Erika C. Shugart, ASCB Executive Director

Erika C. Shugart

I have now had the pleasure of leading ASCB for a year. I have had the good fortune of getting to know many of you during this time and I look forward to the opportunity to meet more of you in the future. As I have become more familiar with the Society’s programs, I am proud on behalf of our members of the work that we do. In May the ASCB Council, committee chairs, and editors-in-chief met to discuss a strategic plan drafted by a set of five working groups that describes a path forward for the next five years. I introduced this plan in an article earlier this year and am delighted that I can now share some of the key components with you here. There are some exciting new initiatives that will be explored and, if viable, expanded in the coming years.

Centrality of Cell Biology

Promote the centrality of cell biology to diversify membership, expand partnerships with adjacent disciplines and societies, and help others see themselves as cell biologists.
Cell biology is a broad, evolving discipline. Members may identify themselves as cell biologists, neurobiologists, disease researchers, or by many other disciplines. The Society has always appealed to a core group of cell biologists, but the field has evolved and has become more transdisciplinary. We need to take steps to ensure that we are relevant to new areas of exploration and to researchers who may not initially see themselves as cell biologists.
We have identified a prioritized list of scientific areas that we think will benefit from increased emphasis in the Annual Meeting and other programs of the Society. These include:

  • Cell biology of stem cells
  • Cell biology of diseases (specific areas could include, but are not be limited to, cancer, neurodegeneration, immunology-related disorders, and host–pathogen interactions)
  • Biophysics and quantitative approaches to cell biology
  • Cell biology in the context of tissues and of tissue development, more generally in the context of cellular communities
  • Neurobiology

Moving forward we will expand into these areas of science by a sustained focus at our Annual Meeting as well as in our publications while maintaining a focus on core cell biology that is the foundation of the Society. We will also seek out partnerships with emerging initiatives such as the National Institutes of Health 4D Nucleome Project, National Cancer Institute emphasis on mitochondria and inter-organelle communication, and the cell atlas initiatives from the Allen Institute, the Broad Institute, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. In addition, a special, deliberate effort will be made to reach out to scientists in industry. This is especially critical given that many of our graduate student and postdoc members will pursue industry-related careers.

Promotion of Inclusiveness and Transparency

Further democratize the Society by ensuring leadership and decision making reflect the broad range of the membership and their interests and priorities.
Like many societies, ASCB exists in large part because of a dedicated group of individuals who are active in Society governance and programs. However, for ASCB to remain vital it is essential to make sure that we are as inclusive as possible and capture the ideas of as wide a range of members as possible.
ASCB is an international organization with over 8,000 members. To capture the energy of such a large and widely distributed membership, ASCB will be conducting pilot programs to explore ways for members to organize themselves by geographic location or by interest group. Such self-organization opportunities have already been successful for the ASCB membership as evidenced by the popularity of Special Interest Subgroups at the Annual Meeting. Thus, I anticipate that these new ways for members to meet, network, collaborate, and share their enthusiasm for cell biology will become an essential part of ASCB membership.

During our strategic planning process, we discovered that many members do not know how to actively contribute to the Society. Under this initiative, the earliest changes will increase the transparency of our governance and committees, making it easier for people who want to be involved to find a role in the Society that fits their interests and time availability. We also will create a leadership development program to help members learn essential skills required for leadership positions at ASCB and at their home institutions.

Leadership in Science Outreach

Expand leadership in science outreach, including science literacy for the public and advocacy/public policy.
ASCB has always “punched above its weight” in advocacy, but current times call for new approaches. This plan lays out a bold vision for where we might go in the public outreach and policy realms.

In public outreach, ASCB will focus more on efforts to help you, our members, become effective communicators. We will be building an outreach toolkit that will be helpful for a range of outreach activities from speaking at your child’s elementary school to participating in a local science café or walking the halls of Congress.

In the policy area we are going to accelerate development of position papers and explore new ways to reach out to policy makers. ASCB has a strong track record in helping to establish policy with white papers on stem cells, reproducibility, and immigration. In this tradition, we anticipate that future papers will focus on both science and the politics and business of science.

In the past we have focused most of our advocacy efforts on Hill Days and letter-writing campaigns. In the near term we will shift to more efforts to reach policy makers at the local level such as through town hall meetings and lab visits. We are excited to explore a more radical approach: establishing a political action committee (PAC) to voice the needs of scientists to our government officials on Capitol Hill. This concept will be carefully discussed and vetted with ASCB members. Please provide your feedback!

Career Development and Enhancement

Become the essential provider of career development for members in each career phase and for the many career paths cell biologists take.
Whether you are a graduate student considering a nonacademic career or a mid-career researcher pondering your next leadership challenge, ASCB will be your source for professional development training. We plan to expand our current programs at the Annual Meeting and to have more year-round and on-demand flexible training opportunities to fit into our busy members’ schedules. We also plan to expand topics focused on nonacademic career paths.

We have a strong track record in career mentoring from our Women in Cell Biology and Minorities Affairs Committees and we recognize that there is a wealth of member experience we can build on. We will expand on these strengths and continue our successful development of an advisor and mentor network that can also be utilized by the scientific community at large to identify more inclusive and diverse meeting speakers.

Financial Stability

Grow and diversify funding of ASCB.
Our goal is to support our operating budget with revenue from programs and fundraising so that we can use surplus from our investments to experiment with pilot programs and to provide stability in poor economic times. It is our hope that some of the new initiatives described above will increase revenue in our three main revenue sources: membership, meetings, and journals. We also think a number of the proposed impactful programs will appeal to funders. I am optimistic that we are on the path to sustainability.

Next Steps

We have a vision. Now we need to make it a reality. The first step is to get your input. We welcome input from ASCB members. Questions and comments are welcome and should be sent to ascbinfo@ascb.org.


“ASCB,” “The American Society for Cell Biology,” “iBioSeminars,” “DORA,” and “Molecular Biology of the Cell” are registered trademarks of The American Society for Cell Biology. “Cell Image Library” is a common law trademark of The American Society for Cell Biology.

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Erika Shugart

Erika C. Shugart, PhD, is ASCB Chief Executive Officer. Previously she was Director of Communications and Marketing Strategy at the American Society for Microbiology and Deputy Director of the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences.