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DVM: 1997 Fall Newsleter

This Newsletter by Section

Message from the Chair

Peter C. Wainwright

Greetings to all of you! It has been a busy and enjoyable year for the Division of Vertebrate Morphology and the upcoming SICB 1998 Annual Meeting in Boston, Jan. 3-7, promises to begin 1998 in grand style. We are expecting an unusually large turnout for this year's meeting thanks to a great location and an attractive slate of symposia. I am excited about the meeting and hope you will have the opportunity to attend.

This past July brought the International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology (ICVM) in Bristol. Jeremy Rayner, R. McNeill Alexander and the other members of the local committee really deserve a tremendous amount of credit for putting together what proved to be an outstanding congress in a terrific location. Many members of DVM presented talks, posters and symposium contributions in Bristol, with perhaps the most memorable one being Ken Dial's last minute arrival from Los Angeles for his Flight Symposium talk, in which he riveted the audience with his usual "voice from the heart" style while sporting his freshly shaven crown. (I do believe that was a Nike swoosh tattooed above the right ear!) As vertebrate morphology is a thriving science in Europe, this congress provided an excellent opportunity for North Americans to get together with our counterparts across the Atlantic and from the other continents to exchange ideas and news. At the end of the congress, Sue Herring passed on the society's presidency to R. McNeill Alexander, who will hold this position through the end of the next congress. The ICVM-6 will be held in Jena, Germany, in 2001 and will be hosted by M. S. Fischer and J. Matthias Starck.

I am sad to report that this newsletter marks the end of the terms for Dominique Homberger and John Hermanson, our secretary and program officer. I can attest to the outstanding jobs done by Dominique and John, and our division really owes them a debt of gratitude. Many thanks to both of you! DVM has been the better for your efforts. Fortunately for us, we have elected an excellent group of new divisional officers (an outcome guaranteed by the excellent slate of candidates we had). Andy Biewener is our chair-elect, Kurt Schwenk is the new program officer and John Long is our new secretary. All three individuals assume their new positions at the meeting in Boston, with Andy becoming our chair at the DVM Business Meeting in Denver in 1999. I know all three will do a great job.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all DVM members to give some thought to organizing a symposium. Symposia and their published end products are an important outcome of our meetings. Good symposia help attract people to the meetings, and the publications that follow are a major legacy of the society. I urge you to develop those ideas that may be emerging in your mind and discuss your thoughts with other division members, myself, and our program officer. Let's make sure that DVM is a leader in producing excellent symposia at the Annual Meeting every year.

In closing, a reminder that DVM is co-sponsoring symposia on development and evolution of body plans, myogenesis, and the evolution of circulatory systems in Boston. Between these special events and the usual program of contributed papers, the meeting should offer much for us all. Until then, best wishes, and have a good holiday season.

Message from the Program Officer

John Hermanson

By the time this newsletter arrives, many of you will have submitted abstracts for the upcoming SICB 1998 Annual Meeting, Jan. 3-7, in Boston. The meeting is shaping up to be an exciting one on many fronts, some of which will be dealt with in other parts of this newsletter. Boston has always been an exciting town in which to enjoy scientific meetings, and this should be no exception.

Similar to the meeting in Albuquerque, some of our morphology contributions will be scheduled during sessions that span the interests of other divisions. The size of the actual DVM sessions will be directly tied to the breakdown of topics and how people completed their abstract submission forms. More information regarding the scheduling of the DVM sessions should be available in October. In addition, our division is supporting three symposia at the Boston meetings: "Development and Evolutionary Perspectives on Major Transformation in Body Organization" (Lennart Olsson and Brian Hall, co-organizers); "Comparative Embryology of Myogenesis" (Judith Venuti, organizer); and "Origin and Further Evolution of Circulatory Systems: An Interdivisional Workshop" (Charlotte Mangum and Brian McMahon have organized this as a society-wide symposium). For those of you in the Northeast, don't forget the regional morphology meeting that is held every autumn and will be hosted by Kurt Schwenk in Connecticut this year. This meeting is always a great experience for students, postdoctorates, faculty, and all other interested morphologists. I am sure that Kurt can provide information if you haven't been included on the preliminary mailing list.

If you need to reach me in a pinch, please recall that I am enjoying a sabbatical leave until January. Try to reach me at my normal e-mail address: and send a cc: to me at: HERMANSJ@HSCSYR.EDU. Either way, I should be able to get back to you in short order.

Report from the Secretary

Dominique Homberger

It has been a privilege, pleasure and valuable learning experience for me to serve as DVM's secretary for the last two years. John Long, Jr., will be wielding the pen for the next two years, starting with the SICB 1998 Annual Meeting in Boston, Jan 3-7, 1998.

As I reflect over the issues that arose during my tenure as DVM's secretary, the plight of the students who intend to devote their professional life to vertebrate morphology dwells foremost in my mind. SICB and DVM can be proud of their long-standing and committed support of student and postdoctoral members (see, for example, the articles by Tom Wolcott and Malcolm Gordon on pages 9-11 of the Spring 1997 SICB Newsletter). Yet, students and postdoctorates tend to grow up wanting to become independent scientists. As such, they need positions that provide them with a reasonable salary and with some measure of security to be able to focus on the demanding tasks of good teaching and original research.

In recent years, however, universities have been tending to replace tenure-track faculty with instructors or lecturers who have no job security, are not well paid, usually lack basic employee benefits, and have enormous teaching loads with no opportunities for reenergizing sabbaticals or continuing education. As the national budget for federally sponsored research will continue to shrink, the number of postdoctoral and research associate positions will also decrease. Thus, aspiring vertebrate morphologists, who are unlikely to find employment in industrial research, are competing increasingly with other biologists for a shrinking pool of tenure-track positions at colleges and universities. In order to secure the future of the next generation of vertebrate morphologists and thus, of our discipline, it will no longer be sufficient for established scientists to promote and support students. We need to be involved in some kind of job creation program, and the question arises whether there exists a unique professional niche for vertebrate morphologists.

In recent years, perhaps also under the pressure of granting agencies and of university administrators needing the funds from the overhead portion of grants, vertebrate morphology appears to have moved ever more closely towards neurobiology and toward what used to be called only 20 years ago "Bewegungsphysiologie" ("physiology of movements" or kinematics). Rare, indeed, are the presentations at SICB meetings and ICVMs, in which morphology (the science of structure) is the focus of interest. And more often than not, the root of some seemingly intractable problems in research appears to lie in a lack of anatomical information. Vertebrate morphologists, however, are not alone in this predicament. The recent issue of the Newsletter of the American Association of Anatomists (Series 6, Number 1, March 1997) states: "... a shortage of trained and experienced gross anatomists is currently a problem at many institutions and will become a problem at many other institutions in the future."

It appears to me that there is an obvious academic niche for which vertebrate morphologists could be uniquely qualified — namely the teaching of the science of organismal structure (e.g., anatomy) at the undergraduate, graduate and professional level. Perhaps by combining the collective wisdom of vertebrate morphologists and human and veterinary anatomists, we might be able to create conditions that will benefit academia as well as the discipline and the students of vertebrate morphology/anatomy.

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