History of Association of Scientists of Indian Origin (ASIO) Special Interest Group of SOT
Compiled by Drs. Rashmi Pathak, Gagandeep Kaur and Avinash Kumar from interviews of some of the ASIO members.
Association of Scientists of Indian Origin (ASIO) is a nonprofit scientific and educational Special Interest Group (SIG) within the umbrella of Society of Toxicology (SOT). The motto of this organization “home away from home” best describes the essence of its origin and existence to date. ASIO-SOT provides a platform to the toxicologists of Indian origin in the US to network, support, mentor and recognize their peers from all over the globe. The members meet each year during the annual SOT meeting to facilitate and augment professional development, individually and collectively.
The origin of ASIO dates to 1983, when the idea for the creation of a SIG for scientists of Indian Origin was floated during one of the informal meet up discussions at the 22nd Annual Meeting of SOT in Las Vegas. Interestingly, ASIO-SOT was an offshoot of its parent organization, Association of Scientists of Indian Origin in America, Inc. (ASIOA) which was incorporated in 1981. Some of the founding members of ASIO-SOT Drs. Desaiah, Harihara Mehendale, Prakash Nagarkatti, and Dharm Singh were life members of ASIOA and envisioned to create something with similar vision for Indian origin toxicologists at annual SOT meetings. As recounted by Dr. Harihara Mehendale, it was really challenging to meet fellow toxicologists of Indian origin in late 1970. He reminisces collecting the names and addresses of attendees with “Indian sounding names” from the FASEB and SOT Directories and contacting them via post with the help of his then student Dr. Chellu Chetty and others. Yet despite constant efforts, the results were not encouraging due to the lack of a formal structure for such an endeavor.
Despite this, ASIO continued to exist as a non-structured organization during its initial days. Between the years 1984–1988 after its inception, there was low membership to the ASIO SIG thus resulting in low funds with the organization. Back then, ASIO meetings were hosted at one of the Indian restaurants near the venue as an informal get-together of students and leading scientists in the area to network and enjoy some local delicacies. However, it was difficult to get more number of PhDs or Postdoctoral Researchers to join during the early days, as they were expected to spend approximately $20 to meet over food, which seemed like much of an ask. Considering this, Dr. Dharm Singh announced to take care of food expenses for all the students (PhDs/Postdocs) during one of the official meetings and the tradition continued for a couple of years thence forth. This immensely reduced the financial pressure from the minds of young students/researchers who started joining the meetings and soon, their interest grew to be a part of a bigger group to grow and succeed together. In the meantime, members like Drs. Chellu Chetty and Vasant Malset continued their efforts to volunteer their time to encourage more people to join and arranged for food and travel during each meeting. This allowed slow yet steady growth for the organization between 1983–2003.
However, in 2003, Dr. Desaiah moved to Industry and Dr. Mehendale had set back with his health, which meant recruitment of new officers to share the burden of running the organization. This was when Drs. Madhusudan Soni, Gopala Krishna, Sanjay Chanda, Pallavi Limaye and Chellu Chetty took the baton from their seniors and decided to form a structured organization with an executive board and a membership fee. In December 2003, the first ASIO-Newsletter was circulated to all the members and some funds were raised to plan few fun activities during the next meeting at Baltimore, MD. This occasion was marked by the speech from a keynote speaker, recognition of some senior members (Drs. Krishan Reddy and Vodela Lalwani), felicitation of four doctoral students and financial support especially from Dr. Dharm Singh to expand the activities in the following years. Around this time, the possibility of recognizing ASIO as a Special Interest Group by the SOT was discussed with the then SOT-President, Dr. Marion Ehrich. She liked the proposal to form a SIG to allow minority communities to meet, network, and host a formal reception and took up this proposal to SOT Council. The Council approved and asked to prepare the bylaws. Dr. Prakash Nagarkatti who was on the SOT Special Interest Group (SIG) Task Force helped in drafting the bylaws and integration of ASIO into SOT which provided $2,000 towards annual support for the group. Initially, it was called ‘ASIOA SIG’ based on its parent organization but soon it was renamed to ASIO to provide it a distinct identity.
The next major milestone was achieved in 2007, when Dr. Dharm Singh pledged to donate a hefty amount of $10,000 to support the creation of an endowment fund by the SIG. Within a week’s time, additional $2,500 were raised from other members to meet the SOT requirement of $12,500, thus paving way for the first ASIO-SOT SIG $25,000 Endowment Fund named after Dr. Dharm Singh. This was followed by Dr. Harihara Mehendale Endowment Fund, Dr. Laxman Desai Endowment Fund, Toxikon and Dr. Dharm Singh International Travel Award Fund in the subsequent years. Today, ASIO is an organization of more than 200 active members comprising of scientists from academia, industry, and non-profit organizations working collectively towards building a supportive environment for young professionals to seek advice and achieve newer heights in their professional endeavors.
Timeline of ASIO’s Major Milestones
Founding Executive Committee of ASIO (2006–2007)
ASIO Past Presidents
2006–2007 Madhusudan Soni