In this installment of the SSAR leadership profiles, Student Participation Committee Chair Jessica Tingle interviewed a current SSAR Director, Dr. Jenn Deitloff to better understand the activities of SSAR Directors. Note that a Director is not the same as the Board of Directors; the Board of Directors consists of several elected officers, including the officers known as Directors.
The Directors are eight elected officers who serve on the Board of Directors along with the President, President-elect, Immediate Past President, Treasurer, Secretary, Trustee, and Publications Secretary. One Director position is reserved for someone whose work relates to conservation, and another is reserved for someone from outside the United States. The Board of Directors is responsible for managing SSAR’s affairs, including publications (journals, books, and more). An individual Director’s term lasts for four years, and half of the Directors are replaced every other year. A person may serve multiple terms as a Director, and consecutive terms are allowed.
Activities throughout the year, including at the annual meeting
Throughout the year, items arise that require the Directors’ attention, which normally involves discussion and sometimes a vote (via email). For example, when SSAR began considering whether the Journal of Herpetology should move to online-only, the Board of Directors discussed options and voted on how to proceed. Similarly, when the COVID-19 pandemic jeopardized the 2020 Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (JMIH), the Board of Directors had to determine whether to cancel JMIH, when to cancel, and what options might be available to offset the financial repercussions.
Members of the Board of Directors normally gather together in person at the annual conference (JMIH or SSAR stand-alone meetings), where they attend the Board of Directors meeting and the SSAR Business Meeting. At the Board of Directors meeting—usually held on the first day of the conference—elected officers, editors, and committee chairs discuss the Society’s activities over the previous year, plans for the coming year, and the annual budget. Approval of the annual budget as well as any amendments of the SSAR constitution and bylaws require a vote by a quorum of the Board of Directors.
In addition to their duties on the Board of Directors, the Directors are expected to participate in SSAR committees. The President may sometimes ask or assign Directors to be on specific committees, as the need arises.
Interactions with other SSAR officers and committees
Directors maintain frequent email contact with the President and Secretary in order to carry out their duties throughout the year. They also tend to interact frequently with each other as they generate new ideas for SSAR. Additionally, because Directors often participate in committees or other Society activities, they may interact with various other individuals involved in SSAR.
Path to becoming a Director
Like other elected officers, the Directors must be nominated. When Tiffany Doan, current Chair of the Nominations Committee, first notified Deitloff that she had been nominated, Deitloff wasn’t sure she would be available for the job, and turned down the nomination. Deitloff had often volunteered to judge posters and oral presentations at the annual conference, but she had never been involved in a larger role, such as on a committee. Sometime later, Doan and Deitloff met to discuss ways Deitloff could get more involved in SSAR. That conversation, and conversations with people who had held the Director position, convinced Deitloff that a Director position would be manageable, so the next time she was nominated, she accepted and was voted into office.
Although Deitloff worried about the Director workload prior to her election, she discovered that her fears were unfounded. During her time as a Director, she’s never felt overwhelmed with the workload, and the work has always felt in line with her professional goals and goals for the field. The position holds a lot of intrinsic value, since Directors have the power to help shape SSAR. Not only has Deitloff found the position inherently valuable, but she has also discovered a side benefit in that it has caused her to branch out in the Society, leading to a much richer experience at the annual meetings.
Future of the Director position
Because the Board of Directors has so much power to shape the present and future of SSAR, Directors’ activities evolve along with the Society’s priorities. Individual Directors also have the power to pursue their own goals. For example, Deitloff joined the Board after an incident at JMIH 2018 in Rochester that provided a wake-up call for the herpetological societies to do more work for inclusion. Noticing that graduate students and other young members provided some of the loudest voices calling for change, Deitloff decided that it was time for her to stop taking a back seat in SSAR business. Therefore, she has devoted much of her work on the Board of Directors to making SSAR more inclusive, work that will continue indefinitely.
In January 2021, half of the current Directors will step down, to be replaced by four newly-elected Directors. These new Directors will work with the rest of the Board to bring new ideas and perspectives to SSAR.