President's Letter Autumn 2019

30 November 2019 - By: SEB

President's Letter Autumn 2019

I am writing this letter from the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve on the Cape York Peninsula, close to the northern-most tip of Australia. We’re a long way here from the nearest civilisation and lucky when we can get internet service, if at all.  I’m working on the Wenlock River continuing a seventeen-year program on the ecophysiology and movement ecology of the estuarine crocodile.   Being here in the wilderness, far from the distractions of my lab at the University of Queensland gives me an opportunity to reflect on my role as President, as distinct from the day-to-day reactive nature of my input, and to put down some thoughts on plans for the coming year.

We have not long come back from our annual meeting held in Seville in July. One of the highlights for me from our meeting was the Diversity Dinner. I am always impressed by the diversity of people and science that the SEB represents.   Although a UK based society, more than sixty per cent of SEB membership is from outside of the UK and members come from more than thirty countries and so it is truly an international society. Forty percent of our members and fifty per cent of our early career researchers are women and our past President, Professor Christine Raines was the first female president of the SEB in its 97-year history. 

The SEB is indeed coming of age. One of its greatest strengths is in its precepts of diversity and inclusion.

When I was researching my speech for the Diversity Dinner, I read that the Diversity Council of Australia states on its website that:  “Inclusion occurs when a diversity of people, for example: people of different ages, cultural backgrounds and gender feel valued and respected, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute their perspectives and talents to improve their organisation.”

Diversity can be defined as all of the differences between people in how they identify in relation to their:

  • Age, caring responsibilities, cultural background, disability, gender or gender identity, First Nations background, sexual orientation, intersex status, and socio-economic background. In short, their Social Identity

As well as their:

  • Profession, education, work experiences, and organisational role or their Professional Identity.”

I believe we would do well to look at examples like this and to apply them to our personal lives, our professional lives and this Society. There are a number of programs and policies in our organisation that promote these concepts. We can only grow stronger as an organisation by upholding the values of inclusion and diversity. 

On another level, Council are presently working on a new Strategic Plan to improve the delivery and value of our services and organisation to our members. As part of our that exercise, we are thinking about how we can assist in promoting and strengthening our science and members in an increasingly cynical world where science is often discredited by the media in the pursuit of headlines.  But often, too, in a world where members our profession are identified as being the forefront of predicting and defining the future of climate change and impacts upon food security, ecosystem services and conservation of biodiversity, we need to be in a position of providing positive stories about our research and colleagues, which are readily accepted and taken up by mainstream media.  We need to continue to help the public understand what we do and where it leads.

We need to improve our profile and findings to potential funding sources. Community and industry partnerships are becoming more essential to our research funding, as government funding is less accessible. And for that reason, too, we need political decision-makers to be aware of our contribution. We can never assume that we don’t need to make these efforts to promote ourselves and our organisations.

To that end, I am hoping we can improve how the SEB organisation can improve the dissemination and frequency of research findings in a palatable way to the mainstream media and general public.  But also, I believe we need to help our members understand how to prepare media in a form that relates to the public and is taken up in local areas by the local media. This requires a certain amount of planning and assistance, possibly in the form of making training sessions at our meetings, to increase our own profile to the average citizens, who after all are the base source of funding.

I would like to take the opportunity of welcoming our newest member to our SEB executive team, Sarah Dolman who takes on the position of Diversity, Education and Outreach officer and who will play a critical role in facilitating activities associated with the above. 

As I end this missive and head out to tag a crocodile (I had to say that), I have to say that I am looking forward to being your President for the next two years.  I look forward to meeting up with you and to hearing your feedback to your Society and how it can help you.

Professor Craig Franklin

President, Society for Experimental Biology