For this installment of the SSAR leadership profiles, Student Participation Committee member Amanda Hewes interviewed Dr. Roberto Brenes, the current chair of the Roger Conant Grants-in-Herpetology committee.
The Roger Conant Grants-in-Herpetology are $500 grants primarily awarded to student members of SSAR (exceptions listed on the grant web page under “who can apply?”). Grants are awarded in the fields of Conservation of Amphibians and Reptiles, Field Research, Laboratory Research, Travel, International, Herpetological Education, and Undergraduate Research in Herpetology. The chair of the Roger Conant Grants-in-Herpetology committee is responsible for receiving grant applications, finding reviewers, organizing the review process, reporting the award winners, and submitting an annual report to the board.
Grant applications are due in December of each year. The application submission period begins in September, at which point the committee chair has several concurrent responsibilities. The first is to field incoming applications submitted via email. Additionally, the chair must actively seek out reviewers to assess the applications. Reviewers are chosen based on their expertise, and many are from within SSAR. After the application window closes, the chair verifies that the applications meet the content requirements before sending them to reviewers. Each category has specific requirements for the grant application, which are detailed on the Roger Conant Grants-in-Herpetology page on the SSAR website. Each category has one to two reviewers, depending on reviewer availability and number of applications. For categories with one reviewer, the reviewer fills out a rubric for each proposal and either the highest scoring or the two highest scoring proposals are funded, depending on the number of applicants. For categories with two reviewers, the applications are split between them, and the highest scoring application from each reviewer is funded. Awardees are usually announced in May or June. The SSAR president sends letters of congratulations to the successful applicants, and checks are sent by the treasurer.
Interactions with other SSAR committees and leaders
The chair of the Grants-in-Herpetology committee is responsible for attending the annual Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (JMIH) and actively communicating with the SSAR board. For record-keeping purposes, the chair must submit a report to the board detailing how many people applied for awards, who received an award, and how much money was awarded.
Path to joining the Grants-in-Herpetology committee
Dr. Brenes first joined SSAR as a graduate student in 2002 and presented at JMIH annually during his first several years of membership. During that time, Brenes received a Grants-in-Herpetology award. Even though he started off actively participating in SSAR, Brenes began to drift from the society as the focus of his research shifted. With advancements in his academic career, his work started to focus more on infectious disease in tropical amphibians, which steered him toward epidemiology meetings and conferences. Brenes made his way back to SSAR several years later, when he was asked to review Grants-in-Herpetology applications, which he did for three years. Once the previous long-term committee chair stepped down, Brenes was asked by Dr. Marty Crump —whom Brenes had known for years due to their shared interest in tropical amphibians— if he would like to take on the position. Brenes points to his field work, as well as previous roles as both a grant recipient and reviewer, as experiences that aid him in the role of the committee chair.
Future of the committee
A short-term goal currently underway is to make the application submission process more streamlined by implementing a Dropbox system. With a Dropbox system, all grants will be submitted to one portal, and it will be possible to automate checking for completeness to some degree. In addition, changes will be made to the Roger Conant Grants-in-Herpetology page on the SSAR website to accommodate the new submission system and to direct applicants to the submission portal. These changes will be implemented for the 2020 application cycle.
A long-term goal of the committee is to increase its presence at the annual meeting. The committee is committed to this goal for two key reasons. (1) Soliciting reviewers in-person at the annual meeting will likely make the reviewer search much easier. (2) Putting a face to the committee chair position will help to increase student involvement. A strong presence at the annual meeting will better acquaint students with the committee chair, hopefully making them more comfortable reaching out about possible volunteer opportunities. As a related activity, the committee hopes to create specific roles for students, a plan still in the works.