Letter from Past President, Jan Westpheling

Posted 9/9/20 by . Filed under Featured News.
When I took over from Steve Van Dien as President of SIMB in August of 2019, we had just completed a fantastically successfully meeting in Washington, D.C, capping off a great year for SIMB under his direction. In the fall of 2019, we had one of the most successful RAFT meetings ever. Attendance was the best it’s ever been and the scientific program was outstanding. The same was true of the Natural Products meeting held in January 2020. I presided at both meetings, met with the organizing committees and made plans for RAFT in 2021 and Natural Products in 2022. 2019 was a banner year for SIMB both scientifically and financially.

Then the world changed. By February, we were bracing for a global pandemic that became a stark reality in March and April. SBFC was cancelled and as it turned out April in New Orleans was the peak of infection and death there. We had high hopes that by August things would be under control and we could hold the Annual Meeting in San Francisco but the reality of the pandemic in the United States made that unwise and from what we now know about California’s infection rate in August, cancelling the meeting was prudent. The Industrial Microbiology Meets the Microbiome meeting, scheduled for the fall of 2020, was postponed until January, 2022 and while no decisions have been made, plans for a partially virtual meeting of the Symposium on Biomaterials, Fuels and Chemicals next Spring are in progress, should that be necessary.

I am happy to report that thanks to our Executive Director, Christine Lowe, we were able to cancel hotel bookings for these meetings without substantial penalty to the Society and the year has not been the financial disaster it might have been. We held a virtual Board of Directors meeting in August, wrapping up old business and welcoming new officers and BOD members. In the absence of a Membership Business Meeting this year that would have been held at the annual meeting a Treasurer’s report and Audit Report will be available on the SIMB website. We can sustain the cancellation of SBFC and even the Annual Meeting next year if necessary and still be financially viable. Special thanks to Laura Jarboe, our newly re-elected Treasurer, who has done a fantastic job of staying on top of things. Nigel Mouncey played a key role in negotiating a contract for JIMB with Oxford University Press and he and Ramon Gonzalez, Editor in Chief of JIMB navigated our transition to this new publisher. The bonus we received for completing the contract has gone a long way to helping keep the Society financially solvent.

It would be impossible to overstate the leadership we have depended on from our Executive Director, Christine Lowe. I don’t think we would have gotten through this year without her dedication, long hours and perseverance. Her investment in the Society over the many years she has served as Director goes above and beyond. Thanks to our Board of Directors, Committee Chairs, Committee Members and Office Staff for making this year possible. I also want to thank Adam Guss, our Program Chair for the time he invested in putting together an Annual Meeting that didn’t happen. He has agreed to serve as Program Chair for the 2021 Annual Meeting with the same team and we’re all hoping for the best! I am confident that Steve Decker will navigate the Society into 2021 and beyond as President with exactly the kind of leadership we need.

Finally, I want to speak to something I care deeply about. In these times of stress and uncertainty it’s important that as scientists we communicate clearly and plainly about the issues that concern all of us. Like many of you, I have spent my entire life as a scientist. Carl Sagan once called science “a candle in the dark”, and never has there been more need of that light. Scientific inquiry, its methods, the people who communicate it and its value to society are under intense scrutiny. At a time when facts too often give way to fiction, it is important that we stand together to support those who speak for us and against those who question what we stand for. This is even more critical as skepticism gives way to cynicism and cynicism gives way to irrational behavior. While we are not a biomedical society, I am proud to be a member of the same club as a 79-year-old government worker at the NIH who speaks truth to power at personal risk. We are all in this together.

Be well and stay safe.

Jan Westpheling, SIMB Past President

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