At our AGM on Tuesday 11 December, Professor Arne Akbar became President of our organisation, taking over from Professor Peter Openshaw after his five-year term of office. To mark the start of his Presidency, Professor Akbar has written an open letter to the membership about his aims for the organisation.
"It is a tremendous honour for me to be elected as the next President and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the British Society for Immunology (BSI). I am currently Professor of Immunology at University College London and have been a member of the BSI since 1978 when I started my PhD and have been part of the BSI family from that time, through all the subsequent stages of my career. The BSI is widely considered to be the exemplar of an extremely successful organisation and this is due to the seamless interface between the Trustees who decide on the direction of travel of the Society and the BSI office who translate ambition into outcome. I would like to give my sincere thanks to Peter Openshaw, the outgoing BSI President, and Jo Revill, who was the CEO in charge of the BSI office for much of his 5-year tenure. She left to take on the job of CEO of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. We are very lucky to have a new CEO, Doug Brown, who has been in post for three months and has already made an impact with his vibrant leadership of the office. I look forward to working with him and his team during my term.
"The current good health of the BSI results from Peter’s strong and visionary leadership. During his Presidency, Peter and Jo restructured the process of Trustee recruitment and built a strong staff team with the expertise to deliver on the BSI strategy. They have also increased the transparency and accountability of all activities across the organisation. Peter has been involved in many activities behind the scenes including lobbying politicians, driving forward the careers work, building our international presence and improving our membership services. On behalf of the BSI, I would like to offer our sincere gratitude to Peter for all he has done for the Society; it has been nurtured in a very safe pair of hands. He will be a difficult act to follow and I will continue to seek his advice when needed in the future.
"Our CEO Doug Brown leads an office consisting of 15 talented individuals who have portfolios relating to finance, the BSI journals, conferences (including the annual congress), external affairs and much more. Doug obtained a PhD in immunology so in him we have a CEO with inside knowledge of the field. This staff team is there to benefit the members and I would encourage everyone to look at the BSI website to learn more about their activities. They would be delighted to hear from you and to answer any of your questions. Doug and I aim for even more interaction between the Trustees and the office staff in the future to give everyone involved a better global perspective of our activities.
"It is a well-known saying that “in science, we all stand on the shoulders of giants.” This can be re-articulated as anything we may do is perhaps incremental on things that have been done already. The BSI now has over 3,700 members who are mainly based in the UK but also reside in many other countries, and financially we are in an extremely stable position. Rather than resting on our laurels, we are investigating novel ways of expanding our activities, without excessive risk, to promote immunology for the benefit our members. British immunology has had a major role internationally even before immunology was recognised as a discipline in its own right. Some examples of success include the discovery of vaccination (Edward Jenner), the concept of immune tolerance (Peter Medawar), the discovery of antibody structure (Rodney Porter), the concept of autoimmunity (Ivan Roitt), the use of biologic therapy for the treatment of inflammatory diseases (Marc Feldmann and Tiny Maini) and many others. These are the giants on whose shoulders we all stand. Therefore as British immunologists, based on previous achievements, we can hold our heads high on the international stage. Our ambition is to promote a secure base of support that can nurture the next set of giants in immunology amongst the BSI membership.
"In my four year tenure as President, I would like to seek closer interaction with other immunological societies worldwide to identify ways for interaction that will benefit our members. I also aim to find ways to promote closer interaction with immunologists in the biotech and pharma sectors. The BSI is heavily dependent financially on our journals, Immunology and Clinical & Experimental Immunology, and the proliferation of new competitor journals and open access publishing is something we need to respond to and we will continue to evolve our publishing offer to make the most of all opportunities. Nevertheless, the Society is in excellent financial health and we are exploring, collectively, new initiatives to use our resources to secure our outstanding current position and to benefit our members. We have made great strides in securing an equal gender balance in our committee members and invited speakers at Congress; however, there are still improvements needed such as the progression of ethnic minorities to senior positions in immunology that need to be explored then addressed. Finally the success of these ambitions will only be possible with a close partnership with the Trustees and the CEO Doug Brown and his staff. My job is to ensure that we all work together for maximum benefit of the BSI and its members."
President, British Society for Immunology