Behind the scenes at ASCB

As a member of ASCB you know that we support cell biologists by helping them share their research through our journals, Molecular Biology of the Cell and CBE—Life Sciences Education; network at our Annual Meeting; and enhance their careers through professional development opportunities, but you probably don’t know much about what happens behind the scenes at ASCB’s headquarters in Bethesda, MD. Like many scientific societies, ASCB has a dedicated staff who make sure that the organization fulfills its mission, provides value to its members, and remains financially viable. The staff does this in partnership with volunteers on the ASCB Council and committees. Here is a peek at some of the people and their jobs. I will also highlight ways that you can become more involved if you are interested.

Erika C. Shugart, ASCB Executive Director

Erika C. Shugart

ASCB has over 8,000 members, about 175 active volunteers on the Council and in committees, and 20 professional staff. Most of the staff members have spent their careers in nonprofit organizations and are very motivated by the opportunity to help strengthen the scientific enterprise at an organization that has a positive impact. Our membership manager, Marta Chacon, says “In my 20+ years of membership experience, I am gratified to see motivated ASCB members leverage resources and other members of the Society to advance their careers at a rate they could not do alone.”

A Variety of Expertise
Staff members have different areas of specialty. For example, we have two science policy experts on the team, Kevin Wilson and Lynn Marquis. They both started their careers serving congressional members on Capitol Hill and have since worked at organizations with an advocacy focus. ASCB is known for its work in the policy area, both on the Hill, where we advocate on issues such as science funding, and as a leader on issues such as immigration and reproducibility.

Down the hall, our marketing and communications team manages the website, writes content for the Newsletter, and gets the word out about our programs. The team managed by Thea Clarke includes Mary Spiro, a professional science writer; Leeann Kirchner, whose expertise is graphics and marketing; and Will Pierce, a WordPress developer. They also work closely with our Newsletter editor, Mark Leader.

The Staff and Volunteer Partnership
Several staff members have degrees in science and two have PhDs in the life sciences, but we depend on our volunteers and members to keep us up to date on the latest scientific discoveries and important science issues that may impact our members. This is why the staff and volunteer partnership is so critical. Staff spends a significant amount of time working with committees of member volunteers to accomplish the work of the Society.

Having a solid volunteer and staff relationship works best when a partnership is formed that uses the strengths of each party. ASCB is fortunate to have a great group of volunteers on our Council and in our different committees. For example, the Annual Meeting Program Committee works through a series of phone calls to identify hot topics, amazing speakers, and organizers of the scientific sessions. Meanwhile our small but mighty meetings team, Alison Harris and Heather Smith, manages all of the logistics from registration to signage to exhibit hall breaks. This year they have been working closely with the staff at EMBO to make our first joint meeting a success. The upcoming 2017 ASCB|EMBO Meeting is expected to attract 7,000+ attendees. Alison and Heather also use their 20 years of combined experience in large conference best practices to provide a strategic vision for the meeting that includes an emphasis on professional development as well as scientific excellence and balances opportunities for member input with the guidance of the Program Committee.

A major initiative over the last year was the close work that I did with the ASCB Council and the committee chairs to develop a new strategic plan for the organization. This plan emphasizes the need for expanded programming in career enhancement and professional development. We are fortunate to have a new staff member, Sydella Blatch, a former associate professor who has expertise in teaching and professional development. With the assistance of Fabiola Chacon, she works closely with the Women in Cell Biology and Minorities Affairs Committees and the Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS) to produce many of the professional development programs at the Annual Meeting. Now she is working with these groups to develop year-round and online offerings.

Working with Other Societies
ASCB staff also spends time meeting and collaborating with staff from other societies. The majority of U.S.-based scientific societies are headquartered in the Washington, DC, area. This means that there are a lot of opportunities to meet in person to share best practices and develop joint projects. Currently CEOs from scientific societies as diverse as the American Geophysical Union and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology meet monthly and speak weekly to discuss issues ranging from the impact of the administration’s immigration policy on our members and meetings to ideal sizes for boards of directors. This has resulted in the societies’ quick response to challenges in the science policy area as well as opportunities such as the March for Science. Additionally, we have partnered with four societies on a joint National Science Foundation–funded project called the Promoting Active Learning and Mentoring Network. This program was established to spark sustained biology education reform at diverse institutions through one-on-one mentorships for faculty new to approaches based on Vision and Change recommendations.

Funding and Logistics
ASCB is a multimillion dollar business, and members of our finance team, Beth Esquerre, Kelly McManus, and Winnie Cheng, keep their eyes on the bottom line from the start of the budgeting cycle to the end of the financial reporting cycle. They work with the Finance and Audit Committee and ASCB Treasurer Gary Gorbsky to ensure that we have thorough and complete audits and are adhering to accounting and industry standards. All of the staff members with programmatic duties spend part of their time raising funds because revenue from programs does not cover all of our costs. We focus on federal and foundation grants as well as corporate support. All of the grants are written in collaboration with committee members who often serve as co-PIs. Corporate support has mainly been focused around meetings. We are successful in landing federal and foundation support for programs that promote diversity, support science education, and provide professional development.

In addition to the larger strategic and operational work, the ASCB staff manages the logistics to keep the Society running smoothly. This may take the form of processing hundreds of travel awards before the Annual Meeting or it may be working with journal editors and authors to manage the publication of a paper. It is writing up meeting agendas and minutes. It can also be identifying resources that can help a committee do its work more effectively. We also field thousands of emails, calls, and tweets each year from members who need help, have an idea, or want to share an opinion. The ASCB staff is there for the members and we love to hear from you.

The ASCB staff and volunteer teams keep the Society strong and vibrant. I know I speak for all of the staff when I say that it is an honor and a privilege to work at such an amazing organization. If you are not already involved with the Society, we would love to work with you.

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