As I am sure any of the SOT Past Presidents will confirm, your year as President of this extraordinary society goes by all too quickly. In this, my last message to you as President, I thought it might be worthwhile to briefly highlight some of the accomplishments your leadership team has achieved over the past year.
We started the year with a new Strategic Plan that has as its Central Challenge strengthening the Society’s impact on science and public/environmental health. Even before the leadership year began, several changes were made to make our organization more efficient. The most visible of these was the formation of the Faculty United for Toxicology Undergraduate Recruitment and Education (FUTURE) Committee and the merger of the Education Committee and the Career Resources and Development Committee into the new Education and Career Development Committee, which has been charged with developing and implementing education, career development, and mentoring initiatives at all career stages beyond the undergraduate level.
As part of the Strategic Plan’s priority to implement a forward-looking strategy for SOT meetings, you will see several changes that are being piloted during this year’s Annual Meeting to enhance the meeting experience for our membership. Some of these include the continued inclusion of 90-minute Symposium and Workshop Sessions, as well as a 165-minute Hot Topic Session that will focus on the adverse health effects of vaping. We also are piloting the SOT TOX Presentation Corner, located within the ToxExpo Exhibit Hall, where short talks will be given on a variety of topics ranging from career development to innovative science; the full list of scheduled presentations is available by selecting “TOX Presentation Corner” when filtering by Session and Activity Type in the Online Planner and SOT Event App. In addition, we have modified our Annual Meeting child policy to allow children into Scientific Sessions and the ToxExpo Exhibit Hall, as long as they remain under full parental/guardian supervision and control. To further facilitate meeting attendance for members with young children, we also are piloting a childcare program in Anaheim, which, based on advance enrollment, is already a success. Many of these changes were prompted by your feedback. We want to continue to learn more about your needs and interests, so each day during the meeting, we will present you with questions that will inform our future decision-making. Look for the notifications in the SOT Event App.
Fully recognizing that attendees at all SOT meetings and events need to feel safe and welcome, Council also has adopted a Code of Conduct policy that is applicable to all activities. This policy reiterates the Society’s commitment to providing a safe and productive environment for its members and guests—one that fosters open dialogue, the free exchange of scientific ideas, and the promotion of equal opportunity and is free of any sort of harassment, coercion, and discrimination. The policy also outlines a process whereby harassment of any sort during an SOT-hosted activity can be reported, how it will be investigated, and the potential consequences. I encourage everyone to review the entire SOT Code of Conduct policy.
Also related to safety and health concerns, I and the rest of the SOT leadership are monitoring the reports and recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) related to the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Per the agency’s update on February 19, 2020, the immediate health risk to the general American public is considered low. We will continue to provide updates, as needed, on the Annual Meeting website, and we encourage everyone to follow the recommendations by the US CDC for preventing the spread of 2019-nCoV and respiratory illnesses, including washing your hands often, staying home if feeling unwell, and regularly cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. For more information, visit the US CDC website. The posters of those colleagues from China who will be unable to present their accepted posters because of travel restrictions will be available as ePosters on the SOT Event App.
Looking forward, a Council task force has been busy evaluating further enhancements for our meetings, which are being explored for next year and include proactive mentoring of our graduate students and postdocs to improve their success in session proposals for our Annual Meeting, piloting a hybrid 90-minute session wherein one of the presentations would be chosen from submitted abstracts, and using technology to increase audience participation in our Symposium, Workshop, and Roundtable Sessions.
Moving beyond the SOT Annual Meeting, Jeffrey M. Peters, PhD, is settling in to his new role as Toxicological Sciences Editor-in-Chief and has made several changes that address the need for a forward-looking strategy for the Society’s journal (please see summary in Jeff’s editorial in the February 2020 issue of Toxicological Sciences). Some of these include bringing back the listing of publications under topics within the Table of Contents; broadening the scope of the journal while maintaining a call for the highest caliber and most innovative toxicological science; and recruiting two Deputy Editors—Alison Harrill, PhD, and Kristine Willett, PhD—who will have distinct responsibilities for introducing new aspects to the journal, such as expanding the journal’s social media presence and developing and administering new training for the Editorial Board and reviewers.
Of the four Strategic Priorities within the new Strategic Plan, perhaps the most transformative is increasing the Society’s influence through science communication. Foremost among the objectives for this priority was the development of a communications strategy. Council spent a great deal of time over the past year evaluating past communication strategies, trying to define lessons learned and incorporating that knowledge into a new strategy. Overall, it was determined that our communications strategy will be aimed at influencing the influencer, thereby achieving a multiplier effect. Working as a team, Council has defined what our key messages should be and has identified some initial key audiences. Among those are educators and legislators or their staff. For the former, we have initiated outreach to a few groups that we feel offer a high probability of success and will provide an opportunity to learn for future expanded efforts. For the latter, we will be taking advantage of our partnership with FASEB, which has a highly effective process for communicating with legislators, in hopes that we can encourage the use of sound science in decision-making.
As part of Council’s examination of the Society’s communication efforts, we also are exploring ways to enhance and expand how we communicate with the SOT membership. One change that resulted from these discussions is that this will be the final issue of the quarterly Communiqué newsletter. With the success of the weekly newsletter format, Council determined that the type of long-form articles that were regularly featured in the quarterly edition could be neatly woven in to the weekly message. This decision provides more opportunities for SOT members interested in creating original content to share their stories with the SOT membership. If you would like to contribute discussion pieces, science features, SOT program impact stories, or other items to the SOT newsletter, please contact the SOT Communications Director, Michelle Werts.
It has been my pleasure and honor to serve as your President over the past year. You elected an outstanding leadership team to serve on SOT Council, and I believe they have been highly successful in serving as stewards, as well as change agents, for a vibrant and exciting professional society.