Now More Than Ever

I am writing this column just before Cell Bio 2022 (although you may be reading this after it has occurred) and just after I have returned from my first in-person scientific meeting since the pandemic started (a meeting on mechanobiology in Australia). That meeting, as I am sure will be the case with Cell Bio, reminded me of all the things I have been missing: renewing friendships and learning about new results (and sometimes not so new) that I had either not heard about or had forgotten). Most of all, it reminded me of the joy of talking about the science and even arranging collaborations in the many off-session conversations. Even with jetlag, I felt rejuvenated. I was excited about the field and had even compiled a list of speakers I wanted to invite to my department, so more people could hear what they had done. 

Martin Chalfie

Cell Bio 2022 will be this and more. How could the largest annual gathering of cell biologists not be? If you are reading this after the meeting, I hope it was as rewarding for you as I feel it always is for me.  If not, please let our new president Erika Holzbaur or me know how you would like it improved.

As this is my last President’s Column, I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on what I have learned about the Society, think about its future, and thank the many people that have made the Society so strong. Being president has given me a chance to look at the inner workings of the Society. One aspect of the Society that I feel most people are unaware of is that the Society has a staff of 21 astonishingly hard-working people, led by our remarkable CEO Rebecca Alvania. These people organize and manage our meetings and work and support our many ASCB Committees. They also run groups that we have started like the Coalition for the Life Sciences and DORA (Declaration on Research Assessment). They ensure that we publish high quality journals, write and administer our many grants, and think constantly about ASCB’s role not only for our members, but also for society at large. ASCB is so much more than an organization that publishes a journal, puts on an annual meeting, and periodically recognizes its members with prizes. What has impressed me most about ASCB over the years is its activism for science, scientists, and society. 

I have seen this first hand in my weekly Monday morning Zoom calls with Rebecca. We both started our positions in the Society about the same time. I followed the excellent leadership of ASCB 2021 President Ruth Lehmann and Rebecca took over directing the Society from Erika Shugart. Rebecca has been amazing. She is constantly thinking about where the Society is going and how we can accomplish everything we want. The vast majority of the time, my role has been to be amazed at her ideas and initiatives. With Rebecca and the staff, we are in exceptionally good hands.

Unfortunately, I don’t have space to thank all our staff members, but I would like to single out a few people who have been particularly helpful to me over this last year.  First, I want to thank Director of Meetings Alison Harris who wouldn’t even let caring for a newborn prevent her from overseeing all aspects of the meeting and putting in a seemingly endless number of 16-hour days to make sure everything ran smoothly. Alison, with the help of our Program co-Chairs Avery August and Maya Schuldiner and all the members of the Program Committee, put together a spectacular meeting for Cell Bio 2022. While all the ASCB staff members have impressed me with their dedication to the Society, I’d like to single out Director of Finance Haben Kubrom, whose financial acumen has been very welcome to the Society, Strategic Communications Manager Mary Spiro, who valiantly tried to get me to write my President’s Columns on time (even though she wasn’t successful), and Director of Public Policy and Media Relations Kevin Wilson, who was willing to field all of my crazy questions about public policy issues. These people and all of the staff are why the ASCB is so strong.

I also want to thank the members of the Executive Committee—Past-President Ruth Lehmann, Upcoming-President Erika Holzbaur, and our President-elect Sandra Murray, Treasurer Malcolm Campbell, and Secretary Kerry Bloom—for their friendship, their insights, and their dedication. These are amazing people, and I have been privileged to work with them. I am excited to see what ASCB will be under Erika’s and then Sandra’s leadership. They both have a vision for what we can become that I envy and admire. 

Over this year, I have had a chance to learn about the many efforts underway at the Society, and there have been many. Foremost has been the continuing push to promote cell biology and cell biologists at all levels and to broaden our field for all people. We still have challenges ahead—from the continuing need to ensure that ASCB and our field are welcoming all scientists to addressing the ever-changing landscape of journal publication and access to scientific results. We also have to consider how we can best support the careers of our many members and envision what those careers will be in the future, and how we can ensure the financial viability of the Society. In other words, we need the ASCB more than ever. And for this, the ASCB needs you more than ever. Ideas on how to better the Society don’t just come from the staff, Executive Committee, Council, or even our committees. They come from all of us. Please don’t hesitate to share your ideas and suggestions. Next year, ASCB will renew its five-year strategic plan. This reevaluation of our future goals and aspirations requires new initiatives and innovative thinking, with contributions from all of us.  The members, not the leadership of ASCB, are our greatest strength. Please join the conversation. I feel particularly honored to have been part of it this last year.

About the Author:

ASCB President Martin Chalfie is University Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University.