Dear Deep-Sea Biology Colleagues,
Six months have passed since I first wrote to you as the new President of the Deep-Sea Biology Society. There is now much to report on, and some important questions to ask of you. I hope this letter will mark the start of a new dialogue between the Trustees of the Society, the membership and the broader deep-sea community.
The Deep-Sea Biology Society is now a charity with legal status
Let me start with some exciting news. The Society, from 6 July this year, is now a legal Charitable Incorporated Organisation or in other words, a legal non-profit body. This moment is incredibly important for the Society as it marks the transition from an informal body to an organisation that can, for example, receive tax-free philanthropic gifts, apply for grants in its own name, own property and employ people. We have not yet started construction on the glittering Deep-Sea Tower in downtown Manhattan… but give us time.
All of the Trustees have put considerable time and effort into this success but I would like to single out our Treasurer, Chris Yesson, for his administrative work in keeping the momentum going through negotiations with the UK Charities Commission.
The eagle-eyed of you will note that the Society is registered as a charity in the UK. I would like to reassure you that this is no more than a flag of convenience. We are a global organisation with a clear mission to operate as a scientific society for the entire deep-sea biology community. However, we need to be registered somewhere and the UK has a relatively simple and transparent system for non-profit entities. You can actually now find us on the Charities Commission website, where annual accounts and reports will be automatically posted.
With a new legal status, comes a new constitution
In order to comply with the law, we have had to re-write our constitution, which was last approved in December 2014. The main differences are the change of wording, formatting and legalese. For example, a legal charity requires a board of Trustees (normally 10-12) who are accountable for the running of the charity. In some societies, this board would sit above an Executive Committee, which may consist of some Trustees and salaried staff that actually run the society on a day-to-day basis. In the case of our Society, there is no need as yet for a separate Executive Committee, and the board of Trustees will continue for the time being to run the Society as before. As we grow, it may become necessary to form new committees, and the new constitution allows for this.
We also have a new mission statement, or ‘Charitable Objects’ which we have refined to better reflect what we do, and to ensure compliance with charity law:
“The advancement of education for the public benefit in deep-sea biology by the operation of a scientific society to promote the exchange of information, the promotion and dissemination of deep-sea research, to foster the next generation of deep-sea biologists and to promote demographic diversity in the study of deep-sea biology.”
These goals are thus in line with a typical ‘Learned Society’ model in which the Society exists to serve the academic and professional science community through meetings, communication, publishing, grants, membership and student support.
An additional requirement of charitable status is that we hold an Annual General Meeting (AGM), open to all members, at which we will vote on important constitutional changes, election of new officers (if required) and hold a social event. The Society’s first AGM will take place at the 6th International Symposium on Chemosynthesis-based Ecosystems (CBE6) in Woods Hole, USA, 27 Aug – 1 Sept 2017. The exact date, time and venue are to be confirmed. All members will be able to vote in person, or via electronic form. The ballot results will be announced at the AGM and online. We will circulate the new constitution following this letter to allow all members to read before voting.
What has the Deep-Sea Biology Society ever done for us?
Well apart from… It is a reasonable question as to whether we are delivering on our lofty mission statement to serve the deep-sea biology community. I hope to give some evidence of this in my summaries below. It is important to point out that the Society is still run on an entirely voluntary basis by the Trustees. This may need to change in the future as we expand. The past six months have seen a huge amount of behind-the-scenes work to develop a new constitution and charitable model. This has now placed us in a great position to move forward. In addition to this, we have been busy working on Symposium planning, Grants and Awards, Mentoring and Student support.
Preparations continue for our main meeting, the triennial Deep-Sea Biology Symposium for which the 15th meeting will be held on 9-14 September 2018 in Monterey, California (DSBS15). That is an important date for your diaries, and the website is now live. Our Vice-President for Conferences Steve Haddock is leading the planning of this, together with the local organising committee, oversight committee and Society Trustees. The Society has contributed a significant financial contribution to this event through a grant from the Lounsbery Foundation and we will be sponsoring travel awards, student events, prizes and a range of activities during the meeting. We anticipate that this will be the largest Deep-Sea Biology Symposium to date, and with registrations linked to Society membership, this will be a major milestone for the development of the Society.
In January of this year, we launched our new series of Awards for 2017. From now on, we plan to release calls for proposal in January each year for the coming year. This year, we have given travel awards to CBE6, the ‘Dive Deeper’ Research Bursaries, the Lounsbery Workshop Award, (our largest single award) and will present student talk and poster prizes for CBE6, and the new Deep-Sea Biology Society Paper of the Year (open now for nominations). In June, we were delighted to announce our awardees for CBE6 Travel, the Dive Deeper bursaries and the Lounsbery Workshop Award.
These grants and awards represent an important milestone for the Society in delivering on our goals to serve the community and develop the Society. In January 2018, we will announce a new and larger set of awards for travel to the DSBS15 in Monterey, as well as further workshops and Dive Deeper bursaries. We have also now changed our Landmark Paper award to be every three years to coincide with the triennial symposium, and added a new smaller ‘Paper of the Year’ award that we will announce at each Society AGM. Please submit your entries for this year’s Paper of the Year: https://dsbsoc.org/grants-awards/society-awards/
One of the new areas that the Society is working on is career mentoring. It is more difficult than ever for scientists of any age to navigate a career in science, particularly in areas such as deep-sea biology where funding is limited and professional networks so critical. I would really like to single out the work of Rachel Jeffreys in getting our mentoring program off the ground in 2017. Rachel organised the first DSBS ‘Mentinar’ on 21 June this year with Susan Lozier as guest speaker at which a number of DSBS members attended electronically. The Society is now keen to trial a mentoring network using tried-and-tested models and are particularly looking for volunteers to act as mentors. Please get in touch with Rachel directly for further information or to volunteer. All of us have, or are, struggling with career guidance at some point, and it is particularly important that those with experience are willing to give back to those that need help.
The Society exists to serve the entire deep-sea biology community, but a particularly important group is students. Paris Stefanoudis has been working to develop a new website area for students, a social media feed, an email list, a LinkedIn group and perhaps most valuable in terms of finance – a great list of external funding opportunities that includes student and non-student awards. Funded student networking events, popular at the last DSBS in Aveiro, will be repeated for CBE6 and DSBS15. Three out of five of the Society’s own awards are open to students, and the Dive Deeper bursaries are aimed at those in the stage immediately post-PhD / pre-post-Doc where they need funds to develop networks and projects. We will advertise more of these awards in January 2018.
A new dialogue
As President, my goals have always been that the Society serves the entire deep-sea biology community, whether members or not. For myself, and I suspect many others, my membership of learned societies waxes and wanes depending on the particular benefits at the time. However, this does not mean that we do not continue to consider ourselves part of these scientific communities throughout. With this in mind, I would like to use the next six months to enter into a new dialogue with both our members and the broader deep-sea community. There will be many venues for this: our website, social media, email lists, direct contact with Trustees and of course our first AGM to be held in Woods Hole in late summer. Technology-permitting, we will live-stream the event and allow comments and questions online.
Myself and the Trustees would like to know what kind of Society we want to build. For example, if you are a member, for what reason did you join, what are the things we are doing well, and what else would you like to see? If you are not a member, what would persuade you to join?
At the moment, the Society is already active in quite a broad range of areas as I have outlined above. There is an obvious need to build on these activities and increase their profile and funding. But there is one obvious gap – a Deep-Sea Biology Journal affiliated to the Society. As I outlined in my last letter, this is a goal of the Society and we have now entered into preliminary discussion with publishers. So this is also an area we are keen for feedback. It is likely we will need to do a more detailed study of this, and perhaps even a formal survey. But for now, we are interested in general feedback on the type of journal you would like to see. Please contact me directly if you have any thoughts or ideas on this.
Your help is needed
We need your feedback and thoughts on the issues above, whether you are a member or not. For those that are not members, we desperately need you to renew or join the Society. You can do that here: https://dsbsoc.org/membership/ A large engaged membership, regular well-supported meetings and eventually a Journal, is the only way that the Society can secure its long-term future. With our new legal non-profit status, we are also keen to develop new funding strands through partnerships with philanthropic organisations. If you are interested in gifting to the Society, please get in touch with me directly. In a time of increasing research and industrial activity in the deep sea, a strong and secure learned society representing academic and professional scientists is more important than ever.
Adrian Glover, President.