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Chairman's statement for 2001

Introduction

The reforming tone for 2001 was set at a Strategy Meeting held in January which had as its background the MORI poll on member's views, which was conducted in the preceding year. This had shown that existing members felt that there were areas in which the Society could perform better and some members and non-members often did not see the Society offering what they needed. Work therefore started within Working Groups and in discussions at Executive Committee, Council, Meetings Committee and within Policy, Education and Professional Affairs (PEPA) on measures by which the Society could enhance its activities, reputation and membership.

Four main areas were highlighted:

  • revamping the meetings programme to increase attendance and networking, and deliver cutting edge science;
  • reform of the subject group structure to ensure its coverage and activities were a good match to members interests and reflected the dynamic nature of the discipline;
  • rethinking the aims of the Society's regional activities;
  • exploitation of web-based technologies to enhance all Society activities.

This culminated in the proposal for future development, which was circulated to the membership early in 2002 and is currently the subject of discussions regarding implementation.

All of the above was in addition to the activities of the Society and Portland Press Ltd, which are summarized below.

Scientific meetings

Professor Brian Beechey took over from Dr Norma Ryan as Honorary Meetings Secretary in January 2001. Discussion of proposed changes to the pattern of future meetings initiated the introduction of focused smaller meetings in addition to three main meetings; the Society offered secretariat support and funding for focused meetings, and grant funding for independent meetings.

Molecular Communications was the overarching theme of the University of Bristol meeting (10-12 April) for which the maximum number of delegates registered. Sara Courtneidge's Jubilee Medal Lecture on 'Src family tyrosine kinases in signal transduction growth and control' was presented to a full lecture theatre, as was Stephen Halford's Novartis Medal Lecture, 'Hopping, jumping and looping by restriction enzymes'. The Society hosted the Promega UK Young Life Scientist 2000 final, but interest was low - suggesting that this event should not compete with a meeting's science programme in future. Instead of a meeting dinner, delegates enjoyed tackling the interactive exhibits in the @Bristol venue.

Attendance was good for the Signalling Homoeostasis meeting at Trinity College Dublin (11-13 July). Delegates' perceptions were of an excellent science programme and they appreciated Stuart Ferguson's Keilin Memorial Lecture on 'Keilin's cytochromes: how bacteria vary them, use them and make them'. The lively social programme included a reception at Dublin Castle and dinner in the Great Hall at Trinity College.

More than 950 attendees enjoyed the Christmas meeting at University of York (17-19 December), which was organized jointly with the Physiological Society and provided a full and broad programme of science. The Society's Colworth Medal Lecture was given by Andy Sharrocks on 'Complexities of ETS-domain transcription factor function and regulation' and Steve Oliver presented the AstraZeneca Award Lecture on 'Experimental and bioinformatic approaches to functional genomics'. Dinner on a railway platform at the National Railway Museum made a fitting highlight to the close of the year.

The 53rd Harden Conference, Proteoglycans: Messages in the Matrix, (16-21 August), the first on proteoglycans, proved to be scientifically significant in both timing and in terms of revealing the advances in research on the roles of heparan sulphate proteoglycans, and it had a major impact on the field. Attendees were very positive about the Ambleside venue; the setting, catering and organization made for an excellent atmosphere.

The additional meetings included: Type 2 Diabetes and Pancreatic Islet Function (19 October at Bristol; organized by Guy Rutter); the Industrial Biochemistry and Biotechnology Groups' networking with industry meeting, Where There's Muck There's Brass (29 October at the Institute of Food Research, Norwich; organized by Clare Mills); Phospholipid Signalling (10 March at the University of Bristol; organized by Peter Cullen); and a Professional and Education Committee/Meetings Committee-funded symposium on science communication, Knowledge is Power (7 December at Imperial College, London; organized by Katie Smith).

The Society sponsored a Genomic Arabidopsis Resource Network (GARNET) meeting (27-28 September at York; organized by Karin Van de Sande) and the H. Gutfreund Birthday Meeting, Proteins: from Chemical to Physiological Mechanism (26 October at the Royal Society; organized by Professor D.R. Trentham and Professor M.A. Geeves). Unusually, the Society had a stand at the successful Rothamsted International Biomarket event (7-9 November). The Meetings Office provided secretariat services for PEPA's Heads of Departments' Meeting (2 May) at Society of Chemical Industry, London and the UK Life Sciences Committee (UKLSC)/Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Joint Meeting, Post-genomic Partnership for Chemistry and Biology, (16 November) in London.

The Society wishes to thank to all the Scientific Interest Group members and other organizers for their work in planning colloquia, organizing speakers and working closely with the Meetings Office. We also appreciate the support and resources provided by our sponsors and trade exhibitors at meetings - we wish them all success through 2002.

PEPA

PEPA work in 2001 was characterized by increased collaboration with lead bodies from other scientific disciplines. The Society often used the greater clout achieved by UKLSC to get its policy message across. Nine submissions were made in total, to Parliamentary bodies, the European Commission, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Evidence submitted was frequently quoted in reports. The Society's interests in animal usage and welfare were particularly well served by the UKLSC Animal Science Group. Its Chair was invited to submit verbal evidence to a House of Lords committee inquiry, and representatives of the Group had discussions with the Science Minister and the Home Office Minister. Recognition of the value of the monthly PEPA report on science and education policy was provided by the Commons Science and Technology Committee asking to be included in the distribution. During 2001 the Society played a large part in organising a well-received joint UKLSC/RSC symposium, Post-genomic Partnership for Chemists and Biologists, that sought to encourage greater cross-disciplinary working in academia.

PEPA established a mechanism for consulting members electronically on a regular basis to learn their views on hot policy topics. The first consultation, on factors affecting the recruitment and retention of young bioscientists, found overwhelming agreement that student debt, poor salaries and uncertain prospects in research careers are major disincentives. The report of this consultation, together with the Graduate Employment Survey 2000, which provided hard evidence that more good graduates are shunning research careers, was sent to the Science Minister and the Higher Education Minister. Since it is 5 years since the present core curriculum was established, PEPA set up a Working Group to review and update it, and produce a consultation report early in 2002. Controversial issues included the amount and type of chemistry, the amount of practical work and the nature of the final year project.

Highlights in PEPA education and careers work included a topical colloquium at the Bristol meeting that examined how the new AS-levels would affect the interface between school and university bioscience teaching, three successful careers conferences for undergraduate and postgraduate students, two well-subscribed teachers' workshops in London and Glasgow, and the launch with UKLSC of a new leaflet Biology: a Subject for Life to give school students better information about university courses and careers. The latter was received very enthusiastically. The education colloquium highlighted all the problems with AS-levels that subsequently appeared in the media, and PEPA wrote to inform the Education Minister of the outcome of the meeting. In addition, PEPA responded to two calls for input to reviews of AS- and A-level curricula. The Society collaborated with UKLSC, RSC, the Institute of Physics and the Institute of Biology in attending schools careers fairs under the banner Your Future Career in Science. The Biochemistry Across the School Curriculum booklets have been placed on the web, and a start has been made on translating the more popular ones into an interactive resource.

As part of Science Year, PEPA invited Society members to add their names to a new database of scientists from all UKLSC societies who are prepared to give talks to schools. The database, which contains more than 300 names, was placed on the Biology4all teachers' website early in 2002. PEPA focuses its efforts in the science and society arena on helping members to engage with the public. In line with this policy, PEPA supported an excellent symposium in Glasgow that presented some of the current ethical questions in the biosciences to a large, enthusiastic postgraduate audience.

Portland Press Limited

Last year was a very successful one for the Society's wholly owned publishing subsidiary, Portland Press Limited. It made a profit of ~602,000 compared with a budgeted profit of 460,000, an increase of 142,000 (approx. 31%). This represents an increase of 265,000 over 2000. This income, the "science dividend" is returned to the Biochemical Society by gift aid and helps to support the Society's charitable activities.

This excellent result is largely owing to the excellent performance of the Society's own journals (notably the Biochemical Journal and Biochemical Society Transactions) and to the Portland Customer Services Centre (PCSC) at Colchester.

The performance of PCSC is particularly pleasing as you may recall that last year I reported that the major investment in PCSC which occurred in 2000 was expected to make a significant increase in turnover in 2001, and this has proved to be the case. To give you some idea of the scale of this operation in 2001, PCSC had a turnover of 7.7 million (including clients) and carried out more than 50,000 transactions! Special thanks are owing to John Misselbrook (Financial Controller) for the part he has played in this successful financial year.

The radical re-structuring of the PCSC part of the business which took place at the end of 2000 has proved extremely successful and all the staff at Colchester led by Adam Marshall (Director of Marketing and Customer Service) are to be warmly congratulated for the way in which they have coped in a year of great change.

Significant investment was made in IT in 2000 and this too delivered the expected important competitive advantages on many fronts in 2001. Online submission and peer review is now available for all journals and this has already delivered great savings in paper handling times and money (via much reduced courier costs). This system has facilitated Immediate Publication, whereby PDFs of papers are posted online as soon as they are accepted (within 5 minutes!). Andy Gooden (Assistant Director of IT) played a pivotal role in the development and implementation of these important systems.

Last year saw the first full year of successful operation of TIMSS (a relational database developed by TMA Resources in the USA). Many of you will have already experienced the advantages of being able to renew your Society membership online. It was envisaged that TIMSS would be used to handle meetings set up and registrations from PCSC, and work carried out in 2001 enabled this to be implemented in 2002 in time for the Heriot-Watt meeting.

The investment in IT has enabled Portland Press Limited to offer IT-related services such as web-hosting of online journals and this revenue stream is expected to grow in 2002.

The Society is indebted to the marketing staff of Portland Press Limited for the really excellent membership recruitment campaign they initiated in 2001 which has proved very successful.

I would like to offer sincere thanks to two Non-Executive members of the Portland Press Board who retired at the end of 2001, namely Frank Burnet (Bristol) and John Clark (London). I am conscious of all their efforts over many years, on behalf of the Society. Jenny Rivett (Bristol) and Bob Burgoyne (Liverpool) have kindly agreed to succeed them in 2002.

Frank Burnet also retired as Editor of The Biochemist and special thanks are owing to him to the great job he did in this role for many years. Under Frank's Editorship The Biochemist has developed into an excellent membership magazine which is the envy of many of our sister Societies. I am confident that his successor Richard Reece (Manchester) will continue to strengthen and develop the content of this important membership benefit.

Last but not least, I would like to thank all the Editors and authors of the Society's publications, Pauline Starley (Assistant Director of Publishing) and the remaining staff of the Editorial Department whose efforts have contributed so greatly to making 2001 such a success for Portland Press Limited and the Biochemical Society.

Peter Downes
Chairman


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