LMM: What are common reasons why nominees for ACNP membership are not successful
EJN: I would broadly say there are two categories, candidate specific and political sphere reasons.
Candidate specific. The qualifications of an applicant really matter. This includes things such as a person’s rank at a university or medical school and whether they are tenured or tenure-track. Another critical criterion is the number and quality of a candidate’s publications, which has tremendous weight. Still another component is grant support. Pretty much every successful academic candidate for full membership has independent NIH grant support. The quality of a candidate’s letters of nomination is also important. The strength and persuasiveness of the nominating letters are something the committee takes into serious consideration.
Political sphere: A candidate may have difficulty obtaining membership without strong ACNP support at their home institution. This can include the difficulty in getting strong nominating letters from members that hold sway. This is one reason why it is important for prospective candidates to attend the annual meeting and network, so that they can line up nominators as well as have a venue to present their work so people get to know them. Another example of the impact of the political sphere is when someone on the membership committee may be at odds with a candidate’s colleagues at work. One needs a strong advocate on the membership committee or at least someone who would counter unfair political comments. Thankfully, the ACNP membership committee is far less political than it used to be.
LMM: I have heard examples of very established investigators with strong track records not being selected for ACNP membership. Any thoughts as to why?
EJN: A very strong academic scientist who has never been to an ACNP annual meeting, or only very rarely, might not get elected to the College. This is an organization that values participation and wants people who will be active within the College. In addition, many strong candidates are not elected simply because of the very limited number of slots available each year, which is specified by the ACNP’s bylaws.
LMM: How are women and minorities factored into selection for ACNP membership?
EJN: Every time that Council evaluates the results of the membership or program committee deliberations, data on women and minorities are examined. It is very unusual for Council to change a committee’s decision; most of the work is usually done by working with the committees. The term I would use is “affirmative attention”; there are no numbers set aside for any category but sex and race/ethnicity are given significant consideration. In regards to the membership committee, the women that are accepted are every bit as good as the men. If two candidates are equivalent, the benefit can be given to women but that is at the discretion of the membership committee. The same is true for under-represented minorities. We are doing significantly better in recruiting more women to the College and having them play more prominent roles in our annual meeting program. By contrast, we have a long way to go to increase the membership and participation of minority group members; in fact, the College recently appointed a task force to examine this challenge.
LMM: How does a junior scientist interested in ACNP membership know when to apply?
EJN: The only thing certain is: If you don’t apply, you are guaranteed not to get in! People who have applied several times do not have lessened chances of being elected in later years. There is no negative impact in any manner in reapplying. It is always a good idea to talk to current members who might be your nominators and get their thoughts on your membership package, but err on the side of applying rather than not applying.
LMM: What recent initiatives has ACNP implemented regarding membership?
EJN: There is, or will be soon, a new page on the ACNP website where individuals can get information describing the membership process. This page will be available to the general public. Another initiative is for individuals who don’t know an ACNP member to contact the College to discuss this issue. The College will then contact people in the candidate’s area of research and ask if someone may be interested in talking to the prospective member and perhaps sponsoring them.
LMM: A topic that often causes confusion to prospective members is how many members can be accepted each year. How is this decided?
EJN: As stated earlier, the number of slots is strictly capped by the College bylaws. The ACNP membership has consistently decided to roughly maintain the current size of the College, which means that the number of new members each year equals the number of current members who passed away or retired (changed to emeritus status) the prior year, plus some small increment. In many years, the number of qualified candidates far exceeds the number of slots available. To help alleviate this bottleneck, the ACNP has now made it easier for members to change to emeritus status, which opens up additional slots for new members. Membership has recently approved Council recommendations to amend the bylaws to add a handful of additional slots (and thus tolerate a slightly larger increase in College membership). We are hopeful that changes such as these will alleviate the membership bottleneck.
LMM: What do you view as the most significant reason to join ACNP?
EJN: The biggest reason to join ACNP is networking. There is not a better meeting for junior people to meet leaders in the field, present data, and establish collaborations. This meeting in great for junior faculty as well as postdoctoral fellows. In fact, ACNP is a meeting that some department Chairs attend to recruit talented individuals!
LMM: Do you have any general advice about the ACNP membership application process?
EJN: As a person strengthens their application for membership, he or she should try to get a panel accepted as Chair/Co-Chair, give a talk in a panel, and if all else fails submit an abstract. The person should also offer to review for Neuropsychopharmacology. All of this will lay the ground work for several strong people in the field to serve as nominators. Apply rather than not apply. Do not take it personally if you are not accepted on your initial attempt, there is a bottleneck but there is fluidity so just keep applying. Do not get mad or devastated, simply try again. If you like the meeting just be persistent and go for it in terms of applying for membership. Do not take no for an answer. There is no jeopardy for applying many times, if anything you prime yourself and get known to the committee so that the next year you come up you will be better known. The only way to be a member is to apply.