APS News

APS Members Weigh in on Strategic Plan

In early May, APS unveiled its five-year strategic plan in an email to its 50,000 members, inviting them to look at the document and express their views. The membership responded with dozens of emails and comments, highlighting the members’ many concerns and suggestions for the Society.  Responders held a wide variety of opinions, both positive and negative, ranging from concerns over the details of implementing the plan to the future role of science in the broader society.

The rollout to the membership followed closely on the APS Unit Convocation, held at APS headquarters in late April, when leaders of the APS Divisions, Forums, Topical Groups and Sections had a chance to give detailed consideration to the strategic plan.

“The plan itself has energized a lot of members. I saw this in the discussions with unit leaders and I see that in the comments,” said APS Executive Officer Kate Kirby. “A number of people applauded the fact that APS had developed a strategic plan.”

The plan highlights four different areas in which APS aims to make progress over the next few years. The goals of the plan are to better serve the members of APS, the physics community, and society at large, and to improve APS’s own internal organizational structure. The plan stresses the need to enhance communication and engagement with the membership, to maintain the high quality of its meetings and peer-reviewed journals, and to build better support for physics and science amongst the public. It particularly highlights the goals of increasing diversity in the physics community, better serving industrial physicists and early-career physicists, and encouraging more international collaboration and public outreach, as well as continuing leadership in physics education.

Responses to the plan have been shared with the Executive Board and Presidential Line, and will be available to relevant taskforces as they form.

“It’s important for people to know that these comments are really being read and considered,” Kirby said.

One recurring issue was the lack of an explicit implementation strategy for the strategic plan. Several members commented that they approved of the plan’s goals, but worried little might come of it without clear steps for implementation or metrics to measure its progress.

“There may not have been the full recognition that the plan lays out a set of goals and objectives, with implementation to take place over the next five years,” Kirby said. She added that specific implementation plans would be developed by task forces of APS members in specific areas.

A task force for examining the relationship between APS and the American Institute of Physics (AIP) has been working since December of last year, and a taskforce devoted to development issues is being formed, led by APS vice-President Malcolm Beasley. Another focusing on serving the needs of early-career physicists is slated to start this summer. Others that should begin within the next year or two will deal with international engagement, meetings, and communications.

The unit leaders provided written reports with many suggestions for implementation of the strategic plan. These included fostering closer ties between APS Sections and industrial physicists, collecting better data on the achievements and APS service of women and under-represented minorities, and establishing a best-practices wiki to help improve unit organization and activities. Another idea was to strongly encourage units to have elected student representatives on their Executive Committees.

One area of comment by the membership had to do with APS meetings. Responders approved of APS’s recent experiment of posting PowerPoint presentations free online from sessions at the April 2011 meeting, and pointed out that this was a huge benefit for those for whom travel costs as well as time away from job responsibilities prohibited their participation in APS meetings .

Respondents were also divided over the issue of advocacy, and the Society’s role in influencing public policy. Some supported the current APS role in Washington, advocating for science funding and issuing reports on physics-related policy matters, and called for an increased role for APS in the policy arena. Others said the Society ought only to advocate for science funding, while still others said to stick strictly to disseminating scientific knowledge and let individual scientists promote their own policy positions.

“There are some people who don’t think we should have any advocacy role. I think that this is very much a minority view,” Kirby said. “In general our advocacy is highly valued by the different physics communities within APS, and we are constantly looking for ways to be more effective.”

Kirby added that there was a careful balance for the Society to maintain when advocating for science. “It’s very important for the Society to try to keep science as a bipartisan issue,” she said.

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Editor: Alan Chodos