It is an honor and a privilege and, to be honest, also a bit daunting to take on the role of President of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. I joined the society, then the American Society of Biological Chemists, as a graduate student in the 1980s. I have participated in several capacities over the years, never imagining myself president; yet here I am.
Maybe it’s not that surprising. My scientific pedigree includes two presidents of the ASBMB. My graduate and postdoctoral advisors have held the position: Daniel E. Koshland Jr. in 1973 and Gregory A. Petsko from 2008 to 2010. In addition to being outstanding scientists and fantastic mentors, both have served or continue to serve the scientific community in many ways, and by example, they have instilled the value of service in their trainees. Commitment to service is part of my scientific heritage.
I hope that contributing to the community is part of every scientist’s identity. Not only does it benefit the community, but it can also be personally rewarding to contribute beyond the limits of one’s own research. I suspect this is one of the many reasons you joined the ASBMB. Would you like to become more involved in the activities of the society? If so, I’d love to help you explore how.
But before diving into future service, I want to reflect on the past. Barbara Gordon retired in early 2021 after nearly 50 years with the company – 18 as Chief Executive. Her enthusiasm and dedication to the ASBMB are well known to all who have had the pleasure of meeting her. Barbara was named an ASBMB Fellow this year, becoming the first Affiliate to be so honoured. We wish him a happy retirement.
And I would like to express immense gratitude to Toni Antalis, our outgoing president, who guided the ASBMB during the two difficult years of the pandemic. Despite the physical isolation and boredom of seemingly endless Zoom meetings, the ASBMB has maintained remarkable momentum on recent initiatives. It is reassuring to have Toni’s continued guidance as we move forward.
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of basic and applied scientific research and the community of scientists who have quickly reoriented their work and collaborated effectively to meet emerging needs. The BMB discipline, with a mechanistic aim, has been at the heart of diagnostic and therapeutic advances. However, the pandemic has also illustrated the need for a better understanding of science and the scientific process in the public and government sectors. Public funding of scientific research must be a priority. Appropriately training the next generation of bioscientists for diverse careers will ensure a strong pipeline for the scientific workforce, and the pipeline must be broadened by promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.
A 2020 survey of ASBMB members indicated that, besides funding, the professional issues of most concern were the public perception of science (including science literacy and how to communicate with the public); work-life balance; and diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in the scientific community.
The ASBMB has initiatives that address all of these areas and provide ways for members to participate. However, members are not always aware of these initiatives or how to engage with them.
For example, the main concern of the members was the public perception of science; 41% of respondents ranked it first.
However, 22% indicated elsewhere in the survey that they were unaware of, or could participate in, ASBMB-supported science outreach activities; 29% said they were unaware of or could participate in advocacy activities such as our annual Capitol Hill day and advocacy training program; and 29% indicated that they were unaware of the ASBMB’s Art of Science Communication course or that they could participate.
Myself, I have not always been aware of what the ASBMB does. For years I paid my dues, published articles in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, attended the occasional annual meeting, and leafed through the latest issue of ASBMB Today if time permitted. It wasn’t until I joined committees that I began to understand what the ASBMB is.
I joined the Council in 2008 and have been continuously involved since then as a member of the Education and Professional Development Committee, or EPD; the finance committee; and the Accreditation Steering Group. I got to know the ASBMB. I was integrated into an incredible network of people and learned a lot that can be directly applied in my career as an academic researcher. My desire to teach initially motivated me to pursue higher education, and my participation in EPD reconnected me with my interest in education. Through EPD activities, I have learned the challenges and best practices in education, knowledge that I regularly apply in my role teaching medical students, as coordinator of the summer research program of undergraduate at my center, as co-director of a T32-funded graduate training program, and as chair of our university’s academic planning committee. Yes, I gave time, but I received much more in return.
In future posts, I plan to introduce you to the ASBMB committees through interviews with committee chairs. We will focus on some of the society’s many initiatives and provide a personal perspective from the scientists who direct the activities of the ASBMB. I hope some of these topics will match your passions. You may want to become more involved in society by communicating with committee members or volunteering to serve on a committee yourself. In March, ahead of the ASBMB’s annual election in June, we solicited nominations, including self-nominations, for vacant committee positions. We look forward to expanding representation and welcome your participation.
So get involved and contact us. The ASBMB is your company. Its impact is determined by what we do together.