Washington Update

Presidential Q&A: An Interview with FASEB’s Incoming Leader

By: Todd Bentsen
Thursday, June 28, 2018

On July 1, 2018, James M. Musser, MD, PhD, begins his year-long term as President of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). Dr. Musser recently spoke with the FASEB team about the organization’s future and to offer insights and ideas on how FASEB can better serve its member societies and their members.

FASEB team (FT): FASEB’s strategic plan has established a bold path to our future. How will it be realized?

James Musser (JM): FASEB is an exceptional organization, and this is an extraordinarily exciting time for our federation. We have developed a very forward-thinking strategic plan and identified several key objectives in areas such as public affairs, research, and education. We will advocate tirelessly for our members based on our long-held mission and principles. We will build on our past work by executing our strategic plan and achieving real, measurable, and specific goals.

FT: How can FASEB better respond to its member societies?

JM: A fundamental goal for FASEB is listening carefully to what our member societies are saying, listening to their Board representatives, and working closely with their executive officers. FASEB needs to be very engaged with our member societies, building on what we’re doing today and doing more tomorrow. We must do the best job possible in a very clear and collaborative fashion to meet their needs.

FT: What do you see as the value of the FASEB Capitol Hill Day and similar events?

JM: Capitol Hill Day is certainly one of if not the most important single day of the year for FASEB. We interact directly with U.S. representatives and senators and their staffers. That direct communication is essential. It’s not to say those visits are going to make or break our public affairs efforts, but Congress, the Veterans Administration, the National Science Foundation and, most significantly, the National Institutes of Health listen to us and seek us out. It is a tremendous opportunity to participate directly in our advocacy and directly influence science policy. I strongly believe that is job No. 1 from a FASEB standpoint.

FT: What opportunities exist to enhance FASEB’s outreach to member societies and their members?

JM: Traditional communications such as webinars, emails, and so forth are absolutely vital to our mission but equally important is the use of social media, especially in helping to engage younger members. We need to effectively deploy social media tools to expand engagement with members and member societies, and the public for that matter. We must use social media not only to communicate to veteran members but also to engage an entirely new generation. The future of science in America and elsewhere is young people between the ages of 25 and 30, and even younger. Social media can be a critical mechanism to engage young scientists.

FT: What more should FASEB do to help scientists convey the value of their work to the public?

JM: It can be difficult to effectively convey science to the public. My personal research is group A Streptococcus bacterium, commonly called “flesh-eating” bacterium. On Capitol Hill, I tell them that I study the “flesh-eater” germ, and we’re trying to figure out better ways to kill it. If you take too deep a dive into the science, it’s not going to be readily comprehensible, even to interested lay public. I learned this when the American Heart Association was funding my early work. They asked you to write a scientific abstract and an abstract for the lay public. It was a noteworthy lesson for me. Engaging effectively with the public is something we scientists must learn to do, as ultimately we rely on the public to fund the great majority of our research.

FT: What other FASEB objectives are important to you?

JM: I believe we must leverage our diversity far more than we currently do. I’m a member of the American Society for Investigative Pathology, Association for Molecular Pathology, the Genetics Society of America and the American Society for Clinical Investigation. I always think about this significant aspect of diversity in the sciences. We need to put the four key pillars of diversity front and center as we move forward: scientific, age, gender, and ethnicity.

Dr. Musser is the Chair of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital and Houston Methodist Research Institute in Houston, Texas. He holds the Fondren Endowed Presidential Distinguished Chair and directs the Center for Molecular and Translational Human Infectious Diseases Research at the Houston Methodist Research Institute. He is also Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Dr. Musser is the past president of FASEB member society, the American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP) and the 2017 recipient of ASIP’s Rous-Whipple Award.