2021 SIMB President’s Letter

Posted 11/11/20 by . Filed under Featured News, News and Updates.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I began my term as SIMB President-elect at the end of the 2019 SIMB Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. as Jan Westpheling became SIMB President. This was the culmination of her decades-long history of service to the Society and I have never seen her so excited. Jan had been dreaming of this since she was seven years old. She couldn’t wait to preside over the conferences and meetings- seeing friends and colleagues old and new and learning about all the latest advances generated by our members. The Annual Meeting was a great start and was followed in turn with an outstanding Recent Advances in Fermentation Technology (RAFT®) conference in Bonita Springs, FL. That was my first RAFT® meeting, but I’ll guarantee it won’t be my last. Then, as we turned our focus towards the Symposium on Biomaterials, Fuels and Chemicals (SBFC) in New Orleans, we, like the rest of the world, were struck head-on with the COVID-19 pandemic.

With much heartache, the SIMB Board of Directors cancelled the 2020 SBFC. We were torn at the time and it was not an easy decision, but when April 2020 arrived, outbreaks in major cities including New Orleans confirmed we had made the correct decision. Cancelling the 2020 SIMB Annual Meeting and deferring the inaugural Industrial Microbiology Meets Microbiome conference was just as heartbreaking, but by that point, we had a much better sense that it was the correct thing to do. Chris Lowe and the SIMB office staff were critical in negotiating with the venue hotels and they deserve a huge thank you for minimizing SIMB’s financial impact from these cancellations. Virtual meetings were still clunky and many of us were in limbo waiting to see if our workplaces were going to shut down, limit travel, or impose other restrictions on our work life. Planning alternative meeting formats for these canceled conferences simply was not doable at the time, however, as the summer of 2020 wound down, the Board knew that the Society had to begin holding meetings again.

I began my term as SIMB President in August of 2020, not with a grand introduction in front of hundreds of attendees at the annual meeting, but during an online Teams meeting with the outgoing and incoming SIMB Board members. In taking the reins from Jan, I cannot thank her enough, both personally and on behalf of the Board and all of SIMB’s members. The decisions to cancel the meetings were certainly the most difficult ever faced by an SIMB President. Jan’s leadership throughout what has been the most difficult year ever in the history of SIMB has proven critical to maintaining a functional Society. I have known Jan as a colleague, collaborator, and friend for many years, but during her term as SIMB President, she also became a mentor and for that, I am deeply appreciative.

As I took office, additional difficult decisions lay before us. We will have the 2021 SBFC meeting, however it will be virtual. The SIMB office staff, SBFC Chairs, and the SIMB Board of Directors have been discussing and looking into different platforms and formats and a decision will be announced soon. We are planning SBFC to be as interactive as possible while keeping it focused and productive. A primary focus is maintaining the personal connections and interactions that are the hallmarks of SIMB meetings. I strongly encourage you to attend and to encourage your colleagues, students, and collaborators to consider it as well. This meeting will serve as the test case for potential future virtual meetings and receiving feedback on the good, bad, and ugly aspects of the event will provide improvements to any needed future virtual meetings. I would like to thank the SBFC Chairs, Scott Baker and Davinia Salvachua for undertaking this new endeavor and being the test case for any future SIMB virtual meetings.

As I write this letter, the 2021 SIMB Annual Meeting and 2021 RAFT formats are still uncertain, though the news of an effective vaccine is encouraging me to hope for a return to in-person formats. The meeting Program Chairs, Adam Guss (Annual) and Mark Berge and Kat Allikian (RAFT), are anxious to get planning. The inaugural IMMM, chaired by Debbie Yaver, Yoram Barak and George Garrity, is scheduled for late January 2022. We hope to hold these upcoming conferences fully or at least partially in person, but your health and safety are paramount. Please stay tuned.

Despite the shadow of COVID-19, there are many positive things happening in our Society. Our committee structure has been streamlined and the bylaws are updated and clarified. Mark Berge and Tim Cooper held an outstanding virtual fermentation workshop in August with over 100 attendees. Despite the cancellation of the Annual and SBFC meetings, we still recognized several outstanding award winners. Nancy Cooper was awarded the 2020 Charles Thom Award for exceptional merit in industrial microbiology, Debbie Yaver received the Charles Porter Award for service to the Society, Krishna Madduri and Jonathan Mielenz received SIMB Fellowship, King Zhou received the Young Investigator Award and Rajesh Sani received the Waksman Teaching Award for outstanding contributions to teaching in the fields of industrial microbiology and biotechnology. Greg Beckham was honored with the Charles D. Scott Award for outstanding science in biotechnology for biofuels while Mara Cuebas-Irizarry, North Carolina State University and Patricia Kerner, Idaho State University, were awarded SIMB Diversity Travel Awards.

On January 1, 2021 SIMB will transition the Journal for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology (JIMB) from Springer to Oxford University Press. We are very excited by this move and while Springer has been a solid partner for years, OUP is enabling a switch to open access and has brought a new vigor to the publication process through an updated format and online access system. This move is a huge improvement for JIMB and a big thank you to Nigel Mouncey and Ramon Gonzalez for making it happen. The new JIMB will need reviewers, so please be generous with your time and help us get this new chapter in SIMB publications off to a great start. Our SIMB members will receive discounted open access charges so please consider JIMB for publishing your outstanding science.

During the coming year, it is essential for all of us to remember that the first term in SIMB is SOCIETY. Whether we meet in-person or online, the meetings are just events. It is the colleagues, collaborators, and friends we have made through SIMB and these meetings that form the basis of our Society. It is the science, technology, and engineering presented during the meeting that drive our curiosity and feeds our motivation to move forward. All of this is still possible with virtual meetings. In-person meetings have long been an enjoyable way to initiate, grow, and maintain these relationships, but the absence of airport delays, weak coffee, and $12 drinks should not deter us from continuing to strengthen our existing relationships and forming new ones. The SIMB continues to be a very effective means to do this so I encourage you to renew your membership, attend the meetings in whatever format they end up, submit your science to the new JIMB, volunteer as a reviewer, and continue the function of our Society. COVID-19 and its associated inconveniences, limitations, and impositions will pass, but the relationships and connections formed within the SIMB family will endure. Please continue to create, foster, and strengthen these relationships. They are what matter.

I look forward to seeing you either online or in person. Be safe and stay well.

Steve Decker
SIMB President

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