I would like to announce that I have been elected as the 23rd President of the MBSJ and will be in charge of the management of our society. For the next two years, I will do my best and I look forward to your continued support and guidance. Here, I would like to share my two personal perspectives on how the MBSJ has existed over the years.
The MBSJ provides excitement
With approximately 12,000 members, the MBSJ is the largest non-clinical life science society in Japan. Why has our society attracted so many people? My answer would be that if you come to our annual meetings, you can count on being exposed to cutting-edge research, being excited, and gaining new knowledge you need now. In addition, if you make a presentation at these large conferences, you will have the opportunity to meet many people and share your research with them. I believe that these expectations are engendered by the free and borderless atmosphere of the annual meetings. Young and old alike, regardless of position, freely discuss and sometimes heatedly debate in the common language of science. And the fields are also borderless—not only interdisciplinary, but also full of the vitality to always embrace movements to create new fields. For example, one of our new board members, who works in bioinformatics, said, “I thought I was an outsider in this society at first, but before I knew it I found myself a part of the community.” I believe the great appeal of the MBSJ is that it transcends existing frameworks and is always oriented toward the future. Together with the Organizing Committee, I would like to cherish and encourage this sense of excitement and being on the cutting edge.
The MBSJ fulfills its social responsibility in the life science community
One of the defining features of the MBSJ is that it has actively addressed challenges in life science research. We have not only discussed challenges, but have also linked them to national systems. For example, our achievements include successfully advocating for the establishment and extension of the JSPS Research Fellowship for Young Scientists-RPD, which is a a system to support researchers who return to work after an interruption of their research for childbirth and childcare. Ten years ago, the Gender Equality Committee evolved into the Career Development Committee, and every year we discuss various issues at the annual meeting and carry out awareness-raising activities.
We have also tackled research ethics issues that have been considered taboo and difficult to deal with head-on. I realize that there are a variety of opinions, but I believe that the educational activities for young scientists (training in how to correctly deal with statistics and data) that have emerged from these activities mean much for the future of molecular biology. The biological educational activities for high school students are also a unique initiative of the society, and more than 100 visiting lectures have been given to high schools so far, supported by the volunteer spirit of our members. The number of high school students participating in our annual meetings is also increasing. I believe that academic societies engaged in such grassroots activities are quite rare.
We also respond to crises as needed, such as operating reconstruction support bulletin board activities following earthquakes, and creating a bulletin board for COVID-19-related overseas travel information. In addition, we engage in a wide range of other activities, such as publication of our journal, Genes to Cells, and collaboration and internationalization efforts with overseas academic societies. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who have been involved in this society and have contributed to these activities with passion.
What are our goals for the 23rd term?
Currently, we are discussing with the new Executive Committee members how to maintain and develop the good qualities of the society, and we are drafting a plan for the 23rd term. I would like to share some of the issues we have been discussing.
• Improvement of the environment for life science research
It is widely recognized that Japan’s presence in the world of life sciences has declined rapidly over the last 10 to 15 years. This decline has been closely related to a change in national policy in the life sciences field in Japan. The transformation of national universities into independent administrative entities led to a drop in their operational funding, and there are many cases where laboratory funding allocations have been reduced to zero. On top of that, open and fair basic research funds that anyone can apply for above two million yen per year have drastically decreased. Most of the large-scale research funds are provided only in narrow fields in line with the country’s strategic goals. In other words, support for research based on free ideas has weakened, and this has reduced the ability of creative research originating in Japan. In addition, the research funds provided on a project-by-project basis do not allow for long-term employment. What is worse, even the 10-year indefinite employment period system ironically hampers long-term employment. Many researchers have a great sense of crisis over this serious situation, but it cannot be said that their voices have reached the government. We, the executive officers, are about to start a grassroots movement to raise our voices in order to revitalize the life sciences in Japan, and above all, for the next generation of researchers. We would be very grateful if you could give us your opinions and advice on what could be effective means to achieve this.
Japan is a backward country in terms of gender equality, ranking 116th out of 146 countries in Global Gender Gap Index 2022. I am also involved at the forefront of countermeasures to address this issue at our university, but I realize that it will not be improved easily. That is why we must make continuous efforts and further promote the good trend that many people in our society have been consciously working on. As for diversity, in addition to gender and LGBTQ+, nationality and region are also major issues. In particular, as a result of the government’s “selection and concentration” policy, regional disparities are now a very serious issue. We would like to think together with you about what we can do as an academic society.
While keeping exciting science at the core, we hope to tackle various issues with your guidance and advice. We would very much appreciate your comments and opinions, so please send them to the Secretariat at email@example.com.
The 23rd President of the Molecular Biology Society of Japan
Professor, Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences,
The University of Tokyo