Pillars of Societies
By Barbara Spector
Scientific societies play a variety of critical roles in the professional lives of their members. Through annual and regional meetings, societies give scientists the opportunity to communicate their research results and foster career development, networking and mentoring. Scientific societies also disseminate research through their journals, proceedings and other publications, in print and online. In addition, societies take the lead in shaping national science policy and promoting federal support for scientific research and development through Congressional testimony, lobbying and media outreach.
So when it’s time to choose a president, professional societies look to scientists who are widely respected by their peers and have distinguished themselves through leadership and service to their profession. A society presidency is one of the highest and most rewarding honors a scientist can achieve. It is also a responsibility that demands considerable time and dedication.
“This is an honorary title; it’s part of your scientific portfolio,” notes Mina J. Bissell ’63, Distinguished Senior Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California. Bissell is past president of the American Society of Cell Biology (1997) and the International Society of Differentiation (2000-2002). “It means people look up to you and expect leadership.”
The presidency of an influential society such as the 10,000-member ASCB “brings prestige and visibility and the opportunity for you to make a difference,” Bissell says.
Jill Shapiro Sideman, M.A. ’63, Ph.D. ’65, president of the Association for Women in Science (2002-04), says that “Being the president of AWIS has given me the ability to propose people for significant awards and appoint them to be on major committees” of the National Science Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other leading organizations.
Sideman, a vice president and director of CH2M HILL, Inc., a global engineering and construction firm based in Denver, says she devotes as much as 15 percent of her time to AWIS duties. “Not a week goes by that I don’t have to spend time on the range of issues that come up — for example, to respond to invitations to participate in symposia, or to decide whether we want to support a particular project.”
Susan Band Horwitz ’58, president of the American Association for Cancer Research (2002-03), is happy to give something back to an organization that helped foster her career. Horwitz, the co-chair of the department of molecular pharmacology and the Falkenstein Professor of Cancer Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, explains, “I have been a member of AACR for the past 30 years. I’ve gained a great deal by going to the meetings and by reading the journals published by the association, and so have my students and fellows. This seemed to be the right time for me to try to repay what I have received from the organization.”
A Learned Society
Mary Maples Dunn, M.A. ’56, Ph.D. ’59, serves as co-executive officer of the American Philosophical Society along with her husband, Richard S. Dunn, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. APS, the country’s first learned society, was established in 1743. Its 852 members are top scholars from a variety of academic disciplines in the sciences, arts and humanities, including some 100 Nobel laureates.
Managing the APS is analogous to serving as president of a college, explains Mary Dunn, who was Smith College’s president and Dean of the College at Bryn Mawr. “But the jobs are quite different, because at the society there are no faculty and no students,” she adds with a laugh.
Unlike the president of a professional society, whose volunteer position can be compared to a board chairmanship, the Dunns are APS staff members. “We’re responsible for the overall management of the society and all of its programs,” Dunn says. “This is an active place, and we keep it going.”
APS, based in Philadelphia, sponsors research grant and fellowship programs and publishes a journal, a monograph series and a book series. Its library houses more than 200,000 books, plus 7 million manuscripts as well as prints and maps. It hosts two meetings a year and offers exhibitions at its facilities as well as “virtual exhibitions.”
The Dunns, who took office in March 2002, are the first to share the title of executive officer, and Mary Dunn is the first female to hold a senior management position at the society. They split duties related to membership and meetings and divide the remainder of the responsibilities according to their expertise. Mary Dunn focuses on the society’s library, while Richard Dunn manages the publications and fellowship programs. The co-executive officers are APS members, as required by society policy.
Presidents of scientific societies typically begin their terms by setting priorities for the organizations they lead. Michele Barry ’74, professor of medicine and global health, Yale School of Medicine, was the first female clinician to serve as president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (2001-02). “I tried to make it more of an activist society,” she says. Barry repeatedly urged members to step up advocacy efforts to reduce health disparities between wealthy and impoverished countries.
Beverly J. Lange ’67, who holds the Yetta Deitch Novotny Chair in Clinical Oncology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, recalls that one of the strategic goals she had as the new president of the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology (2002-04) was to form a committee to focus on the society’s relationship with corporate sponsors. “I wanted to redirect industry’s efforts away from giving us tote bags, pens and free dinners, toward funding educational programs and paying for students and trainees to come to the annual meeting,” she explains.
Bissell led ASCB at a time when her colleagues were heatedly debating whether the number of biology graduate students should be limited to ensure that the supply of researchers would not exceed demand. At the same time, young scientists were anxious about their career and funding prospects. “I tried to strike a tone of reconciliation,” she recalls. “I addressed some of those concerns openly. My priority was to make sure that every member of the society felt that they belonged. I also helped initiate a postdoctoral association and devoted time to discussing the fellows’ concerns both at the annual meeting and once they returned to their home base.”
At APS, fund-raising has become a priority. The value of the society’s endowment, like that of most academic institutions, has decreased owing to the recent economic downturn. “We are engaging more of our members in fund-raising by forming development committees,” Dunn notes.
In 2001, the society began a program of public exhibitions at its Philosophical Hall (built in 1786-89), which had been closed to the public since the early 19th century. “Our exhibition program, being new, tends to be expensive,” Dunn says. Funds raised through the society’s campaigns will help support the exhibitions.
Another project in the planning stage is the reconfiguration of APS’s library, built in 1950, to accommodate high-tech equipment. “The library is a very intractable building, so this is going to be a complicated project,” Dunn says.
In June 2003, APS named Martin L. Levitt as librarian. Levitt, who had been the society’s associate librarian, succeeds Edward C. Carter II, librarian since 1980, who died in 2002. Carter, who held a Ph.D. (1962) from Bryn Mawr College, had been an APS member since 1983. His death was “a most awful surprise — it meant the loss of a friend,” says Dunn. The society conducted a nationwide search for a new librarian. “We didn’t want to rush — we wanted to take the time to come back from the shock of Ted’s death,” she says.
The society is also expanding its international activities. A symposium series is being planned with Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; APS and Humboldt scholars will jointly present a symposium in Philadelphia in October 2004 and in Germany the following October. In addition, APS is finalizing an agreement to co-sponsor an exchange of fellows with the British Academy.
At the International Society of Differentiation, Bissell’s focus was on the annual meeting. “The society is geared toward bringing scientists from different parts of the world together,” she explains. Bissell centered her efforts on obtaining funding for the meeting, appointing a program committee, getting top-notch scientists to speak and ensuring that the meeting would highlight the field’s cutting-edge research.
Members have high expectations of their society’s annual meeting, notes Lange. “They want a solid program that updates them on important new developments, presented by dynamic speakers who know how to teach. And they want to make contacts with colleagues.”
AACR’s 2003 annual meeting posed an unexpected challenge for Horwitz. The gathering, expected to draw some 16,000 attendees, was scheduled to take place in April in Toronto — where SARS had spread and quickly became a major public-health concern. Three days before the meeting was to begin, the society elected to cancel and reschedule it for July in Washington, D.C. “Many of the clinical members were concerned about coming back from the meeting and seeing immunosuppressed patients,” Horwitz says. None of AACR’s 93 previous meetings had ever been canceled or rescheduled, she notes. “It was a very difficult decision.” Because of the rescheduling and relocation, the society incurred a financial loss. But mass e-mailing enabled AACR staff to efficiently notify participants about the change in venue, Horwitz says.
During her presidency, Horwitz also managed the society’s response to controversy surrounding its annual AACR-Cornelius P. Rhoads Memorial Award. Recent revelations disclosed that during the 1930s, the Rockefeller Institute researcher for whom the prize was named wrote a letter confessing to unethical medical practices during his stay in Puerto Rico, while expressing racist sentiments about the island’s people. The content of the letter has remained a source of hurt and controversy in Puerto Rico. After AACR commissioned an independent investigation into the matter late last year, Rhoads’ name was removed from the organization’s annual award given to young cancer investigators.
“I feel that this year has been important in my personal development,” Horwitz says. “I’m co-chair of my department, and I run a lab, but being president of AACR is very different from anything I’ve done before.”
At APS, the semiannual meetings offer an opportunity for members from different disciplines to learn about each other’s work. “It’s one of the few venues where they can all come together intellectually,” Dunn says.
Meetings are planned by a committee of APS members from across all disciplines, co-chaired by the Dunns. At last April’s meeting, Supreme Court Justics David Souter chaired a program on the Court’s 1803 Marbury v. Madison decision, which established judicial review. “That gives you an idea of the quality of the people we can call on,” Dunn says.
Lange has devoted much of her term to orchestrating the launch of a new ASPH/O journal, Pediatric Blood and Cancer. The new publication will replace the society’s Journal of Pediatric Hematology Oncology as well as another publication, Medical and Pediatric Oncology. The merger involved a change in publishing companies and required extensive contract negotiations, she notes.
The new journal is scheduled to debut in January 2004. The move will yield cost savings for the society, facilitate online article submission and reviewing, and achieve greater impact among its readers than that of either predecessor publication, Lange says: “The combined journal will be greater than the sum of its parts.” But many members resisted the merger. The title change was a significant factor, she notes. “There was a major issue of identity that we had to deal with.”
During her tenure at ASTMH, Barry negotiated a contract to make the society’s journal, the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, available online. She proposed that the society donate free online access to the journal to researchers in poorer countries in an effort toward bridging the global digital divide.
At APS, long-range plans include digitizing the society’s Year Book, an annual membership list and record of APS activities. “We’re thinking through how a publication program of our sort could look in another five years,” Dunn says. Articles published in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, the venerable monograph series that began in 1771, are already being digitally stored.
At AWIS, a chapter-based organization, Sideman is working to strengthen relationships between the national association and the chapters. One of the association’s two annual board meetings, which had been held in Washington, now takes place in a region where there is an AWIS chapter, enabling directors and chapter members to participate jointly in an event. (Because AWIS is an AAAS affiliate organization, its other annual board meeting is held in conjunction with AAAS.)
“I try to attend chapter events as much as possible to increase the visibility of the national organization,” Sideman says. She also aims to increase AWIS’s industry membership and to raise awareness of the association beyond academia. “I myself did not become aware of AWIS until the mid-’90s,” says Sideman.
Horwitz has tried to involve researchers from a variety of disciplines in AACR’s activities. “We need chemists, computational scientists and engineers,” she notes. “A multidisciplinary group of scientists must be involved in trying to unravel the complexities of cancer and contributing to the goal of preventing and treating this disease.”
While many professional societies aim to build their membership base, APS, an honorary society that does not collect membership dues, takes a non-expansionist position, Dunn says. “Our members are concerned about maintaining the quality of the membership, and not expanding the size greatly,” she explains.
Advocacy and Outreach
Scientific societies work to build support for research funding among legislators and the public. “Communicating science is every bit as important as doing science,” says Bissell.
“I was very interested in getting members of ASTMH to lobby for funding for new drug development,” says Barry. She also sent members sample advocacy letters in support of a reorganization of bioterrorism research and increased funding for the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center, which promotes and supports scientific research and training internationally to reduce disparities in global health.
Lange notes that ASPH/O has two advocacy goals. “We can become advocates for the discipline and, more importantly, we can become advocates for patients.” She urges members to provide expert testimony in support of increased access to experimental drugs and testing of pediatric cancer drug dosages.
“An important part of AACR’s work is public education,” says Horwitz. “Cancer survivors are very interested in learning more about their disease.” It’s also crucial to contact legislators, many of whom question why the “war on cancer” hasn’t yet been won, she notes. “We have to make legislators understand the complexities of the disease.”
Networking and Mentoring
Society presidents accomplish their objectives for public outreach and advocacy by appointing committee members and giving them assignments. Horwitz, for example, created AACR task forces to investigate significant issues. Recently formed task forces have focused on comprehensive cancer-prevention strategy and on aging and cancer.
It’s important to be judicious in making key appointments, the presidents note. Questions to be considered, according to Barry, include “Are there enough women? Are there enough people of color? Are there opportunities for Ph.D.s as well as M.D.s? It’s a matter of being all-inclusive and making your society user-friendly.”
Young investigators can raise their visibility by serving on society committees. Yet many young scientists decline appointments for fear that committee service will detract from their research activities. Such difficulties are magnified in times of intense competition for federal grant money, society presidents say. “Young people feel much less inclined to volunteer,” acknowledges ASPH/O’s Lange. “But the strength and vitality of an organization lies in the young people.”
Scientific societies can also help raise the professional profile of women scientists, Barry points out. “They can put women in leadership roles, they can highlight women speakers, they can put women in editorial positions on their journals, and they can teach women about juggling career and family.”
Since 1971, AWIS has been dedicated to achieving full participation for women in science and technology. Networking and mentoring are two of the group’s most important functions, Sideman says. “If someone is planning to move to another city, for example, AWIS can help her automatically access a network of people in that community.”
AWIS’s 13-year-old Mentoring Project has enabled young female scientists to obtain advice and feedback through one-on-one mentoring as well as small- and large-group interactions with senior scientists and engineers. Sideman aims to expand the association’s mentoring activities by creating a place on the AWIS Web site (www.awis.org) where young women scientists can access a network of senior consultants who would be available to answer questions about advancement in scientific careers in academia, industry and government.
About Our Sources
Michele Barry ’74 is a professor of medicine and global health and directs the Office of International Health at Yale University School of Medicine. She co-founded the Yale International Health Program and was the founding director of the Southeast Asian Refugee Clinic at Yale. Barry, whose research focuses on clinical tropical diseases, developed the first U.S. certification examination in tropical medicine and travelers’ health. She has been a visiting professor at institutions in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana and other sites, as well as a Ford Foundation Health Consultant in China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Barry is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. She received her M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Mina J. Bissell ’63 was the director of the Life Sciences Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California, for 16 years and is now the Distinguished Senior Scientist at LBNL, the first female and one of only seven people to achieve this title. Bissell is senior adviser to the laboratory director on biology. She is internationally recognized for her research on the role of extracellular matrix and context in regulation of tissue-specific function, with a special emphasis on breast cancer. Bissell has been elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1996, she received the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award, the highest honor of the U.S. Department of Energy. Bissell earned her Ph.D. in microbiology and molecular genetics from Harvard Medical School.
Mary Maples Dunn, M.A. ’56, Ph.D. ’59, became co-executive officer of the American Philosophical Society in March 2002. Previously, she was acting dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College, a collection devoted to the history of women in America. Before joining Radcliffe, she was president of Smith College for 10 years. She was Dean of the College at Bryn Mawr from 1980 to 1985 and a faculty member in Bryn Mawr’s department of history from 1959 to 1980. She is an authority on William Penn, colonial American history and the history of women in the United States.
Beverly J. Lange ’67 holds the Yetta Dietch Novotny Chair in Clinical Oncology and is medical director of oncology clinical services and clinical research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She is also a professor of pediatrics at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Lange’s research focuses on acute leukemia biology and therapy. She received her M.D. from Temple University School of Medicine.
Susan Band Horwitz ’58 is Falkenstein Professor of Cancer Research and co-chair of the department of molecular pharmacology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She is also the associate director for therapeutics at the Albert Einstein Cancer Center. Horwitz is perhaps best known for her groundbreaking investigations of how the anti-cancer drug Taxol slows tumor growth. She received her Ph.D. from Brandeis University, where she was a member of the first class in the graduate department of biochemistry. Her research and career were profiled in the July 2001 issue of Bryn Mawr S&T, which can be accessed on the Web at http://www.brynmawr.edu/sandt/2001_july/taxol.html
Jill Shapiro Sideman, M.A. ’63, Ph.D. ’65, is a vice president of CH2M HILL, Inc. After receiving her master’s and doctoral degrees in physical and organic chemistry, she conducted research in high-energy physics and molecular biology as a fellow of the National Bureau of Standards, the National Institute for Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases, the Institut Pasteur and the University of Washington Medical School. Before joining CH2M HILL, she founded two environmental consulting companies.
About the Author
Barbara Spector writes on science and technology as well as business topics. She is the executive editor of Family Business magazine and former editor of The Scientist.