Sarash de Wilde, Executive Director ISME introducing her association

When was your association founded?

ISME as it currently stands was founded in 1998.

Where is your association based, how many members do you have & in how many countries?

ISME is based in The Netherlands.

The number of members
depends on whether we have a conference year, for which the numbers tend to go up. In 2018 we had over 1000 members from 54 countries.

Who are your members?

Anyone with an interest in microbial ecology can become a member. However, our members are mostly scientists, either seniors, early career, or students affiliated to universities or institutes, studying the field of microbial ecology.

What is your mission & aim of the association?

Our goal is to serve microbial ecologists and the wider community by supporting research and education. We strive to help and promote microbial ecology in all aspects and serve as a platform for researchers to connect with peers.

The society reaches out to the community by sponsoring (or co-organizing) workshops etc., by providing travel grants and other funding. We focus on under-developed regions too, by our development fund. We achieve this with the aid of our ISME National Ambassadors.

Furthermore, we connect scientists with our biennial conferences, and with our ISME Journal.

What are the major challenges facing your association?

Open Access! There is a long an ongoing debate on open access fees for publications and whether or not these should be made free of charge. Plan-S is a much heard concept and in principle a good idea. However, the role of the publisher is important too and monitoring the publications by offering a solid platform is equally important. Unfortunately, these things cost money. Associations owning a journal are facing a few big challenges in the coming years!

What kind of events are organised by your association?

Every two years, our ISME symposium takes place; ISME symposia are the largest not-for-profit international meetings on the topic of microbial ecology. The symposia attracts around 2000 people on average, from over 50 countries.

Besides this we help co-organize regional meetings in the field, and on occasion ISME organizes smaller events in-between the main symposia.

What is the decision process behind the selection of a destination/venue?

We do not have a fixed rotation, but we do not go to the same area twice, or even the same continent twice in a row. We are of course dependent of the bids that we receive. Usually, we receive around 5 bids, and we select the most attractive and carefully created to discuss during the board meeting. There, the board members vote anonymously on their preferred venue. We ask them to make their choice based mainly on location, conference centre capability, strength of local organizing committee, finances, and a couple of other highlighted items.


Can you share your insights about the latest trends within the association community?

Perhaps the incorporation of digitalization? We see it in all aspects of the association making them more visible than ever before. E-posters, apps, responsive websites, social media, tutorials, e-learning platforms, you name it and it is possible.


What does your association do in terms of legacy, do your meetings have a societal impact on the destination?

We have set up a Development Fund, used for trainings, workshops, summer schools and/or masterclasses organized by national or regional microbiology societies worldwide. The fund has a strong focus on regions outside North America or Europe. We have sponsored meetings in Chile, China, South Africa, and India in this manner.

Also, for our conference this year, the local organizers initiated a meeting for the ‘general’ public. They invited speakers to talk about their work and its importance to the world. It was well received by the scientists and the public, so we want to see if something similar is possible in South Africa, where our next meeting is to take place.

Are you looking to forge collaborations with other associations? If so in what areas of expertise?

We have memoranda of understanding with several other associations, with whom we share awards, or have special sessions at each other’s conferences. These are associations which have overlap in an area of microbial ecology.  

For more information on ISME you can check their website: