The Role of Societies in Increasing Collaboration across Disciplines—Communicating in Toxicology (Part 2 of 2)


By David Faulkner posted 08-16-2017 13:03


SOT Communique Summer 2017 Masthead

For much of its history, the field of toxicology has been a reactive science, responding to crises after the fact, but as the field evolved, there was a shift towards making toxicology more proactive in preventing such crises from happening in the first place. SOT is committed to improving toxicology’s visibility among the sciences and making clear the value of this area of expertise to other disciplines, helping those in other health professions appreciate the key role of toxicology in protecting public health. In the first part of this series, I interviewed SOT members about reaching across disciplines on an individual level to expand the scope and impact of their research. This follow-up article explores the ways that SOT is working as an organization to expand the role of toxicology within the biomedical community and to communicate the value of our discipline to other scientific communities.

Quote about the importance of cross-disciplinary teams in scienceIncreasing outreach was identified as an SOT Strategic Priority in the 2015–2018 SOT Strategic Plan, and during his 2016–2017 SOT presidency, John B. Morris, PhD, University of Connecticut, focused the SOT Council on the effort to build bridges to other professional organizations and enhance the visibility of SOT among other scientific groups. “It’s the age of collaborative science,” says Dr. Morris. “The institutions that will thrive are the ones that can pull together those interdisciplinary teams.”

One of the first opportunities identified by the SOT Council was to boost SOT’s participation in two consortia (professional organizations that include other professional organizations that share an interest within its membership): the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Federation of European Toxicologists and European Societies of Toxicology (EUROTOX).

“We’ve been a member of AAAS for a long time, but we haven’t optimized our participation in terms of spreading the word about toxicology,” notes Dr. Morris. To this end, SOT has targeted a few areas to increase engagement in AAAS, including increasing SOT representation on AAAS committees and increasing applications for and nominations of toxicologists for AAAS awards.

2017 SOT/EUROTOX DebateWith EUROTOX, Dr. Morris shares the hope that by working together, the two organizations can raise their collective profile more effectively than if they were to work independently. “It’s not a competition,” he says. “[The question is,] ‘How can we work together and more effectively communicate?’. What can we do together?” SOT Council and EUROTOX leadership held informal collaborative meetings in January and March to reinvigorate the partnership and will meet again during the EUROTOX Congress in September. While there’s a history of members of EUROTOX attending the SOT Annual Meetings and participating in the annual SOT/EUROTOX Debate held during both organization’s meetings, there’s not as much precedent for SOT members taking symposia to EUROTOX meetings. Dr. Morris suggests that exchanging symposia and award-winning talks might be a good way to promote international interdisciplinary relationships.  

In addition to boosting the Society’s profile within groups in which SOT is already a member, the SOT Council also explored opportunities to join other consortia and applied for membership to the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). As reported in a Communiqué blog post, SOT’s application was accepted, joining SOT with 31 other member societies representing more than 125,000 researchers in all areas of the biological sciences and offering dozens of possible collaborative opportunities for toxicologists.

Of course, while starting outreach projects is important, sustaining them is the key to success. “Last year was just the beginning,” shares SOT President Patricia E. Ganey, PhD, Michigan State University.

Quote about the role toxicologists play in scienceDr. Ganey believes the Society has much to offer other organizations and scientific disciplines: “We can bring forth the unique perspectives and talents that toxicologists have to solve problems, to help people understand why we’re helpful, and why we can be better together.”

SOT Council is exploring ways to aid in these communication efforts and is developing strategies for sharing toxicology information specifically tailored to biomedical and other related disciplines through the SOT website and other communication channels. “There will be information about us, but also toxicology success stories—historical events in which toxicology was kind of the hero. The idea is to impress other biomedical scientists with the contribution that we make,” Dr. Ganey explains. “A lot of what we do is done behind the scenes. We don’t get credit for preventing a drug that would cause toxicity from coming to market, but this way, we can point to things that happened.” This type of messaging may be invaluable to help professionals in other disciplines recognize the benefits of including a toxicologist on a project.

Two additional pieces of the outreach puzzle that the SOT Council is continuing to discuss are the SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo and the Society’s journal, Toxicological Sciences. As the largest and most significant project that the Society undertakes every year, “How do we continue to improve the Annual Meeting and remain relevant?” asks Dr. Ganey. “If you have to pick one meeting a year, we want it to be this one.” Similarly, Toxicological Sciences is but one of an ever-growing number of scientific journals, and Dr. Ganey says that a strategic discussion is needed to determine “what we can do to allow it to thrive in an environment where the number of toxicology journals is proliferating.” SOT Council began this exploration earlier this year, and the SOT Board of Publications is expected to continue the discussion.

As noted in the first part of this series, toxicology is by its very nature a collaborative science, and toxicologists are keenly aware of how much they rely on the expertise of others to succeed in their research. But in order to reach its true potential, the field of toxicology needs to increase outreach and communication efforts to help professionals in other fields recognize just how much toxicologists have to offer.