7 December 2022 – What started in 1964 with the first EMBO Member cohort of 169 life scientists elected from within Europe has now grown into a community of close to 2,000 EMBO Members and Associate Members in Europe and beyond.
Election as an EMBO Member recognizes a life scientist’s research excellence and outstanding achievements. EMBO Membership is a lifetime honour. Our Members guide the execution of EMBO Programmes and activities. Members serve on EMBO Council, the body leading EMBO; on committees to select recipients of fellowships and grants; and on Advisory Editorial Boards for EMBO Press, the EMBO scientific publishing arm. They carry out scientific peer-reviews and act as interviewers in selecting the next generation of life scientists to receive funding from the EMBO Programmes. Collectively, EMBO Members influence the direction of European science and strengthen research communities.
EMBO Associate Members are based outside the 30 countries of the EMBC (European Molecular Biology Conference), the body that funds the EMBO Programmes. Associate Members have been elected from the very beginning of the organization. Many of them have close ties to researchers based in Europe. Today, 182 scientists from the EMBO Membership of 1,974 researchers are Associate Members. EMBO Members and EMBO Associate Members are now based in 27 out of the 30 EMBC Member States, and in another 15 countries.
Each year, half of the new Members are elected directly by existing EMBO Members and the other half are selected by EMBO Council based on the recommendations of the EMBO Membership Committee. The primary criterion for consideration is scientific excellence. The committee also considers geographic factors, small or emerging research fields, gender and particular contributions to the scientific community.
Of the initial 169 EMBO Members in 1964, only two were female. Today, female EMBO Members comprise a fifth of the membership. This year, 36 percent of newly elected members were women. By raising awareness and encouraging the nomination and selection of more female scientists, we continue to work towards gender parity, reflecting the major contributions and achievements of women scientists.
How do the members perceive themselves? What do other scientists think of EMBO Members? The EMBO survey, conducted in November and December 2021 yielded 3,533 responses from 37 countries. One of the goals of the survey was to understand the needs of respondents as well as their awareness and perceptions of EMBO. Among the survey respondents, 773 were EMBO Members and Associate Members.
EMBO Members: the survey findings
Respondents who were EMBO Members, or were aware of the membership, were asked about the value of being a member (figure 1).
EMBO Members indicated networking and collaboration, recognition in the community of life scientists, involvement in EMBO Programmes, policy work and career advancement as the most valuable aspects of EMBO Membership. Being recognized as a member of an elite group and influencing policies to shape the future of life sciences were important to them. However, access to scientific or policy expertise and resources, and recognition by local/regional government were considered of lower value.
“The question ‘Who – and what – is EMBO for?’ needs to be asked and answered at regular intervals, and the answer changes as the science and the scientific environment changes.”From the book EMBO in perspective: A half-century in the life sciences by Georgina Ferry (2014)
In the survey, EMBO Members saw themselves engaging with EMBO in a variety of capacities in the future (figure 2).
They indicated enthusiasm for continuing to grow the EMBO Membership by proposing candidates and voting to elect new members, as well as serving as reviewers or interviewers for EMBO Postdoctoral Fellowship and EMBO Young Investigator applicants. The members expressed interest in serving on committees, boards and advisory groups, participating in formal consultations and community discussions, organizing meetings and courses, serving as mentors, and bringing EMBO and the broader life sciences community closer at the local and national levels.
The answers correlated with the duration of the membership. For instance, those who had been EMBO Members for less than five years were more likely to engage in conceiving meetings and courses, connecting EMBO with national or local communities of scientists, and contributing to consultations and community discussions. Those who had been members for more than five years intended to engage by voting in the membership elections, proposing new candidates, and selecting individuals for funding and support from EMBO.
EMBO Members: a vital part of the life sciences community
Perhaps not too surprisingly, the survey confirmed that awareness and positive perceptions of the membership correlated with the extent to which EMBO has engaged with EMBO Members and vice versa. The connection is symbiotic: the more successful EMBO has been in supporting a researcher along their career path, the more the individual is willing to give back to the community through EMBO.
As EMBO approaches the 60th anniversary of its foundation in 1964, our vision is for a vibrant organization that is even better at delivering on its mission to foster the life sciences in Europe and beyond. Stimulating the creation and growth of scientific communities and networks and exchanging knowledge have been part of the EMBO remit since the start but will be re-enforced in the future. We hope to involve even more of our EMBO Members and are counting on their active contributions to training, policy, outreach and mentorship.
We are confident that the EMBO Membership will continue to build a vibrant and cohesive life sciences community and enhance the visibility and voice, influence and impact of EMBO.
EMBO Members, Young Investigators, Installation Grantees and Global Investigators can view more results from the EMBO survey in the community area.