There was a famous TV commercial in the ‘80s featuring a fierce old woman holding a gigantic fluffy bun wrapped around a miniscule hamburger patty. “Where’s the beef?” rasped the woman as she probed into the deceptive bun. The expression has become a proxy for addressing “value proposition,” not only in important fast food matters, but also more broadly. It’s a legitimate question to ask professional societies as well. Where’s the beef? Why should I join? What do I get for my membership? As Executive Director of one of the nation’s largest professional scientific societies, ASCB, I remind myself that everything that we do must offer members a precise and specific value. This month, ASCB has embarked on a new initiative aimed at our younger members. So I must open the bun and look inside.
The value proposition of an organization like ASCB is particularly important for the younger members who are our core constituency. Political scientist Robert Putnam, in his book Bowling Alone, explains that social associations—bowling leagues or gardening clubs—had their heyday in the 1960s and ‘70s. But today’s young people feel that the pressure of limited time and money make such social aggregates more “expensive” than they were for previous generations. So, it’s even more important that we at ASCB ask ourselves what is the value proposition of each new initiative that the Society proposes. Everything we do at ASCB needs to justify itself as an expense of money and of time.
With this in mind, I feel confident that the new graduate student and postdoc committee authorized at the last Council meeting and now fully appointed will address a very important need and a core focus of our Society—professional development. The idea of involving graduate students and postdocs in this vital undertaking is that when we talk about training a strong workforce in cell biology and basic sciences, we have to be clear that we don’t do this to trainees, we do it with them.
So I was very pleased by the deluge of volunteers to serve on the new graduate student and postdoc committee; we received over 60 applications from an outstanding group of people. The ASCB Executive Committee (EC) had been tasked by Council with selecting chairs and approving members for the new committee. Selection was a tough job for the EC; it was not easy to choose from among such outstanding candidates. In evaluating volunteers, the EC looked for a solid scientific track record, as well as demonstrated interests in science education, training, and communications. The selectors also looked for leadership skills, so that ASCB would be able to count on an active, productive, and vocal committee.
I am really pleased to announce that Jessica Polka, a postdoc from Harvard Medical School, and Theodore (Ted) Ho, a graduate student from the University of California, San Francisco, will be the first co-chairs for this important committee. Here’s the complete roster of members. Congratulations to all. I look forward to meeting you in person at the Annual Meeting in New Orleans. And thank you for choosing a cool name for your committee—Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS)!
So, where is the beef? What should this committee deliver? I think that the committee needs to define its own agenda, within its general charge from Council. This revolves around three main themes:
Help ASCB Council and the EC develop strategies for ensuring that our scientific workforce remains strong and well trained. We need significant input from postdocs and graduate students to ensure that we can develop not just white papers—which are still very important—but also concrete projects involving demonstrations, pilot programs, etc. Some programs are already in place, e.g., the local meetings organized by postdocs and graduate students, which can be disseminated and advertised more.
Take ownership of and help shape some of the many career development initiatives that occur at the Annual Meeting. The 2013 ASCB Annual Meeting will emphasize professional development; President Don Cleveland and Program Chair Arshad Desai have created a specific professional training “thread” that will run through the program.
Work with the new ASCB Post and revamped ASCB website. As grad students and postdocs, the committee’s members live on the front lines of research and can become “embedded” reporters for ASCB communications. Their dispatches can report scientific information, overlooked news, fine details, and some of the fun stuff that makes lab life bearable. For the next generation of scientists, communicating the importance and the excitement of basic research is going to be critical for professional survival. The new ASCB Post and website can become an outlet and a training arena for those skills. The new committee can make that real.
With this great group of early career scientists, the ASCB hopes to add value for all young ASCB members. Beef or tofu, we look to them to deliver value, taste, and time.