Interview with SSR President, Franco DeMayo
By Alexandra Snider, Rachel West, and Andrew Kelleher
What is your “Day Job” and what does it entail?
I am a Senior Investigator and Chief of the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory at the National Institute of Environmental Health Science at Research Triangle Park NC.
How long have you been involved with SSR?
My First SSR meeting was at the University of Laval in 1979, the summer I started graduate school at Michigan State University. I joined SSR in 1984 when I was a postdoctoral Fellow at Baylor College of Medicine.
How has being a member of SSR benefited your career?
SSR has been critical to my career. It has afforded me insightful meetings that have brought me up to date on state-of-the-art approaches and findings not only in my own specific field of pregnancy and female reproduction, but also in how approaches in other aspects of reproduction may apply to my research. It has afforded me an opportunity to present my laboratory’s research and get feedback from other investigators, interact with fellow reproductive biologists, and recruit postdoctoral fellows.
Why did you decide to run for president of SSR?
I decided to run for president of SSR because I wanted to give back to the society that has nurtured my career. Thomas Spencer of the University of Missouri and I became Editors in Chief of Biology of Reproduction and were afforded the opportunity to attend the board meetings. During this time, I saw the challenges that SSR was facing. I realized that these challenges were not specific to SSR but to the entire field of Reproductive Biology. Since SSR is the preeminent forum for basic science in Reproduction, I wanted to contribute to keeping SSR as strong as the members and past leadership has made it.
What are the major goals you would like to accomplish during your term as SSR president?
My major goals are in line with the strategic plan established by John Davis, Janis Evans and Andrea Cupp. I want to enhance all aspects of diversity in SSR membership and leadership. I want to help promote the careers of junior members of SSR and I want to move SSR into the future by exploiting virtual communication to enhance the member’s experience.
What are your thoughts on diversity and inclusion within the society?
Diversity and inclusion has always been a goal of the society. However, there is always need for improvement. First, we must include educational programs at the annual meetings and in virtual platforms that educate the members about all issues surrounding Inclusion, diversity and unconscious bias. The society must strive to increase its diversity in membership at all levels and in leadership. The Board has made this a priority for the upcoming year and into the future as these goals require long term planning.
How are you planning to work with the Membership, Diversity and WinRS Committees to increase opportunities for BIPOC members in the society?
Inclusion and Diversity is a major priority in the upcoming year. First, we must listen to the members of the WinRS and Diversity committee to understand what the major issues, concerns and needs are of these members. Second, we will work with all committees including the diversity committee, membership committee, program committee, virtual education committee nomination’s committee and public affairs committee. To achieve this goal, the goals will be the following: 1. Initiate efforts to recruit BIPOC members at all levels from trainee to investigators to attend and present at SSR and eventually join SSR. 2. Highlight the accomplishments of BIPOC members and recruit them to leadership positions in SSR. 3. Finally, include events in annual meetings and on virtual platforms that make all members aware of diversity issues in science and society. There is no quick solution to rectifying all issues regarding diversity and inclusion but we must start.
What do you see as the next major threat or challenge to the reproductive sciences community within the next year?
The major challenge for reproductive sciences is the recruitment and long term success of junior investigators. The future of reproductive sciences lies not in the established investigators but in the creativity and success of the junior members of the field. Given the limitations in resources available to junior researchers, I fear we will lose new investigators to attrition. The society invests a great deal of resources in the trainees. However, we must step up our effort to support and highlight our junior investigators and develop resources that they can rely on to help navigate their career.
Do you have any words of wisdom for trainees looking at careers within reproductive biology?
I would tell trainees to aggressively pursue their passion in science. Identify what you want to dedicate your career to study and mold your training toward that goal and not the other way around.
What is one favorite memory/experience from a previous SSR meeting?
I have many fond memories of SSR. Many of them surround seeing my trainees prepare and present their work at the meetings. However, one memory I will never get out of my mind is the 1980 SSR meeting in Ann Arbor when I was a grad student. The reception at that meeting was fun. The entertainment consisted of Ron Butler of Cornell calling a Square Dance at the meeting. I had graduated Cornell and Ron Boulter taught Endocrinology. It was fun to see a faculty relax and teach the members how to Square Dance. That social mixing was relaxed and had membership participation. It was a lot of fun. FYI I did not Square Dance.
Alexandria Snider, PhD is a 3rd year post-doc at University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying the effects of inflammation on bovine granulosa cell function. She is one of the Trainee Representatives on the Public Affairs Committee and received her BS and PhD in Animal Science at Oregon State University.
Rachel West is a 3rd year post-doc at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine studying peri-implantation stage placental dynamics. She is the current SSR Senior Trainee Representative on the Board of Directors and received her BS in Animal and Dairy Science at University of Georgia, MS in Animal Science at University of Georgia, and my PhD in Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University.
Andrew Kelleher is a Trainee Representative to the SSR Board of Directors. He obtained his BS from Cornell University and PhD from the University of Missouri. Currently, he is a postdoctoral fellow at UT Southwestern Medical Center.