New Survey Reveals APS Members Unaware of Many Outreach Programs
APS members continue to be a diversified lot in terms of employment sectors, according to preliminary results of the 1996 APS membership survey. In addition, while most respondents felt education outreach and public affairs activities were particularly important for the Society, most were unaware of APS programs in these areas, indicating a need for better advertisement of such services to the APS membership.
The survey was prepared under the auspices of the APS Committee on Membership (COM) and Membership Department and conducted by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) Division of Employment and Education Statistics. Approximately 50 percent of the 2,789 U.S. resident members who were sent a copy of the 8-page questionnaire responded.
The survey was intended to help identify the needs and concerns of APS members and to monitor demographic changes in the physics community, as well as within the APS membership. A survey of the APS membership was last conducted in 1990, according to Jolie Cizewski (Rutgers University), past chair of the APS COM. However, the committee felt that because of the many changes in the Society since then, another survey was needed. In fact, Cizewski believes a survey should be done every five years to keep abreast of the trends.
The survey revealed that the demographic characteristics of APS members are generally the same as those reported in 1990. The number of members employed full time has dropped by 5 percent, from 73 percent in 1990 to 68 percent in 1996. Retired members have increased by more than one third in the same period.
"The average age of physicists is in the 50s," said Cizewski, adding that the increase is a natural outgrowth of a peak in the production of physicists in the late 1950s/early 1960s, most of whom are now over 65. "I think we're going to be seeing more senior members: people who are retired, but still want to maintain their contact with the physics community."
The results also revealed a detailed disaggregation of the types of individuals who belong to the APS encompassing Ph.D. chemists, engineers and employed physics master's and bachelor's degree holders, in addition to Ph.D. physicists according to Roman Czujko, director of AIP's statistics division.
"While employed Ph.D. physicists are still the majority, there are many other kinds of people with different needs, backgrounds and environments," said Czujko. "Many Ph.D. physicists are not all doing basic research in an academic environment, and a fair number of them are not doing physics."
On the whole, Ph.D physicists said that they joined the APS because they felt obligated to join as a physicist and wanted to keep in touch with the physics community. Those with Ph.Ds in other fields joined for similar reasons, but without the sense of obligation. Over two-thirds of student members indicated that discounts influenced their decision to join APS.
Survey data collected on collaborations revealed little, other than the fact that it occurs "at an extremely high level, whether people are in academia, industry or the national laboratories," said Czujko.
Additionally, collaboration crosses national boundaries. An international survey completed in 1992 found that half of APS members in industrialized countries have spent several months in the U.S. engaged in some kind of research collaboration. There is also a high level of membership in multiple societies, with the AAAS, the IEEE, and the American Chemical Society leading the list.
Benefits and Services
More than half (53 percent) of the respondents felt they received fair value for their membership dues. A sizable majority of APS members (79 percent) find Physics Today valuable, a higher percent than any other benefit, followed by the paper and online versions of the APS directory, APS News, unit membership, and reduced registration at meetings, all of which were rated valuable by at least 37 percent of the respondents.
In terms of electronic publications and services, nearly half of those who access physics research literature regularly do so online on a monthly basis or more frequently, and over a third of all respondents had accessed online journals within the past year. However, paper journals and photocopied articles are still more prevalent. More than half had accessed the APS home page, mostly frequenting the BAPS meeting information (62 percent), APS News (54 percent), and "What's New" (53 percent).
More than two-thirds of the APS members who responded said that the APS should make informing and educating the government and the general public about physics issues and improving pre-college physics and math education its highest priorities. About half said that the APS should be more involved in public affairs or outreach activities. By the same token, half indicate no opinion on how well APS is actually performing in these areas.
"Clearly the APS needs to work harder to advertise its services, in particular its educational and public affairs outreach activities," said Cizewski of the responses.
Although information on these programs and services is regularly covered in APS News, as well as unit newsletters, getting APS members to read those publications is a continuing challenge.
"It would appear that a lot of members are just busy with their professional and personal lives and, even when an issue is of general important and they admit it, they just don't have the time, energy or inclination to read the details about APS activities in these areas," she said.
This survey was also the first time extensive data was made available on APS meetings, according to Czujko. The 1996 survey revealed that a majority of the respondents with Ph.Ds who identify themselves as physicists attended an APS meeting within the last five years, while just over a third of those with Ph.Ds in other fields attended. Most did so in order to present a paper or give a talk; the second most cited reason was for the purpose of informal discussion with colleagues.
The main reasons which discourage respondents from attending more APS-sponsored meetings are work or time constraints, and limited travel budgets.
"Essentially, people are very busy. They have to make choices about which meetings they will attend, and part of that choice is time, money and perceived value," said Czujko. "So there is a core group [of APS members] who attend meetings regularly and many others who can't find the time or don't find it as valuable as other meetings they attend."
The survey results are currently being scrutinized by the APS with the objective of changing and improving services and benefits to members. A report detailing survey results and recommendations, will be sent to the Committee on Membership and the Executive Board in November for final approval.
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