APS News

Executive Officer Kate Kirby Plans Strategically for 2nd Term

Kate Kirby
Kate Kirby, APS Executive Officer

Gray Arrow View the Strategic Plan

In April, the APS Council voted to extend Executive Officer Kate Kirby's term at the helm of the Society for another five years. Commenting on the vote, APS President Michael Turner said "She's been a terrific leader of APS. One of the most important things that she's done is to represent us to the outside world, whether it is working with other societies, or at meetings of young women physicists, or at a National Academy committee. She's done a tremendous job of being the face of the American Physical Society."

Much of Kirby's first term was devoted to developing APS's recently unveiled five-year strategic plan. Over her next term, she, along with the other operating officers, will oversee the implementation of the goals laid out in the plan. APS News sat down with Kirby to talk about how the plan came to be, and what it will mean for the Society in the coming years.  

How did the development of the strategic plan help shape your first term at APS?
I gave myself a year in the Executive Officer position before laying the groundwork for starting strategic planning. It was internally initiated. I really feel that it's essential for any organization to have a strategic plan that lays out a vision and a roadmap. It helps shape priorities for the organization and also serves as a guide for assessing the importance and relevance of opportunities that we take advantage of in the future.

Laying the groundwork meant getting the APS Presidential Line and my fellow operating officers on board. Barry Barish, who was APS President in 2011, was very supportive of devoting considerable time to discussions between  the Executive Board and the APS staff, which formed the basis of the Strategic Plan.

What ultimately did you produce?
We produced a ten-page document with four broad goals, which are: serving our members better, serving the physics community better, serving society better, and then an inwardly focused goal, which is to increase our organizational excellence. Under each of these goals are a number of specific objectives.The plan was drafted in early 2012, the Executive Board adopted it, and Bob Byer, who was the President, was a fantastic advocate and worked tirelessly to get it out to members and to discuss it with unit executive committees. I enjoyed very much working with him. 

Implementation ideas were not part of the strategic plan document because we wanted to involve more of our members in this phase of the planning process–through our units, APS committees, and ad hoc task forces. Over the next several years we will continue to lay out an implementation; we can't do everything at once.


What are the broad aims of the strategic plan?
It is not an accident that goal number one is serving our members better. From what I understand in the past, APS perhaps defined itself in terms of serving the physics community broadly. So emphasizing serving our members was  a bit of a change. But I think our members are our strongest asset. We need to be thinking about how we communicate better with them, and how we engage them better in the activities and programs of the Society.

In addition we have objectives to increase diversity and foster inclusiveness in our membership and in the physics community as a whole. We need to be serving our early-career members (graduate students, postdocs, and those moving into their first jobs) better.  We also need to be recognizing the important contributions that physicists in the private sector (industry/high-tech companies) make and to understand how better to serve this cohort and connect this community with our early-career physicists.  As physics has become more of a global enterprise, it is important for APS to increase its international engagement.

We want to continue to lead in the dissemination of physics, both through our journals and meetings, as well as serving the physics community and society through our programs in education, diversity, outreach and advocacy for physics.

What's next?
Perhaps it's important to lay out what's happened since we rolled the plan out to the members in May 2012. One of the first task forces that we formed focused on early- career physicists. Serving this community with more extensive career information and creating opportunities for them to network with a diversity of people working in physics and physics-related areas is a top priority for APS. The Task Force, chaired by Brad Conrad (Appalachian State University) enthusiastically recommended moving forward to initiate a program of early-career "chapters" and the Executive Board approved this in June. We expect that in a year's time we will have started up 5 early-career chapters located around the U.S., and hope that there will be interest from many more groups to start one.

The Development Task Force, chaired by APS President-Elect Mac Beasley, has recently completed its work. We had realized that we were going to have to ramp up our development efforts in order to fund important new activities in the future. This Task Force looked critically at our development efforts and made some valuable recommendations, which we will be starting to implement immediately.

How will the membership see the strategic plan impact them in the near future?
I hope the early-career physicists see that we are moving to serve them much more effectively and to provide a supportive community within which they can really flourish. We've also hired an industrial physicist who will start work in mid-September. He will help to build our relationship to physicists working in the private sector, because I think we need to raise the profile of industrial and applied physics within the APS, which will also serve our early career physicists better. Most of our students will ultimately not go into academia, but they will find rewarding work in the private sector. Including that community more within the APS membership and APS programs and activities is really important in terms of creating a community of opportunities for young physicists. APS is just in the process of starting a new journal focusing on applied physics. It aligns with our interest in terms of raising the profile of industrial and applied physics.

Another thing that I hope our membership sees in the future is the fact that our website is going to be undergoing considerable improvement. We recently formulated a digital strategy, which should result in vast changes to our website in terms of searchability across all journal and meeting content, and an improved overall user experience.

What are some of the longer-term plans?
We're very concerned about making our meetings more innovative. We've just formed a Task Force to look at the APS April Meeting and see if there are ways we can make that meeting more of a "must-attend" meeting. We've moved to increase the content on the web from our meetings by video-recording plenary talks at both the March and April Meetings and also posting invited talks from most of our meetings on the web (with the speaker's cooperation). We will be continuing to look at ways to bring innovative changes into our meetings.

We will form a Task Force on International Engagement this fall to make recommendations on programs that will help us serve our international members better, identify opportunities to partner with other physical societies around the world, and will generally raise the level of our international engagement.

Finally, in each new endeavor, we will be looking at ways to assess impact and measure success.

Are you excited for your second term, and having the chance to implement all this?
Absolutely, I am very energized.  I think it's important to build on the commitment of all our members to this organization. I think we can always improve our effectiveness, our member communications, and we need to be focusing constantly on serving our members and the physics community in ways that are valued. We need to be sure that we are advancing physics, whether it's advocating for research funding from the federal government, or whether it's communicating to the public the importance of the contributions of physics research in their daily lives. These are all opportunities that we are currently pursuing, trying to make sure that we do things that have the greatest impact. 


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Editor: Alan Chodos
Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella