Dear Deep-Sea Biology Colleagues,
It is perhaps a challenge to write a letter to a globally-distributed audience in wildly-different seasons observing quite different holiday rituals. But please indulge me for a few sentences to give a slightly United Kingdom perspective, the current home of the DSBS Presidency. The days are cold, clear and icy. The streets of London, strewn with discarded Christmas trees, are as quiet as they ever get. My own workplace, the Natural History Museum, is also quiet as staff extend their holiday breaks or suddenly disappear on urgent ‘fieldwork’ somewhere with a lower latitude. These are not important things. What is significant, and important to tell you about, is that a BBC television programme called Blue Planet 2 has just finished, and was the most-watched television series this past year. The second episode, entirely focused on deep-sea biology, was watched live by a staggering 14 million people in the UK alone, 21% of the UK population. The anticipated global reach of the series, as it is released across the world and online, is over 1 billion people. That is 1 billion people learning about life in the deep sea – abyssal muds, hydrothermal vents, cold seeps, deep-sea pelagics and whale-falls.
If we might indulge a little further, we can imagine that if just 0.01 percent of these 1 billion were excited enough to join a deep-sea biology society, our membership would quickly top 100,000. Our current membership is 185. So my point is, we have some room for growth.
A young society with a clear vision
I am a Fellow and frequent visitor to the Linnean Society of London, founded in 1788 it is the world’s oldest biological society. I am not sure I have ever heard anyone ask what is the point of the Linnean Society. I guess people stopped asking that after the first 100 years or so. But the DSBS is a young society, and people certainly are still asking that question.
The recent Chemosynthesis-Based Ecosystems (CBE) Symposium held in August in Woods Hole, USA was a major opportunity for the Society to outline a vision and purpose following our new charity (non-profit) status and constitution which we unveiled this summer. It was also a chance for the Trustees to engage with members in our first ever Annual General Meeting – a new legal requirement of our charity status. We outlined our progress and vision to the ~200 delegates in the general session, and to the ~50 people that came to our evening AGM and social event. We received excellent feedback, and approximately 30 new members joined the Society at the Symposium – almost a 25% increase at a single event.
One of the areas that we focused discussion on was the role of the Society in relation to our other international bodies that are coordinating deep-sea research, notably DOSI, INDEEP and relevant to the CBE delegates, Inter-Ridge. For the most part, these are all highly complementary organisations. For example, INDEEP was started as an international scientific network to undertake quite focused international research projects (Work Packages), one of which became DOSI, an organisation that is now dedicated to issues regarding deep-sea conservation. Comparable organisations to INDEEP, although larger, would be organisations like the International Ocean Drilling Project (IODP) and conceptually-comparable organisations to DOSI could be for example, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity (IPBES). The fundamental difference between these and scientific societies such as DSBS is that they are top-down, question-driven. In contrast, DSBS is a bottom-up organisation that seeks to serve all of its members interests, and that of the broader non-member community, whatever scientific question they are working on.
However, there is one area of significant overlap between DSBS and INDEEP, in the area of communication. At the start of the INDEEP project in 2010, an email listserver was setup (indeep-alert) and INDEEP began an extensive communication effort that has continued to this day, for example through the newsletter Deep-Sea Life now in its 10th issue. When DSBS was founded, there was no duplication of these efforts, and instead the Society focused instead on web and social media communication. I am delighted to now announce that in 2018 the Trustees have agreed to the integration of DSBS and INDEEP communication, with DSBS supporting the publication of Deep-Sea Life (DSL) on a biannual basis, the integration of DSL news pieces into the DSBS website and social media feeds and the maintenance of a joint indeep-alert / dsbs listserver as a broader news venue for members and non-members alike. More specific DSBS communication aimed at its membership will continue to be distributed via the membership system.
This integration will we hope improve clarity and communication to the general deep-sea biology community, whether Society members or not, as well as provide better advertisement of our grants, awards, prizes, meetings, workshops and other activities.
Moving towards Monterey
2018 will be a very significant milestone of the Society as it is the year of our main Symposium, the 15th Deep-sea Biology Symposium that will be held at the Monterey Conference Center 9-14 September. This is the main conference for the scientific discussion of the latest developments in all aspects of deep-sea biology, including conservation and governance issues. Registration is now open at the website http://dsbs2018.org and early registration closes on March 30. We expect this to be a very popular conference so please register early!
For the first time, registration will be linked to membership, which means that members receive a discount on their registration, and non-members can join as part of the registration fee. This works the same way as for many other large Society-hosted conferences. The conference banquet is included as part of the registration fee, and as such, the total costs are almost identical to those for the 14th DSBS in 2014. As we expect the Symposium to be bigger than ever before, this creates a new logistical and financial challenge for the organisers and it’s important to acknowledge that there has already been significant sponsorship of the meeting from both the DSBS itself and generously from the hosting organisation, MBARI. Further sponsors are encouraged and you are welcome to get in touch with the local organising committee through our Vice-President for Conferences, Steve Haddock.
At DSBS 2018 we will also host the second Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Society which will be a special event for all members. Having just had a trial-run of this with our first one at the CBE meeting we are very much looking forward to this. There is important business to attend to (particularly open and transparent reporting on the Society finances, election of new officers etc) but it is also a celebratory and social/networking event. I look forward to seeing you all there.
I hope that you are as all excited as I am about this Symposium, and I would like to already single out the work of Steve, MBARI and the local organising team in Monterey who are doing so much hard work behind the scenes to make this happen.
A new membership system
The observant amongst you will have perhaps noticed that since I wrote to you last July we have launched our new membership system https://dsbsoc.org/membership/ which as well as greatly reducing the administration burden on our Membership Secretary has some great features. You can now login (if you have not done this before, just click for a password reminder using your email address at the top right), renew membership, update your profile, add research interests, images and search for other members. You can search for their research interests and find contact details!
I would strongly encourage all of you to update your profiles here with some basic information and of course links to your main websites. The system will also send out reminders when your membership needs renewal, so please do use this to renew when the time comes. For those of you who hate filling out forms, and are feeling healthy – consider lifetime membership at a very reasonable rate!
I would like to single out thanks for our Membership Secretary Santiago Herrera for making this happen. As much as I know he enjoyed writing scripts to parse text in membership spreadsheets through google docs, I suspect he is as happy as the rest of us that we now have a more professional system, which will be invaluable as we move towards a much larger membership following DSBS 2018.
Helping young careers
Last July I called for a new dialogue between the membership, the President and the Trustees to help direct a longer-term strategic vision for the Society as we build towards DSBS 2018. There have been several venues for this, on email, twitter but perhaps most importantly at the lengthy discussion and networking event at our first AGM. I came to realise at this event how important an AGM is, not just to be transparent with our finances and other legal requirements, but to provide a venue for direct discussion about the most important issues. What exactly do people want from a Society?
As I alluded to earlier, we are not an organisation arranged around directed research questions. Our goal as Trustees and as a Society is to help deep-sea biologists in their careers, whatever way we can. One thing I have noted since starting these discussions, is how I repeatedly here of the strain and stress of funding and career-guidance for early-career scientists, whether in PhD or Post-Doc, or even after several Post-Docs. The percentage of scientists employed on short-term contracts is increasing, a reflection of the job-market as a whole. This creates major career and life-balance challenges for many starting out. This is one of the reasons that the Society is supporting early-career scientists through travel awards, mentoring, the new Dive Deeper bursaries and prizes. Prizes (unlike the travel awards and bursaries) do not cost us very much, but they are symbolic and significant in encouraging people, and giving them a competitive lift when applying for jobs.
The Society will continue to support early-career scientists as a priority. At our AGM, one of the other popular areas of discussion was on publishing. Should the Society launch a Deep-Sea Biology journal? Debate was lively. For some, there was a concern about launching another journal when there are already several journals that are encouraging and publishing deep-sea biological science submissions. For others, there was a clear interest in returning something back to the Society through publication income. That is, rather than the entirety of the profits of our papers going to a publishing company, a percentage of profit from each paper comes back to the Society to support our aims – such as helping early-careers. One thing that all were in agreement on was that the proposed Journal should be both Open Access and innovative.
At this stage, I can reveal that we have already received an offer from a very large academic publisher to launch such a journal tied to the Society, but we are not about to make any hasty decisions. For one thing we will need to have the general support of the community to launch as an Editorial Board and Associate Editors would need to be appointed. These would need to be new and separate boards that work independently but report back to the Society Trustees. We will continue to discuss this within the Trustees, but at this stage I would very much welcome input on the matter. In particular, we are interested to hear from those that would like to be involved – just contact me or any of our Trustees.
January is the season of giving for DSBS
This month we will release calls for all of our awards and prizes for 2018. As it is a Symposium year, this will be expanded compared to last year. We will have more travel awards for the meeting, additional prizes and we will repeat our popular ‘Dive Deeper’ bursaries and the Lounsbery Workshop Award which we launched in 2017. Our Vice-President for Awards Rachel Jeffreys, will announce all of these calls on the website, twitter and through indeep-alert list shortly.
Your help is needed
Your Trustees continue to run this growing Society on a completely voluntary basis. It is a significant workload, and what volunteers need most of all is encouragement. Please encourage us by joining the society, renewing your lapsed membership, getting in touch and considering getting directly involved – there will be Trustee positions opening up for election at DSBS 2018!
I wish you all a very happy and productive New Year.
Adrian Glover, President.