President's Message: Accomplishing Objectives to Transform the Society and Build Upon Success

Communique 2019 Issue 4 Masthead which on the left has the Communique logo consisting of a blue speaking bubble aligned with an orange icon showing a newspaper. The word "Communique" is overlaid in white across these two images. On the right-hand side of the masthead are the words "2019: Issue 4."

Pull quote from the article about the transformative nature of the Strategic Plan.Last year, SOT Council spent considerable effort developing a 2019–2023 Strategic Plan for the Society. The plan was developed based on extensive input from our membership and was designed to achieve a vision to strengthen SOT’s impact on science and public/environmental health. Four Strategic Priorities were defined: (A) maximize SOT’s prominence within the scientific community; (B) build the capabilities and effectiveness of the SOT membership; (C) increase SOT’s influence through science communication; and (D) strengthen organizational effectiveness and sustainability. Although some of these priorities were designed to build upon past successes, others are more transformational and represent new directions for our Society.

Of the Strategic Objectives outlined under each priority, six were identified as a focus for implementation this first year. With the 2019–2020 SOT leadership year halfway complete, I thought it worthwhile to provide a progress update. 

Strategic Objective A2: Implement a Forward-Looking Strategy for Meetings and Continuing Education

Excerpt from the Strategic Plan: Strategic Objective A2 stresses developing and implementing proactive strategies and innovative approaches to enhance meeting experience and value. Meetings include the annual meeting, SOT-sponsored meetings outside of the annual meeting, all forms of continuing education, and meetings held in collaboration with other scientific organizations.A task force consisting of SOT volunteers and led by SOT Councilor Cynthia Rider has been meeting monthly since August 2019. They have made substantial progress in developing tactical recommendations on approaches to increase member participation in our Annual Meeting, improve the timeliness of the information presented, incentivize collaborative and interdisciplinary efforts for program development, and introduce innovative technologies that will both increase member involvement and facilitate members’ ability to plan their daily calendars during the meeting. Attendees at the 2020 meeting in Anaheim will already see some of the ideas being implemented—watch the weekly SOT newsletter (distributed every Thursday) for information on how to use technology to proactively plan your time at the meeting.

Strategic Objective A3: Implement a Forward-Looking Strategy for Publications and Issue Statements

Excerpt from the Strategic Plan: Strategic Objective A3 focuses on using innovative approaches to position SOT publications. It includes determining whether new publication(s) should be developed and launched, as well as developing mechanisms to increase the impact and expand the reach of ToxSci. It also recognizes that strengthening SOT’s impact requires improving issues-based communication. Implementation of this objective was assigned to the SOT Board of Publications, as well as a small Council task force led by SOT Vice President George Daston. Several innovative changes have already been made to the Society’s journal, Toxicological Sciences, under the leadership of the new Editor-in-Chief (EIC), Jeffrey Peters. At their strategy meeting held in October, the Board of Publications discussed further changes that might achieve objective A3, some of which will be implemented immediately, with others being recommended to Council for approval. Be sure to read the EIC Editorials in upcoming issues of ToxSci and follow @ToxSci on Twitter to stay abreast of changes.

Strategic Objective B3: Develop Leadership and Communication Skills among Members

Excerpt from the Strategic Plan: Strategic Objective B3 recognizes that strengthening the Society’s impact requires helping SOT members develop and utilize skills in leadership and in communicating science to key audiences.Led by SOT Vice President-Elect Myrtle Davis, a task force was formed to identify tactics that will be successful in achieving this objective. Their focus to date has been on developing approaches to enhance member communication skills and, in so doing, enable proficiency in leadership through effective communication. Council anticipates a report from the B3 task force in early 2020 and will begin working with SOT Component Groups and Committees to roll out a program that will provide multiple opportunities for the SOT membership to enhance their communication skills. Although a long-term project, achieving this objective will allow our membership to more effectively communicate their important science and, thus, increase its impact.

Strategic Objective B4: Facilitate Career Development Using Mentoring and Other Objectives

Excerpt from the Strategic Plan: Strategic Objective B4 builds on existing efforts to develop a comprehensive approach to mentoring. It also stresses enhancing efforts to foster the career development of SOT members by combining both cutting-edge and traditional approaches.The SOT Mentoring Task Force and Education and Career Development Committee (ECDC) have been tackling this Strategic Objective. These efforts will be combined in May 2020 as the Mentoring Task Force is sunset and their recommendations transitioned to the ECDC for implementation. The Mentoring Task Force has been meeting regularly over the past two years and has identified several areas to improve mentoring within the Society, with an emphasis on developing new programs for mid and late career scientists, as well as enhancing programs for early career scientists. In addition, they have recognized the importance of training mentors. As the ECDC begins to implement these recommendations, the membership should look for opportunities to enhance their own career development, as both a mentee and a mentor.

Strategic Objective D2: Optimize Organizational Efficiency

Excerpt from Strategic Plan: Strategic Objective D2 focuses on the organizational challenges SOT faces as a large, multidisciplinary society serving a global membership. It stresses identifying  and prioritizing ways to improve the Society’s organizational efficiency, particularly through streamlining organizational structure and oversight. It includes evaluating the structure of SOT committees and the role of the Council.The initial implementation of this objective has been described in previous Communiqué articles and involved the formation of the Faculty United for Toxicology Undergraduate Recruitment and Education (FUTURE) Committee, which is dedicated to enhancing the recruitment and education of undergraduates, and the reorganization of the Education Committee and Career Resource and Development Committee to form the ECDC, dedicated to graduate-level and above recruitment and career development. 

Strategic Objective C1: Develop and Implement a Strategy for Communication and Engagement

Excerpt from the Strategic Plan: Strategic Objective C1 focuses on developing a comprehensive strategy for the Society’s scientific communication that includes bidirectional engagement with key partners.  It emphasizes SOT’s character as a trusted scientific organization and focuses its communication efforts on key influencers rather than the general public.Perhaps the most transformational of the Strategic Priorities is the need to increase SOT’s influence through science communication. SOT Council has been working on the C1 objective, both through a C1 task force consisting of a Council subgroup as well as through Council as a whole. As a first step, the C1 task force took a retrospective look at past communication efforts to identify “lessons learned” and considered those lessons within our current context. This effort teed up an exercise by Council to identify key target audiences and messaging. Council also made a conscious decision to start with a more focused outreach, thereby increasing the Society’s chances for success and an opportunity to learn from those initial efforts as we expand the implementation of our communication strategy. 

With the assistance of Michelle Werts, the SOT Communications Director, a communications strategy has been developed, mapping specific outputs to the three other Strategic Objectives. The strategy was presented to Council for approval and to discuss initial implementation efforts at our recently concluded November Council meeting. Council concluded that the communications strategy was fit for purpose and voted unanimously to approve. Initial efforts will focus on developing relationships with key organizations involved in education at the undergraduate level; legislative staff on committees important to public, animal, and environmental health; and new technologies to improve internal and external communication. 

Pull quote about upcoming engagement opportunitiesAs part of the newly adopted communications strategy, the Society will continue to leverage our FASEB membership and seize opportunities to communicate our science through that organization. For example, on November 13, 2019, the House Science Committee held a hearing titled “Strengthening Transparency or Silencing Science? The Future of Science in EPA Rulemaking” on the proposed US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) transparency rule. The Michael J. Fox Foundation was invited to testify and, through FASEB, circulated a letter of support for sign-on. As you recall, SOT independently commented on the proposed US EPA rule during the public comment period. Given that the Michael J. Fox Foundation letter was consistent with the Society’s position, SOT signed on to that letter of support. In addition, SOT Past President Linda S. Birnbaum testified during the hearing as part of her role as Scientist Emeritus for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Upcoming communication efforts through FASEB will include the organization’s participation in a December meeting of the National Institutes of Health Advisory Committee to the Director.

From the above, I hope you agree that the Society has indeed made substantial progress to date on implementing our 2019–2023 Strategic Plan. I encourage you to take advantage of the many new opportunities for engagement that will be available during the next few years and to communicate what you feel is working, or is not working, to Council directly.

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