Shining Our Light on Science

Jodi Nunnari

As I write this, I am looking forward with great anticipation to the ASCB|EMBO Meeting in San Diego, which is guaranteed to deliver inspiring science and scientists. Let’s party! I am in awe of the time and effort spent by both member volunteers and the ASCB staff to make this meeting a reality. I sincerely want to thank all of you. In particular, I’d like to thank the Program Committee and its Co-Chairs, Sam Reck-Peterson and Thomas Langer; Elaine Fuchs and Sean Morrison, who created this year’s Doorstep Meeting focused on stem cell biology; and Alison Harris and Ashley Sarris for their outstanding organizational support. I also want to thank the EMBO leadership, and EMBO Director Maria Leptin in particular, for continuing to partner with us at this meeting, emphasizing once again that scientific progress is an international endeavor. At the meeting, I will be passing the gavel to our incoming President, Andrew Murray. With his wisdom and vision, I am confident that the ASCB will be in good hands.

I am a better person and a better scientist for having served [as ASCB President].

Reflections on the Past Year—Rewards and Accomplishments

This year has been rewarding on many levels.

First and foremost, as I have discussed previously, I believe very strongly that scientific societies such as the ASCB are essential to our development as effective and successful scientists.1 Being ASCB President this past year has only strengthened that belief. I am a better person and a better scientist for having served.

Second, our efforts to maintain and reasonably expand government support for basic scientific research are paying off. In late September of this year, the 2019 budget for the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education and Defense was signed into law (see p. 39). The bill included a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—the fifth consecutive year that the NIH has received an increase. (The increase was $3 billion last year.) This signals that biomedical research in the United States enjoys rare bipartisan support. The increases to the NIH budget will hopefully translate into better and more consistent funding for ASCB members. This success is a product of efforts of organizations like the ASCB—with its outstanding Public Policy Committee under the leadership of Chair Connie Lee and Public Policy Director Kevin Wilson—and our partner The Coalition for the Life Sciences. I urge you, as I did in the beginning of my presidency, to seek opportunities to engage in public outreach so that this level of support continues.

Third, we developed a path for the ASCB’s future. Under the excellent leadership of our CEO, Erika Shugart, we created a strategic plan last year.2 I am happy to report that we are beginning to reap its benefits. For example, our efforts to democratize our society to make it more diverse and inclusive led to an exciting surge in the number of exceptional volunteers for our vital committees this year. I am constantly amazed at the “deep bench” of the ASCB membership, which attests to the excellence and value of our Society. Many other worthwhile efforts are well underway. One example is that we are actively pursuing how to implement ASCB regional activities, such as scientific meetings and career development, to add to the benefits of our membership year round. Stay tuned.

Struggling with Challenges

But this year past year has also been challenging in many ways.

I admit to struggling at times to maintain a positive attitude in the face of a barrage of world events that seemingly threaten the principles I and many of you believe in. I know that you, like I, feel the same anxiety—a reality that significantly compounds the already stressful lives we lead as scientists whose careers live and die by our ability to coax facts out of nature. Thus, for whatever it is worth, I feel compelled in this goodbye column to share some simple beliefs that have enabled me to cope and even grow in the current environment.

I believe that struggle is necessary to fully develop your potential. Don’t avoid struggle, but rather embrace and harness it to work for you. I believe that a conscious decision to struggle makes you resilient and mindful, traits that I have found essential to succeed in difficult situations. If you are resilient and mindful, setbacks are transient because you place them in the context of your many successes, which should always be present in your mind, enriching your self-confidence.

Don’t avoid struggle, but rather embrace and harness it to work for you.

I also have found that planning for the future can be counterproductive (don’t tell Erika, as she works to implement our Strategic Plan). Resist developing really long-range plans and instead let the present direct your way. It is liberating to act on the knowledge that although life may seem out of control, you do (or should) have complete control of your own actions and emotions. Use that control actively to conduct yourself reasonably, to make sound decisions based on facts, and to enrich the lives of those around you.

Challenges in Membership and Publishing

With this philosophy in mind, I am steadfastly committed to helping the ASCB tackle the challenges it faces in the coming years. In an expanding and ever more specialized science landscape, maintaining membership levels in scientific societies is increasingly difficult—ASCB is no exception. Support the Society by your continued membership and promote, as our Past President Pietro DeCamili has said, “the centrality of cell biology” to recruit new members.3 Please also consider donating to the ASCB to enable the programs that support science, advocacy, professional development, and outreach (

We are also challenged by the changing landscape of scientific publishing. Recently, research funders in Europe announced Plan S, which is an open-access publishing initiative.4 In a nutshell, by 2020, scientists who receive funding from these agencies must publish their work in a completely open access journal. One motivation behind Plan S is to accelerate discoveries, which aligns with the values of ASCB. Indeed, our journal Molecular Biology of the Cell (MBoC) is exceptional in that it has only a relatively short two-month embargo and offers content free in developing countries.

Plan S also seeks to address the significant cost associated with publishing in for-profit journals, which in many instances also retain copyright of the published material—issues explained in thoughtful detail by Mullins and Walter in a previous ASCB President’s Column.5 Under Plan S, publication in large for-profit paywalled journals, like Cell and Nature, will be off limits, but publication will also be off limits in journals such as MBoC that are run by small nonprofit publishers and societies. Thus, the type of open access promoted by Plan S may threaten the relatively modest revenues we receive from MBoC, which represent crucial support for our societal activities. However, I am confident that the Society will struggle through whatever changes Plan S will nucleate to yield a productive and positive outcome for the benefit of science and our membership. We view potential obstacles as opportunities to innovate. Indeed, at the ASCB|EMBO Meeting you will learn of ASCB’s participation in a new journal network that has the potential to accelerate the publication of your work.

With sincere gratitude for the opportunity you have given me to serve the ASCB as its President, I would like to leave you with this heartfelt quote from Gloria Steinem: “…I’m not giving up my torch, thank you! I’m using my torch to light other people’s torches….If we each have a torch, there’s a lot more light.” So, please get out there and shine your light on science, on the Society, and most of all, on those personal and professional friends and colleagues who travel the path with you.


1Nunnari J (2018). The complete scientist—a call to arms. ASCB Newsletter 41(1), 3–5.

2Shugart E (2017). The next five years for ASCB. ASCB Newsletter 40(4), 3–5.

3De Camilli P (2017). The centrality of cell biology. ASCB Newsletter 40(1), 3–5.

4Science Europe (2018). Plan S: Accelerating the transition to full and immediate open access to scientific publications.

5Walter P, Mullins D (2016). On publishing and the Sneetches: A Wake-up Call? ASCB Newsletter 39(8), 3–8.

About the Author:

2018 ASCB President

Recommended Articles