APS News

APS Journals, Services Receive High Marks from Members in Survey

A Snapshot of Membership Employment, 2001
survey piechart

The APS received high marks for its member services in the latest membership survey. Physics Today, online journals and meeting information, lobbying and outreach efforts, and APS News were among the most frequently cited benefits. In terms of demographics, results indicate a shift back towards employment in basic research and academia among newer members, with increased representation of women and a higher percentage of retirees among the total APS membership.

Since 1990, the APS Committee on Membership has conducted surveys of US members every five years or so to monitor changes in the membership and their professional concerns, in order to update member services and benefits, and to understand changes in membership demographics. This latest survey was performed via the Web for the first time, and Roman Czujko, Director of Employment and Education Statistics for the American Institute of Physics, reports that it performed comparably to paper surveys in the past. "Vigilance in updating email addresses with the Web-based questionnaire resulted in a remarkable 45% response rate, comparable to a 49% response rate in the 1996 paper survey," he says. He believes that continuation of frequent email updates will allow future Web-based studies of membership demographics. This is supported by respondents, nearly half of whom said they preferred to receive email notifications about APS programs and events over any other means.

Demographically, among employed members, those who joined within the last two years are significantly more likely to be doing basic research, and slightly more likely to work in academia than more senior APS members. The number of retired members has doubled over the last ten years. Employed members with temporary visas has risen to 7% of the total membership, compared to 2% in 1996, while the representation of women is up to 9%, compared to 6% in 1996. Most employed members recall joining the Society to keep up with the community of physicists and breaking developments in their fields. However, among student members, the majority were attracted by low dues for students and recent graduates. In fact, most members who joined in the last two years are students, reflecting outreach efforts by the Society to attract more younger members to the APS.

According to the current survey results, most members have very positive responses about the APS, with the majority of respondents finding membership dues reasonable. Physics Today continues to receive high marks from APS members, cited by virtually all respondents (96%) as a valuable membership benefit. Other valued benefits among employed physicists and student members were online APS meetings information (86%), APS online journals (79%), and APS News (86%). In fact, APS News was rated much more highly than the survey conducted five years ago, reflecting, among other things, editorial changes in graphics and style to increase readability and visual appeal.

Most survey respondents who attended recent scientific or technological conferences say they did so to present a paper or talk, with a smaller number attending for the informal interaction with colleagues in their field. "Many members are limited by their schedules and travel budget and hence have to be selective in choosing which conferences to attend," says Czujko. The APS March Meeting continues to flourish. Czujko points out that the number of APS members who attended the APS March meeting in the last two years was even higher than usual because of the Centennial meeting in Atlanta in 1999. Respondents cited time, cost and location constraints as primary reasons they do not attend more APS-sponsored meetings, but said that invited sessions in their research speciality would increase their likelihood of attending future March or April meetings.

The Society's online journals received nearly universal positive ratings from respondents for their accessibility and usability, and this year's respondents are twice as likely than in 1996 to have either Physical Review or Physical Review Letters in their office or on their computers. Two-thirds of employed physicists and more than half of other scientists and students access online journals once a month or more for physics research literature - a dramatic increase from 1996, when only two-fifths of employed physicists used online journals.

Nearly half of the survey respondents rated the APS online journal service as superior to those of other major scientific publishers, and virtually none rated it poorer. However, paper journals are still the most frequently used format of physics research literature. Respondents said they would like to see further expansion in the coverage of the Society's online journal service, with the online archive including all issues ever printed (see article on PROLA). Some also suggested incorporation of links to online bibliographic databases and other virtual journals, as well as incorporating improved citation cross-referencing and hyperlinks to referenced articles.

Overall, awareness of APS programs has increased since the last survey conducted in 1996. "One of the most important messages received in 1996 was that communication with the members needed to be improved. Over the last five years, a lot of time and effort has gone into making the membership more aware of all the APS programs and services available," says Trish Lettieri, APS Director of Membership. Most APS members are aware of such efforts as "What's New" (76%), the Time Line Wall Chart (65%) created as part of the Centennial Celebration, and the Society's grassroots lobbying efforts (62%). Among policy issues, respondents rated energy (84%), physics-related environmental issues (75%), and the future of the national laboratories and general health of the profession (68%) as top priorities for the APS. Top priorities for the Society's public affairs, education and outreach activities included informing policy makers about physics (92%), educating the public about physics (85%) and lobbying for increased funding for physics (77%), with improvements in various levels of education averaging around 75% in importance.


Member Commentary

Survey respondents were given the opportunity to provide additional comments about the APS, and more than 350 took advantage to comment upon such issues as increasing industrial orientation and fostering ties to other disciplines, as well as increased focus on education and career issues. A sampling of their comments follows.

  • "APS does a good job of meeting the needs of a wide range of professional skills in the public and private sectors of the U.S. physics community. Keep it up!"
  • "The APS could be more active in helping to establish links between academia and industry, so as to increase the flow of students from high school through the university to industry."
  • "Further efforts by the APS to recognize the inter-relationship between physics and other disciplines will enhance the perceived value of physics courses, as well as the reputation of the physics major in industry."
  • "It would be nice to have more substantial support for women in the physics community."
  • "Much more needs to be done to inform the public about the crucial importance of basic research in the physical sciences."
  • "No matter how much I, as an individual, might agree with their statements, the APS Executive Committee has no right to speak for me on political issues such as nuclear weaponry, global warming, teaching evolution in Kansas, and so on."
  • "We need a stronger and more vocal lobby, both in Washington and in the media."
  • "I think the APS's lobbying for public funds runs the risk of reducing physics to just another pig trying to squeeze in at the public trough."
  • "Oink."

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette