Letter from the SIMB President

Posted 4/14/20 by . Filed under Featured News, News and Updates.

First, let me take a moment – as we all struggle in these uncertain times – to wish everyone good health. I hope you and your loved ones are well and taking precautions to stay that way. One of the few upsides of this crisis is the remarkable ways in which people have come together to help each other deal, not only with illness, but in adapting to dramatic differences in our daily routines. Over the last few months, I have witnessed countless examples of altruism, compassion, resilience, and determination on the part of members of my own community and our larger scientific community, revealing the best in us.

I want to express my gratitude on behalf of SIMB to many people who have played key roles in keeping the Society functioning as we navigate this unprecedented and often stressful situation. First and fore most to our Executive Director, Chris Lowe. She has worked tirelessly to ensure we stay on track. As we work to continue delivering our mission, we have had one priority firmly at the forefront: maintaining the health, safety, and wellbeing of our community. The Board’s decision to cancel the Symposium on Biomaterials, Fuels and Chemicals scheduled for the end of April in New Orleans was painful but necessary. I share in the disappointment of the speakers, poster presenters and attendees and want to thank the program chairs, Claus Felby, Scott Baker, and Seema Singh for all their hard the work in organizing the meeting. They are preparing to send out abstracts from the meeting to make sure the science that would have been reported at the meeting is at least partially communicated.

Thanks to the efforts of Chris Lowe and our office staff, Jennifer Johnson and Tina Hockaday, we came out of this with minimal financial loss. Chris negotiated with the hotel not to charge us for the cancellation and in exchange we have booked the hotel for our SBFC meeting in 2022. All registrations were refunded and hotel cancellations were made in time so that no expense was incurred by those who were booked. The loss of revenue to the Society will be covered by our cash reserves so we are OK financially.

We congratulate the winners of the SBFC Diversity Travel Awards, Patricia Kerner of Idaho State University/Idaho National University and Mara Cuebas-Irizarry of North Carolina State University and the winner of the Charles Scott Award, Gregg Beckham of NREL. These awardees will be honored at the Annual Meeting this summer.

Our Board of Directors, Priti Pharkya, Laura Jarboe, Michael Resch, Katy Kao, Steve Van Dien, Steve Decker, Tiffany Rau and Betty Elder have been responsive to requests for votes and provided thoughtful advice as we worked through the issues facing us over the last few months. Special thanks to our Treasurer, Laura for providing guiding information about our finances.

In other news, thanks to Nigel Mouncey’s heroic efforts we are near completion of a new publications contract for JIMB. This will be a tremendous benefit to the Society financially and professionally and it would not have been remotely possible without him and the Publications Committee. Details of the new contract and what it will mean to the Journal will be made public once negotiations are completed. Both the RAFT and Natural Products meetings held this year were successful both scientifically and financially and we thank the organizers and attendees for that.

While no one can predict what the future will bring, we fully expect to hold the Annual Meeting in San Francisco in August and we encourage everyone to register and book a room at the hotel. The scientific models for infection and recovery rates suggest that many things will approach getting back to near normal by July. We will of course monitor the situation and if the meeting is cancelled all registration fees will be refunded and we will notify everyone in time to cancel hotel reservations without penalty. Our program chair, Adam Guss, has assembled an impressive list of conveners and speakers and it promises to be an excellent meeting. I sincerely hope to see you there. We also look forward to the Industrial Microbiology Meets the Microbiome meeting to be held in San Diego in early November, the first of its kind for SIMB. Debbie Yaver has assembled an outstanding program and it promises to fill a new niche in the study of microbiomes.

Until then, with our labs, companies and universities closed let us turn our attention to help in any way we can. As microbiologists we have an important role to play in explaining to our friends, family and neighbors exactly what viruses are and helping them understand a tidal wave of information. My own family, none of whom are scientists, is often confused by the news reports and frightened by rumors so anything we can do to help them understand, will help them deal with the stress of this terrible coronavirus pandemic. I gave my sister a recipe for hand sanitizer that anyone can make mixing 70% alcohol with baby lotion or aloe. While hand sanitizer is useful the reduction in her stress level was huge. As long as we continue to work together—as long as we remain focused on finding solutions—we will get through this. Spirit and determination will prevail.

Be safe and stay well. With warmest regards,

Jan Westpheling, President

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