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Managing the needs of more than 42,000 members is a major undertaking, and the APS has a Committee on Membership to provide advice and oversight for the Department of Membership staff. The Committee examines issues such as membership dues and recruitment, reviews membership benefits, and conducts member surveys. Lately, the Committee has added a special emphasis to improving its communication with members from industry. "The Membership Committee deals primarily with two things that are somewhat conflicting," says Committee chair Bill Cummings, an industrial physicist at Iridigm Display Corporation in San Francisco. "One is to maintain a good and vibrant membership. The other is to make sure the services provided by membership are the ones needed by members."
Assuring that benefits are valuable to all members can be a challenge. APS membership is surprisingly diverse, as the Society draws its members from all areas of physics. According to a 2001 survey by the American Institute of Physics (AIP), 76% of APS members identify themselves as physicists, 11% as engineers, and six percent as chemists. Half work in a university or academic setting, one quarter in industry, and the remaining quarter in government.
To attract industrial physicists to the APS, the Committee is considering a half-price membership promotion at the end of this year. During the promotion, physicists in industry who have never been members will be allowed to sign up for membership at the discounted rate.
Industrial physicists make up about a quarter of APS membership, but this represents less than half of all industrial physicists. Many more belong to other professional societies, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) or the American Chemical Society (ACS). But the Membership Committee thinks industrial, academic and government physicists can benefit from sharing their ideas and research through the APS.
"It's good to maintain dialogue between the different kinds of physicists," says Cummings, "because some research gets done in industry that doesn't get done in academia, and some research gets done in academia that doesn't get done in industry. Also, it's good for academics to have contacts in industrial physics so that they can pass them along to their students going into industry."
Another perennial issue for the Committee is membership dues. Every year, they examine fees, determine whether or not they should be raised, and issue advice to the APS Council. The Committee says it doesn't want fees to rise uncontrollably, but stresses that the APS needs membership dues to cover some of the costs of servicing its members.
"We want to provide the best balance between the benefits members get by joining the APS, and what they pay," says Trish Lettieri, the APS Director of Membership and staff liaison for the Committee.
On January 1, 2003, membership fees will increase by $2 to $102. Senior, Junior and Student dues will all increase by $1 as well. The increase, says Lettieri, was recommended by the Committee and is in line with the increase in cost of living.
"In the future, we're going to look at adjusting dues a little bit each year to match inflation," she says, "to avoid the big jumps we've had in the past."
To help foster membership growth, the Committee also runs promotions such as last year's half-price membership campaign. During the last promotion period, the APS signed on almost 1,000 new and reinstated members. The Committee hopes to run these membership drives occasionally in future years.
Since many APS members join as students, the Committee focuses on ways to retain these student members. They initiated a new "student get a student" promotion on September 1, which encourages current student members to recruit fellow physics and related science students. The new recruits will still get their first year's membership free, and the members who recruited them will be entered in a drawing to win one of five $200 gift certificates to Amazon.com. The promotion will run until the end of this year, with the goal of adding 1,000 new student members.
"We're always working to increase the number of members in the Society," says Lettieri, "but we put equal effort into trying to maintain the ones we have. That is a big focus for the Committee; to look at the benefits of membership, and make sure it's worthwhile for everyone."
While continuing to increase membership is always a priority for the Committee, they do not let that goal overshadow the needs of the current membership.
"I think that the primary advantage of having more industrial physicists, for example, is to provide a unified front in supporting government funding of research," says Cummings. "The benefits aren't restricted to academic physicists. All the successful industrial physicists who are out there had their research as graduate students supported almost exclusively by the government. Now, they're contributing to the economy because of that. It's a very powerful argument when lobbying to maintain that support."
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