As ASHG Awards Nominations Open, New Policies Affirm Professional Conduct Expectations

Leslie G. Biesecker, MD, 2019 Past President

March 2020

As a celebration of excellence in genetics and genomics research, annual awards bestowed by ASHG are among the most prominent ways our organization highlights and thanks leaders in our community. This form of recognition serves as an enduring reflection of professional excellence in research, advocacy, and education.  The Awards Committee encourages members to nominate outstanding colleagues for the Society’s 2020 Annual Awards, which opens March 24.

In 2020, ASHG is adding an affirmative step to communicate and apply professional conduct expectations as a component of the Awards nomination process. This is the next step in a series of policies and practices adopted by the Board of Directors to reinforce the Society’s commitment to supporting a safe and welcoming research community in which genetics and genomic discovery can thrive.

Effective with this nomination cycle, all nominees will be informed about the Society’s professional conduct expectations and the application of these standards to the awards selection process. Nominators will be asked to attest that, to the best of their knowledge, the nominee they are putting forward has abided by the professional conduct standards in the ASHG Code of Ethics.  Nominations are an endorsement of the nominee, and this new attestation signifies that the nominator’s endorsement extends not only to the scientific achievements of the nominee but also to the nominee’s conduct being consistent with values and professional conduct expectations established by the Society.  In addition, the nominee themselves will be asked to disclose whether they have been the subject of a professional conduct inquiry.  These procedures will enable the Society to consider professional conduct as among the variables in bestowing an award.  The Board has also adopted a procedure for reviewing professional conduct concerns relating to past awardees if credible reports are received.

The new awards policy and procedures are the result of ongoing deliberations of a Professional Conduct Working Group of the ASHG Board of Directors. The Working Group recommended the steps in October 2019 to the Board, which were approved unanimously.  The Board also voted to make the Professional Conduct Working Group permanent and appointed the Past President to serve as chair of the group on an annual basis.

“ASHG believes strongly that being named an ASHG awardee is expected to be a lifetime honor and bestows the Society’s determination of the individual’s exemplary role in the field and fitness to be affiliated with ASHG on an ongoing basis,” said Anthony Wynshaw-Boris, ASHG president. “For this reason, we think it is important that awardees, as highly visible exemplars of our field, have abided by reasonable professional conduct standards in ASHG’s Code of Ethics.”

These ASHG actions reflect a growing awareness and developing standards across scientific societies to tackle the longstanding issue of sexual and gender harassment in science and medicine. These approaches are bolstered by the 2018 National Academies report “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.” [link to come] That report noted specifically that professional societies play an important role in fostering cultures and norms for their scientific communities.  The report has prompted action across federal agencies, academic institutions, and medical schools. ASHG has taken these recommendations seriously through a set of important actions:

  • In the summer of 2018, ASHG announced an Annual Meeting Code of Conduct and a reporting procedure to ensure a safe and welcoming environment at the ASHG Annual Meeting.
  • In the spring of 2019, the Society joined the Consortium to Address Sexual Harassment in STEMM [link], a coalition of more than 100 scientific and medical societies working to end harassment and promote productive cultures.
  • In May 2019, the ASHG Board of Directors voted unanimously to add new Professional Conduct expectations to the Code of Ethics. The new language codified the notion that harassment is unwelcome and unacceptable by those engaging in the ASHG activities, affirmed the right of the Society to limit or prohibit participation if conduct standards are not met, and articulated an initial set of procedures for assessing alleged violations of the Professional Conduct expectations.

Now, with the 2020 ASHG awards season opening this week, the ASHG Board is announcing new nomination procedures for the our annual awards, which outline formal procedures [link to come] for future awards. They include the following main elements:

  • The ASHG welcomes and encourages nominations for awards and honors. We strongly encourage members to consider nominations reflecting the diverse geographic, gender, ancestry, and scientific disciplines and specialties we represent.
  • Nominators will be asked to state whether, to the best of their knowledge, the individual they are nominating has consistently exhibited professional conduct that meets the standards articulated in the current ASHG Code of Ethics. Nominators are not asked or expected to independently investigate or make determinations but rather to attest to their own professional knowledge of the candidate.
  • Prior to ASHG bestowing an award, all nominees will be informed of professional conduct expectations for awards. Nominees will be given the opportunity to decline to be considered, with no imputation of any inappropriate conduct presumed should the nominee withdraw. If nominees proceed to be considered, they will be asked to disclose, confidentially and in writing, whether they are now, or have been, subject to an allegation, inquiry, action or decision regarding alleged professional misconduct as outlined in the ASHG Code of Ethics, or whether they have engaged in conduct that could reasonably give rise to such a claim.  A disclosure will not automatically disqualify a nominee from an award, but it will allow the Society to confidentially consider such questions as part of its decisions to bestow an award.
  • A procedure for considering allegations regarding past awardees has also been established.

“Bestowing an ASHG award is an honor we take seriously and that we celebrate as a reflection of the energy, passion, and professionalism of our community,” noted Leslie Biesecker, Past President and Chair of the Working Group. “Looking forward, we are committed to using important symbols like these awards to also communicate and maintain the professional conduct expectations of our community. Combining these twin goals, we can build an ever-stronger community dedicated to driving scientific advances in genetics and genomics.”

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