Scott Schobel, ACNP Membership Advisory Task Force member
Q: How did you join council?
A: I initially attended ACNP meetings as a guest and speaker and was subsequently elected as a foreign corresponding member, a category that no longer exists. Although I volunteered to join committees, members in my category were not in fact eligible to do so. Then three years ago, I received an email asking if I would stand for election to Council; I said yes and was elected – I think as the first member of Council from outside the US, which is an honor.
Q: What does council do?
A: It’s the governing body of ACNP and does much of its work through its standing committees (for example, programme, membership, publications, nominations and liaison, which deals with advocacy issues). It also establishes Task Forces to deal with specific issues such as diversity in the membership. Overall it works strategically to ensure the present and future strength of the College, which depends on secure finances – a major area of responsibility for Council - through holding exceptional annual scientific meetings, electing exceptional scientists as members, supporting education and training and advocating for the field on the Hill, a very important role. It also spends a lot of time discussing future venues for the meeting (some of us long to return to San Juan!).
Q: Do you believe that council’s influences or role are misunderstood?
A: Possibly, but I’m not sure why. Some feedback suggests that Council might be detached from the needs of members, perhaps especially young members. But in my experience Council works hard to meet the needs of members of the College. This task will never be finished of course.
If there is some misunderstanding, it may reflect the natural evolution from the smaller College it was to the vibrant, much larger College that it is now. Contemporary science requires rapid change in the way the ACNP operates and my feeling is that it does so transparently and pretty well.
Q: Have you had an accomplishment that you are most proud of during your tenure on council?
A: I don’t think there are eureka moments like that. You’re only a member of Council for 3 years and become a part of ongoing, as well as new, decision-making processes. Just in my brief time I think there has been considerable progress on gender diversity in the College and at its meetings, but that will be a work in progress for some time to come. ACNP is fortunate to have an exceptional Executive office and they are the individuals who ensure continuity and effect Council decisions.
Q: Where do you see the college going? Is there something that needs to be changed?
A: I think the big challenge for the College and therefore for the Council, is to keep neuropsychopharmacology as a discipline up front and central. Regrettably we are at a very difficult moment for the field. We have great science giving us many leads about disease mechanisms and new treatment targets that should enable new medicines, for which there is tremendous unmet need. Yet few pharmaceutical companies are in the business of trying to develop new medications for psychiatric disorders – and it is a very expensive, high-risk undertaking. I think that’s worrying.
While it is right that exciting developments in genetics, functional and connectionist imaging, with powerful optogenetic and chemogenetic tools enabling us to understand behavioural and cognitive processes, this has perhaps led to a feeling that neuropsychopharmacology is an approach whose time has past. I don’t think that’s right and there is enormous potential for bringing new, and re-purposing ‘old’, medications to the clinic, especially in the emerging era of personalized medicine.
Q: So do you think the college might help this state of play?
A: I think it can and it will, by showcasing outstanding science at its meetings, encouraging debate and dialogue, emphasizing the astonishing advances being made and using them to advocate for investment in the treatment of psychiatric illness – both by government and the pharmaceutical industry. I do think the College has a responsibility to do this and I am confident it will.
Ryan Bachtell, ACNP Membership Advisory Task Force member
Q: How did you join council?
A: The process was really very simple. I have been at ACNP every year with one exception for the last 10 years or so. I really believe in what ACNP is trying to do. So people saw that I was very committed to being part of committees, to be part of the ACNP through my science, through my presence as a member doing whatever I was asked to do. At some point, a friend of mine suggested that I run for Council. So I threw my name in and I was pleasantly surprised that people voted for me.
Q: What does Council do?
A variety of things. We have feedback from the other committees; the program committee,membership committee, the diversity committee and so on.
Those committees have questions for us. They come to us to discuss issues. And, we have joint meetings from time to time. We also keep a very close eye on the finances, of course. Anymatter that comes up from members from any corner of ACNP comes up to Council and we discuss them. We try to find solutions. People may want to develop something new through ACNP. Sometimes people may want to create an award, discuss new ideas or initiatives. Other times people have issues with one matter or another. Basically, anything that has to be solved or any opportunity to make ACNP stronger, it comes to council at the end of the day.
Q: Give me your thoughts on what council might achieve during your tenure?
A: The priorities are always the same and we are continuing to work on them because they are still unsolved. The priorities are: How do we balance gender and ethnicity in the best way? How do we do we create the best opportunities for minorities to increase diversity? How do we get the best scientists to stay and to be active members of ACNP? How do we get junior scientists to join ACNP? How do we get clinicians to talk to basic scientists? How do we get the best translational science through ACNP? How do we represent the non-academic institutions that are doing science? There are many that are extremely important, from pharma to biotech to private companies. How to balance the portfolio of science which is so different and make them feel represented and a part of ACNP?
Q: How do you think council’s activities or influence may be misunderstood?
A: I don’t know what may be misunderstood. I see myself as a voice for the members. I can bring any issue to the table. Anyone can bring any issue to the table at Council. The idea that I see from non-members, is that ACNP is a relatively elite group, for lack of a better word. We are elite in a sense of quality. Absolutely, yes. We want to privilege the best scientists from every corner. But, it does not mean that we do not allow people to come in. The number of new slots is relatively small and we constantly obsess about quality of science from wherever it comes. So, I don’t know if there is an easy solution because we don’t want ACNP to become a 30,000 person meeting. That’s impossible. Quality is the ultimate goal. Quality and balance, to increase diversity.
Q: How have you seen the College change over the years and what direction do you see the College moving toward in the future?
A: The college has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. The amount of basic science that is represented and the amount of basic scientists that are members now, I think, has significantly increased. Their science is more and more predominant and it is driving a lot of the clinical science. What I see now, because of all of these amazing new basic science techniques, the clinicians are changing in a sense that we see more and more of a mix of traditional clinical science based on medication and testing to now a more scientific based proof of concept ideas and implementation. So ideas that are stemming from genetic and molecular techniques such as optogenetics and DREADD are being translated into the clinic through very promising techniques such transcranial magnetic stimulation and deep brain stimulation. Overall, I think there is greater interaction between basic science and clinicians that allows for these non-traditional medication clinical approaches. My prediction is that we will see more and more of that interface.
Summary By: James Murrough, MD
The Membership Advisory Task Force was pleased to sponsor its fifth career development session at the 2015 ACNP meeting, entitled “Nuts and Bolts of ACNP Membership.” The lively session was moderated by Daniel Mueller and Kay Tye and featured an engaging panel that included Karen Szumlinski, Gregory Light, Victoria Arango, David Goldman, and Patricio O’Donnell. There was standing room only as eager meeting attendees turned out in numbers to get the inside scoop on the ACNP membership process. Daniel Mueller provided a brief overview of the application process and explained how each year the Membership Advisory Task Force collects and analyzes data concerning membership applications. Panel members then introduced themselves and commented on how the ACNP has fit into their own career paths. These initial comments soon gave way to a brisk back-and-forth with the audience. Who is accepted into the College? How are membership decisions made? How do I begin the process? If my application was rejected in the past, should I apply again? These are just a few of the questions that were addressed by the panel during the session. Victoria Arango provided a detailed breakdown of the qualities that the Membership Committee seeks in its applicants: these include, (1) knowledge of the College, (2) recurring attendance at meetings, (3) a good publication record, (4) NIH or other grant funding, (5) completion of reviews for Neuropsychopharmacology
, and (6) a strong letter of nomination from a member of the ACNP. Potential candidates were encouraged to each out to members early to secure letters of nomination (in some cases members may only provide one nomination letter per year). While these factors apply to both Associate Member and Full Member levels, there was additional emphasis on the importance of showing a track record of mentoring for applicants seeking full membership. There was an energetic discussion around the efforts of the ACNP to be inclusive and transparent, while at the same time maintaining its small size and intimate feel. David Goldman reflected on the unique aspects of the College and referred to it as a “career accelerant.” Commenting further he said, “At the ACNP meeting you might have a hallway conversation with Eric Nestler…[ACNP membership] is a bit of a climb but well worth it.”
The ACNP Membership Advisory Task Force has a number of activities planned for the 2015 Annual Meeting. We encourage all early-career investigators interested in learning more about the ACNP membership process to join us for this year’s Career Development Session (Tuesday, December 8th from 1:30-3:00pm)
, which will focus on the FAQs of applying for Associate and Regular Memberships in the College. The themes of the panel will be to identify qualities of successful applications and to provide information on membership trends in the last several years. The Membership Advisory Taskforce has collected and analyzed data from previous years’ applications which are regularly presented at a daily poster at the ACNP meetings (Poster #1 each evening). Frequent questions by attendees will be discussed, such as how to judge the best moment to apply and how different merits might be weighed against each other (e.g., publications vs. grant track records).
The session will also discuss how to attract and encourage junior scientists and mechanisms through which interested non-members can attend meetings. These include how to ‘break the ice’ with College members – in other words, advice as to how one can find ways to interact with more senior members of the College will be provided. Also to be discussed is what the College does to promote applications from females and minorities. Given that travel awards serve to facilitate entrance to the ACNP, another emphasis will be to discuss strategies for successful applications for Travel Awards. Related to these topics, the group will discuss how an applicant for membership/travel award can show commitment to the College (an important criterion for membership) in addition to attending the meeting (since this requires an invitation and therefore can be a ‘catch-22’).
Last, but not least, the panel will discuss how membership in the College dovetails with overall career progression and how ACNP membership can be beneficial for one’s own career plans. Panelists will be Karen Szumlinski, Greg Light, Victoria Arango, David Goldman, and Patricio O’Donnell. These panelists collectively offer perspectives from the Membership Committee, Education and Training Committee (for Travel Awards), academia and industry, as well as clinical (M.D.) versus non-clinical (Ph.D.) research paths. The panel also contains senior ACNP Fellows as well as more junior recent Members, so that the changing landscape of what the ACNP is can be addressed. Moderators will be members of the Membership Advisory Task Force, Christina Barr, Vaishali Bakshi, Daniel Mueller and Kay Tye.
The task force will again host an Associate Member Reception
at this year’s Annual Meeting. The reception is scheduled for Sunday, December 6th from 6:30pm-7:30pm, just prior to the Opening Night Reception. The Associate Member Reception will provide a casual opportunity for networking among Associate Members, Membership Advisory Task Force Committee Members, and ACNP Leaders (including Council Members, Program Committee Chairs, and Membership Committee Chairs). All Associate Members are invited and encouraged to attend. The newly accepted Associate Members (“Class of 2015”)
will be recognized during this reception, and a booklet will be distributed highlighting each them and briefly describing their work. We hope this booklet will be a useful vehicle for others to get to know ACNP’s newest Associate Members, and also to help them to learn about each other.
Don’t forget to visit this year’s Membership Advisory Task Force poster to be presented at each poster session on Board #1.
The poster includes information on the latest membership statistics for both full members and associate members. The poster also includes the results of the task force’s survey of associate members and past travel awardees on their impressions of the College and areas in which we can improve.