Council Reflects on Achievements, Setbacks
in 2021

ASCB’s Council met virtually on Sunday, December 5, 2021. ASCB’s President for 2021, Ruth Lehmann, welcomed Martin Chalfie as the 2022 ASCB President and Erika Holzbaur as President-Elect. New CEO Rebecca Alvania gave a brief introduction. 

Motions approved during this meeting included:

  • The Minorities Affairs Committee charter updates were approved.
  • Council approved the draft for the 2022 annual meeting program.
  • The 2022 budget was reviewed and approved. 

Director of Public Policy and Media Relations Kevin Wilson and Director of Communication and Education Thea Clarke served as co-CEOs after Erika Shugart departed in March 2021. 

Wilson reported on ASCB’s COVID impact membership survey, which indicated that nearly 80% of investigators said they lost from three to nine months of grant-funded productivity. Wilson said that the Public Policy Committee sent two letters to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) regarding the importance of considering the impact of COVID on future grant applications and funding decisions. The PPC also wrote to Congress expressing concerns over the creation of an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) at the NIH, which would make research funded by contracts and not grants. 

Clarke provided a long list of wins for ASCB in 2021, which included receiving a $1.4 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for the Partnering to Advance Imaging Research for Underrepresented Minority Scientists program. Also funded were the Doorstep meeting, the Faculty Research and Education Development program, the new LED-BIO LEAPS program, scholarships from the International Federation for Cell Biology for African, Latin or South American researchers for life science training, and Public Engagement and COMPASS Outreach programs. In addition, ASCB hosted 29 webinars. 

Council member Bill Bement of the University of Wisconsin reported on the progress of the Awards Task Force. After discussion, the Council summarized its goals to increase award visibility to get more nominations for awards; keep nominations active for more than 1 year; have other committees consider including multiple people for award nominations; and seek ways to recognize junior scientists. 

Director of Membership Brian Theil reported that as of November 2021, membership is down 7% overall and 10% for Regular members, year-over-year. It was noted that membership in 2020 increased due to the free meeting registration with membership incentive, which was not offered in 2021. Treasurer Malcolm Campbell of Davidson College requested that ASCB determine costs involved in increasing and retaining membership.

In her review of the 2022 annual meeting program, Director of Meetings Alison Harris noted that seven of the 16 speakers (41%) chosen for the 2022 meeting come from underrepresented groups, which mirrors the U.S. population. The Inclusion Buddies program (where buddies were grouped with Program Committee members to help increase speaker recommendations of underrepresented groups) helped increase speaker diversity for this program. But Harris proposed making Inclusion Buddies at-large members of the Program Committee, which would have them be more involved in the program development process. Council approved this transition. Harris also said people applying to co-chair Minisymposia would no longer need to be members at the time of application but would need to join if chosen to organize a session.

Director of Finance Haben Kubrom reported that ASCB has continued to lose operational revenue due to the impact of COVID-19. However, insurance payments, investment portfolio gains, and relief from the Employee Tax Credit and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) from the CARES Act have helped offset deficits and have also provided additional cash flow for ASCB. Kubrom offered a forecast of 2022 with budget assumptions that included expected attendance at the 2022 in-person meeting, expenses, membership, investments, and PPP loan forgiveness.

Clarke returned to update Council on the progress made in the Society’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Action Plan. The most notable achievements were more refined questions regarding DEI on the member survey and the addition of a DEI statement on applications for ASCB volunteer service. Council members then broke into six smaller groups to brainstorm other actions and ideas for improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Society. 

Chair of WICB Mary Munson from the University of Massachusetts reviewed activities surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Women in Cell Biology Committee. WICB found many ways to celebrate this year, including a partnership with Molecular Biology of the Cell to publish Perspectives and “favorite papers” reviews from women cell biologists. Derek Applewhite and Fred Chang reported on the LGBRQ+ Committee. This committee had many achievements in 2021, publishing blogs, hosting a webinar, and working on developing a speaker list. 

About the Author:

Mary Spiro is ASCB's Strategic Communications Manager.