12 / 10 / 2021
This is the final 2021 issue of Microbiology Today, and my final ‘From the President’ article before Professor Gurdyal Besra FRS begins his term in January. I would therefore firstly like to congratulate Professor Besra on his election and to thank you all for a wonderful three years as President.
To say the least, it has not been quite the three years that I expected. I will always remember the Council meeting in March 2020. We had been intending to discuss the celebrations for the 75th anniversary of the Society and the Annual Conference; instead, we spent two days agonising over the possible trajectory of the newly emerged viral infection, trying to gather as much information as possible and listening to the virologists on Council. No other conferences had been cancelled and large sporting fixtures were still going ahead, but we took the decision to cancel all in-person events.
Hindsight is an amazing thing! A couple of weeks later, the pandemic was declared, followed by the first lockdown. We had to let the staff, who had only just moved into the wonderful new offices, know that the Annual Conference and the 75th celebrations they had been organising for over a year had been cancelled. They were understandably upset, but immediately set about working out how to keep activities going. Working from home, some in bedrooms of house shares, others balancing work with home schooling, they set about mastering virtual platforms and putting together events, including the Fleming Showcase and our first online Annual Conference. I will always remain impressed with the speed and determination with which they all worked together to keep the Microbiology Society not just running, but taking the opportunities the new ways of working threw up to adapt and develop.
This also applies to the membership. I have seen members grapple with presenting outstanding online content, working tirelessly to present the facts as we know them calmly and clearly to the general public, and set up and populate the testing labs. Although SARS-CoV-2 might have stolen the headlines, we haven’t ignored the rest of the microbial world. I think we will come out of the pandemic as a better Society with a better understanding of the needs of our membership and new ways to engage.
The President’s Roadshow has been a highlight of my time as the Society’s President. This was a way to talk to members old and new, as well as potential members, across the country and directly hear about what you wanted from your Society. I so enjoyed meeting those of you who attended in person and was therefore thrilled we were able to continue these events online after the pandemic began. Interestingly, like the online meetings, we had participants from further afield than would have attended in person (The Gambia on one occasion) and there were questions in the chat from people who might have been too unsure to ask in person. This inclusivity is something to try to keep in future formats. Read the Roadshow article and visit our website to find out more. Next year, while continuing to offer online opportunities, for example our Scientific Seminar Series, we will be returning to in-person events, which you can find out about in the events section of this Issue.
Finally, I’d like to remind you about the Society’s fundraising project, the Unlocking Potential Fund, which will generate funds to underwrite an Unlocking Potential Grant. It will make funds available to early- and mid-career members who may require an extra level of support to help them deal with a situation that prevents their career developing – I know that a small travel grant transformed my career by giving me access to a rare microscope. We recently published case studies of two people who have made significant contributions to the fund – read Bernard Dixon and Martin Cole’s stories on the website.
It has been a great honour to serve as your President in a period covering its 75th anniversary. It might not have been what I expected, but I have had the privilege to see how adversity can really bring out the best in people. While the manner might not have been what we wanted, I think the world now knows that microbiology and microbiologists do really matter.