Certainly, there has never been a time quite like the current COVID-19 pandemic during any of our lifetimes. However, there has also never been a more exciting time to work in genetics and genomics. Our field is poised to become even more instrumental to biological research and healthcare in the years to come. Leading geneticists are paving the way towards new understanding of rare diseases, cancer, heart disease and infectious viruses, including COVID-19, identifying people with higher risk for the most serious symptoms and sharpening the search for potential new treatments.
Coupled with the excitement for new therapies is ASHG’s continued growth into a world class organization providing members with increased value and benefits. The ASHG Board is even more committed to serving our community.
Implementing the Strategic Plan: Committee Innovation & Leadership
Reflecting the centrality and dynamism of human genetics research and our community, ASHG’s 2019 Strategic Plan expands our programs and build on the strengths of the American Journal of Human Genetics and Annual Meeting. We seek to realize the Plan’s vision that people everywhere realize the benefits of genetics and genomics research. I hope you agree that ASHG’s new Strategic Plan reflects its dedication to excellence and commitment to the success of our members. Also, we reorganized and restructured our volunteer committees to better implement the Strategic Plan and ASHG has taken a comprehensive, integrated approach to engage committees as primary implementers of the plan.
I am delighted to report that based on member input and the significant work of our 12 committees, the Board approved in late April a number of multi-year Action Plans providing a road map for programs and services that provide value to members in these challenging times. Committees will start on select activities this summer!
Reflecting 2018 ASHG member survey priorities, the Action Plans emphasize:
- Strengthening the member experience by developing career development resources that reflect diverse human genetics career paths and the needs of many career stages;
- Speeding and expanding scientific learning opportunities through a robust year-round professional education program;
- Creating more ways for subspecialties and interests to connect and engage.
- Advocating more effectively for leadership on diversity and inclusion in science and building broad public attention and appreciation for human genetics
All of these activities stress a cross-cutting commitment to diversity and inclusion, focusing on expanding career develop opportunities for underrepresented groups, greater diversity in research cohorts, and more.
These exciting plans are a testament to the members who have volunteered to be part of these ASHG committees. They also reflect a major investment by the Society to maintain and even enhance core programming through this time. To read more about the outcomes from Committee action plan discussions and next steps, please see this month’s Messenger article featuring a Roundup of recent Board Meeting outcomes.
Twin-Track Planning for the Annual Meeting
During the Board Meeting, we discussed plans for this year’s ASHG Annual Meeting, led by the Program Committee and Chair Teri Manolio. Our focus, as every year, is to provide exceptional programming that is the cornerstone of ASHG’s mission. ASHG is committed to hosting an engaging 2020 Annual Meeting – whether in San Diego or virtually. We continue to plan for a successful San Diego meeting and are regularly monitoring public health and safety for attendees and the San Diego community. Because we recognize the possibility that an in-person meeting may prove to be impossible or inadvisable, we are simultaneously preparing for and investing in a large-scale, exciting virtual Annual Meeting, if needed.
While we do not have more details today on whether we will hold an in-person or virtual meeting, Society members can be certain of two things. First, even in these uncertain times, we will have an exceptional 2020 Annual Meeting that provides a scientific forum with all of the value that you have come to expect from ASHG. We encourage you and your community to participate and contribute, as you always do, to what will be an informative scientific dialogue! Second, I can assure you that even though we are in uncertain times, ASHG will do all that we can to provide clarity to the format of the 2020 Annual Meeting as soon as possible, and that we will communicate any details related to the format to you immediately.
Engaging the Broader NIH Community Advancing Genetics and Genomics
I want to inform you that we also had a terrific discussion with nine of NIH’s Institute and Center Directors at our Board Meeting. We discussed common interests of ASHG and these Institutes and Centers. Eric Green, the NHGRI Director, helped us convene this meeting, in large part because human genetics and genomics research is now funded throughout the NIH, not only from NHGRI. In this meeting, which was held for the first time (virtually, of course!), Directors articulated their interest in providing career path guidance to encourage a large and diverse workforce in the genetics and genomics space. Integrating diverse perspectives into genetic research allows for greater understanding of the enormous spectrum of human biology. ASHG is committed to highlighting this important issue and Society leaders expressed interest in continuing conversations with individual Institutes and Centers where ASHG’s support and voice could be useful.
ASHG Pledge: Innovation & Service to the Genetics Community in a Time of Need
In addition to focusing on planning for the Annual Meeting and the implementation of our Strategic Plan through the Action Plans of ASHG Committees, ASHG also has worked to offer new resources, to assess how members are adjusting to the scale down of labs and projects, and to launch a new open access journal, HGG Advances, which is helping to ensure important genetics and genomics research is communicated during this pandemic.
I am absolutely confident that with committed and engaged members, an amazing Board of Directors, and a highly professional and dedicated staff, ASHG will be able to accomplish our strategic priorities, maintain financial health, achieve new heights for the Society and human genetics research, and remain valuable and relevant to our members. We are resilient, and there is no more important time for science than now.
Despite all of the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to our community, I look forward to the year ahead and to continued progress that will lead to a bright future for human genetics and genomics researchers around the world.