APS News

Treasurer Looks to Keep Journals Healthy in Challenging Environment

On September 30, Joseph Serene officially took over the position of APS Treasurer, succeeding Thomas McIlrath, (see photo on page 1) who has retired. Serene comes to APS from Georgetown University , where he was a professor of physics. He has also served as chair of the physics department and as dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Georgetown .

Why Are These Men Smiling? Tom McIlrath, left, has just stepped down after 10 years as APS Treasurer. He has the satisfied smile of one whose job has been well done and who leaves the APS in fine financial condition. Joe Serene, right, is the new APS Treasurer. He's smiling because, in the Treasurer's role of publisher of APS journals, he is looking forward to the challenge of maintaining APS's leadership position.
Tom McIlrath, left, has just stepped down after 10 years as APS Treasurer. He has the satisfied smile of one whose job has been well done and who leaves the APS in fine financial condition. Joe Serene, right, is the new APS Treasurer. He's smiling because, in the Treasurer's role of publisher of APS journals, he is looking forward to the challenge of maintaining APS's leadership position.

Serene says that one way or another, throughout his career, his research has been related to strongly correlated fermions. He was a graduate student at Cornell when superfluid helium 3 was discovered. Later he became interested in superfluid neutron star matter, and then worked on other strongly correlated electronic systems, including heavy electron metals and high Tc superconductors. He has also worked on computational approaches to strongly correlated electron systems.

In addition to physics, Serene has an avocational interest in music: he sings, plays the cello (though not nearly as well as his two sons, he says) and plays the French horn, though not as much as he used to, because it is a very difficult instrument to play, especially if one is out of practice. The French horn, unlike most brass instruments, is played high on its overtone series, so the notes are very close together, and it's easy to miss a note.

For the past year Serene has also served as the Interim Director of Music and Dance at Georgetown . Though it's an unusual post for a physicist, with his administrative and musical experience, Serene says he was in a good position to direct the program for a year, especially because he felt strongly that it was important for the university to have a good program in music and dance.

As Treasurer, Serene is responsible for the Society's budget and for oversight of the Society's investments. That can sound like a rather dry job, but in fact, he says, budget hearings can be quite interesting because he gets to find out about what people are doing and why. “It's really what the money's doing that's important,” he says.

In addition to his role as Treasurer, Serene is also the Publisher of APS journals, responsible for setting subscription prices, trying to predict subscriptions and control costs, and overseeing marketing activities. The Publisher role is very important, he says, because as a fraction of the Society's budget and staff time, publishing the journals is the Society's principal activity.

It is also a challenging job, says Serene, because journal publishing is in a state of flux right now. Costs of publishing the journals have fallen over the past ten years, especially as the journals continue to move towards more electronic and less paper publishing. Among the costs associated with publishing the journals are the editorial costs, the composition costs, and the cost of printing and mailing the paper journal, explained Serene. APS costs associated with production of the journals are falling, and Serene believes that at some point in the future, though not right away, it may be possible to entirely eliminate the paper journals.

A more immediate change is the new open access policy, which will allow anyone to pay a fee to make any article free to read (see related article on page 1). It's not clear yet how many papers will be made open-access under the new policy, or what the effect on subscriptions will be, and Serene is closely watching how this new policy works out. “We don't know yet what the response will be to this new open access policy,” he said. “We have to do this in a way that doesn't put us out of business.”

Serene points out that a lot of the content of APS journals is already freely accessible, as many physicists post their work on the eprint ArXiv before publication in an APS journal, and they are also free to post the journal articles on their own websites. There is still value in the journal, however, and we have to make sure we keep that, he says.

Making some articles available more widely might benefit groups that don't normally read APS journals.

In fact, the Society might want to consider more outreach in general, says Serene. As one of three operating officers, Serene is partly responsible for directing the Society as a whole. “There has to be a concern that we in the physics community have been too focused solely on the interests of professional physicists. We should be looking a little more outward,” he says.

For instance, he noted that many Americans don‘t know much about science. Average Americans don't realize how science affects their lives; they are unaware of the basic physics underlying most modern technology. It's clear there is a fundamental misunderstanding of science in this country, says Serene. “It seems to me those of us in the research and academic communities haven't done a good enough job of connecting science to people's lives.”

In addition to changes in open access policy, another issue Serene is watching is the rapid growth of physics in China and India , which, among other effects, has resulted in a sharp increase in submissions to APS journals from those countries. “Things are changing quickly and we have to have our heads up and be prepared,” says Serene.

Overall Serene thinks the Society is in excellent shape right now. “I don't come in with an agenda of things I want to change. The agenda I have is to maintain what's been so expertly constructed.”

There is concern about the future, but the important thing is to keep the community of physicists talking. We have to keep having a discussion about how to meet these challenges, says Serene. “One of the attractive things about this job is that there are a lot of challenges facing the Society, but there's also this extensive community engaged in a wonderful discussion about what we should be doing.”



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Editor: Alan Chodos
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