As from 1 October the BPS will have a new Chief Executive Officer, Kate Baillie, leading our administrative team at Angel Gate. The process of searching for and appointing a CEO was a most interesting experience for those involved. First, consideration had to be given to the job title. Unlike the discussion of a new title for pA2 there was no great discussion or disagreement on this issue, just a realisation that most other related organisations now use CEO, and to avoid confusion it was agreed that the BPS should follow suit.
But of much more importance was defining the job description. Council and the Executive Committee of the Society spent considerable time considering the type of person and the professional background and qualifications that were required to run the BPS on a day-to-day basis, as well as positioning the society for the challenges it will face over the next five to ten years. At times it seemed that we were suggesting that the person we needed was someone combining the attributes of Genghis Khan, Richard Branson and Mother Teresa.
To solicit applications we used a firm of headhunters, KMC International, who had experience of filling CEO posts for other learned societies and were contemporaneously trying to fill the posts of Head of the MRC and the Government’s Chief Scientific Officer. KMC worked hard on our behalf indeed, I understand that they called a number of BPS members either for advice or to ask them if they had an interest in applying for the position. From the large number of well-qualified applicants we finally managed to pick a shortlist for interview. At interview, Kate came out head and shoulders above the rest and was our unanimous choice. Then there was just the anxious question of whether she still wanted the job, having by now met several of the senior members of the Society! Thankfully she said ‘Yes’.
And so, it was with a spring in my step that I set off to Glasgow for the Life Sciences 2007 meeting. This was an excellent meeting but I will leave it to our VP (Meetings), Mandy MacLean, to give a full report (see page 15 of this issue). On the first evening I and several other BPS office bearers attended a dinner with our counterparts from the Biochemical and Physiological Societies. This provided a useful, informal occasion to hear of the activities and plans of these organisations and to share our views on topics such as open access publication that is relevant to us all.
Unfortunately, there seem to be some rather misguided rumours circulating amongst our members about what was discussed at this dinner. So far I have heard on the rumour mill that the BPS and the Physiological Society are combining, that all the life science organisations are going to move their offices into a large building in central London and various other outrageous suggestions. Let me assure you that none of these is true. What was agreed is that it would be beneficial to each of the societies to work together to exchange ideas on best practice and to inform each other of initiatives and projects at an early planning stage so that, where appropriate, joint initiatives could be undertaken.
Whilst discussing misconceptions, I should relate two conversations that I have had recently with well-meaning BPS members. The first was with an old friend who said that he and his colleagues had been discussing how difficult it was to become a member of the BPS and how it took too long a time for applications to be approved. Well, it says on our website that applications are considered once a month and that is what we try to do. Also, for Associate and Student Members it is not a prerequisite that they should have published in our journal or have presented at our meetings. They have to demonstrate evidence of commitment to the discipline of pharmacology and that could, for example, be by taking up a post in a pharmacological laboratory.
The second was with a senior scientist who is a member of both the BPS and the Physiological Society. He told me that he made sure that his PhD students become student members of the Physiological Society because ‘the Phys Soc, unlike the BPS, funds their student members to go to one meeting per year’. Well, contrary to what he said, that is exactly what the BPS does do, from the Bain Fund!
Perhaps the problem is that, for reasons that are not obvious to Council and the Executive Committee, we are not getting our message across to our members concerning the changes we have introduced, and the perception of the Society by our members is somewhat out of date. I would welcome any ideas that you may have for improving communication, and hope that members will continue to pass on their criticisms of the Society so that we can either dispel them when appropriate, or, if true, take steps to improve what we are doing.
Finally, the Winter 2007 meeting will be the occasion of the inaugural Presidential Lecture. This will be given by the journalist, Ben Goldacre, who has long championed the need for quality research rather than unsubstantiated opinion, especially in the area of medical research. It was he who, in his column in the Guardian, publicised the decision of the Provost of UCL to remove David Colquhoun’s website from the UCL server. Thankfully, in part due to Ben’s intervention, David’s website has been restored. I hope you will all come along to hear what Ben has to say.