ASPB: Evolving in a Digital Age


Some of you may remember when academic correspondence took place by post. Authors sent manuscripts by mail to journals, which passed them on to reviewers, whose comments were ultimately returned to the authors, who then started the process again with a revised manuscript. ASPB published annually a printed membership directory that was worth its weight in gold in the pre-Internet age for anyone trying to find a reviewer, speaker, or potential collaborator or the address and phone number of a colleague.

Fast forward to today, when the Internet connects us and all of our activities, facilitates our search for information, and supports real-time conversations, networking, and collaborations. Our new digital world also makes possible new ways of curating, packaging, and creating resources, information, and experiences. This transition has crept up on us, and one of the biggest challenges for professional societies like ASPB is to transform our approach to meet the needs of a changing world, including those of a whole new generation of digital natives, and to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by new digital capabilities.

The digital age is not just about taking what we have always done and putting it online. It is a paradigm shift for how we operate as an organization, necessitating a change in the behaviors that affect how the community we serve accesses information and interacts with others. These are the goals and challenges being addressed by ASPB’s digital strategy team.

The digital age is not just about taking what we have always done and putting it online. It is a paradigm shift for how we operate as an organization, necessitating a change in the behaviors that affect how the community we serve accesses information and interacts with others.

Bringing Scientists Together to Learn and Collaborate

From its founding, ASPB has served as a catalyst to bring plant scientists together. Today, meetings and conferences happen both in person and online, sometimes combining the two. As an example, during the recent Phenome meeting, discussions and interactions happened online during and after the actual event, and supplemental information was made available online through Plantae. A variety of digital channels, including social networks, e-mail, online meeting tools, community platforms, and websites, are used in combination to enrich and extend the conference experience.

Many thousands of individuals in the plant science community use open social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to disseminate, discuss, and get feedback on their work, stay up-to-date with research and people, find new opportunities, participate in grassroots activities, and learn new things. Open social networks are also integral to ASPB’s efforts to reach a broader group of people for outreach, to make new connections, and to increase the visibility of plant science research, education, and policy.

Online platforms with a focused community, like Plantae or AAAS’s Trellis, are also needed at a time when open social networks can be overwhelming or hostile and when data privacy is a big concern. Creating a positive and collaborative experience that fosters a sense of community and belonging, both online and offline, is extremely important for ASPB and the broader plant science community, so the need for a focused, transparent, and secure platform is becoming more and more critical.

Publishing and Disseminating Research

One of ASPB’s core activities is as a scientific publisher. Digital publication tools have provided enormous benefits to the scientific community. In the past few years, the ASPB journals have migrated to a new manuscript submission and review platform called eJournalPress. This platform allows authors to speedily upload their manuscripts, editors to communicate with reviewers, and the journals to track these activities in real time, greatly accelerating the publishing process. Similarly, advances in online journal hosting have led to ASPB adopting an online-only format for our journals, saving authors costs and accelerating the dissemination of research. Through all of this, the digital age gives us the ability to create more depth and context by connecting published research with direct access to authors, associated data, images, preprints, and related articles. ASPB works tirelessly to ensure that we transmit the benefits of these technological innovations to our authors and readers.


Generational Differences

These new technologies not only present opportunities but raise challenges as well. There are significant generational differences that affect how ASPB interacts with and supports the needs of the entire plant science community. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and it is important that we keep that in mind as we evolve to ensure that we are supporting all of our members in the most meaningful way.

Data Privacy and Security

Another significant challenge faced by all organizations is how to protect the data and privacy of our members and communities. How do we foster online collaboration yet ensure a safe and secure environment? As a professional society, our mission is to support the plant science community, which includes being a steward for your information and the data you provide. Preserving data privacy and security is a huge responsibility, particularly in an age in which misuse of data seems to be a daily occurence. Through Plantae, our focused online community, we provide a safe, fertile space for sharing, collaboration, networking, and discussions.

Let’s Talk About These Things!

These are just a few of the things that the ASPB Digital Team is working on. As part of our commitment to inclusivity, transparency, and responsiveness to the community’s needs, we will be digging deeper into several topics that affect you, including the following:

  • keeping you and your data secure
  • keeping that conversation going: social networks and online communities
  • publishing in a digital world: opportunities for greater understanding, knowledge, and reach
  • communicating in a digital world: no one size fits all
  • promoting online learning, collaborations, and working groups
  • navigating your career in a digital age.

An important part of our digital strategy is to listen to what you, the community we serve, value and need. All lines are open, and we value your input and suggestions and invite you be part of the journey as we continue to develop our digital strategy. Feel free to send an e-mail to Susan Cato at