We are humbled to be stepping into our new roles as President-Elect and President of the AOS. We are humbled because our membership has selected us to lead the Society in these challenging times, and because we are well aware that we are stepping into some very big shoes. Kathy Martin and Steve Beissinger have done a remarkable job of fledging the new AOS, developing it into a strong and vibrant society. They achieved this because they worked closely with each other, and also with the former presidents of the COS and AOU, to meld those two societies into a single, diverse, global network of empowered professionals, working together to advance the scientific study and conservation of birds.
In that same spirit, we will work very closely with each other, with the AOS Council and Committees, and with the AOS staff to move our society forward to serve our members even better. We do this knowing that the world is undergoing dramatic changes around us, even as we speak. The ongoing pandemic, economic uncertainties, political polarization, and justified calls for social justice all make it clear that the world ahead of us will be very different from the world we were in four years ago when our new organization first emerged. These societal changes will affect everybody, including professional ornithologists. We feel strongly that the most important role that the AOS can play is to help our membership prepare for—and thrive within—this new landscape.
Toward that end we have been discussing AOS’s mission and strategic objectives. Three goals have emerged that Colleen and I see as our top priorities for the coming four years.
First, with input from other groups, we will develop concrete strategies to diversify our society, making it more inclusive and equitable. AOS has made great strides in this area in recent years, but much more remains to be done. We need creative and workable strategies that broaden participation in ornithology to those who traditionally have been marginalized. This includes strategies aimed at those early in their careers to ensure that our society is welcoming and meets their needs. It also includes careful evaluation to address the barriers that have limited participation in the past. And it also includes strategies, likely through key partnerships, aimed at younger kids who haven’t yet started thinking about career paths, to steer some of them toward careers involving birds, ornithology, and conservation.
Second, our Society must continue to embrace developing technologies to deliver training and mentorship more broadly so that such efforts are not solely focused on the annual meetings. This month’s highly successful NAOC has demonstrated that virtual participation has strong benefits, not the least of which is the opening of our doors to members and partners across the world. It is particularly important to foster the professional development of those in the early stages of their careers, and those from regions with less access to such training. This is particularly true in light of the many COVID-related uncertainties we are now facing in the academic institutions and agencies where most professional ornithologists work. We must prepare upcoming cohorts of ornithologists to be leaders in that world.
Finally, we will support ornithological research by building collaborative relationships with other scientific societies with similar missions. Our Society’s goals overlap broadly with those of ornithological societies. AOS can provide resources that help strengthen ornithological research for all researchers, for example, through advocacy and resources for helping with permits. By focusing on our respective strengths and ability to speak to ornithologists in our own ranks and complement our own Society’s work. By strategically partnering with these societies, we hope to have a greater impact and develop win-win strategies that support research, and publish articles to advance our discipline by ornithologists at every career stage around the world.
AOS will strive to be the most trusted, authoritative source of scientific information on birds for the American professional ornithological community, as well as for stakeholders such as educators, resource managers, policy makers, and the general public. AOS will exhibit leadership in fostering the development of, and providing guidance on, the best methods for conducting ornithological research, including training on the latest analytical tools and technological advances, permitting procedures, funding opportunities, publishing, and means of collaborations. And AOS will work to remove barriers and inequities that have limited participation in the past. Together, our members can unite our many strengths to advance scientific study of the highest quality to promote the conservation of birds and the natural world on which we all rely.
Mike Webster, President
Colleen Handel, President-Elect