Open Letters

An open letter to the ASBMB executive director search committee

Peter Kennelly
Sept. 19, 2023

As the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology seeks to hire a new executive director by the end of this year, I’m writing today to share my thoughts on the process.

I have been an ASBMB member since 1986. Since 2007, I have continually served the society in a variety of roles. I have chaired the Education and Professional Development Committee and, later, the Membership Committee. I served on the Journal of Biological Chemistry editorial board from 2010 to 2015. I worked on the accreditation program and with members of the Maximizing Access Committee (then the Minority Affairs Committee) on Hands-on Opportunities to Promote Engagement in Sciences, or HOPES, a National Science Foundation–funded K–12 science outreach program. I have had the pleasure of working closely with both Barbara Gordon and Steve Miller. As a faculty member and former department head, I have extensive experience with a wide range of leadership styles.

I care deeply about the ASBMB. Having chaired or sat on many university search committees looking to fill administrative positions, I am all too familiar with the inevitable assertion, generally from an administrator, that executive experience is the indispensable qualification by which to judge applicants — that, first and foremost, we need someone who is a master of the spreadsheet. 

I beg to disagree. 

As you know, our society is at a crossroads. The steady revenue stream provided by subscriptions to our journals has evaporated with the decision to move to open access. In my opinion, there is no viable steady-state model for ASBMB. We cannot go on as we are. Either we will become THE society of biochemistry and molecular biology writ large, or we will slowly fade away. 

The times demand an executive director who possesses a big-picture vision, an appreciation for the breadth and diversity of our society, an ability to connect with the many members whose volunteerism makes possible so much of what the ASBMB is and does, and the boldness to dare.

As you sift through the applications, especially each applicant's vision statement and external letters of recommendation, look for signs of altruism, vision and an investment mentality rather than the extent of administrative experience and managerial acumen. For example, does a candidate effortlessly credit others, writing or speaking in terms of teams, communities and groups, or do they constantly talk in terms of me, my and I? Do they think and act incrementally or in transformative terms? Do they acknowledge their shortcomings while exhibiting a steady internal compass? Don't be afraid to embrace someone with the "right stuff," even though they may seem relatively young and inexperienced. 

Speaking as a former department head and committee chair, I believe that administrative experience is overrated. Administrative skills can be learned, and lack of experience can be addressed through effective partnership with staff. Imagination, vision, empathy and conviction cannot acquired from a book or a workshop. 

We need to be willing to dare if the ASBMB is to grow and diversify. And that’s what it must do to match the global impact of our discipline and the needs of our members, both present and future.

Enjoy reading ASBMB Today?

Become a member to receive the print edition monthly and the digital edition weekly.

Learn more
Peter Kennelly

Peter Kennelly is a professor of biochemistry at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Get the latest from ASBMB Today

Enter your email address, and we’ll send you a weekly email with recent articles, interviews and more.

Latest in Opinions

Opinions highlights or most popular articles

Rethinking the promotion letter
Diversity

Rethinking the promotion letter

Feb. 22, 2024

Writers of a recent article suggest a new strategy for retaining and advancing underrepresented faculty.

Escape to the ice
Essay

Escape to the ice

Feb. 19, 2024

Outside the lab, two scientists strap on their skates and grab their sticks.

Equitable hiring strategies for a diversified faculty
Diversity

Equitable hiring strategies for a diversified faculty

Feb. 8, 2024

An evidence-based road map describes six important strategies for hiring faculty from historically marginalized and excluded backgrounds.

We're saving some trees
Society News

We're saving some trees

Feb. 5, 2024

ASBMB Today will now be printed four times a year.

The legacy of Geraldine P. Woods
Diversity

The legacy of Geraldine P. Woods

Feb. 1, 2024

A trailblazer in science and diversity, she helped create NIH programs to broaden participation in STEM

I survived sudden cardiac arrest and 37 days in a coma — then the hard part began
Essay

I survived sudden cardiac arrest and 37 days in a coma — then the hard part began

Jan. 25, 2024

“The neurologist on my team said there were ‘no purposeful signs of activity’ … and weaned my phenobarbital dose down. I woke up the next morning.”