NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – A session focused on the International Society for Computational Biology's activities held during this year's Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology conference updated members on leadership's plans for the society, giving them an opportunity to provide feedback and suggestions on a number of topics including ongoing efforts to boost industry involvement and participation in future conferences and within the society as a whole.
More than 1,400 scientists from more than 50 countries attended this year's conference jointly organized by the ISCB and the European Conference on Computational Biology, and held earlier this week in Dublin, Ireland.
One of these talks was part of a special session focused on industry that offered some perspective on the working culture and hierarchy within industry as well as some skills and capabilities that hiring managers look for when considering new employees. Adding the session to this year's agenda is part of ISCB's efforts to encourage and boost industry participation in the community, something that has been sorely lacking at the annual meetings for quite some time. This year did see some industry participation with representatives from Qiagen Bioinformatics, Time Logic, and Amazon Web Services setting up booths in the exhibit hall and, in some cases, giving talks during the meeting.
However, the society is seeking to broaden the limited involvement and the special session held this year is seen as one of several early steps towards reopening doors to collaboration with industrial counterparts. In addition to the new session, efforts to broaden company participation in the community include a so-called industry platform that provides an open forum for discussion and interaction with companies from relevant sectors to better understand the reasons for their lack of involvement, get a better sense of their wants, and come up with ways to address these moving forward, ISCB President Alfonso Valencia said during his comments at the meeting.
The society has also set up an Industry Advisory Council to advise the ISCB board of directors and members in industry on future directions and programs and to promote the society within the relevant industry sectors. The council includes delegates from firms such as Pfizer, IBM Watson Research Center, and GlaxoSmithKline. ISCB and its industry partners are currently considering a number of possible opportunities for cross pollination between the two domains over the next year including establishing summer training programs, internship opportunities for students, and reorganizing the existing technical talks track at the meeting to include industry-related presentations, Valencia said. The society is also considering adding a new session to the conference that will feature additional scientific talks that are of interest to industry.
Other changes to this year's meeting included a new program format with talks grouped into five categories: genes, disease, protein, systems, and data. It also featured fewer parallel tracks than previous years in response to calls from attendees of previous conferences to scale back on the number of talks going on simultaneously, ISCB officials said during a press conference held at the start of the meeting. Researchers do have less time to present their research as a result but having fewer tracks did not result in a corresponding dip in the number of talks compared to previous years, officials said.
Also new this year, the ISCB has signed an agreement that allows the open-access journal F1000Research to publish proceedings — reviewed papers, posters, and slides — from ISCB's Special Interest Groups and Communities of Special Interest meetings. F1000 will publish the proceedings in the newly launched ISCB Community Journal which it hosts on its platform. In addition, Valencia said that the leadership is discussing the possibility of starting a series of small conferences focused on scientific research that will be organized by young principal investigators who are just now setting up their own labs and are working on interesting new projects. The idea here, he said, would be to better engage with these scientists and their work and to get them more involved with the society. The exact details of how this might work are still being fleshed out and the leadership is open to suggestions from the community, he said.
In addition to the standard Overton and Senior Scientist awards, the society has also established the Outstanding Contributions to ISCB award, which recognizes a member of the society who has made unique and lasting contributions to ISCB. The inaugural award went to Lawrence Hunter, a professor at the University of Colorado Medical School and founder of the ISMB and ISCB.
According to numbers presented during the meeting, ISCB is financially healthy with $1.8 million in net assets. The bulk of its net revenue comes from membership dues, which are used to support society operations, programs, and student travel fellowships — roughly 21 partial fellowships were awarded this year. A large share of net revenue also comes from proceeds of the ISMB conference, which support ISCB programs and fund the development of topical and regional conferences held worldwide throughout the year.
The society currently has more than 3,300 members and continues to grow slowly, officials said. This includes an active student council with 29 regional student groups that span multiple countries. The council organizes scientific events, provides networking opportunities, raises funds to support student run programs and activities as well as travel fellowships, and works to facilitate internships for students in various labs through a program established in 2009. In an update given during the meeting, student council officials reported that in the past year they organized four symposiums, successfully secured an internship placement for a student from a developing country, and sponsored travel fellowships for limited resource students to attend some relevant meetings.
Next year's ISMB meeting will be held in Orlando, Florida.