Dear SMB member:
Preparations are continuing for our Annual Meeting this summer in Salt Lake City. Mark Lewis, as chief organizer, has been doing an outstanding job, and the meeting looks like it will be particularly exciting. The lineup both of plenary speakers and mini-symposia is very promising, and there are sure to be very good contributed papers as well.
I will spend the majority of this letter on some larger issues that merit the attention of our membership as our society evolves in the 21st century. I hope that we can begin with some discussions at our annual meeting,
The field (if that is the right word) of mathematical biology continues to evolve - and in very positive ways. The role of theory, and mathematics, continues to grow in many biological fields, ranging from the sub-cellular level to the organism level and beyond. Biological societies have and will develop sections with theoretical or mathematical emphases, and these will capture some of the energy of workers in mathematical biology. Simultaneously, the importance of applications to biological systems is increasingly recognized within the broader community of applied mathematicians, as evidenced by the recent activities of SIAM. Additionally, many quantitative and theoretical questions in biology increasingly are answered using computational and statistical approaches, so the role of computational and computer scientists as well as statisticians in mathematical biology is also growing. Finally, there has been increasing specialization within biology, with workers at different levels at times having difficulty finding common ground. Some of this specialization is reflected within the mathematical biology community as well.
These issues represent both challenges, and opportunities for future progress. We will need to determine how best to harness the interests and energies of mathematical biologists. Specifically, we need to determine what is the best overall strategy for annual meetings, and perhaps for organizing our society. Should we emphasize the unity of mathematical biology, or should we recognize the differences between various subfields of mathematical biology, such as physiology or ecology, and clearly set up parallel sessions or sections?
Another parallel effort that needs to be considered is to expand funding opportunities in mathematical biology. National funding agencies do respond to input from scientists in terms of funding priorities, and we are in a position to articulate the importance of funding that supports research and training in mathematical biology - by explaining the kinds of advances possible, and also the challenges of training in mathematical biology. This should be both a group and an individual effort.
I would like to end this letter by thanking Leon Glass, who as past president has been especially helpful in explaining the ins and outs of the job as society president. I look forward to seeing you all in Utah, and for those unable to attend, hearing from you on some of the issues I raise here.
President, Society for Mathematical Biology