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Monday, April 4, 2011

H. Frederick Dylla Director's Matters

By H. Frederick Dylla, Executive Director & CEO and
Liz Dart Caron, Director, Corporate Communications

2011 Assembly of Society Officers

Every now and then we must step back, reflect on what we do, and think about how we can do it better. As an umbrella organization, AIP is in a unique position to bring its family of scientific associations (Member and Affiliated Societies) together to examine common issues. Each year we convene society officers and senior staff to consider topics and trends that affect us as a whole. The event is fully supported by AIP as an expression of support for our common mission, yet the societies take the lead on choosing the thematic content. The topics covered each year stem from suggestions made by the previous year's attendees. You can access the speakers' presentations and notes from several of the breakout groups on the Assembly website.

This year's agenda for the Assembly of Society Officers centered on improving science communication and maintaining relevance as professional societies. Breakout groups were organized in response to feedback from participants at last years' meeting, who had indicated that they would also value more time to network and consider possible inter-society collaborations.

For the first session, Rick Borchelt of the National Cancer Institute/NIH took the lead in gathering experts in science communication. AIP's senior science writer and author of The Grid, Phil Schewe, aptly served as co-chair. Speakers examined the correlation among science literacy, public appreciation of science, and engaging the public in science policy. Scientific societies must appreciate the complexity of these relationships in order to set realistic goals for communication.

Susanna Hornig Priest of the School of Environmental and Public Affairs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, cautioned that the amount of science knowledge and education correlate only slightly with what people think about science. There are many different "publics," and we must communicate differently with each of those publics. Public engagement is not a panacea; we need to be prepared for the fact that other people do not necessarily share our viewpoints. Attempts to change this will meet with limited success. It is better, she said, to understand public values and beliefs than to merely push information at them. Jon Miller of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, developed a metric for evaluating an individual's understanding of basic scientific constructs—a "toolbox" needed to make sense of science and science policy issues. (Check out slides 9-10 of his presentation for some startling results of a national survey to gauge the science literacy of US adults. Despite the poor showing of adult understanding of various science concepts, the US is doing very well compared with other countries!) Miller also noted that studies reveal that undergraduate science courses have a high positive impact on science literacy—an impact that exceeds K-12 or adult learning.

Ed Maibach of George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication shared his formula for effectiveness in public education: "Simple clear messages, repeated often, by a variety of trusted sources." Know your audience; the message must be geared toward their needs—not what you're eager to say. A focused literacy campaign needs the input of content experts, decision science experts, and communication experts (we tend to overlook the latter two). To be successful, one must concentrate on taking the most important actions that will be acceptable to the largest number of people. Rick Borchelt wrapped up the session by defining public engagement, which extends beyond public understanding. Public engagement is a two-way street, and must be personal, unmediated, and reciprocal. This highest form of involving the public carries a great deal of risk, but it is critical to democratic process, enhances trust, and engenders positive attitudes about science and technology.

The second session looked at the "Value of a Professional Society in the 21st Century." The session chair, AAS Executive Officer Kevin Marvel, educated the audience about the history of guilds, whose genesis and purpose were not so different from those of present-day professional societies. However, guilds were eventually overtaken by shifts in society and they became obsolete. To maintain relevance, we cannot afford to ignore the changing needs of our membership.

Association strategist Rebecca Rolfes of Imagination Publishing spoke about developing a viable value proposition—delivering a product or service that fulfills members' needs better than any other—faster, less expensively, more effectively. She also outlined what people today are typically willing to pay for (see slide 31), and offered strategies for reaching prospective members. Jay Younger of McKinley Marketing further developed the concept of a strong member value proposition (MVP). If the MVP is weak, an individual's perception of an invitation to join an organization may likely be, "pay us in advance so that you'll have lots more to read and the ability to pay us again for access to things that may or may not be relevant for you." Yet even a strong MVP can be eroded by such factors as poor technology platforms, pricing, and promotion, for example. Younger concludes with strategies to enhance the MVP (see slide 27).

Breakout groups responded to both sessions by examining the issues in more detail and considering what their societies can do to improve their efforts.

We thank all society representatives who participated in this year's assembly. The useful exchange of information and expertise increased the value of the day's discussions. We look forward to continued dialogue.

Member Society Spotlight

March madness and loving it

2011 March Meeting In last week's issue, Fred Dylla reported on the joint AIP/APS Industrial Physics Forum held during the APS March meeting in Dallas, TX. This week, you'll hear about some other (and not all) diverse ways in which AIP participated—26 staff members from our Publishing and Physics Resources Centers attended this very important meeting for the physics community. Why is it so important? First, it's big. And it keeps getting bigger—numbers are not yet firm, but 2011 attendance likely topped 7,800. The sheer numbers of students, professors, government researchers, and industrial physicists who participate make the venue an incredible opportunity to interact with the broad physics community. Second, we support our discipline by supporting APS's largest event.

This year our Marketing team focused on UniPHY and AIP Advances, plus promotions of a host of AIP and AIP partner products and services. Dancing blue robots drew attention to UniPHY at the AIP networking social held at a local pub on Sunday evening, and as a giveaway at the exhibition booth. Hundreds signed up for UniPHY onsite. Staff grew the journals marketing database by scanning 1700 badges of booth visitors.

The Publisher's Office staff managed several activities, including the inaugural Journal Editors Spring Conference (in addition to the Journal Editors Conference held annually in the fall). Most of the head editors from our suite of journals attended. Topics discussed ranged from language editing to reviewer appreciation and from journal scope to processing times. AIP Advances held its inaugural editorial meeting, which gave the Executive Editors and Academic Editors a chance to converse about the direction and vision for AIP's just-launched open access journal. Other activities included editorial meetings for Journal of Chemical Physics and Review of Scientific Instruments and the joint APS/AIP Meet-the-Editors reception, which was well attended by authors and reviewers. For more snapshots, visit AIP Publishing's photo albums on Facebook.

The magazine group ran two booths to promote Physics Today and Computing in Science and Engineering (CiSE) and the popular Physics Today Exhibitor's Lounge. The lounge hosted 240 exhibitors over the three days and enabled PT sales reps to conduct face-to-face meetings with prospective advertisers; three of four US sales reps attended. PT editors attended sessions for story ideas; on the conference floor and at the editors' reception, they sought advice from attendees about Physics Today's web offerings (see Charles Day's blog post).

SPS was there in full force to support the many students who took part. There were more than 75 undergraduate presenters in three oral sessions and an afternoon poster session. Students presented on topics that ranged from comparing rolling and sliding friction to trapping anti-hydrogen in a Paul trap. Staff from SPS and APS partnered to host a students' welcome reception with an exciting team physics quiz and a closing awards session that included a career panel.

The Statistical Research Center sent Rachel Ivie to present findings from the Initial Employment Survey and preliminary findings from the PhD+10 survey. Her invited presentation, Got Skills? On-the-Job Activities of Physicists, was part of a session sponsored by the APS Forum on Education and the Forum on Graduate Student Affairs titled "Enhancing Graduate Education in Physics: Focus on Skills."

News and Media Services staff ran press conferences on behalf of APS. Of particular interest was one devoted to Texas-based research: One speaker described a tiny sensor taped to the backs of bulls so that at rodeo competitions the g-forces on cowboys could be measured accurately. Another speaker outlined his effort to create robots, even more advanced than the "Watson" robot that appeared on the TV show Jeopardy, that can answer questions and even act as a kind of surrogate companion. So, for the very first time, a robot was a participant in an APS press conference.

The convention center in Dallas was about a kilometer in length. Between the sessions, workshops, group meetings, exhibits, ceremonies, and social events, everyone had a lion's share of activity and exercise.

Congratulations to APS for yet another fine show!

What's happening this week

Friday, April 8

  • CiSE Editorial Board Meeting, College Park, MD

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