A Presidential address …

By Ellie Highwood

I have been President of the Royal Meteorological Society (RMetS) for almost a year now (I will serve two years in total) and people keep asking me “how’s it going?” or “are you enjoying it?” Before I answer those questions let me describe the role.

The role of President of a small society like RMetS is a bit of everything to be honest. Obviously there are the formal things – I chair Council meetings three times a year as well as the Awards Committee and then present the awards at the AGM. Since we are developing our next 3 year strategy there are also meetings and workshops with a group of members and Council to do that. Ahead of each Council there are about 3 hours of work to do on the papers to make sure I understand what is in them – these can be about new initiatives the RMetS wants to do, reports from the other committees or the annual accounts. Some people who have experienced me chairing a Termly Staff Meeting at Reading will perhaps be surprised to learn that all the Council meetings have tended to over-run! It is definitely a challenge to make sure every voice is heard on some quite complex issues without getting bogged down in the detail. In truth, it’s not my favourite part of the job, but it comes in chunks as between times the working groups, committees and Society staff are busy getting on with things. In fact, having served 4 years as Vice President prior to becoming president (not usual but a variety of exceptional conditions led to me “filling in”), I was in more regular committee meetings in that role. Not only did I attend the same meetings as the President, but also chaired the Strategic Programme Board and was a member of the Membership Development Committee.

On top of this, there are the less predictable items – dealing with requests/complaints from members and supporting the Chief Executive, Liz Bentley, in the day to day running of the Society and in strategic planning. Liz runs a small office with 8 or so employees and sometimes it’s good to have someone outside the line management structure to chat things through with. We meet once per month – it’s certainly very handy that RMetS Headquarters is in Reading! Unusually this year there are significant anniversaries of the formation of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society and Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society from the previous “local” branches of the RMetS. To mark this, I will be travelling to Melbourne in August along with Liz and Brian Golding (outgoing Chair of Meetings Committee) to represent the Society (fitting in a seminar at Monash University on the way). I sent a video birthday message to Canada because the timing didn’t fit with the rest of my life to do both. I will also be playing a reasonably big role at the RMetS national conferences and at some point will have to give a Presidential address both at a national meeting, and in Scotland.

I expect I spend on average half a day per week, if that, on RMetS business unless there is a crisis – which rarely happens due to the excellent work of staff and volunteers. I am also lucky that my predecessor Jennie Campbell had to do the negotiation with our publishers Wiley and that’s not due again for another couple of years (I hope). So, back to the original questions:

How is it going? Well, I think (apart from the length of those Council meetings). I wouldn’t expect an RMetS President to come in suddenly change everything – it just isn’t that kind of Society, and 2 years is too short a term to do that. Instead I see my role as nudging and encouraging movement in certain directions that may already have started happening, e.g. review of what it means to be a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, tightening up our nominations and awards processes and making them more transparent, and getting discussions about diversity and inclusion happening (well you would expect nothing less given my day job, right?).

Am I enjoying it? Hmm. Interesting. It is certainly a great honour to be President, but somewhat intimidating every time I walk up the staircase at Headquarters and see my picture there alongside centuries of great meteorologists (imposter syndrome klaxon). I am proud to be involved with shaping our learned society and, dare I say, moving it along a little to be fit for the next generation of meteorologists. The volunteers on Council and the various Committees are each one of them fascinating.  I loved handing out the awards at the AGM, and I love working with the RMetS staff on conferences and such like. It is great fun. But it is weird. It doesn’t feel like a thing most of the time. Which is probably as it should be. We wouldn’t want Presidents to let power go to their head now would we?

If you’d like to get involved with the Royal Meteorological Society there are many ways to do so. I started being involved as a postdoc and got a lot of my formal meeting experience and contacts through the RMetS. Visit the website to see what they are up to and whether you can help, attend a meeting or a conference, or nominate someone for Council or an award.

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