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Burkhard Rost’s Nomination and Candidate Statement

Information From Nominator

Name: Burkhard Rost All nomination justifications: This nomination is made on behalf of the Nominations Committee.  Burkhard Rost has been the president of ISCB since 2007. During this time the Society has undergone more rapid development than ever before. Clearly Burkhard’s leadership and devotion to ISCB, and computational biology world-wide, are bearing fruit. In the years of his presidency ISCB has also begun to link the US and European communities of computational biologists more closely with those in other parts of the world, driven in part by ISCB’s involvement in regional meetings. We feel that Burkhard’s accomplishments in this post to date would make him an equally excellent, and trusted, ISCB president during another term.

Institution/Organization: TUM Munich, Chair for Comp. Biology & Bioinformatics

Office: ISCB President


Candidate Statement

Topics of Research: Our main goal is to predict important aspects of protein structure and function using sequence information, evolutionary information and results from other predictions. We apply whichever type of algorithm is needed to solve a problem from modern machine learning to established statistical means. The particular focus is on predicting the effects of single amino acid changes or nsSNPs upon protein function and protein structure

Major Issues Facing ISCB: The good news: ISCB is standing stronger than ever and the perspective is good that the recent blooming & growth will continue. Background: since I have been acting as president, ISCB has clearly increased its base (from 1200-1500 to now consistently over 3000) and improved its perception as a society that leads. This growth happened over a period of continued economical stress that is reflected in the attendance of scientific meetings.

We have grown from 2 annual meetings (ISMB and Rocky) of which only the smaller one (Rocky) was centrally organized by the society to now over four (ISMB-ISMB/ECCB, ISCB-Latin America, ISCB Africa, ISCB-Asia, Rocky, CSHALs, and GBIO). All these meetings are run centrally, an immense achievement and challenge. We have consolidated our journal partnerships, and have built up a fellows program that begins contributing to the growth. We have received a lot of positive feedback on many of our recent initiatives, one of those was the open access statement that has been blocked for many years through previous committees.

Nevertheless, it is not time, yet, to let down the guard. Instead, in contrast to others, I feel that it is too early to bury the pioneering spirit. A combination of unlucky events and decisions brought the society close to the point of demise not too long ago. Through the strong dedication of many motivated supporters, ISCB has surmounted many obstacles. However, I am afraid that the society is still so volatile that a couple of mistakes can once again endanger what has been achieved arduously.

I continue to see the following major challenges before the future of ISCB will hopefully will be safer. In order to illustrate the challenges that I see, I sketch two realities that describe our background.

ISCB is intrinsically interdisciplinary; this adds another level of complexity.
ISCB grew out of an initiative of scholars who were more rooted in computational sciences than in biology. At the beginning, ISCB was a jump board of many into experimental biology. Over a decade later, most who started it sit safely in the saddle of modern biology and contribute toward defining the particular disciplines in biology in which they work as much as other biologist who started as experimental molecular biologists, biochemists and biophysicists. Upon successful transition, those who transited now primarily define themselves within the confines of their fields. Beginning as scholar familiar with computers and algorithms, they became first computational scientists and then specialized biologists working on translation, on systems biology, genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, or biophysics. These fields now define their meetings, their publications, and the types of funding. In this evolution, it is very easy to forget the importance of the common denominator “computational biology”. I believe all computational biologists share more than separates them and as a field we need to prepare the future with a much higher demand for the type of technical and scientific knowledge that we have acquired. Interdisciplinarity is one of those buzz words of modern times, but for ISCB and our field it is an essential reality that offers plentiful of reward and challenge. I believe that many problems will ultimately disappear when universities will advance with computational biology from the level of centers to that of departments. Under different economical currents, this transition might have already happened.

ISCB is neither small nor big: grow or shrink?
ISCB grew out of a series of successful meetings (ISMB). Moving at a moment of growing economy from a meeting that generated some surplus to a society that has a constant staff and budget at a moment of shrinking economy provides continues to be the most difficult reality. ISCB needs a net income of about 0K from their meetings. We addressed this by reducing our spending, by introducing a bunch of new meetings and by constantly increasing the width of ISMB. However, we have come to the limit of these attempts: we are over-stretched and we continue to face budget cuts. At the ISMB/ECCB 2011 in Vienna, we expect about 2200 delegates to attend one of the events. We could certainly accommodate 3300, may even be 4400 without considerable additional costs. If we could and repeated this for a decade, we could build up a security that would allow us to live off the interest for many years to come. This is what we have been trying to achieve through widening the meeting. Have we succeeded? The level of attendance expected in Vienna is not that much more than what we had at the first ISMB/ECCB in Glasgow in 2004. In the same period, ISCB membership has more than doubled. Does our hope to gain by widening fail, or would budget cuts have yielded 1100 instead of 2200 participants had we not widened it? We do not know the answer. What we do know is that ISCB is a small society that aspires to becoming big. There are many important professional societies that have been guiding the design of ISCB. However, arguably there is not a single society that exactly fits the challenges posed to ISCB: On the one hand, the society is very small (1500 members at the begin of my term as president; 3100 today). On the other hand, this young and small society tries to span an enormous diversity of interests, and regions. At the moment it is somewhere in between the two extremes, and this is a tough spot to be in at difficult times. I believe that it is too early to give up and shrink.

Plans to Address Issues: Main goals: ISCB branding to shape the future:
* Use the upwind to sail into new directions: ISCB has been playing a leading role in open access and blogging at conferences. We need to build upon this and find ways to more actively embrace new media. * Use the moment and need for computational biology to raise the awareness in funding bodies that computational biology is crucial for advances in molecular and medical biology, and that although extremely cost-efficient it needs support: at least 5 in every 100 dollars spent on high-throughput biology should be dedicated to computational biology. * Reach out to the community at large: ISCB needs to take a more active role in explaining its results to experimental biologists and the interested public. Toward this end, we need to build up courses, and a library of A/V documents.

Membership consolidation and growth:
* When I became president in 2007, the number or ISCB members had been similar to what it had been a decade before that. Since, membership has grown 20% annually. We need to expand the membership base by at least another 30% over the next 2-3 years. Ultimately, this seems only possible by somehow integrating some type of federation in which ISCB becomes the umbrella for many initiatives. I believe that the best way to attract new members is by making the society do things that many can identify themselves with by making the society become a star that we all look up to. We have advanced considerably toward this goal, but it is too early to rest and consumes the fruits. We need new energies, new heads, new ideas, and we need to continue providing the forum for novelty instead of giving it over to those ready to profit from the energy.

ISCB grew because it has been pushed forward by many dedicated individuals who cared and were able to open the way for ideas. This group of builders includes our formidable staff, the current executive committee, many dedicated BoD members, chairs of committees and task forces, and many others who help in different ways. ISCB can still not provide you with money but it can provide you with an opportunity to realize an idea that helps us all. We are still at the beginning and what counts most is to kindle the flame.

* We need to find additional income sources. Over the last years, growth was achieved by widening our main ISMB, and by widening the meeting activities into new events, into new regions and directions. To me, it seems too early to stop the growth, as it has been suggested by others.

Further details:
A) Stabilize finances: The following novelties have all contributed to increasing our membership pool: multi-year memberships, honorary roles, coupled membership with related societies, added benefits, better inclusion of students, industry, and other groups, and related to all of this: our new web portal pushed through by Reinhard Schneider and his team. I see the further increase of the membership base, in terms of number and inclusion of different disciplines as the most important financial and scientific objectives over the years to come, and hope that we are on the right track and have to just consolidate what we have achieved over the last years.

A second major novelty that has helped to grow and consolidate has been the series of meetings that are stamped by ISCB and are likely to contribute revenue. One crucial issue is that the organization of those meetings will also require an investment in resources. The last time I wrote this candidate statement, I suspected that we might soon reach the point at which this will not longer be possible without investment. We actually have reached this point without having extended our resources. This begins to become problem that we have to address by investing.

Third, ISMB has reached a level of complexity that requires a professional level of organization. The meeting is moving from one that is organized by a local group (Brazil 2006) to one that is increasingly organized by the society (2007-2012). This transition also suggests to plan ahead longer, and to centralize certain events (such as the invitation of keynote speakers: one year is simply not enough forewarning for very prominent colleagues!). We have continuously improved to make this happen, largely thanks to the tremendous effort of Janet Kelso and others on the Conference Committee. Every ISMB runs more on autopilot than the previous one, and we have been discussing sites for ISMB meetings more than 2 years in the future. But this is still not enough.

Fourth, the society has begun the discussion of providing interfaces to other conferences two years ago. This goal has taken off only very gradually. The alliance formed with EMBnet in spring 2011 marks one important step. However, much more needs to happen before we create templates for sessions, courses, or workshops that we as a society can “rent” out to others who are interested.

B) Widening the membership base: Reaching out globally: ISCB also represents the research community worldwide. The members of ISCB and the participants in past ISMBs from Northern America and Western Europe clearly dominate the society. In fact, the efforts for a balanced representation of its Board Of Directors clearly led to an overrepresentation with respect to the members of all other geographical regions (except for Australia/New Zealand). All meetings outside this narrow region from which the majority of those who ever were members in ISCB originate were visited much less frequently than the meetings around those and did contribute substantially to the financial problems into which the society came. Therefore, the society decided to localize ISMB in the near future such that most members could and would want to easily reach those destinations. This focus leaves the minorities “in the rain”. Therefore, ISCB has begun to make special efforts to support meetings in places distant from this main focus. ISCB-LA, ISCB-Africa, and now ISCB-Asia are fruits of this thinking. We are currently looking into various options for other regions. This challenge also reopens the need to improve the outreach to local Affiliates which has been finalized by the help of Bruno Gaeta and others on the Affiliates Committee.

C) Task forces and short, high-energy engagement.
One of the challenges that are particular difficult to a society that largely lives on the scrubs of time that already overloaded scientists "donate" is that these people are not able to put in say 5 hours every week for years. Instead, they could commit some number much higher than 5 hours/week for a few weeks/months. This has suggested to move partially from a situation in which committees are supposed to get certain big jobs done to one in which task forces spearhead and realize much smaller sub-projects. Several examples of the past show the success of such a model (e.g. fellowship program, new membership benefits, realization of portal, publication of data sharing/open access policy, specialized meetings, Wikipedia effort). We need to build upon those experiences.

D) Outreach & Spearheading:
We need to redefine the way we perceive outreach and publications. ISCB has been outstanding in the leading role it took with respect to other biology societies on issues such as Open Access publications, on Data Sharing, and Open Access for methods, as well as on the way we have been including new means of communication such as blogging. We have used our potential very well to spearhead, and had fun while doing.  How can we lead the revolution of the media (from “Nature to Wikipedia”, from papers-only to also movies)?

How can we reach significantly beyond our small group in terms of spreading our science? Those are new challenges that we ought to focus on over the next years. A related challenge would be the creation of a substantial international prize and/or of an endowment.

Service to Field or ISCB:
- Long-term involvement with ISMB/ISCB:
President 2007-now
Vice President (2005-2006)
Conference Committee chair (2005-2006)
Co-organization of ISMB (2002: Paper co-chair, 2005: Paper co-chair, 2007: Meeting Co-chair/Highlight
chair, 2008: Meeting Chair/Highlight chair)
Role on the ISCB BoD (since 2002)
Member of Conference Committee (since 2001)
ISMB PC member for all ISMB's since 1995
Participant at almost all ISMB's since 1995

Member of ISCB since funding
- Organization of many other important scientific meetings (e.g. CASP).
- Associate Editor of various journals.
- Provision of software platform for assessment of structure prediction servers.
- Made one of the first internet servers available in 1992; ever since: fully dedicated to making tools

Non-Scientific Expertise: (Partially repetitive with respect to overlapping Question 4.)
- Lessons learned through being co-involved with company formations.
(see Q4)
- Long-term involvement with ISMB/ISCB:
- Organization of many other important scientific meetings
- Associate Editor of various journals

Comments: started into Conferences other than that I was involved most strongly with
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