President's Letter: Feb/Mar 2012

Dear Members of the Bioelectromagnetics Society,

From February 15th to the 19th we had an exceptionally long series of meetings expanding over four full days, anchored by the 117th meeting of the Board of Directors of The Bioelectromagnetics Society, hosted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France.

On Wednesday, the ad hoc BEMS Management Task Force, consisting of the members of the Management Committee (Jeff Carson, Phil Chadwick, Jonna Wilén, David Black, Andrew Wood, Joachim Schüz) and Meike Mevissen, met to discuss how to secure excellent, efficient and cost-effective management of the Society and the annual meetings, and how to adapt the constitution and by-laws of the Society to optimally face the challenges of the future. A second meeting of this task force was held on Thursday afternoon. The European Bioelectromagnetics Association used the opportunity to have their Council meeting also in Lyon, so I could both attend their Council meeting and we had a joint EBEA-BEMS task force meeting on Thursday to discuss the next BioEM meeting in 2013 in Thessaloniki and, in addition, continue our negotiations on how to collaborate closer in the future. The full Board meeting of BEMS was Friday and Saturday.  This was longer than we traditionally meet, however, the proposals of the Management Task Force were discussed in depth and so was the outcome of the joint EBEA-BEMS task force meeting.

Most importantly, we are convinced that we have good solutions in place for the management of BEMS. Perhaps not unexpected for a transition phase, there will still be a learning process for some details, but all essential procedures are already in place:

  • The key element is the new homepage that allows automatic processes for many actions that were previously done manually; the savings compared to previously fixed expenses are substantial and will result in greater benefit in the future when all functions are automated. The main support is therefore needed in terms of IT; with some additional administrative support in the beginning we have a modern BEMS office in place. This support allows the Society to be run by the officers, with the contact points being the President for general inquiries, the Treasurer for financial issues, and the Secretary for communication with the members.
  • The belongings of the Society were shipped from Washington, DC to Lawson Health Sciences in London, Ontario, where we will sort out what should be preserved for the future to not lose the great history of the Society, and then decide about central storage.
  • The management of meetings will be decided on a per-meeting basis, making use of local vendors and members of the Society ready to commit to Local Organizing Committees. This model works very successfully for the Brisbane meeting and is in place for Thessaloniki in 2013.
  • The savings compared to the previous fixed management costs model are tremendous, expected to be between 60,000 and 75,000 US $ in both 2012 and 2013, which allows the Society maneuvering to support our primary goal, the promotion of science, by sending more support to the dissemination of science, student education and travel, communication within the Society, and attractiveness of the annual meetings.

Working on the constitution and by-laws took much time.  We will soon provide you our suggestions and justifications by e-mail, announced already also in this newsletter, to be discussed among all of us at the next annual business meeting. For this purpose, the business meeting in Brisbane has been scheduled to allow for additional discussion time, so all members have the opportunity to express their concerns or their support, either directly at the meeting or in advance in writing. While some of the suggestions are meant to remove inconsistencies or adapt to processes that are already established, the key changes will be a smaller but more operational board with clear task descriptions as well as the use of new technology in decision-making. Again, in the medium-term, this will save expenses that future boards will be able to use for the promotion of science and the expansion of the Society.

An important lesson to be learned by attending each other’s board meetings is to see how BEMS and EBEA converge naturally, in terms of management and meetings, but also in terms of acknowledging the challenges and the understanding that we can only face them when working together.

A key step in this direction has been achieved at the joint task force meeting:  a proposal to hold only joint annual meetings, not only in 2013 but beyond. Given that the joint meetings have always been the best in attendance, the years with an EBEA only meeting in spring and later BEMS meeting in June have been difficult for BEMS and would become even more difficult in the future in times of declining funding. The proposal has already been approved by the BEMS board. This step became possible because meeting management became more similar, but also because EBEA decided to join meetings outside of Europe.

This was a major issue for BEMS:  to have fair representation in a globally operating Society.  It will now be guaranteed to secure future meetings will take place in North America, Europe and the Pacific Rim, as is today.  We hope this will also take us to  regions where we have not been yet but where Bioelectromagnetics research is emerging. The new concept foresees that rather than arbitrarily choosing a city, we will issue a call for proposals and have a meeting selection committee in place to decide about the best bid, considering costs, accessibility, availability of local organizers, and geographical variation. Criteria for how to choose will be developed shortly, and the first meeting to be selected according the new concept will be in 2014.

I hope I will be able to introduce the proposed changes in a way to you at the Annual Business Meeting that you will be able to share my enthusiasm.

Joachim Schüz