President’s Corner

scarmichaelSuzan Carmichael, SPER President

A big thanks goes to everyone who contributed to the Annual Meeting in Denver in June – the presenters, moderators, people who asked provocative questions, reviewers… and last but certainly not least the incredibly dedicated Executive Committee, especially Sonia Hernandez-Diaz, out-going President, who led the charge.  I also thank our out-going officers, Martha Werler (past president), Brian Whitcomb (member-at-large), and Audrey Flak (student representative).

Details about the meeting are provided below, but a few things were particularly striking to me.  The meeting opened with a discussion entitled “Valid use of big data for pediatric and perinatal epidemiology.”  Discussants brought up the point that we need to make sure that we as epidemiologists play a leadership role in developments related to big data.  Universities are building infrastructures (departments, cores, etc.) around big data computational skills, but the implementation and application of those skills doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Epidemiologists can – and should – play a key role in how big data tools are used, and how the results are interpreted.

This point segued right into the meeting’s keynote address, which was entitled “Are we asking the right questions” and presented by Dr. Wanda Barfield (Director, Division of Reproductive Health, CDC).   The question should be ever-present in our work but seems especially important as guidance for big data endeavors.

I was also struck (once again) by the vast experience and commitment embodied by SPER members.  I’m proud of our commitment to supporting trainees and the more ‘junior’ researchers amongst us, but also of the wealth of experience embodied by those more ‘senior’, and I think the meeting did a great job of honoring all levels.

As President, I hope to find more ways to capitalize on these assets.  I think we currently just barely scratch the surface.  We’re thinking about creative ways to do this during the Annual Meeting as well as through other activities during the year.  One new development is a pre-submission grant review service, instigated by Martha Werler (SPER President 2013-14) (see our web-site for more details).  I’d also like to find ways to give more attention to the posters at the Annual Meeting and foster more dialogue about them.  As our meeting has grown, so have the number of abstracts, and the ratio of oral presentations to posters is currently about 1:10.  We’re discussing other ideas within the Executive Committee, and I encourage others to please send us your input any time!

I also thank those of you who filled out our post-meeting survey.  The comments were highly complimentary of the Denver meeting – people were particularly positive about the quality of the plenary sessions and the balance that was achieved across topics and levels of experience of the presenters and moderators.  Many of the suggestions are difficult to entertain within our current framework – a 1.25 day meeting, with no concurrent sessions.  I don’t think we’re ready to permanently expand the meeting structure (it’s costly, and our attendance is pretty steady), but we can certainly try to do more within our existing framework.  Basically, the challenge is how to highlight more of the science, within a short amount of time, and/or expand our activities during the year.

Our web-site was recently overhauled and re-launched.  Thanks go to Sue Bevan, who also works with SER, for designing such a great site.  When I was Secretary for SPER (1997-99), we launched our first web-site; that was big progress at that time, but we have also come a really long way since then!  Also, our student representative, Cassie Gibbs Pickens (at Emory University) is making sure we stay up to date with social media; she initiated our Twitter account and keeps our Facebook page active.

Our 2016 Annual Meeting will immediately precede the 4th Epidemiology Congress of the Americas.  The theme is “Making a difference across populations.”  With an international focus and location in Miami, how could it not be an interesting and high-energy meeting?  SPER is proudly a bona fide co-sponsor of the Congress, for the first time.  Some of our former officers are on the planning committee – Martha Werler and Robert Platt are the SPER representatives on the Congress Executive Committee, and Russ Kirby is the Congress Chair.  So, this year we have the opportunity for some ‘extra’ synergy between SPER and the Congress.   As a start, SPER is sponsoring a session at the meeting – organized by Samantha Parker and Martha Werler – that is focused on life course epidemiology with an emphasis on pregnancy and fetal development.

I look forward to seeing you at the SPER meeting but also hope that many of us can stay for the Congress.