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An introduction to the British Society for Immunology Forum

The BSI Forum is our 'think tank' and the place where issues and ideas are raised, discussed and developed for the consideration and approval of the Board of Trustees. These relate to education and careers, public engagement, policy and public affairs, as well as communications. The role of Forum is to help the Society in implementing its current strategic plan by providing a mechanism by which the voice of the membership can be fed into new activities. 

How does Forum operate?

Forum members are elected to represent a section of the BSI membership. Their role is to put forward the views of the sector they have been elected to represent, as well as their own thoughts. Currently there are 18 elected members covering early career researchers, clinical and veterinary immunologists as well as national representatives from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. My role as Chair of Forum is to lead discussions and also to feed back the thoughts of Forum to the Board of Trustees.

Forum meets four times a year in London when elected members work with BSI staff on all aspects of the Society’s work and current strategy. Items on the agenda are varied and range from how to increase diversity and inclusion at BSI meetings, to developing ideas for communicating with the public, and responding to questions from expert panels in science, health and Government. Forum members are also invited to represent the BSI at external events.

You don’t need to be an expert in all branches of immunology to be a member of Forum. However, you do need to be passionate about supporting and investing in the immunology sector so that it can continue to advance excellence in immunological research, scholarship and clinical practice in order to improve human and animal health.

Recent achievements

Professor Anne Cooke recently finished her term of office as Chair of Forum, a position she held from 2014 to 2018. During this time and under Anne’s dynamic and enthusiastic leadership, Forum developed and inputted to several BSI strategies – in particular to increase support and representation for early career researchers within the Society – which have been approved by the Board and put into practice. These include:

  1. Creating two new positions on the Board of Trustees for early career researchers – Calum Bain and Emma Chambers were elected to these positions last year 
  2. All parallel sessions at BSI Congress to be co-chaired by an early career researcher onwards 
  3. Advising on the BSI Careers Review conducted in 2017, both in terms of identifying what areas it should cover and evaluating the final report to develop proposals for future careers support by the BSI
  4. Providing feedback and advice on setting up the BSI mentoring scheme, which commenced in 2017 (initial training provided and mentoring available for one year)
  5. Developing ideas and content for the Early Career Training Day aimed at postdocs, which was launched in December 2018
  6. Advising on establishing an Industry Representative position on Forum

What does being a member of Forum involve?

As well as attending the quarterly meetings, Forum members also undertake an array of tasks for the Society, including representing us at various events. Examples of these include:

Parliamentary engagement

Rebecca Newman (Early Career Representative) attended the Royal Society of Biology ‘Voice of the Future’ event at the Houses of Parliament for early career researchers to ask questions of senior members of Parliament in a committee setting. Becky agreed that is was important for the BSI to engage with parliamentarians through schemes such as this to ensure that the BSI keeps raising important issues through multiple channels. Anne Cooke (past-Chair), Helen McGettrick (England Representative) and Fane Mensah (PhD Representative) attended the ‘Future of Immunology’ event at the Houses of Parliament last year. This was a joint venture delivered in partnership by the BSI, AbbVie, Bioindustry Association and National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society and hosted by Grimsby Labour MP, Melanie Onn, who has an interest in inflammatory diseases. 

Policy and public affairs

All members have the opportunity of inputting to BSI responses to policy consultations from Parliament. These include select committee consultations and All Party Parliamentary Group enquiries, which request evidence and expert views on topics ranging from the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy to Brexit (of course!). 

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We are developing proposals for how the BSI can support equality, diversity and inclusion throughout its activities and in the wider immunology sector. The Forum was consulted during BSI policy development on ways to support members throughout their career. 

Public engagement led by the Public Engagement Secretary

During her time on Forum, Early Career Representative Emma Chambers trained to be a BSI Vaccine Ambassador in our pilot scheme and went into parent and baby groups to discuss how vaccines work and answer parents’ questions on immunisations. 

Education and careers led by the Education Secretary

Our Education Secretary, Helen Collins, along with three of our Early Career Representatives, Fane Mensah, Rebecca Newman and Laura Pallett, ran a well-attended session at BSI Congress 2017 to discuss the findings of the BSI Careers Report with the membership and gain their feedback to help us in the development of future careers activities. 

Exploring international links with other immunology societies

Laura Pallet, (Early Career Representative) attended the Chinese Society for Immunology’s Annual Congress in Shanghai and visited the Key National Laboratory of Medical Immunology. Laura was able to contrast and compare life as an ECR with her peers and gain insight into academic and clinical immunology in China.

Election to Forum

On behalf of Forum I would like to say congratulations and give a very warm welcome to our newly elected members of Forum who are: Faith Uwadiae (Early Career Representative) and Federica Villanova (Industry Representative). I have only been in post as Chair of Forum since January this year but it did not take me long to realise that I have joined an energetic group of people keen to share and discuss ideas and views on the future of immunology. The fact that Forum makes a difference is evidenced by its recent achievements.

I hope after reading this that you will be encouraged to stand for Forum in the future. It is a great opportunity to gain experience in those all-important life skills such as committee work, networking and public outreach. Besides, it gets you away from your day job for a few hours and you can leave your mark on the BSI!

Ann Ager
Chair of Forum and Trustee, British Society for Immunology