Like many scientists in our field, I have moved around a lot. From London and Nottingham in the U.K., to Antarctica, Australia, Canada, Plymouth, Chicago, Hangzhou, Cape Cod, Singapore, and now San Diego.
While my family has provided continuous support throughout my career, indeed enabling my success through their sacrifice, the fluctuating professional environment has often resulted in ‘support turbulence’ – a phrase I use to encapsulate the unpredictability of help, encouragement, and assistance provided by mentors, colleagues, community, and institutions.
I am sure many people can relate to ‘support turbulence’. Some institutions feel like that they have your back from the start, while others can feel like they are actively working against you. Even if an institution (deans, chairs, VPs, CEOs) are backing you, your new colleagues can be either engaging, indifferent, antagonistic, or even abusive. Overall, you should expect your mentor at an institution to be the steady hand and vocal supporter that can guide you through political turmoil and dangerous waters, yet even this foundation can be variable, often depending on the individual personality, ambition, and importantly, training that the mentor has received. It should be noted here that I have had a vast patchwork quilt of support, from calm skies to extreme thunderstorms and tornadoes, and yet throughout my career the one solid pillar I have come to rely on are scientific societies.
I have worked in industry, government, and academic systems, all of which have idiosyncrasies which I could write a book about. Indeed, this experience has given me a unique perspective when it comes to providing advice and mentorship to those trainees who it is my honour to support. When choosing that next stage in your career, you have to run the gamut of ‘support turbulence’. But one way to mitigate the potential impact is to join and engage with a scientific society. It has been my honour to be deeply involved with a number of organisations. From the International Society for Microbial Ecology, where I served as a Senior Editor for the ISME Journal, to the American Society of Microbiology, where I currently serve as Editor in Chief of mSystems. Societies have been a rich part of my career development. I have served as Senior Editor for both Environmental Microbiology and Environmental Microbiology Reports for the Society of Applied Microbiology (now AMI) and have recently accepted the role of Vice President and Incoming President of this society.
Many of us will have played a role in scientific societies. The majority of us will have at one point attended a scientific conference put on by a society. These are deeply rewarding experiences, and while I often struggle with the size and complexity of these mega-meetings, their impact on my career has been substantial. I doubt I would have ever moved to the United States, for example, had I not attended ISME-11 (Vienna) and ISME-12 (Cairns), where I got the opportunity to present my research, and meet many of my future colleagues. Similarly, engaging in society activities through the ASM Microbe meeting has created collaborations that have led to some of the most exciting and engaging science I have been involved with to date. Scientific societies provide the convening power to bring us all together in an environment which we can actively manage and create, a place where we have agency.
The Society for Applied Microbiology is changing its name. But, Applied Microbiology International still provides the support and convening power to create consistency in our careers. From publishing, networking, the chance to shape local and international policy, funding opportunities, and professional development prospects, AMI membership creates unbiased support to reduce turbulence in your ever-changing career. Lack of bias is key; our agency to shape the current and future vision of AMI should be seen as a truly democratic process, creating an amalgam of ideas that can be refined into a targeted vision to tackle the world’s biggest problems. Applying our power as microbiologists, magnified by our shared foresight, can truly change the world.
Supporting our societies through membership and publishing pays huge dividends. Choosing to publish in society journals, versus private, for-profit journals, can be one of the most powerful demonstrations of agency a lab or individual can express. By publishing in society journals, you provide resources to support funding for travel awards, early career grants, conferences, and unique training experiences; what could be a better way to spend open access charges than knowing that the money is going back to support your own community.
Societies have provided the foundational stability and consistency of support that have been the bedrock of my career development and progress. I owe a significant proportion of my success to engaging in society activities, and I encourage all trainees to do the same. Recognition comes from engaging with your community, and societies provide the ideal forum to achieve that recognition. I am proud to be taking a leadership role in the future of Applied Microbiology International, I look forward to engaging with the membership and building a truly democratic, open, unbiased, international organisation, that looks out for its members and can actuate real change in the world.