July 2010

New President's First Message to Society


Incoming ASBMB President Suzanne Pfeffer discusses one of her top goals for the next two years: addressing the needs of the society's youngest members. (Titled "Your ASBMB" in print version.)


PfefferIt is a special honor and a privilege to begin my term as president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Our outgoing president, Greg Petsko, deserves an enormous thank you from all of us— for guiding the society so ably and for making us feel that we really are a part of ASBMB by writing such engaging, thought-provoking and humorous columns. He has been a terrific role model, and his shoes will be impossible to fill. Luckily, for all of us, Greg will continue to serve as an officer of the society for an additional year, in the role of past-president. I am especially grateful that I will be able to rely on his wise counsel during my term.

I hold a special place for ASBMB in my scientific heart. I had the privilege of starting my life as a biochemist while still an undergraduate student, first during a brief summer stint with Don Lightfoot at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and then returning to my undergraduate University of California, Berkeley, campus and the lab of Mike Chamberlin, where I worked on Escherichia coli RNA polymerase for two years. My project culminated in a first author paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. At the time, several of the Berkeley faculty members were JBC editorial board members, and I remember asking Clint Ballou for guidance on how to prepare a figure on a day when Chamberlin wasn’t around. Teasing me, he took out a giant pair of scissors as if to slice my artwork— I almost died. This was, of course, at a time when figures were drawn by hand— computers were not yet tools at every desk. Publishing that first paper in JBC and receiving those reprints with my name in print for the first time made me feel like an ASBMB member for life. Being elected president is thus a special honor for me, and I will do my best to serve you, our members, during my term.

In preparation for my presidency, the past year has included my participation in many of our society’s committee meetings. This has provided me with a chance to learn first-hand about many of the important activities in which ASBMB is currently involved. Thanks to the work of all of our committees, under the guidance of the council leadership and outstanding staff, ASBMB is in very good shape.

Under the watchful eye of Merle Olson, our finance committee has done a wonderful job of shepherding the society’s reserve funds that have now recovered to pre-economic downturn levels. These funds support all of our activities, including staffing and production of our journals, as well as enabling the Undergraduate Affiliate Network CommitteeMinority Affairs and Education and Professional Development Committees (UANC led by Neena Grover, MAC led by Craig Cameron and EPD by Ellis Bell followed by Peter Kennelly) to offer 316 travel or child care fellowships for students, postdocs and faculty to attend our 2010 annual meeting. Thanks to all of the members of these committees for excellent program contributions during the meeting in Anaheim.

The Public Affairs Advisory Committee, led by Bill Merrick, has dedicated itself to forging new relationships with members of U.S. Congress, as well as with representatives of all of the institutes at the National Institutes of Health and with key program directors at the National Science Foundation. The committee’s main focus this year has been to work to ensure the continued prioritization of investigator-initiated research. Peter Farnham, our director of public affairs, joined this past year by Kyle Brown, our science policy fellow, have led the charge and guided the committee’s activities with great leadership and enthusiasm.

Herbert Tabor, editor of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Ralph Bradshaw and Al Burlingame, co-editors of Molecular and Cellular Proteomics and Ed Dennis and Joe Witztum, co-editors of the Journal of Lipid Research, are doing wonderful jobs of overseeing their publications. Indeed, all of the editors and editorial board members deserve our thanks for their dedicated service to the society and the scientific community overall. The Publications Committee, under Toni Antalis, has provided guidance to JBC, MCP and JLR and has helped to adjudicate ethical issues that arise from time to time. Thanks to the ASBMB council, starting this month, ASBMB members will be eligible for page charge and color figure discounts, and JBC no longer requires a fee to submit manuscripts. This, together with the excellent quality of the review process, should encourage our members to continue to support our society publications. ASBMB publishes these journals to serve you, our members. We have been leaders in the use of electronic publishing and will continue to excel in the electronic journal world. (Check out one of our most recent additions— the ability to rotate three-dimensional images with just the click of a mouse in our journal article PDFs.)

The 2010 program chairs and the ASBMB Meetings Committee (chaired by Joan Conaway) deserve hearty congratulations for assembling an incredibly successful annual meeting in Anaheim. And, during 2010, ASBMB will sponsor four small meetings, the majority of talks for which will come from submitted abstracts. This means that more students and postdoctoral fellows will have a chance to speak, and the sessions will not be dominated by the same names that always seem to appear on speaker lists that we all peruse in popular science journals. Thanks to Ali Shilatifard for overseeing the Small Meetings Subcommittee. And, finally, the Nominations Committee assembled an excellent slate of candidates to lead the society moving forward.

Just because the ASBMB is doing well doesn’t mean that we can’t do even better. One of my top goals for the next two years is to try to address the needs of our youngest members. Graduate student representatives polled from 50 different biochemistry departments all indicated strong enthusiasm about the possibility of ASBMB sponsoring local meetings for students and postdoctoral fellows. These meetings would offer an opportunity for participants to share their research in the form of short talks and posters and also would include panel discussions on topics including career options and how to apply for jobs, be it an academic, industrial or legal setting or a consulting or teaching position. We already have started to plan two regional pilot workshops— one at Rutgers University and one at Northwestern Medical School, with Raleigh-Durham and Seattle to follow soon after. I will keep you posted on our progress and would love to hear from you if you would like our help in creating and sponsoring a one-day ASBMB graduate student/postdoc event in your city.

We also hope to include more mentoring events during the annual meeting. I will return to the question of graduate training in a future column. We need to be thinking about whether our current curricula adequately train students to work on a genome-wide and/or systems-wide level— should we be teaching students to handle large data sets and make full use of statistics? Can they program in MATLAB? Are we helping them learn to identify the most important scientific questions rather than just how to carry out the next experiment? And, are we providing them with leadership skills that will carry over into the jobs they likely are to assume, including biotech, teaching, law and advocacy? ASBMB will try to facilitate discussion of these critical issues and ways to address them in the months to come.

So, why should you be an ASBMB member and support this society? ASBMB is devoted to promoting the discipline of biochemistry and molecular biology. This means using all of our resources to expand and improve scientific training and mentorship at all levels, to provide venues for our members to share their findings— whether in person, print or online— and to establish important contacts to facilitate scientific exchange and collaboration. Our society works hard to fight for research dollars for its members and to keep them informed about science policy matters that will affect them both as scientists and as citizens. ASBMB can help bring us together to make our science better and to keep it collegial in the true Merriam-Webster sense of that word, “…marked by camaraderie among colleagues.” So, thank you for your continued support, and please don’t hesitate to let me know what you think will make us even better.

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Thank you Dr. Pfeffer for putting the needs of our youngest members as a top goal of your presidency. They all need our care and support, but I would emphasize the need for mentoring and counseling young PIs at the start of their careers. High level of competition together with decreasing public funding of research in most countries means that many will fail. We must consider all career alternatives that would ensure that the scientific education of these young people will still serve the community. Getting toward the end of my scientific career, I have come to realize that a common mistake is intervening too late in careers in distress, in providing counseling and reviewing alternatives. ASBMB with all its talents should set up an adhoc committee to reflect on these issues. With best regards, Yves Marcel University of Ottawa Heart Institute


I congratulate you for promoting graduate student and postdoc events. The idea of creating and sponsoring an ASBMB gradute student/post-doc event is attractive. I would like to have more information about what it would take to do this in the DC area. Thank you, Pat Becerra



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