By Gail Jarvik, MD, PhD, ASHG Secretary
As we look to a bright future for genetics and genomics research, the Board has been very excited to finalize its new strategic plan, which has an ambitious, positive long-term vision that people everywhere realize the benefits of genetics and genomics research. Alongside its year-long dialogue and decision-making about the plan, the ASHG Board also undertook a process to assess our current committee structure and how we could best organize ourselves to achieve the Society’s ambitious and important strategic goals.
Committees are among the most important facets of Society life and serve as important member engagement opportunities, so the Board took this process extremely seriously and with great appreciation for many historic achievements. Working through an Ad Hoc Group on Committees comprised of Board members and Nominating Committee members, this assessment started with the core knowledge that committees would be ever more important to achieving our future goals and better engaging members in Society activities. Yet the establishment of committees had been somewhat organic over the years and had not been assessed at a higher level in many years. Moreover, this decision to review our committee processes reflected consistent input from committee chairs that they would benefit from clearer Board direction, and a similar Board view that better connection with committees would enhance the Society’s ability to achieve key goals.
As a result, most committees will experience at least some change. Some new committees or working groups will be created, while some will adapt their charges and composition to meet broader or clearer goals. Where appropriate, we will increase the size of committees somewhat to expand opportunities for more ASHG members to serve. This is a continuation of efforts launched last year to introduce a membership-wide call for nominations for committee service.
One notable change in committee structure will be tuning committee focus to “functions” rather than “type of member.” Moving forward, and reflecting the reach and diversity of ASHG’s membership, we imagine we will have many “types” of members on many committees. For instance, just as we have trainees on many committees, we can strive to be more attentive to including early-career scientists; genetic counselors; ethical and social voices; educators; researchers; or clinicians on many committees. Additionally, refined committee charges will help each group focus on core priorities of the plan – for instance, expanding the Training and Development Committee to become the Career Development Committee, with a core focus on expanding ASHG’s year-round career development resources for members.
Finally, we are creating “groups” or clusters of committees to help set closer relationships between functions. While each committee will have a core responsibility, chairs within committee groups will meet periodically to coordinate and communicate, and in the future, the Board may selectively set formal liaison relations between committees. Over the next year, committees will be asked by the Board to consider proposed Action Plans that help the Society achieve its strategic goals, focused on each committee’s core area of responsibility. With feedback from the Board in the spring, final plans will be integrated into future work to achieve our goals. Additionally, the Board has created a few working groups or task forces to focus on near-term issues of limited duration.
Members selected to begin committee service in 2020 will be invited to serve on the new committees, recognizing that it may be a different committee than the one they originally volunteered for but hoping these are welcome new opportunities to serve. We look forward to the important perspectives of returning committee members and incoming members. Committees will begin work in their new structure starting in fall 2019, meeting at the 2019 Annual Meeting in Houston in their new form. As always, incoming members are invited to attend their fall committee meeting if they are attending the annual meeting.
Brief descriptions of ASHG’s committees and groups are as follows:
The Awards Committee’s charge is to showcase and promote scientific excellence by recommending the recipients of the Society’s awards to the Board of Directors for approval. It will consider scientific excellence, professional citizenship and stewardship, and diversity as factors in its recommendations.
Career Development Committee
The Career Development Committee shall recommend, and upon approval by the Board of Directors, carry out activities concerned with the training and career development of ASHG members. The committee will guide career fairs, career panels, mentoring, etc., with an initial focus on career needs during the training and early-career periods. Topics might include careers outside academia; mentoring; soft skills; work-life balance and mental health; lab management; grant writing; etc.
Diversity & Inclusion Task Force
Reporting to the Board, the proposed Diversity & Inclusion Task Force charge will be to engage all committees and report to the Board a recommended Action Plan for ASHG’s current and evolving programming to address diversity and inclusion in the genetics and genomics research workforce and in research participation. Initially charged for a two-year period.
Finance & Audit Committee
The Finance & Audit Committee assists the Board with its responsibility to oversee ASHG financial management, helping to ensure prudent stewardship of the Society’s funds and drive ASHG’s long- term financial health and vision. It reviews and proposes ASHG annual budgets for the Board’s review and approval and monitors and reports to the Board on overall systems of internal control, integrity of financial statements, compliance with laws, and external audit.
Government and Public Advocacy Committee
The Government and Public Advocacy Committee proposes for Board approval and reports on Society policy and advocacy priorities and activities and provides governance oversight and feedback to staff on related ASHG goals and programs. Manages content of policy forum topics at the Annual Meeting and pursues programs that engage members in year-round advocacy and government affairs.
The Investment Committee will generate policy recommendations, manage and monitor investment activity under guidelines established by the Board, and coordinate and communicate with the Finance Committee and Board.
Membership Engagement Committee
The Membership Engagement Committee’s charge is to tend, grow, and engage the ASHG member community. With direction from the Board, the committee shall review, analyze and report on membership trends; provide guidance on membership strategies and periodic surveys; welcome new members; consider any local/regional engagement efforts; assess diversity & inclusion metrics and monitor programs for other prioritized member segments. Upon request by the Board, the committee may create working groups to explore projects based on member priorities, such as industry, genetic counselors, or other key member segments identified by the Board.
The Nominating Committee’s charge is to identify and develop volunteer leadership to meet the needs of the Society’s vision, strategies, and programs, recommending Board election slates and committee appointments to the Board for approval. The committee creates the annual election slate for Board position openings to support ASHG identified needs and goals. Identifies and recommends members to serve on committees, enabling committees to execute Board-approved goals and foster a pipeline of potential society leaders. Seeks to ensure diversity, in all its forms, in leadership positions.
Online Programs and Professional Education Group
The Online Programs and Professional Education Group will provide input to staff in order to build out an ongoing year-round professional education program that serves members in their identified need to “keep up with emerging findings,” as well as coordinating with other committees on content related to career development, advocacy, education and related content. Content may be developed in concert with AJHG. To begin, the working group will be structured as a 3-year pilot.
Professional Practice & Social Implications Committee
The Professional Practice & Social Implications Committee will recommend, and upon Board approval carry out, activities that help ASHG members and the research community advance genetics and genomics in ways that integrate and embed societal impacts within research goals and practices. The committee will consider, document and provide to members best practices that advance genetics research and its responsible application; address benefits and implications of emerging research knowledge, technologies and tools; develop guidance for community engagement & inclusion of diverse populations, and other activities as approved by the Board.
The Program Committee is responsible for the scientific content of the Annual Meeting and other meetings sponsored by the Society.
Public Education & Awareness Committee
The Public Education & Awareness Committee oversees programs and initiatives to inform, educate and engage the general public and students to advance knowledge and help people everywhere realize the benefits of human genetics and genomics research. Works to enhance ASHG members’ skills and motivation to engage in public communication and education activities. Helps develop Annual Meeting events and year-round programs that inform and engage ASHG members in public education, awareness and engagement. Provides input on media relations planning for Annual Meeting. Helps identify key concepts or priority knowledge areas for priority groups. Curates or helps develop materials for public and educator use that help advance ASHG’s strategic awareness goals.