Checking out

Published June 29 2016

My tenure as president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is coming to a close, and this is the last of the essays I will contribute to ASBMB Today. I’ve stumbled and bumbled my way through the past two years, but it has been fun. Reflecting on what has happened, I take some measure of pride in three things.

First, we have appointed Lila Gierasch as the new editor-in-chief of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The JBC is our flagship journal. It is of utmost importance that we do anything and everything possible to ensure that the JBC sustains its reputation as the premier journal for publication of discoveries in the broad field of biochemistry.

I can think of no person better qualified to steer the journal than Lila — she has verve, style, energy and moxie. Lila is a biochemist/biophysicist of international fame. Lila also has been a successful leader of her department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, so this will not be her first rodeo as a scientific leader. Finally, Lila is already simpatico with the fantastic Bethesda staff of the JBC headed by Nancy Rodnan.

Second, as a society, we have elected Natalie Ahn as the new president. My confidence in Natalie mirrors my confidence in Lila. Natalie’s scientific accomplishments are also of international acclaim. Like Lila, Natalie is brimming with positive verve and energy. Organizations such as our ASBMB never follow a level trajectory: They are either getting better and better or getting worse and worse. I have all the confidence in the world that Natalie will lead the ASBMB north with respect to health and vitality.

Third, as an organization, I think the ASBMB is getting serious attention. Roughly a year ago, National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins asked me if he could deliver a plenary talk at our annual meeting — we did not ask Francis to do this; he asked us to include him. Collins and other leaders recognize the value of the bedrock of the ASBMB — basic science.

This attention comes from many of our activities, including the efforts of our public affairs committee to communicate what we do as scientists to our elected representatives; the success of our minority affairs committee that has helped so many underrepresented minorities to learn how to write, submit and win research grants from federal agencies; and the many other vibrant components of our society.

The attention also comes, at least in a small part, from the essays I have written over the past two years in ASBMB Today. Yes, I ruffled many feathers with the misguided use of “riffraff.” I happily accept the bruising I so rightly deserved for the essay titled “The curse of committees and clubs.” I may be wrong on this but offer the speculation that the consternation associated with that essay helped elevate the amplitude of our collective voice.

For better or worse, I chose to use the bully pulpit of the ASBMB presidency to mix it up. My venue has been ASBMB Today, and I’m delighted that, by all measures, the footprint of “AToday” has expanded exponentially under the direction of Angela Hopp and her hardworking team. As I depart, I leave with some measure of confidence that the biomedical research community is paying attention to us.

Finally, I want the members of the ASBMB to know that my interactions with the headquarters staff have been fantastic. Barbara Gordon, Steve Miller, Angela Hopp, Nancy Rodnan, Ben Corb and all of the crew represent the glue that holds the ASBMB together. In this closing essay, I want ASBMB members to know that the staff running our organization is as good as it gets. Whereas elected members such as me come and go through a rotating turnstile, the staff is largely constant. The ASBMB is their livelihood, their devotion and their pride.

It has been a lively two years — thanks for putting up with me! I close with the Norwegian words “har det bra.” As explained to me by my neighbor up in Montana, these words do not mean “goodbye” but instead “have it fine.”

Steven McKnight Steven McKnight is president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and chairman of the biochemistry department at the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.