ASM Members Deliver a Landslide Endorsement for Governance Change—Part 2

Sept. 20, 2016

In my previous posting (Part 1), I reflected on the historical change of the new ASM governance.  Here I would like to highlight some key issues that I see facing ASM and its new governance structure. This is not a prescriptive list, but rather a list of goals or, if you prefer, a straw man for the new Board, COMS, and ASM Directors to target.

Become the Physical and Digital Forum for All Microbial Sciences  

Faithful to the ASM Strategic Plan, we need to make ASM the physical and digital forum for microbial sciences. Let’s start with physical.

ASM needs to become the aggregation point for all microbial sciences. We must be the big tent, the physical platform, the meeting point, and the catalyst for all the various subdisciplines. This requires a new focus on the ASM Microbe meeting by growing attendance and partnerships. I envision the Microbe meeting becoming much more participatory, especially for young scientists and for members of groups who currently don’t see it as a must-attend event. The ASM Microbe meeting must provide more opportunities for attendees to showcase their science before peers and field leaders. Currently, only 5% of ASM speakers are selected from submitted abstracts. We need to expand this number, ideally reaching 30% over time. ASM attracts great ideas and great talent. We need to create more opportunities for this talent to shine at ASM Microbe. In my experience, more opportunities to present can increase attendance significantly. Greater attendance will have a bigger impact of ASM on microbial sciences and also allow ASM to rationalize our meeting costs, which are significantly out of alignment with those at comparable events. We also need to think of ways ASM Microbe could ally our efforts with non-ASM meeting organizers. Co-locating or co-sponsoring events with other societies or groups would be an effective way for ASM to advance the microbial sciences through synergies and collaborations. ASM also needs to look at using the considerable expertise of its Conference Program to organize small, world-class conferences and more narrowly focused events.

ASM also needs to become the digital forum for microbial sciences. Today, there are two macro trends—ever-growing online communities that provide real-time information, and a massive data deluge that makes it harder to distinguish signal from noise. ASM needs to be the digital go-to place for all microbial sciences. It needs to produce its own content but also to aggregate information from different scholarly sources and breaking scientific news for microbial scientists. An extremely important area is the publishing operations of ASM—journals and books. We are experimenting in this area, and we need to continue doing so aggressively to ensure that we best serve the microbial sciences. In scholarly publishing today, we are seeing the emergence of non-peer-reviewed preprint servers that seem poised to revolutionize the way science is communicated. Here is a potential role for a “Faculty of ASM” to vet and provide an imprimatur for what is important and what is most relevant in the field. Beyond these developments, I see other areas where ASM with its vast publishing expertise and its savvy membership could experiment with new ideas in scholarly publishing, becoming a laboratory of innovation. Stay tuned for news of some really exciting experiments!

Clinical Microbiology and Diagnostics

Clinical microbiology is of vital importance to health. Today it is even more so, with emerging and reemerging infectious disease threats plus the daunting problems of antimicrobial resistance. Rapid and accurate diagnostics are key to mounting effective responses. Here ASM is providing terrific leadership and the new governing bodies of ASM must find ways to enhance this resource in the future. For example, a truly digital forum for the microbial sciences could disseminate quick, accurate, and authoritative information to practicing microbiologists. ASM is working on several projects on this front to leverage the amazing ClinMicroNet and Division C resource to further ASM effectiveness.

Outreach, Education and Public Policy

ASM needs to be bold in its activities and vividly present in the public eye. We must be the authoritative voice on microbiology, shaping public opinion and policy in Washington and in local jurisdictions. We must help K-12 and college STEM educators reach the microbiologists of the future. Currently ASM has many of the best programs going in biology education, outreach, and policy, but we need to make them better known, more effective, and more collaborative. We are on the right track, and the new COMS and Board of Directors will strengthen ASM’s commitment to these key areas.

Author: Stefano Bertuzzi

Stefano Bertuzzi
Stefano Bertuzzi is the CEO of the American Society for Microbiology.