ASCB council votes on changes that impact MBoC journal, annual meeting


The ASCB Council met online on May 24.

Changes at MBoC

Director of Publications Mark Leader made several recommendations for the journal Molecular Biology of the Cell (MBoC). While he recommended that author charges should not be increased for MBoC or for CBE—Life Sciences Education (LSE), he did recommend that MBoC become a “hybrid journal” so that authors who want to (or are required to) publish open access immediately could do so by paying an additional charge. Currently journal articles remain behind a paywall for two months before becoming open access. The Council voted to approve this proposed change. Leader also recommended that library subscription rates for the journal not be increased for 2022.

MBoC Editor-in-Chief Matthew Welch remarked that MBoC has launched a curation project that will begin over the summer with the journal’s Early Career Editors assigning badges to articles in MBoC and preprints on BioRx. He also mentioned that in the fall MBoC will switch to a continuous publication model, similar to LSE, where articles will be published online as they become available, gradually filling each issue. This will enable the journal to move from having 24 regular issues a year to 12 while still publishing articles more rapidly.

Meeting Changes

Director of Meetings Alison Harris summarized the outcomes of the 2020 meeting and looked forward to Cell Bio Virtual 2021. The meetings team is currently testing a variety of virtual meeting platforms to find one that will provide a richer poster session experience. She thanked the Council for deciding early to have a virtual meeting. Harris proposed several changes to the 2022 meeting. One change would increase the length of Symposium sessions and include speakers from trainees through junior investigators along with more senior invited speakers. Additional speakers would be identified through the abstract submission process as well as through recommendations from the Program Committee. The intent of this change would be to help increase the diversity of Symposium speakers. The Council passed the recommendation, which will begin with the 2022 meeting.

Harris’ second recommendation was to remove the abstract submission coupon code from Special Interest Subgroups for invited speakers. The intent of this proposal was to create more equity in the selection of speakers for these member-organized sessions. The Council had a lengthy discussion on how to best approach this solution. The Council passed this recommendation, and this change will take effect beginning with the 2021 meeting.

The third proposal was to alter the rules by which Minisymposium co-chairs are selected. Because the ASCB is committed to ensuring there is diverse representation in its programs, the proposal would allow the Program Committee to nominate and invite a handful of Minisymposium co-chairs from outside the pool of those who applied. The Council passed the recommendation. This change will be in effect only for 2021. In addition, the ASCB will work hard to increase the diversity of applicants for 2022 and beyond.

Harris also reported on the diversity, equity, and inclusion training for the Program Committee track chairs and co-chairs and Minisymposia chairs. She described a pilot program called “inclusion buddies” that she hopes will create real behavioral changes. The meeting program is modeled after a program currently being used by members of the LSE  editorial board. With this program, each inclusion buddy would lead a training and orientation with no more than three participants. The goal would be to identify methods to help participants find diverse speakers to give talks in the Symposia and Scientific Workshop sessions at the meeting. The program would run for at least two to three years and will be evaluated each year to see if goals are being met. Council members were enthusiastic about the idea of the inclusion buddy program. Harris suggested this type of training could be expanded to the Special Interest Subgroup organizers in the future. To help with diversifying Minisymposia speakers, Harris also indicated that for the first time this year abstracts will be undergoing blind scoring to remove potential bias. Only top-scoring abstracts will be presented to the Minisymposia co-chairs to be scheduled into sessions.

Other Reports and Actions

Interim co-CEOs Thea Clarke and Kevin Wilson provided an update on the status of the Society. Clarke reported that the Kavli Foundation will be providing $30,000 to fund a 2021 Doorstep Meeting on the Cell Biology of Neurodegeneration to be held virtually on November 30. She also noted that the International Federation for Cell Biology will donate $250,000 to ASCB toward the support of trainees from Africa and South America. The program developed with these funds will be held in partnership with the Marine Biological Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. This program will start in 2022. She added that Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation, is supporting another round of Public Engagement Grants, and the newest five recipients will be announced soon. She noted that 55 graduate students and postdocs are participating in the 2021 Virtual Biotech course being held June 7–11.

Wilson reported that ASCB worked with the Genetics Society of America to draft a letter to send to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) regarding concerns over proposed changes to their model organism databases. The letter was sent to NIH Director Francis Collins, as well as to the directors of several NIH institutes. Wilson also remarked on the policy statement published on the ASCB website condemning hate crimes against Asian Americans. 

The Council discussed a proposed interim Conduct Rules and Procedures policy, drafted by ASCB’s legal counsel. The proposed policy includes language on ASCB Community Codes of Conduct, especially within virtual spaces. A vote to approve was tabled until further changes are made.

Representatives from Isaacson, Miller gave a status report on the search for a new ASCB CEO. The recruiters stated that the position profile is complete and active and that a roster of potential candidates is being developed to be presented to the search committee. Two meetings with the search committee are planned for the summer to begin narrowing down the list of people to interview. Councilors had a few questions about the recruitment process and what qualities were being considered.

The Finance & Audit Committee and new Finance Director Haben Kubrom announced that the Society had a clean audit. Treasurer Malcolm Campbell reported that the Society’s investments provided a safety net against financial challenges experienced during 2020. The Council voted to approve the audit. Kubrom reported that the Society’s early decision to pivot to a virtual meeting plus some insurance claim payouts have helped to offset deficits and improve cash flow. She also said that ASCB has received two Paycheck Protection Program loans.

Brian Theil reported that membership numbers are trending in the right direction with new and reinstated members increasing due to the fact that membership offered free attendance to the 2020 annual meeting. He said that two-thirds of the new members were either graduate students or postdocs. The challenge remains to keep these new members engaged beyond the meeting.

Stephanie Gupton on behalf of Omar Quintero, Chair of the Nominating Committee, gave a report on this year’s new Committee procedures. The Council discussed ways to improve this process, and Committee liaison Azra Chughtai stated that she would confer with Quintero to further improve the procedures.

About the Author:

Mary Spiro is ASCB's Strategic Communications Manager.