President's Corner: Vasyl Tkach
Welcome to the Fall 2020 edition of the President's corner. First of all, I would like to welcome new ASP members as well as new elected officers and appointed members of various ASP committees who agreed to give their precious time to Society service. I particularly welcome our new Scientific Program Officers, Maria Castillo and Judith Humphries, who took over after our long time Program Officers Kelli Sapp and Herman Eure announced their retirement from that role.
Saying that the year has been different or difficult would be an understatement. None of us envisioned the year to turn out the way it did. The Covid-19 pandemic affected every aspect of life and the ASP was impacted as well. Despite all the issues out of ASP control, it remained a fully functioning scientific society. We had our annual business meeting and the Council and committees continued to work. Parasitologists proved to be as resilient and adaptive as our study objects. Although most travel and expeditions have been canceled and many of us were not even able to come to our laboratories for significant stretches of time, ASP members continued conducting terrific research and publishing fascinating works on every aspect of parasitology, from ecology, evolution and systematics to molecular aspects of host-parasite interrelationships, genomics, metagenomics, and a variety of other subjects. Most recently, ASP members authored publications that raised the questions of parasite conservation (intrinsically connected with that of their hosts and environment) and published a work on what would it take to describe the global diversity of multicellular parasites, with a focus on helminths.
Our regional affiliate societies were the first to adapt to the Covid-imposed constrains, and organized virtual meetings. I had a privilege to attend the Rocky Mountain Conference of Parasitologists in September and the meeting of the Helminthological Society of Washington in November. Both were virtual and went smoothly. It was wonderful to not only learn about new studies, but also about adapting parasitology education to the Covid realities, including field classes, as presented by the team of colleagues from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. That said, our education committee has been doing a great job gathering useful resources and making them available to membership.
From the beginning of my term as the President, the ASP leadership had to take care of some urgent business and overcome unique challenges. Despite the obvious reasons for the cancelation of the 2020 meeting, we still had contractual obligations with the Intercontinental hotel in Kansas City which had to be resolved in order to avoid potential financial losses and move forward. I would like to emphasize the role and effort by our long time Meeting Planner Donald Duszynski, who used his experience and knowledge of the industry to help negotiate a cancellation of the 2020 contract without any losses for the ASP. I also thank the immediate past President Julian Hillyer for being a member of the negotiation team all the way until the completion of the process. As a part of the talks, it was proposed that ASP will use the same venue for our next available meeting. A new contract, friendly to the ASP, has been negotiated and I am happy to announce that we will have a meeting in lovely Kansas City in 2023. With the cancelation of the 2020 meeting the previous Local Organizing Committee (LOC) has completed its mission, therefore we need a new LOC and the ASP is looking for committee members. Please step forward if you would like to serve. Of course, members of the 2020 LOC are most welcome to join the 2023 LOC. Their experience would be invaluable.
The next order of business was/is our 2021 meeting. As the pandemic did not show any signs of slowing down and the numbers of Covid-19 cases continued to rise in the U.S. and most other countries, it has become clear that having an in-person 2021 meeting in Baltimore as originally planned, was unrealistic. Donald Duszynski has stepped up again. He was able to contact the management and negotiate the cancelation of the contract at no loss to the ASP. At a virtual meeting, ASP Council has decided in favor of a fully virtual ASP meeting in 2021. I sent a call for new LOC members, and based on the feedback formed a LOC chaired by ASP Vice-President Tamara Cook. The committee includes a total of 9 members (Tamara Cook, Reginald Blaylock, Maggie Doolin, Donald Duszynski, Olwyn Friesen, Timothy Geary, Majid Harandi, Amit Prasad, Bruna Trevisan) and comprises colleagues at different stages of their careers from 5 different countries and 3 continents. I greatly appreciate their willingness to serve in this role. The committee is currently working on defining dates and the selection of an online meeting platform suitable for our needs.
Thus, we will have an ASP meeting in 2021. Stay tuned and start preparing your abstracts. We hope to distribute relevant information as soon as possible. This brings me to what I feel excited about. While the online format cannot replace an in-person meeting with its direct communication and conversations with colleagues in session rooms and informal settings, it definitely has its pluses and brings new opportunities. The biggest of them is the nearly universal accessibility. It is not a secret that many of the ASP members, including established professionals and especially students, could not attend our annual meetings for various reasons (expense, dates, logistics, visas, etc.). The virtual format removes many of these barriers, therefore, I hope that we will be able to bring together a number of colleagues who are often sorely missed at our meetings, and expand domestic and international participation.
Let us work together to turn the otherwise very unfortunate situation into the opportunity to broaden the participation and share our research. I encourage you to spread the word about the 2021 ASP meeting among your colleagues and, when possible, members of other scientific societies you belong to.
Another part of my obligations during this time was to appoint new members of regular (and some ad-hoc) ASP committees to replace colleagues who completed their service. I have appointed 30 new committee members. While writing this, I did some quick counting and found out that among appointed members of our regular committees, 33 are women and 34 are men (or 38:38 if the Local Organizing Committee is counted). Five of the committee chairs are men and three are women. The priorities committee is chaired by the President-elect (currently Matthew Bolek) by default, therefore Tamara Cook will be the chair next year. Among elected ASP officers 10 are women and 8 are men. As a Society we try to be as equitable, welcoming and inclusive as we can. We definitely still have work to do, especially recruiting and promoting minority members, which starts with students in each of our respective labs. However, the above numbers say that over the last several years the ASP has made some significant, positive steps in the right direction which was passionately promoted by the past ASP President Susan Perkins and continued to be emphasized by the Presidents after her. I would like to add that about a third of both elected officers (33%) and appointed (35%) committee members are early career members, which is something I personally care about.
Due to several steps undertaken by the ASP Council under leadership of the recent ASP Presidents, the state of ASP finances has improved and the ASP came out of the 2019 financial year with a positive balance. ASP Secretary-Treasurer Lee Couch provided more details in her annual financial report. I would like to use this opportunity to remind everyone that Lee, who does an amazing job as our Secretary-Treasurer, will be stepping down at the end of 2021 after two 3-year terms in office. She is a part of everything we do, and the ASP has tax exempt status largely thanks to her effort. ASP is in a search of a new Secretary-Treasurer. If you are interested/motivated to do it please contact Lee Couch for any information that may help your decision.
The recent financial stability of the ASP was partly due to the strong performance of the Journal of Parasitology under the leadership of the Chief Editor Richard Clopton. The current model of article publication in the Journal of Parasitology ensures that papers are published online in their final form with pages, which in many other journals it may take months upon months. I personally enjoy publishing in the Journal of Parasitology and do it regularly. Submission of quality manuscripts to the Journal of Parasitology is a great way to promote your research while increasing the general quality and ratings of the journal.
To finish this first installment of my President's Corner, I would like to emphasize that the strength of our Society is in its members. ASP membership proves a lot of value, including journal access, no publication charges, and most of all, a platform for the exchange of results and ideas, and establishing potential collaborations. The membership for colleagues in most countries is very reasonable/low. Make a New Year gift to yourself by renewing your ASP membership, if you have not yet done so. Motivate your students to continue their membership or become new members. You may also give a gift of associate membership (the cost is low) to a colleague from a country where it is too difficult financially or impossible due to logistical reasons.
Hope to see you next year at our meeting.
Happy Holidays, everyone!