Timothy Canfield and William Goodfellow, SETAC Globe Editors-in-Chief
The two of us talk every Friday morning as part of our Globe Editor-in-Chief responsibilities. As you might expect, our discussions primarily revolve around the upcoming issue of the Globe and what we need to do to put it together. We talk about how we can continually improve the Globe for you, our readers, and what articles you find most interesting based on the number of times an article is opened each month. And yes, to be honest, we do talk about non-Globe issues such as current events and our most recent rounds of golf.
Lately though, we have been talking about the things that make, and have made, SETAC a great organization, and why we became and remain members of SETAC. These are discussions that two old gummers (we each have been members for more than 25 years) with lots of experience in the society tend to have when we look at where we have been as an organization, where we are currently going, and where we might be moving to in the future. We have noticed that the membership numbers for SETAC have been steadily declining since 2012. This is not unique to SETAC, as many societies are experiencing a similar pattern in membership decline. Some of this is due to older members retiring and leaving the field. But, there does not seem to be a big influx of new, younger scientists at a rate that was once common with professional societies. We scratch our balding heads and talk about what the root causes of this decline may be and how we can help counter this trend. We know that the current members of SETAC governance are studying this issue and working hard to develop solutions. As a society outreach tool, the Globe has a readership of almost 12,000 people, while our society membership is approximately 5,600. We know there is interest in what SETAC does, but those who are not members may not understand the value of being a SETAC member. We thought we might add our perspective for why we joined and what makes us want to stay a member of SETAC.
Why We Joined
SETAC was and still is a cutting-edge, professional society that was the first to truly strive to have a tripartite balance in membership among academia, business and government. While the uniqueness of this stated principle may have become jaded with time as one thinks of this as the norm today for most societies, back when SETAC started, it was unique and rare for a society to base its foundational principles on this shared tripartite tenant. We joined SETAC during a time when there was much more support for scientists to be involved with professional societies. Many of us were able to be members of multiple societies and were supported by our employers to attend multiple meetings each year. For many of us, this is not the case now. Our respective organizations have experienced shrinking budgets, which in turn has translated to dwindling support for their staff to become members of the professional societies and attend face-to-face meetings. There have been pressures to reduce the number of professional societies one belongs to, and for most of us, we have had to downsize to only a few societies. Furthermore, many of us pay our own dues to be members of SETAC as our employers no longer cover those costs. We obviously see a value to spending our time and resources to be a member of SETAC. What is it that keeps us connected to SETAC when so many forces are stacked against us to stay? For us and many others, it is the tangible and intangible benefits that we get from being members of SETAC and attending the annual meetings and, often times, our employers may not see or understand the full value that is brought back to them through our membership in SETAC.
Interaction With World Class Scientists
SETAC has many members who are highly respected, top-tier scientists who regularly attend the meetings, are members of SETAC committees and Interest Groups, and publish in our journals. These individuals come from across the world and every geographic unit of SETAC. Because SETAC is a global society, our membership in SETAC provides us the opportunity to interact with and become colleagues with many of these top-tier scientists from around the world. Although this can happen based on casual interactions at meetings, this is accomplished most effectively by volunteering to be members of committees, Interest Groups or serving in governance roles, where working closely on shared interests and challenges creates a collegial atmosphere where scientists become colleagues and colleagues become friends. We start to communicate more regularly and share ideas and perspectives that help shape our science and SETAC as a society.
Expanding Our Expertise
We all have areas of expertise that our employers value and rely upon to accomplish the work we do for them. However, none of us are experts in every area. Often, our employers can’t hire all the expertise they need in-house, and there are not enough resources to hire out that expertise for short-term needs. Our membership in SETAC provides the opportunity to develop these collegial friendships that allow us to draw upon expertise of friends and colleagues when we have a need. Through our first-hand interaction and exchange of information with our fellow scientists, we are able to raise up our knowledge base several notches and provide a value-added component to our employers. The friendships we develop by working closely with our colleagues allows us to expand the expertise we have access to, because each of us had expertise that we are now willing to share with someone we have met face-to-face and became friends with through SETAC. All it takes is a call or e-mail, and our colleague-friends in SETAC are ready and willing to help us if they can.
Developing a Network of Colleagues and Friends
SETAC provides us the opportunity to develop a diverse network of colleagues and friends that span the world. We gain insights into different ways of thinking about the environmental challenges that we are trying to solve. Through these networks, we can share ideas on how to address challenges and obtain feedback from different perspectives that may differ from our own. This inherently helps to better guide approaches to addressing global environmental problems that will be more readily acceptable to a broad range of people and cultures. We each grow personally and professionally from understanding these differing perspectives.
How to Develop a Network of Colleagues and Friends? Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer!
The best way to develop a network of colleagues and friends is to get involved with SETAC activities. But, how do you do that? Think “start small.” In our careers, both of us started by joining a SETAC committee that intrigued us or an Interest Group that we were interested in based on the work we were doing at the time. This allowed us to learn a little bit of how SETAC runs as a society and to meet our first group of future colleagues. We would spend a couple of years with a committee volunteering to lead work efforts and eventually putting ourselves out there for leadership roles in the committee. We would eventually look to serve on other committees to expand our knowledge base on SETAC efforts and how the society worked. This allowed us to broaden our experience with the functioning of SETAC, expand our network of colleagues and to gain visibility in the society. Eventually, we took the step of volunteering to stand for election to SETAC’s governance group. Because we had a broad range of experience with SETAC committees and Interest Groups and a level of visibility within the society, we were fortunate to be elected to serve in SETAC governance. Service on the SETAC governance boards or councils is not something we take lightly. As a member of the governance group, we focused on making decisions that were in the best interests of SETAC and its members. The decisions made at that level impact us all. But with each board or council, the members who serve work at a level and closeness that builds strong friendships and life-long professional and personal bonds. We were truly honored to serve SETAC at the governance level, but like all good things, our time serving at that level and leading came to an end. Instead of fading off into a “SETAC retirement,” we chose to look to the next place we could serve the society and its members.
We currently serve as SETAC Globe editors-in-chief and are very honored to be able to serve the society in this role. And, even after all the time we have spent serving on different committees and in governance, building our network of colleges and friends, thinking we pretty much know everybody, we are still adding new colleagues and friends to our network through our service in our current roles. One day, our time leading the Globe efforts will come to an end so others can have the opportunity to serve as we have done. When that happens, both of us will look to see where we can serve SETAC in some other role to contribute to a society that has given us so very much throughout our careers.
Why Younger Scientists Should Become Members of the Society
We don’t pretend to know what it’s like to be a young scientist trying to break into the field today. The world today seems to move much faster due to all the real-time electronic communication that is at everybody’s fingertips. Transfer of information is occurring at such a phenomenal pace that it is hard to keep up with everything. Our employers are encouraging all of us to use electronic communications and more virtual meetings to conduct business in place of face-to-face interactions to save costs. But, there are some things that can’t be effectively accomplished using the virtual and remote tools that we have at our disposal today. The most important thing that can’t be effectively accomplished at a distance is the development of collegial friendships. Yes, you may know somebody by voice or by voice and video, but you don’t really “know” somebody unless you have face-to-face time, shared experiences both during work time and after hours, like you achieve when you are a member of a society and attend their meetings. We recognize that people may not be able to attend the annual meeting every year, but maintaining your membership will provide you with a means to stay connected and informed between conferences.
We hope everybody who is a member of SETAC will continue to be a member and share your stories with your colleagues on the value SETAC has provided you and why you renew your membership. For those who read this article and are not currently members, we would encourage you to join SETAC, become one of our colleagues and friends, and experience first-hand why SETAC is truly a unique society. Cheers!