16 January 2020 – EMBO Members constitute the best of European science, but how does the organisation ensure that all those who deserve the accolade are considered? Every year, existing EMBO members vote on a list of nominations, and those names garnering the most votes are automatically put forward for election. The EMBO Membership Committee, says one of its members Peter Scheiffele, is there to look at all the remaining nominees: “Some scientists who are just as deserving of membership may not get many votes because they work in regions or institutes that do not have such a high density of or activity in life science research,” he points out. “One has to calibrate that, and cut through to find the true quality of their science. The power of EMBO is that its member states are connected; we cannot connect them if we don’t include them in our community, so this is actually really important.”
Scheiffele, who works at the University of Basel in Switzerland, goes on to highlight the role of the committee in finding the stars of new fields, who again, may not yet be on the radar of the wider community: “Our present membership is of course a reflection of the past,” he says, “and our job is to help shape the membership for the future so that we are representing all forms of life science important for EMBO.”
There is a wider remit too: “EMBO Membership is a way of getting a lot of fantastic scientists together, so that collectively we can be an important voice in ethical and policy decisions in Europe and beyond,” Scheiffele thinks. “Therefore, the composition is incredibly important.”
The work reading through all the nominations and preparing for the meeting should not be underestimated, says Scheiffele, but “once you’re sitting in the room with your colleagues, that’s definitely the fun part!” And it’s essential to be a generalist: “People need to have a broad vision about where they think science is going, and what’s important,” he says.
What have been the advantages for Scheiffele himself? “It’s made me appreciate the many different facets of the exciting work that happens in Europe,” he explains. “It carries a lot of weight when you see what kinds of directions are being endorsed. It’s a challenge in science that there is so much information now, and filtering what’s important is hard. I’m a neurobiologist, so having a plant biologist who says ‘this is really the most exciting thing for us right now’ really helps you target your attention.”
Scheiffele adds that his fellow committee members are also a definite plus point: “There are lots of people you’ve heard of but never met because you don’t go to the same conferences, and that’s another element of why I like it.” But in the end, he says, it comes back to the science: “The committee is run in a way where there are no politics, and it means there’s a purity about the scientific discussion. That’s what really makes it worthwhile.”