Biophysical Society Creates Roadmap into the Future

Tamm, Lukas--15Biophysics as a discipline has experienced incredible growth in the last 15 years, which is reflected in the growth of the Biophysical Society membership and Annual Meeting.  With that growth, an increasing number of disciplines now use biophysical approaches to conduct their research, and elements of biophysics can be found in nearly every aspect of contemporary life sciences.

But biophysics as a field is still not well understood by those who do not identify themselves as biophysicists.  It is at this juncture that the Society Council undertook a year-long strategic planning effort to ensure that the Society’s activities, programs, and direction continue to best promote the field as a cohesive, unique discipline, and that the Society continues to provide a home and support network for the breadth of current and future biophysicists to showcase their research and the advancement of the field.

The Process

Council hired an outside facilitator to guide the strategic planning process, Marsha Rhea of Signaturei.  Her organization conducted an internal scan through member surveys and interviews, as well as an environmental scan of factors affecting the field and the researchers conducting biophysical research.  Armed with this wealth of data and information, Council and other Society members participated in a two-day retreat to draft the Society’s first ever strategic plan, then spent considerable additional time revising the draft, ultimately approving it at their fall meeting on October 28, 2017.

In the end, the new vision positions the Society to take full advantage of the interdisciplinary edge biophysics has as a unifying discipline with powerful quantitative methods that others need and that lead to significant new biological discoveries. The goals included in the plan affirm that the Society will work globally to enhance knowledge exchange, advocate for the value of biophysics, and support an increasingly diverse next generation of scientists.

In its deliberations, Council identified biophysics as a dynamic and evolving discipline within an increasingly interdisciplinary science landscape and determined that the term biophysics does not necessarily need a clear and coherent definition. The Society can exploit the strengths of this ambiguity as an advantage with biophysics seen as open to emerging fields of science and a discipline that continues to evolve and define quantitative biology.

Strategically Councilors agreed that it may be better to answer what biophysics is by describing its purpose and scope rather than defining its boundaries. The Society may also find this identity question can be an energizing and exciting discussion to continue when members gather. Councilors talked about how biophysicists are heroes of their own stories of scientific endeavor. Leaders of the field agree that biophysics and its quantitative methods are key to unlocking fundamental answers in the life sciences. Continuing to focus this identity conversation on what biophysics is doing rather than what it is may generate more opportunities for the Society to grow and thrive in the future.

The Outcome  

Vision

Biophysics is identified and recognized as the interdisciplinary scientific discipline that develops the quantitative methods and techniques needed by scientists as they seek fundamental understanding of the biological, chemical, and physical mechanisms of life and work to unlock answers essential to curing disease, solving biological problems, and discovering basic scientific insights.

Mission

The Biophysical Society convenes and connects a global community of scientists working at the interface of the physical and life sciences and creates, shares, and advocates for biophysical knowledge and methods through programs and communities that support biophysicists.

Values

  • Scientific excellence
  • Integrity and transparency
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Community building

Goals and Objectives

Sharing Knowledge in and about Biophysics.  The Biophysical Society is the organization where one can find the whole breadth of research that is biophysics, and not just one small part.  While researchers can attend other meetings that have a biophysics track, or join societies that have a biophysics component, nowhere other than the Biophysical Society can they experience the diversity of what biophysics is and what biophysicists do around the world. The Biophysical Society’s meetings, publications, programs, and website will all work together to strengthen the identity of biophysics as a distinct and integrative discipline that underpins a quantitative understanding of biological processes. Together they will provide forums, resources, and opportunities for researchers to access biophysics-related research and information.

Fostering a Global Community. Biophysics bridges multiple scientific disciplines and does so around the world. The Biophysical Society is an international organization. Although headquartered in the United States, more than one third of its membership is working outside the United States and this international fraction is growing.  The collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of biophysics has allowed this growth to happen organically, but as a Society we pledge to do more to ensure that all members and prospective members feel more connected and that those members, particularly student and early career members who may not be able to travel to attend the Annual Meeting, can access all available resources and feel a part of the Society. To cater to its international membership, the Society organizes meetings in international locations around the globe. The Society will work to support biophysicists throughout the world at all career levels and foster collaborative efforts with national biophysics societies to strengthen the identity of biophysics.

Supporting the Next Generation. The future strength of biophysics and of the Society depends on the next generation.  It’s that simple.  We know that we have strong programs and services for our young members, but we also know that technology, job markets, and economies change, and we are committed to change with them to ensure that the next generation thrives. The Society will continuously improve the mechanisms to engage, support, and retain the next generation of biophysicists.

Advocating for Biophysics. Who better to be ambassadors for biophysics than biophysicists?  How many people know and understand what you as a biophysicist do?  As biophysicists, we all need to step up and make our science more accessible, understandable, and relatable to everyone’s lives.  The Biophysical Society will develop programs to help members communicate the value and importance of biophysics to lawmakers, funding bodies, and the public at large. While scientific organizations have learned that working together to advocate for science funding works and is crucial, we are the only global organization that can speak specifically and comprehensively for biophysics.  We will work to engage more members to participate in that effort.

We Are a Member Organization

To all of you who participated in the survey and interviews that led to this plan, a heartfelt thank you.  As part of our effort to respond to member needs, we have sent a separate survey asking for input on specific programs, and we encourage all of you to participate and help make the Biophysical Society even better.

One of the reasons for the Society’s growth and success is that it has always been a democratic, bottoms-up organization. That feedback came through in the surveys and interviews. Nearly every successful program the Society currently sponsors originated from a member suggestion.

Please help us continue that culture by participating and making your voice heard. As we develop programs that you ask for, tell us if and how they are meeting your needs or how they can be improved.

We are excited to march together and promote biophysics as a unified, yet constantly evolving field far into the future. We are also thrilled to accompany and support all scientists who identify as biophysicists – young and old and around the globe – throughout their careers for decades to come.

–Lukas Tamm, BPS President

 

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