SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
21 May 2015
Volume 16 Issue 5

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Highlights from the SETAC North America President’s Blog

Mary Reiley, SETAC North America President

Note from the Editors: Mary Reiley, SETAC North America President, is giving readers a behind-the-scenes view with her blog of what she is thinking and things that she is encountering during her year in the governance of one of SETAC’s geographic units. While some of the items focus on North America, they offer an excellent window into how SETAC leadership needs to balance their personal, work and volunteer responsibilities. We hope that you find these brief synopses of her blog postings as interesting as we do and that you continue to follow along on her year-long journey through her blog. Tim Canfield and Bill Goodfellow-Globe Editors-in-Chief

On 25 November 2014, I posted my first blog. As in my first ever blog. I started the SETAC North America President’s Blog because the year as president is brief and the opportunity to communicate directly with you is rare. Short of flooding your email with presidential communiques which would get old quick, a blog would be much less intrusive and hopefully more engaging.

Post 1: What Was Your One Thing from Vancouver?
25 November 2014—In this first post, titled “What Was Your One Thing from Vancouver?,” I promised to do my best to post once a week. Well, I’ve come close, by posting approximately every week and a half. I promised “topics from around the world, things I have learned over the years from mentors and leaders I truly respect, travel adventures, funny (in retrospect) stories and even a few perspectives on science.” I’ve taken up many of these over the last five months. You can find highlights from the blogs below and visit the full blog here.

Post 2:  Science for Informed Decision-Making
30 November 2014I introduced our efforts to craft a new long-range plan for SETAC North America and activities we were taking on to make it real. The post focused on the core challenge: “SETAC North America will be widely recognized as the North American society for integrated multi-sector expertise and multi-disciplinary science to identify, inform, educate and help solve complex regional and global environmental challenges.” (Thank goodness we wordsmithed that down to a smaller mouthful.) The post noted the reconstitution of the Public Outreach Committee and its successful work to educate US Congressional Staff about ecological risk assessment as well as new ideas coming from the Science Committee for focused topic meetings and joint symposia.

Post 3: The (First) Book that Hit Home
9 December 2014—I presented my own folly of thinking I had nothing to learn (at 20-something) from books on leadership, strategic planning, goal setting and such. If I were to pick a self-quote from that post that sums it all up, it would be “Now, before you start to think that I think, with a few more books under my belt and even more years, I have it all figured out and am a shining example of perfection–uh, no. I discover every day that figuring it out is a never-ending road of over corrections and refinements that generally fall in the right direction.”

Bob's Wall of Wood

Post 4: Schlepping Firewood
15 December 2014Described a morning’s worth of fresh air, sunshine and sweat, and the payoff that came from it, balance: “So why am I telling this story? It’s all about that balance thing I talked about at the closing plenary in Vancouver. The wood had to be schlepped and I had to exercise. Multitasking at its best. In fact, multitasking perfection: two activities, both have to be done, and doing them together optimized the benefits of both (faster wood schlepping and stronger, healthier me). But it’s more than just completing the tasks. It was an hour of free mental time to let my mind wander, enjoy the sunshine, breathe fresh air, re-energize after a busy week of work and holiday prep. A reset on my state of mind.”

Post 5: A Pristine Dry-Erase Calendar
2 January 2015I established my romance with physical calendaring, with the anticipation of what would fill it. Of course SETAC annual meetings would go on and that meant we would get back together in a year and celebrate the accomplishments of the one just past. I highlighted in that post my excitement for an initiative to retain our members that are transitioning from students to professionals. Since January the meetings, conference calls, website changes and plans have been made and written on the calendar for 2015 that have already brought tiered membership dues for the first three years of student members’ transitions but has a number of other possibilities in store.

Post 6: Things Are Happening—Are You Part of It?
17 January 2015In this post I chronicled activities and encouraged member participation in advancing science. This positions SETAC in North America members to have the opportunity to serve as technical experts advising on environmental emergency response, educating law makers, and responding to requests for peer review of external reports and studies. Each of you recently received a request via email from Alan Samel to update your profile so that we can find you and your expertise.

Serving members—Creating new space at annual meetings for more comfortable and convenient surroundings for spur of the moment networking and working meetings, reviewing the post meeting survey for new ideas and improvements (sorry, we can’t go to Vancouver every year) and improving our services to improve our retention and recruitment.

Keeping our balance—Asking all of us to reach out to someone you know in another sector for whom SETAC in North America is a perfect match–they just don’t know it yet.

Descending Nahoch Mul

Post 7: Doing Something You’ve Never Done Before
2 February 2015My husband and I swam in a cenote and climbed Nahoch Mul pyramid in Mexico. Two things we had never done before that required strength and determination. Another thing I’ve never done before, lead the board of directors of a scientific society. But as I noted in the blog, just as I didn’t climb alone, I don’t lead alone.

Post 8: Doing Something You’ve Never Done Before: Part 2
12 February 2015When you do something you’ve never done before, there are several different kinds of people that are really nice to have around. Not in any particular order as they are all critical to the success of your mission: the mentor, the experienced veteran, the topic expert, the trusted advisor, the step-up leader-followers, the energized, get-it-done staff, and the enthusiastic volunteers.

Post 9: I am Not a Chemist
8 March 2015An exploration of my own struggles with chemistry and my relief that green chemistry would not require taking it again! Looking through ET&C and IEAM I found that SETAC is one place I know that an objective as complicated as developing and implementing green chemistry, which impacts such diversity of organisms and systems, that cuts across so many sectors, and requires so many disciplines to make it possible, will be well researched, vetted, synthesized, and communicated to make a difference.  It’s us at our best.  It’s what we do. It’s what decision-makers come to us for – solid, interdisciplinary, multi-sector, high impact science.

Post 10: Long Range Planning–Not Particularly Fun but Essential
23 March 2015This post brings a little humor to a dry topic and outlines SETAC in North America’s long standing vision of Environmental Quality through Science® and the new mission and core challenges we are embracing to achieve it. Recognition and application of SETAC in North America expertise, maximizing the impact of our network and services, promoting multidisciplinary, multi-sector, integrated science and engineering to solve environmental problems.

Blog 11:  The Jobs-that-Never-End List
12 April 2015—A blog about procrastination and deciphering the difference between it and sorting through the creation and implementation of a new design. After a couple of weeks of letting myself get caught up in the jobs-that-never-end list, I suddenly realize I am bored and not making time for the fun and exciting part of work and life: the planning, designing, implementing, and celebrating of something new, cutting edge, or different. I realize I have abandoned the adventure and am holed-up in the safety of the mundane.

I used to think I was simply procrastinating in the negative definition, (putting off what I needed to do) but for some reason, for something I want to do or at least easily fills the time until I am forced by a deadline or guilt to get to work.

But, I often find I’ve let myself hunker down in that hole because I’m sorting. That is, I’ve put an idea, a design or two, out there and I’m sorting through how to make it happen. Which steps to take next, how to bring its implementation onto an already crowded plate, getting over that initial stage of inertia that comes with an acute awareness of how much has to be done to make the design a success. At these times wallowing in routine, mundane activities gives me time to step back and get a new perspective.

Blog 12: Learning to Ask Good Questions
23 April 2015—"When you are a student, you are judged by how well you answer questions. But in life, you are judged by how good your questions are. You want students and postdocs to transition from giving good answers to asking good questions. Then they'll become great professors, great entrepreneurs, great something."

This is a quote from an interview by freelance writer Trisha Gura with Robert S. Langer and published in the 28 November 2014, edition of Science. Turns out Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT in Cambridge, is the most cited engineer in history (more than 163,000 citations). He holds more than 1,000 patents, licensed or sublicensed to more than 300 companies and he has helped found at least two dozen biotechnology companies (from the lead to the published interview).

The interview was an interesting and entertaining read. But it was the quote near the end of the interview (the lead to this article) that made me stop and think: Do I ask good questions? Am I selling myself short by not asking better questions? Am I mentoring the junior staff I work with, the students that intern with me, my own kids, to ask good questions? How good am I at asking beyond the obvious and encouraging others to do the same? I know I can give good answers or confirm that I don’t know, but will find out— I’m well trained in that art. But, am I really thinking and questioning for insight and growth? To be a “great something”?

Blog 13: BARCELONA! The True Story
16 May 2015—We all know the old saying, “What happens in...stays in...” Well, not this time! Lots of great stuff happened in Barcelona at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting. Great science, great workshops, great symposia, great networking and great food and wine, all in a beautiful, vibrant city on the Mediterranean Sea.

Mary Reiley

From my perspective, the most important topic we discussed was how to close the gap in membership between the government sector and the business and academic sectors. Though the gap is most acute in our newer geographic units, it is also a noteworthy concern for SETAC North America and SETAC Europe. Our tripartite composition gives us credibility with decision-makers and legislatures at all levels because it opens a dialogue on both urgent and “wicked” environmental problems as viewed by all parties and the science needed to solve them.

SETAC annual meetings are a prime networking time for everybody. For me, the Sunday night reception is a reunion with friends and collaborators that I only get to see once or twice a year. It is also a time to introduce students and first-time attendees to your networks and make them feel welcome in what can be an overwhelming environment. Of course, dancing at the reception is the great equalizer; we spent three hours, solid, on the dance floor! Wednesday was the SETAC Science Slam–a standing room only, don't-miss event! Wow, is all I can say. All of the entries were exceptional and the competition fierce. It all came to an end on Thursday at the closing ceremony.  The science of the week was summarized, recognition given to students for best platforms and posters, the SETAC geographic unit presidents gave a plug for their upcoming annual meetings (Salt Lake City is coming up fast–is your abstract in?).

To everyone, no matter if you are an organizer, presenter, mentor, SETAC staff or participant, thanks for a great week!

Best to all,
Mary Reiley

Note from the Editors: stay tune for more of Mary’s blog postings—she is only half way through her presidential journey!

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