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.


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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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