President’s Message: Looking Back and Looking Forward

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By George Daston posted 04-22-2021 14:14

  

Dear Colleagues:

It’s been a little more than a year since the start of the pandemic and almost a year since I assumed the duties of SOT President. It’s been a year like no other for all of us. We have all had to adapt to working and interacting remotely. Mundane tasks that we never thought about, like grocery shopping or a trip to the dentist, required special planning. Those of us with caregiving responsibilities, whether for children or the elderly, found ourselves devoting a lot more time and energy to ensuring our loved ones were able to keep their spirits up and have a chance to thrive.

Even so, we have found ways to keep our research going and to make progress toward our mission of improving public and environmental health. I was delighted that despite the challenges of the pandemic, you and your colleagues were able to submit more than 1,000 abstracts to the Virtual Annual Meeting. Those, along with the many fine Symposia, Workshops, Continuing Education courses, and other Scientific Sessions, as well as the ToxExpo and Exhibitor-Hosted Sessions, made the Annual Meeting a success and demonstrated our resilience and our thirst for knowledge. Thank you to all the attendees, speakers, Chairs and Co-Chairs, exhibitors, Supporters, SOT Committees, and SOT Component Groups for your participation in the Virtual Meeting. While nothing can replace the vibe of being together, the Virtual Meeting was able to reach a global audience, many of whom do not have the means or opportunity to travel to a typical in-person Annual Meeting. We also are able to offer much of the content of the Annual Meeting for on-demand viewing by registrants through the end of May. Even with an in-person meeting in 2022 (to which we are firmly committed), finding ways to record and share in-person meeting content with an online audience is something that we are exploring for future meetings.

The field of toxicology is indispensable to public health and the making of public policy. The Society’s role is to provide a forum for us to share our science with others and to facilitate the transfer of knowledge to others who can more immediately apply it for the benefit of mankind. SOT has been wildly successful in serving as that forum. Success tends to breed conservatism: If things are working, why change them? We think about this tendency each time we develop a new Strategic Plan and have been very intentional about questioning whether our past performance guarantees success in the future. That unwillingness to be complacent served us well this past year: the Strategic Plan that we put in place a year before the start of the pandemic included elements dedicated to investigating new and different ways to hold a meeting, updated the Society’s organizational structure for greater efficiency, and foreshadowed the use of virtual technologies to facilitate communication around the world. Consequently, our Committees and Council were able to work effectively despite an inability to meet in person, and we already understood the pros and cons of virtual meetings before we needed to make the decision to stage one. That doesn’t mean that we did or could anticipate every challenge. But it does mean that we have put ourselves in a better position to deal with the unexpected when it arises, made possible by the organizational and financial strength that has come from good planning.

I expect the post-pandemic world to be different. How different, and in what ways, is uncertain. SOT Council will spend a lot of its time in the coming months trying to see through the fog to understand how to provide our membership with the best meeting experiences and member services. We have already had conversations on the possibility of incorporating the best aspects of the Virtual Meeting into an in-person meeting format. We are already looking at the SOT revenue model to determine whether there are ways to diversify an income flow that is highly dependent on an in-person meeting. I’m sure you will hear more about these and other topics as the year progresses.

My year as SOT President has been much more eventful than I could have imagined. In addition to all the things we had planned to do, we also were able to share much of the content of the canceled 2020 meeting; staged our first-ever Virtual Meeting; dealt with the fiscal crisis precipitated by the 2020 meeting cancellation; and renewed the Society’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This was made possible largely through the efforts of Council; the many Committee members and the leadership of the Regional Chapters, Special Interest Groups, and Specialty Sections; and, of course, the exceptional staff at SOT Headquarters. I am grateful to all of you for all you have done. I’m also pleased that I was able to give something back to an organization that has been so important to my professional development.

Sincerely,

George


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