Council addresses pandemic effects on society, engages in all-day diversity workshop

The ASCB Council convened its first-ever entirely virtual meeting in June. Not surprisingly, the impact of COVID-19 on university research labs and other biomedical research institutions and industries around the world dominated much of the conversation on the first day of the Council’s online gathering. During the second day, councilors participated in a diversity, equity, and inclusion workshop facilitated by experts in that field. The Council also discussed Society publications, plans for the annual meeting, honorific awards, the budget, policy, and trends in membership.

The Council meeting began with President Eva Nogales praising the agility of ASCB staff to quickly pivot its activities to produce a variety of valuable online content for members. ASCB CEO Erika Shugart reported on the progress made to various components of the Society’s strategic plan. Shugart also informed the Council that members had approved new bylaws, which go into effect on January 1, 2021.

With the future of in-person gatherings uncertain due to the pandemic, the Council heard from Alison Harris, Director of Meetings, about the options for canceling the in-person meeting in Philadelphia in December and converting programming onto a fully virtual platform. The ultimate outcome of this discussion was the decision by Council to exercise that option, and also to offer free attendance to the meeting for ASCB members.

In light of economic downturns, Mark Leader, ASCB’s Director of Publications, recommended no changes to the author fees for the Society’s two journals, CBE–Life Sciences Education and Molecular Biology of the Cell (MBoC). The Council heard a preliminary report from publishing consultant Raym Crow about a possible new revenue model for MBoC called Subscribe to Open (S2O). Council was enthusiastic about the model, which is designed to make MBoC open access while preserving the subscription revenue ASCB receives from the journal, but decided to delay a vote until Crow’s final report was ready in July. (Council subsequently approved adopting S2O; see p. 22.)

Brian Theil, ASCB’s Director of Membership, reported that Society membership fell by 13% from the same time in 2019. Due to the pandemic, many of the planned membership recruitment campaigns had to be postponed. Although membership dues have not increased in three years, Council agreed to postpone rate increases in light of the many challenges and hardships that universities and faculty members are currently facing. In other news, Theil remarked that use of and engagement on ASCB’s Online Community, which was launched in the summer of 2019, has steadily increased since March. He noted that member usage of digital resources and the new “Ask Me Anything” series have likely contributed to this increase.

The Awards Selection Committee sent a memo to Council regarding the need for a more diverse pool of both nominees and nominators for the E.B. Wilson Award. The Council acknowledged that the pool of applicants should reflect the diversity of ASCB membership and that nominating may have been hampered because members were dealing with effects of the pandemic. Council decided to extend nominations until July 15.

ASCB welcomed new Director of Finance Uloma Nwauche, who presented the Society’s finance and audit report. The Council approved the audit, which had been reviewed previously by the Finance and Audit Committee.

ASCB’s Director of Public Policy Kevin Wilson reported on the Society’s recent policy activities, which included letters sent to Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, and to Congresswoman and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on labor issues stemming from COVID-19. Specifically, Pelosi was asked to include visa extensions of one year for F-1, J-1, and H1-B visas for foreign scientists currently in the United States and working in biomedical research laboratories.

The following day, the ASCB Council and some senior staff members engaged in an intense all-day training that had coincidentally been planned in advance of the racial turmoil that had recently erupted in the United States. The training was facilitated by the Kaleidoscope Group, a Chicago-based consulting company that helps organizations develop diversity, equity, and inclusion “solutions that achieve measurable outcomes and sustainable change for results.” The training with the Kaleidoscope facilitators was written into a grant awarded to the ASCB Minorities Affairs Committee (MAC) by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences’ Innovative Programs to Enhance Research Training (IPERT). The training resulted in a variety of near- to long-term actionable items to fulfill the Society’s goals to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in everything it does. Read more about the outcomes of this training in the blog post at www.ascb.org/society-news/ascb-diversity-inclusion.

About the Author:


Mary Spiro is ASCB's Science Writer and Social Media Manager.