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Prof Gary Macfarlane is stepping down as chair of the Heberden Committee, which organises our Annual Conference programme. Gary is Dean of Research (Interdisciplinary Research and Research Impact) and Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Aberdeen. Here we speak to him about his time on the committee and about handing over to new chair, Dr Ruth Richmond. First, though, a word from Dr Liz Price, past President of BSR.


Liz says of her time working with Gary: "It was great fun and a real pleasure to work with Gary on the Heberden Committee. Heberden has always (secretly) been my favourite BSR committee – so I was thrilled to hand it over to Gary who I knew would nurture and develop it.


"He wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo and to come up with new and innovative ideas to take Annual Conference to the next level. He stepped up to the enormous challenge of moving the conference online during the pandemic and should be proud of the result. He's achieved all this with his customary good humour: he will be missed."


The Board of Trustees at Annual Conference 2019: Gary is second from left, Liz in the centre


Gary, tell us about your tenure chairing Heberden – how did you get involved? What was the experience like?

I was firstly involved as a committee member several years ago; sometime later, I decided to stand for election as the Chair. Unlike other committees, our work is very much focused around one thing – the annual conference, so that's great for focusing the mind.


What are the main highlights for you from this period? Any particular challenges you overcame?

I've derived great satisfaction from working with colleagues from across the society to put on a conference that meets their professional development needs. It’s also been fun – and we've had quite a few laughs along the way. Every year we've made some changes to the conference: it's important to keep evolving. As for the challenges, well, there was the issue of the pandemic and the complete re-organisation of how we would put on the conference, moving from face-to-face to virtual.


What, if anything, has changed with the work of the committee since you started three years ago? Have you made any changes?

We now receive many more submitted session suggestions than we previously did, so we've now moved to a more formalised way of assessing these submissions. We also had a themed call for sessions this year, which we've not had before. This might be something the committee wants to do in the future. I suspect going forward, a mixed offering of face-to-face and online will become more the norm and we will have to adapt to that, and see what works.


The Heberden Committee pivoted to online when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, upending plans to hold it in Glasgow


How do you feel about handing over now – any words of wisdom for incoming chair Ruth Richmond?

I'm very glad to be standing down – three years is long enough in a post, although I've agreed to stay around for one more year on the committee. I wouldn’t even think of giving Ruth words of advice, I think everyone should do it 'their own way', bring their new ideas, not be afraid to try things and of course some will work and some will not – and that’s fine. Ruth is incredibly calm and I think that is an important attribute for the job.


What will you be doing with all your spare time now? We jest, of course...

Well, I do run a research programme at the University of Aberdeen, I am also a Dean of Research there and an Honorary Consultant in the Department of Public Health at NHS Grampian. So that's three jobs to keep me occupied. I've also embarked on Royal Yachting Association courses during the past year on seamanship and navigation, as well as learning Gaelic. So all of that should manage to more than fill my time!


Session submissions for Annual Conference 2022 are now open, closing on 2 June. Ideas will be reviewed at the next Heberden Committee meeting on 30 June. Propose a session you want to see on the programme by submitting your idea here.