HQ Profile: Creating a better future through collaboration

European Association for Cancer Research
12th May, 2017

Founded in 1968 to promote communication among cancer researchers in Europe, the European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) is a professional membership organisation for those studying and working in cancer research with a thriving membership community of over 10,000 members across 101 countries worldwide. Jane Smith, chief operating officer of the EACR, talks to HQ.

What would the EACR like to achieve?

Jane SmithOur aim is the advancement of cancer research, from basic research to prevention, treatment and care. From the outset, we have offered opportunities for cancer scientists to interact with and learn from each other and to develop their knowledge and careers. Today, we do that by organising scientific meetings, offering travel fellowships and funding to attend conferences and via regular communication through our email bulletin and via social media. We also offer a members-only database enabling researchers to identify potential collaborators. Finally, we work to raise the profile of cancer research in Europe and the need for sustained political and economic support.

What kind of members do you have?

Our members range from PhD students to Nobel Prize winners and come from more than 100 countries. We have 14 affiliated national societies. Members of these national societies are automatically members of the EACR, but researchers can also join us direct through our website.85% of our members are based in Europe, but we are seeing the proportion of members from outside Europe grow steadily. Our member benefits are open to all members, regardless of their geographical location.

What types of the events do you organise?

We organise several conferences each year. Most of these are through our Conference Series (www.eacr.org/conference-series). These are deliberately small, focused meetings of between 100 and 200 participants and take place throughout Europe. We attract highly regarded speakers and ensure that participants have opportunities to interact with them and with each other throughout the programme. We are proud of the fact that participants rate these conferences extremely highly; 99% would recommend the conference they attended to others. We have several of these conferences planned for 2017 and 2018 covering topics such as cancer genomics, immuno-oncology, epigenetics and DNA damage.

Once every two years we hold our Congress, a much bigger meeting of 1,500 to 2,000 participants. Our 2018 Congress, EACR25 to be held in Amsterdam, will be particularly special as we will celebrate our 50th anniversary. This is an opportunity for us to look back over the lifetime of our Association as well as looking forward to the next 50 years and to the breakthroughs that will be made in the prevention and treatment of cancer in that time.

As well as our own conferences, we work in partnership with like-minded organisations to deliver conferences to a wider audience. For example, in September this year we partner with the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) in their Congress in Madrid. That Congress will attract around 20,000 participants, ranging from laboratory-based cancer researchers to clinicians treating cancer patients. And in June this year we partner with the American Association for Cancer Research and the Italian Cancer Society for a conference in Florence.

How do you pick the destination for your events?

We take several factors into account when choosing the location for our biennial congress. These include: international transport links, the suitability and flexibility of the congress centre itself, the availability of hotel accommodation with good transport links to the congress centre, cultural attractions, and, of course, the cost – both for us in terms of organising the congress and for participants in terms of travel, accommodation and food and drink while they are in the city.

Where have you organised your Congress?

In recent years are have held our Congress in Manchester, Munich, Barcelona and Oslo. It’s always a pleasure to work with the local team in preparing events and to learn more about the cities that we are visiting.

You joined the EACR in January 2016. How is the experience so far?

My first EACR Congress was EACR24 in Manchester in July 2016. It was fantastic to see all the hard work come together and to read the great feedback that we received from participants after the event. What struck me is how the team is always looking for ways to make the next Congress even better…and of course the planning for the next meeting starts even before the current one has ended.

What do you find challenging and rewarding about working for the EACR?

We are a small team at the EACR’s headquarters in Nottingham, UK, and that is both rewarding and challenging. We have lots of new ideas and a very supportive Board of Directors so we can be innovative and try new things without the bureaucracy that can come with bigger, more complex organisations. But of course, there is only so much that a small team can achieve – even one as dedicated as mine! It can be challenging not to try to do too much too quickly.

Without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect of the role is the feedback we get from our members. This can come from surveys after conferences and from our annual members’ survey, but with a growing social media presence, we get lots of instant feedback on particular issues too and it can provide a real boost just to get a reminder that what we do is valued by our members. We have so much admiration for our members; it is a privilege to support them in their work to make progress against cancer.

What plans do you have as the EACR celebrates its 50th anniversary next year?

With such a geographically diverse membership, I’m conscious of the need to ensure that we offer opportunities to all our members. So, for example, we will be exploring ways to offer some of our conference content online for those who can’t attend our meetings in person. We know from our members that the biggest challenge they face is securing funding for their research so we are also looking to grow our work in the policy arena, working in partnership with other organisations where this makes sense. We are also looking to develop our website to enable members to interact with each other more directly.

Our Board has just published a new five-year strategic plan: https://www.eacr.org/governance/strategic-planwhich sets out our longer-term aims in more detail. We’re certainly looking forward to the next 50 years!

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