The APS: Why Belong?
by Barrett Ripin, APS Associate Executive Officer
Recently there have been several postings on the Young Scientists Network (YSN) asking for good reasons to belong to the APS. It is a good question, one frequently asked by many members, particularly around invoice time. This is an abridged version of my response posted on the YSN #1857.
The purpose of the APS for its nearly 100 years of existence has been "the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics." In addition to this broad mandate, the APS provides a number of tangible benefits and services for individual members.
The bread and butter function of the APS is to keep members up to date about physics and the physics community. This is accomplished through our research journals, Society meetings, Physics Today, APS News, and newsletters from our 30 technical divisions and topical groups, regional sections, and general issue forums. The APS has been investing considerable resources, money and staff time in Internet services for members to provide faster, more effective, and less expensive communications. Examples include forefront on-line journals (e.g., PRL-online), electronic submission of meeting abstracts, electronic preprint services (coming), an on-line member directory with up to the moment contact information, broadcast emailings to members of time urgent information, automated author inquiry systems, referee responses, and more. In addition, we have been investing in an extensive and rapidly growing suite of APS Home Pages on the Web [http://www.aps.org] that provide a wealth of physics and APS-related information, almost all of which is free to members and non-members alike. Members may now peruse full programs for most APS meetings weeks earlier than a year ago without buying BAPS. These investments provide better service to membership and, frequently, reduce real costs to members.
Members receive a yearly directory of members or directory of physics and astronomy staff, career and placement services at meetings, marginal cost rates on scientific journals, deeply discounted meeting registrations, group insurance, etc. The Society also provides the other usual professional society functions, such as a professional honors and awards recognition program for a variety of achievements ranging from excellence in research to teaching, student research, education, industrial research, humanitarian service, and the promotion of physics among under-represented groups.
We spend a considerable amount of money and member volunteer and staff time on activities that benefit physics and science in the broad sense. These activities enhance our profession and society and, therefore, indirectly benefit individual members (and non-members). Through them we are improving: science education from elementary school through graduate school, public perception of physics, governmental relations, free interchange of information within the international physics communities, human rights conditions of physicists in China and elsewhere, opportunities for women and under-represented minorities in physics, and more. The APS government affairs office has been effectively monitoring the momentous changes occurring that affect science (funding and jobs), communicating with members, and helping members and APS leaders express their views to government officials. A recent example of APS leadership is its activity supporting NIST, whose very existence has been under attack.
Helping members cope with the current abysmal job market is our most vexing challenge. The Society provides career development services for members in a variety of ways. We hold career workshops and placement centers at most APS meetings, as well as conferences and workshops with graduate and undergraduate physics departments. We developed a well-received Graduate Student Packet containing concrete employment advice and supplied it to all student members and physics departments free of charge. A new forum focusing on career opportunities and issues of concern to young physicists is in formation, and the APS is also pressing the employment issues before government agencies and leaders in industry and academia. Of course, the fundamental problem is that there are too few appropriate jobs for the present pool of physicists. The new Forum on Industrial and Applied Physics is making strides improving industrial-academic understanding and have set themselves ambitious job-creation goals for physicists. A promising approach that we are taking is to open up new employment opportunities in small to medium size companies. Nonetheless, much more needs to be done.
The APS is a member-driven organization whose benefits, activities and priorities are set by the members. The hardest workers have the biggest impact. The APS is highly democratic. For instance, we have three YSN members elected to Council, two new forums, and two new topical groups that were initiated by member petition over the past year. These are indicators of a healthy organization.
So members: Let us know your suggestions, comments, and criticisms that can make us more effective. Talk to colleagues who are not APS members and ask them to consider joining and becoming active. More than ever, it is important that we respond to threats to the well-being and future health of our field as a community. Not only are our individual careers at stake, the fabric and vitality of society may be on the line.