March 2009 Newsletter:

Chairman's report

We are at an exciting and positive time for the future development of our society. I would personally like to thank Julia Buckingham, Glenda Gillies, John Laycock and Pallab Seth for their stewardship of the Journal of Neuroendocrinology for the past four years, and I look forward to exciting times ahead with Dave Grattan at the helm (see interview below) assisted by Allan Herbison and Colin Brown. We had a well attended and very successful Annual Meeting in Bristol last September, so many thanks to Allison Fulford and her team for organising things there. I look forward to the momentum being maintained in Edinburgh at the end of June as Alison Douglas and her colleagues have put together a great programme.

The committee met at length in Edinburgh in early February, shrugging off the snow and ice, and in the case of one member (Helen Christian) featuring in a remake of Planes, Trains and Automobiles which resulted in an epic journey from Oxford to Edinburgh via Birmingham and Glasgow arriving at 3am Monday morning. One major topic at that meeting was to consider what further initiatives we can adopt to promote neuroendocrinology. Despite my major concerns when I took over as Chairman in 2005 that revenue from our journal would fall rapidly as online publishing and free access revolutionised scientific publishing, revenues from our journal have continued to increase. No-one can predict how long this state of affairs will last, but we are now in the position where our reserves would continue to support the costs of running the journal for a good few years. We can therefore start to think more creatively about our use of funds. Last year we provided over £28K worth of grants to support symposia, travel to foreign meetings, summer vacation studentships, lab visits, and support for the Biological Sciences Federation to develop web delivered practicals which will relate aspects of neuroendocrinology to the national curriculum. We also supported our own annual meeting, and paid membership dues to support the International Neuroendocrine Federation and to UK bodies. The committee is now considering increasing our expenditure by a further £30-40K for the next financial year by providing a small amount of real research support for early career researchers, perhaps in the form of grants for up to £10K. The scheme might be run along similar lines to the Society for Endocrinology small grants scheme, but bona fide standing as a BSN member and evidence of contribution towards the BSN’s annual meetings are likely to be amongst the criteria for awards. As a member of BBSRC funding panels I’m acutely aware of the difficulties of peer review, and of the workload, but we feel that helping to support the current and future generations of researchers in neuroendocrinology is paramount. My intention is to present detailed plans of how the scheme might work in time for our meeting in Edinburgh, in the meantime I’d be delighted to hear from you if you have any specific points, either in favour or against this proposal. One particular idea I have is that because we are a relatively small society then the review process will be transparent, ie it will not be anonymous, and unsuccessful applicants will get some genuine feedback.

A second major issue discussed by the committee is that as a result of the Charities (2006) Act we need to move towards running the society on a much more transparent and professional basis. That is not a criticism of any of our procedures or efforts to date, far from it, but a requirement of the Charity Commissioners and a reflection of the fact that we have an annual turnover in six figures. We have instituted a subcommittee that will look at all aspects of what we need to do. This will include appointing an accountant to prepare and audit our income and expenditure, revising our constitution and rules to define better our benefactors and procedures, communicating with our Trustees who will need to take a much more active role in overseeing our affairs, and producing a comprehensive annual report of our activities. We hope to have the substantive aspects of this in place in time for our AGM in June at which point your support will be required to enact the necessary changes.

Finally I should reiterate that we are a charity run by its members for our members. I would encourage you to get your students, post docs and colleagues to join if they have a genuine interest in neuroendocrinology, because the potential benefits are great. There may be a credit crunch going on around the world, but at least in the short term we are hoping to be able to expand what we do to support members, so you should all look to take advantage of this.

Fran Ebling, Nottingham