Message From the President: Two Years of Change
SfN President Barry Everitt
I am so proud to have been elected to serve as the first president of SfN from outside North America, which highlighted the international membership that SfN now serves, and, when elected, I relished the opportunity to strengthen the internationality that enriches neuroscience research.
The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed my ambition and SfN’s plans.
I have created several unenviable and I hope never-to-be-repeated records: the first president to serve a two-year term; the first to eliminate an annual meeting (Neuroscience 2020); and the first to cancel the in-person component of an annual meeting (Neuroscience 2021 in Chicago). I’ve chaired not the usual four, but 21 SfN Council meetings and written two year’s worth of these Neuroscience Quarterly pieces.
On the brighter side, SfN has adapted to fulfill its aims in the digital-first world we find ourselves in. SfN’s first neuroscience-spanning virtual meeting – Global Connectome – was held very successfully in January 2021, and the 50th anniversary meeting in November 2021 will be fully virtual, with a superb program and more than 12,000 attendees. Science education via BrainFacts.org saw a surge of interest from students and teachers utilizing virtual learning and looking for trusted sources about the brain. The highlight of SfN advocacy efforts, Hill Day, went virtual in 2021 and expanded to a three-day event, connecting more NeuroAdvocates, elected officials, and Congressional staff than ever before. Supporting our mission, SfN’s financial strategy in the years since the 2008 financial crash has built the financial reserves necessary to weather this storm and thrive as a Society in the future.
A Difficult Decision
You already know of my personal profound disappointment at the decision to cancel the in-person meeting in Chicago. Nothing would have been more personally fulfilling than to celebrate this in person with our community in Chicago. We on Council had to make an incredibly difficult decision and I readily acknowledge the concerns and sense of frustration and anger that many members of the community subsequently expressed.
When we made the decision to move ahead with an in-person Neuroscience 2021 experience in the spring of 2021, vaccine optimism was high, the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant had not taken hold in the U.S., and infection rates were low. The desire to resume in-person meetings was frequently expressed and there was an expectation that international travel bans would be lifted well ahead of the meeting. We were wrong.
SfN will accrue myriad financial losses from the in-person cancellation. The decision to hold an in-person meeting and its subsequent cancellation were emphatically not driven by finances, but instead by our desire to give members access to great science, speakers, career advancement opportunities, and more. However, almost half the program speakers and presenters indicated that they would be unable or unwilling to travel to Chicago. The loss of much of the in-person programming, as well as the small number of people indicating they would attend in person, led us to conclude that the in-person meeting would be a huge disappointment to those who travelled to Chicago to attend. Furthermore, members and delegates from across Europe and many other countries were still subject to a travel ban at the time of our decision in early October; a mid-October announcement by the Biden administration lifting the travel ban from November 8, 2021 came too late.
Despite the absence of an in-person meeting in Chicago, I hope very much that you join SfN’s 50th anniversary meeting virtually. Neuroscience 2021’s scientific program is outstanding. It prioritizes exceptional neuroscience from SfN’s global, vibrant, and diverse community. The Program Committee, with its dedicated Chair Sheena Josselyn and incoming Chair Ellen Lumpkin, have worked for an unprecedented two years to organize and maintain a spectacular virtual meeting that has all of the scientific content, including nearly 9,000 poster presentations. It will also test drive a novel way of having virtual poster presentations with live, real-time conversations — a worthy experiment for what may eventually be required in the future.
As I sit here, still confined to Cambridge in the U.K., I fully share the frustration over the elimination of the in-person meeting and am personally devastated by the decision we felt compelled to make. But in sincerely apologizing to you all, we nevertheless hope you will look forward optimistically, take advantage of the incredible program, and join what will be a meeting for our entire membership regardless of the ability to attend in person.
I want to express my deep gratitude to SfN staff for the dedication they bring to their tireless work for SfN. I am also extremely grateful to members of Council for their full attendance at every meeting held over the last two years and for their enduring commitment and optimism. And finally, I hope very much to see you in San Diego for Neuroscience 2022.