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Message from the President

Appointment of the new president

Kenji Sonomoto
Kyushu University

  My name is Kenji Sonomoto from Kyushu University’s Faculty of Agriculture, and I was appointed as the president of the Japan Society for Lactic Acid Bacteria. I am humbled and honored to be tasked with this great responsibility.
  This academic society, which is welcoming its 25th year, has been very beneficial to me in a variety of ways. In particular, I specialized in enzyme engineering approximately 20 years ago, and thanks to valuable interaction with many people involved in lactic acid bacteria research, this became a second field of specialty for me. Newcomers could easily meet specialists, and the atmosphere that welcomed inspiration was very important and something that one could not experience at other academic societies. This may seem trivial, but it really illustrates the purpose of an academic society. Since I was separated from the officers for a while after stepping down from the position of vice president in 2006, I thought about what sort of operation was desirable for this society which had greatly helped me develop. I recently began studying the directors’ meeting minutes published in our scientific journal as well as other materials over a four to five-year period, and I have summarized the important matters which I feel we should take initiatives on as well as our long-term action plan and outlook. For the time being, I will share details about these matters below. Already, I have asked the new officers to examine the present conditions and challenges of our society in the various areas of which they are in charge, and we have begun discussing specific matters in regards to our future direction. I would like to introduce details about those conditions and challenges that each officer has created as well as our future plan (2-year plan) on a different occasion.
Important matters for the present term (in order of priority) (July 2015- June 2017, 2 year-period):
We will create a specific two-year road map to resolve the following matters, conducting regular assessments and making corrections to their progress.
1. Enhancing the secretariat and smooth operation of the academic society: We will aim to confirm and sort out secretariat work to be outsourced and enhance the secretariat for the academic society’s stable business operation. People drive our organization, but those in the director role are doing uncompensated volunteer activity. We want to be an organization that reduces the burden on busy directors so that they may also have a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, while also ensuring smooth operation of the academic society in order that all members can relate to one another.
2. Upgrading the society’s website: In order to increase interest in the society, we must upgrade the current website and provide appealing information. Furthermore, it is essential to provide information in English to further deepen overseas coordination with groups such as the Asian Federation of the Societies for Lactic Acid Bacteria (AFSLAB) and improve the momentum of this society. It is easy to simply say “internationalization,” but it will be meaningless unless we put forth our own specific measures after referring to the examples of domestic academic societies that have succeeded at internationalization. That is why we must think about who will do what. We should evaluate this from multiple perspectives including our members and our financial affairs.
3. The academic society’s renewal: Cell renewal is essential to maintaining life. This society is reaching its maturity, but the time has come where those that were active at the time of its founding are now separating from its newest efforts. Currently, many academic societies are becoming too focused on their affairs in Japan and are starting to decline, and our society as well is starting to show similar signs of this trend. For example, at get-togethers, are those participating for the first time (even non-members) welcomed just as warmly as before? Talking together among friends is enjoyable, but are we proactively reaching out to others in saying “Thank you for joining us. What areas are you interested in?” as people did during this society’s starting phase? In order to inherit the important legacy of our seniors and further develop this society, not only do we need to develop human resources in young talent, we also need to provide a place where seniors can be active as veterans of the academic society. For example, after retiring from their active roles, we can welcome those seniors who would be happy to still work with the academic society as fellows and encourage interaction with young researchers. I also think it is possible to reduce the burden on current directors who are working to ensure smooth operation of the academic society’s affairs. It is my hope that each generation of older members, middle-aged members, and younger members can join together and work on measures that will bring about renewal of our academic society. (The percentage of young workers began decreasing in 2007, and this decreasing percentage is expected to worsen further going forward. The number of young people aged 15-29 has decreased by approximately 25% over these past 10 years. In 2030, more than 30% of Japan’s population is expected to be comprised of elderly people. Increasing the number of members is something that all academic societies are trying to do, but they are not succeeding at all. Why is that?)
Long-term action plan and outlook:
1. The academic society’s presence/appearance: In accordance with changes in lactic acid bacteria research, how do we achieve a balance between defining the role of this society and coordination with related academic societies? How do we maintain our identity? Are we able to consider our own original plans that other academic societies cannot do? Or should we restructure the academic society? For example, there could be reorganization as a “health/environmental microbe academic society” of the Bioscience of Microbiota, Food and Health (BMFH) ’s three academic societies or a microbe ecology-related academic society, etc. Additionally, small to medium-sized academic societies are struggling with academic society management in areas such as setting up a secretariat, so should we propose a joint secretariat? Furthermore, we have been taking various measures in order to increase awareness of BMFH, which began to be published in 2012 as an English-language journal, but for example, even if we acquire “Impact Factors,” how many people will realize that the critical moment will be what happens after that?
2. Promote interaction of members with differing ages and occupations: We will consider even more attractive measures that would encourage a fusion of young members and veterans and coordination between the private sector and universities. Further we will develop our current Accommodation-included Seminar (and further develop the workshops that take place within this seminar), and provide a place for open interaction among people who want to learn and allow for the transfer of veterans’ legacies. For those who have not yet experienced the Accommodation-included Seminar, we certainly recommend participating and seeing what it is like sometime.
3. Contribution to regional communities: In order to make it known that we are an academic society which contributes to society, we can conduct academic society projects that are easy for the public to understand (accountability about lactic acid bacteria research and disclosure of information about it), contribute to regional revitalization (revitalization of local communities) and create an environment where small and medium size enterprise can easily participate. Additionally, we can proactively coordinate with other academic societies.
4. Activities of female members: Our society has a high percentage of female members. Rather than merely increasing the number of female officers and committee members, we should encourage the formation of a female member network (establishment of an OG association, etc.), and support their opportunities inside and outside of the academic society.
5. Strategic force in lactic acid bacteria research: Japan’s lactic acid bacteria research is developing diversely even when viewed from a global perspective, and our society can take initiative on providing direction for that research and securing a strategic national budget. While the research is diverse, we can concentrate on how to improve research layers that need more depth. We can deepen and lead coordination in Asia (AFSLAB) and around the world.
In closing, let us remember that an academic society is an organization for the benefit of its members. The best aspect about our society compared to other academic societies is that newcomers who come from differing fields and participate in this society can easily interact with other members. This interaction allows them to mutually develop, which in turns leads to the development of our society. The executives of our society must not forget this if we want newcomers to continue to sense the benefit of becoming a member, as well as to raise the satisfaction of those who have been members for many years. Meanwhile, we will face the sort of challenges described above in the operation of our academic society. While achieving a balance with these issues, us executives will endeavor to manage the academic society so that all of the members will be able to have an ambitious mind-set. In addition to asking for the support of all of our members, I also encourage our members to offer their candid opinions and suggestions.