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Message from the President

Martin E. Feder

This is my final report to you in the SICB Newsletter. It has been my privilege to serve as President, and to meet and interact with so many of you. I hope my service has left SICB as a stronger and more capable organization to serve your needs as integrative and comparative biologists, and a more visible representative of our community to the scientific community at large. Marvalee Wake, of the University of California at Berkeley, will become President at the end of the Chicago meeting; please welcome and support her. Kimberly Smith will also step down as Treasurer in Chicago, and will be succeeded by Ron Dimock of Wake Forest Univ. Kimberly leaves as his most obvious legacy the 'free drink ticket' at the annual meeting, but has had a major but less visible impact on the operations of SICB. Our robust financial state is due in no small part to him. I also congratulate the winners of our Spring elections, who will take office towards the close of the Chicago meeting: President-Elect John Wingfield (Univ. of Washington, Seattle); Program Officer-Elect, Stacia Sower (Univ. of New Hampshire), Member-at-large, Dianna Padilla (SUNY Stony Brook); Education Council Chair, Wendy Ryan (Kutztown Univ., PA).

When SICB undertook strategic planning in the summer of 1999, one immediate conclusion was that SICB needed to have a somewhat larger membership to function effectively, which led us to ask how to increase our membership. The primary answer, as usual, is to continue to host an annual meeting of great scientific and educational interest and with enormous professional value to full members, postdocs, and students. Elsewhere in this newsletter you'll see that our Program Officer, John Pearse, has again risen to this challenge. Our 2001 Annual Meeting in Chicago will include 15 symposia or special programs, an opening presentation by paleontologist Paul Sereno and Alan Kohn's Past-Presidential Address, a 'town meeting' on teaching of evolution, new and improved social events, and our usual program of oral communications, poster sessions, and Divisional meetings. For the first time, some of these events - especially those that reach out to new members - will be supported by a special 'Program Innovation Fund' we have established.

But even a superb annual meeting may not be enough. Indeed, another recommendation of the strategic plan was that we establish a greatly expanded electronic presence -- a 'bio-portal'. We are a society of more than 2000 individuals with enormous expertise in all manner of research techniques, organisms, comparative databases, educational techniques and approaches, sources of funding, etc. Many of us are students looking postdoctoral mentors, postdocs looking for jobs, or faculty looking for students, postdocs, and colleagues. All of us, from time to time, either seek or are responsive to collaborators. Our problem is that, except by word of mouth or by chance encounters at our annual meeting, it is often difficult to access the treasure trove of expertise and opportunity that the SICB membership represents. The bio-portal may solve this problem. It is an expanded version of our website in which SICB members may enter their expertise, wants, and needs; the result can be searched by anyone who points to the site. For example, if you want to know something about use of strain gauges, copepod systematics, or design of PCR primers, you will be able to use the portal to locate members with this expertise. If you want to find animations useful in teaching muscle physiology or evolution, the portal would lead you to these. The incentive to join SICB is that, while anybody can search the portal, only SICB members would be eligible to enter their own information in the portal to be searched. Please take time to visit the portal and enter your own information, wants, and needs. For browsing, the entry point is now the same as our old SICB home page, http://www.sicb.org. To begin your personal entry on research expertise, help wanted, or position(s) sought, point to http://sicb.org/submitportal.php3. You will need your SICB member number to validate the entry; this can be found in any email from SICB Headquarters. To enter an educational link, either your own or others', point to http://sicb.org/educators/submitedulink.php3. Obviously, this database will require you to enter information for it to become valuable to yourself and others, so please proceed to do so.

Another target of opportunity is our society's journal, presently known as American Zoologist. As our Treasurer, Kimberly Smith, is fond of reminding us, institutional subscriptions to this journal are a major source of revenue and underwrite everything else SICB does (including our annual meeting). Making the journal more valuable to our institutional subscribers comes back to help us. Almost two years ago John Edwards and a consortium of colleagues at the University of Washington began to edit the journal. They faced several problems in mastering the mechanical aspects of producing the journal, which we hope are now behind us. The publication of SICB symposia will likely always be a significant component of the journal, but the editorial consortium is now turning its attention to prospective additional components: reviews, opinion pieces, etc. As I write, they are in the process of developing a plan to bring these additional components to fruition. Please feel free to offer John your advice and contributions.

Still another aspect is the name of the journal itself, American Zoologist. Some feel strongly that this name enjoys excellent (and well-deserved) recognition and should be not be changed, and others find 'Zoologist' old-fashioned and exclusive of integrative and comparative biologists who work on organisms other than animals. In many ways, this debate recapitulates a debate of several years ago on the name of the society. Our various publication advisory boards have themselves debated this issue for several years now without closure. Technically, the name of the society's journal is specified in its constitution, which means the constitution must be amended to change the name of the journal, which requires a vote of the membership. Your Executive Committee has decided that this technicality represents an opportunity for the entire membership to express its feelings on the name of the journal. In January, the Executive Committee will decide on the best alternative title to be placed before the membership, and then a vote will be taken by mail. In the meantime, if you have a pet name you'd like considered ("Integrative and Comparative Biology", "Journal of Integrative and Comparative Biology", and "Journal Formerly Known as American Zoologist" have already been suggested), please contact SICB Headquarters.

Finally, the most direct way to increase the membership is for you to recruit new members. I ask you actively to recruit your colleagues, mentors, and trainees to SICB. SICB has implemented several new policies that we hope will make this easier:
- We have reduced the more expensive dues categories by about 10% for 2001. The new lower dues rates are at https://secure.aibs.org/sicbmembers2001/membership.asp .
- We continue to offer a $35 reward for each new full member recruited.
- For years we have charged non-members extra to register for the annual meeting. This year we'll charge non-members the same amount as members plus one year's dues. Thus, any nonmember who attends our annual meeting will automatically become a member for one year (and hopefully more). If you'd like to recruit members, just convince your prospects to attend the Chicago meeting; they'll automatically become members.
- We've appointed a new membership committee: Al Bennett (chair), George Lauder, and Kathy Packard. Contact them for help and/or advice.

Some of you may be reticent to recruit new members because you're not quite certain how to rebut some of the more common non-member responses. Far be it from me to put words in your mouth, but:

When they say: "SICB is a society in trouble."
YOU should say: SICB has withstood the challenges of the last decade and now enjoys considerable financial and intellectual health. Even our newest members will have heard tales of a time, now nearly a decade ago, when SICB nearly went bankrupt, assessed every member $200, and increased all membership costs precipitously. This was the last straw for many members, who quit SICB. Others may have quit because they believed that integrative and comparative biology was passé or out of favor at academic institutions or with funding agencies. In this decade, both molecular biology and environmental biology are turning to integrative and comparative biology for answers in such areas as functional genomics and global climate change. Indeed, our annual meeting has been featured in Science and Nature during the past few years, and support for the research and educational activities of our membership continues to expand at federal funding agencies. Our newest Division, Evolutionary Developmental Biology, is a scientific 'rising star.' As for the financial crisis, we now have more than $1,000,000 in the bank. But financial actions speak louder than words: we have deceased the meeting registration fee, abolished the abstract fee, and will reduce the dues rate for full members in 2001.

When they say: "SICB is too expensive to join."
YOU should say: During last year's strategic planning we compared our dues and fees with those of other societies, and discovered that ours were in fact relatively expensive--for the following reason: In the midst of the legendary 'financial crisis', SICB (or actually ASZ) had no alternative but to increase the costs of membership and registration. SICB then paid its debts, but needed to accumulate some buffer against future problems and so did not roll back costs. We have now accumulated this buffer and signed on with a much less expensive management company. This allowed us to reduce meeting registration costs in 2000, eliminate abstract fees for 2001 (Chicago), and roll back dues for 2001. These costs are now in line with or less expensive than those for other societies with which we compare ourselves.

When they say: "It's STILL too expensive to belong to SICB and to attend the meeting. Shouldn't costs be cut still further?"
YOU should say: We could indeed cut costs further, but not without losing some things members say they want. For example, we have an extremely generous cost structure for graduate student members. Dues and meeting registration are trivial ($37 and $70, respectively), and we provide financial aid to EVERY graduate student member who submits an abstract and requests it. We hear from non-student members that these programs are so important that they'd rather pay higher fees than cut back on the programs [If this is not true, we need to know.]. Another example is that we hold our meetings at convention hotels. We could move to less expensive university campuses, but only by changing the time of our meeting to the summer. [By the way, our recent poll tells us that just as many members could attend an end-July to early August meeting as an early January meeting; we will need to consider this very carefully!]. Also, members say they actually enjoy and prefer the amenities of convention hotels.

When they say: "The Annual Meeting no longer attracts those I MUST interact with at a meeting and, while I like the Annual Meeting, I have to give priority to other meetings."
YOU should say: SICB is a diverse society and, for many Divisions, our annual meeting is THE major and must-attend meeting of the year. For others, there are numerous alternative meetings, some of which can be more essential. But, let's not forget two important features of our Annual Meeting. First, it is diverse, and diversity is a real asset. People with very diverse backgrounds and interests attend, and can provide truly diverse perspectives, advice, and findings of great benefit to those who attend. As one member told me during the past year: "I go to SICB meetings because there I get more good new ideas for research projects than anywhere else." Second, the SICB meeting is NOT a top-down-run meeting in which a small program committee chooses a favored few for platform presentations, with the remainder relegated to a poster meat-market. All members are welcome both to present and to choose the way in which they will present. The members control the meeting, and the members are welcome if not encouraged to implement program innovations. If you want to create a symposium, workshop, or special program involving those with whom you "must" interact, chances are that SICB will permit you to do so if not encourage it.

Again, I thank you for your help and advice during my presidency and look forward to welcoming you to Chicago.