the Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences Division since 2018. Sebrechts is also a participant in NSF's rotator program and will return to his position at Catholic University where he is a professor of psychology and director of the Cognition and Virtual Reality Laboratory.

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2022 budget of $8.8 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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