An International Strategy for Serving the APS Mission

By the APS Task Force on Expanding International Engagement*

The APS Council has strongly endorsed the Report of the Task Force on Expanding International Engagement. Effective international partnerships are crucial both to APS and the entire physics enterprise in the United States. This report gives APS a strategic roadmap for making connections and strengthening relationships with the international physics community.
—Timothy J. Gay, 2018 Speaker of the Council

Physics is a global endeavor, with some of the greatest breakthroughs and achievements realized through international collaboration. The APS membership reflects the international nature of physics, with nearly one quarter living outside of the United States (Fig. 1). Physicists cross continents to attend the Society’s annual meetings, with nearly one third of all March Meeting participants coming from outside the United States, making it one of the largest and most internationally diverse gatherings of physicists worldwide. Moreover, international issues cut across essentially all interests of APS, and their importance is increasing:

APS Task Force - figure 1

Figure 1: Geographic distribution of APS Members. As of January, 2018, 13,772 of 55,385 APS members were living outside the United States.

  • Research: International research collaborations are on the rise; more countries are partnering to build large-scale collaborations and facilities.
  • Industry: Companies are increasingly multinational; more U.S. corporations are expanding offshore research and development facilities.
  • Journals: Two-thirds of corresponding authors publishing in APS journals are now from outside the United States.
  • Education: The United States competes to attract and retain first-rate students and scientists, yet international applications to U.S. physics Ph.D. programs are declining.
  • Outreach: APS engages physicists at all levels worldwide, offering K-12 students hands-on physics activities and bringing the excitement of physics to U.S. and, increasingly, to international audiences.
  • Policy: Open exchange is the lifeblood of scientific progress; recent government policies restricting scientific mobility are affecting U.S. participation in international collaborations, as well as international participation in U.S.-based collaborations.
  • Membership: Nearly one-quarter of APS membership lives outside the United States; APS surveys indicate that many members would welcome a more international outlook from the Society.

The APS Strategic Plan: 2013-2017 recognized that expanded international engagement was key to the Society’s service to the physics community. Consequently, APS created new international programs to serve its members, increased its offerings to physicists in the developing world, established ongoing physicist exchanges with new international partners, and united with other national physical societies to carry out a suite of joint activities.

Then, with the development and upcoming launch of the APS Strategic Plan: 2019, APS leadership decided it was time to take the Society’s international efforts to the next level, and in March 2017, APS Chief Executive Officer Kate Kirby launched the APS Task Force on Expanding International Engagement. The Task Force worked for nearly 18 months to understand the interests, concerns and priorities of all APS stakeholders and to create an international strategy to serve the larger APS mission.

Guiding Principles

  1. International partnerships strengthen APS. Expanded and strengthened partnerships with other national, regional, or international physics organizations will enable APS to better serve the global physics community. While increased international partnerships and activities may attract new APS members, the Society is not aiming to grow its membership through expanded international engagement. The APS does not aim to be the world’s physical society.
  2. International collaboration strengthens physics in the United States. The U.S. physics enterprise benefits from international engagement with physicists worldwide. APS meetings and publications strengthen that engagement. As physicists often belong to their own national or regional physics society—and also to APS—the Society can offer a global community for physicists, with new opportunities for international partnerships.

These Principles served as the foundations upon which the Task Force built its recommendations for the Society.

Understanding Stakeholder Interests

Task Force members conducted extensive outreach to better understand the perspectives and priorities of essentially all APS stakeholders. Most notably, the Task Force partnered with the Statistical Resource Center of the American Institute of Physics to conduct a survey of APS members on international priorities. A sample of nearly 9,400 members (~6400 U.S.; ~3000 non-U.S.) yielded a 33% response rate, with an especially strong response from non-U.S. members. This suggested that APS members, especially those outside of the U.S., were invested in the Society’s efforts to expand its international engagement. In addition to the survey, the Task Force sought advice from essentially all APS components, as well as other national and international physics organizations:

APS Units and Other Physics Organizations

  • Executive Committees of all APS Units
  • Industrial Physics Advisory Board
  • National physical society leaders
  • International and regional physics organizations
  • International Union of Pure & Applied Physics (IUPAP) Presidential Line
  • U.S. Liaison Committee to IUPAP

APS Leaders & Staff

  • APS Presidential Line
  • Board of Directors
  • Council of Representatives
  • Senior Management Team
  • APS Senior Staff
  • Lead & Remote Editors

APS Task Force - figure 2

Figure 2: Stakeholder responses to Question 1

APS Task Force - figure 3

Figure 3: Stakeholder responses to Question 2

Outreach Findings: Shared Values

Shared Values

While the stakeholders’ feedback proved critical to developing the Task Force goals and recommendations, the feedback also revealed a few shared values among essentially all groups:

  • Connectivity and Community: All APS members, regardless of nationality, rated “being part of a larger physics community” as the primary reason for APS membership. Consequently, APS should serve as a global hub, welcoming the world’s physicists and working with international partners to advance shared interests.
  • Inclusiveness: APS must strive to serve all its members – worldwide. It must provide more ways for non-U.S. members to participate in all aspects of the Society. It should move from mere “passive allowance” towards “proactive inclusion” of international members across all of its activities.
  • Representative Leadership: Non-U.S. members comprise 24% of total membership, but international members are not proportionally represented across the Society’s leadership (i.e., Unit Leaders, Program Committees, Advisory Committees, etc.). APS must work to ensure that international voices are included in all aspects of the Society’s leadership and advisory roles.

Outreach Findings: Survey Results

The “Member Survey,” and subsequent internal surveys to APS components, provided crucial insights into the stakeholders’ priorities. To compare and contrast responses, every survey included two common questions:

1. The list below describes some broad, over-arching goals for APS international programs. Which of these do you believe APS should make top priority? [Select up to 2.]

  • Increase international member participation in APS leadership
  • Expand international reach of existing APS programs
  • Serve developing country physicists, without encouraging “brain-drain”
  • Prepare young physicists (Ph.D. students, postdocs, early career) for international partnerships and collaboration in industry, academia, or other careers
  • Promote “Science Diplomacy”
  • Create incentives for physicists outside of the U.S. to belong to both APS and the national physical society in their current country of residence

2. The list below describes some broad, cross-cutting issues that involve actions that APS might take. Which of these do you believe APS should consider making a top priority? [Select up to 2.]

  • Scientific Mobility
  • Long-term Funding for International Projects
  • National Benefits of International Scientific Collaboration
  • International Mechanisms for Planning of International Scientific Collaborations
  • Joint National Physics Society Advocacy

Comparisons or responses across the various stakeholder groups are presented in Figures 2 and 3.

Goals and Recommendations

The Task Force identified four goals that encompassed the breadth of interests conveyed by all stakeholders in APS international activities. (* = Priority identified by the Task Force)

Goal 1: Offer new/expanded ways to participate in the APS community.


  1. Enable geographic APS Sections outside of the United States.
  2. Create incentives for physicists outside of the U.S. to belong to both APS and the national physical society in their country of residence.
  3. Develop new and/or strengthen existing electronic communications vehicles for physics communities outside the U.S., especially for those without established physics societies.

Goal 2: Integrate international affairs across all APS activities.


  1. Leadership: Hold regular summits of physical society presidents and leaders of international physics organizations; partner with national physics societies toward joint advocacy on issues of common concern. Include more international members in APS leadership at all levels (Units, Advisory Committees, Prize and Award Committees, Nominating Committees, etc.).
  2. Units: Empower Units to expand joint activities; establish an International Officer on every Unit Executive Committee with a clear mandate to strengthen linkages and activities with international partners.
  3. Senior Staff & Programs: Expand international reach of APS programs; ensure senior staff include international communities in program plans.
  4. Editors: Increase and facilitate the APS profile and editorial presence at international meetings; increase, as appropriate, the number of associate editors, editorial board members, and reviewers from international locations.

Goal 3: Expand international opportunities for young physicists; better prepare young physicists for international careers.


  1. Increase connections to the international private sector/industry to improve career development opportunities outside academia.
  2. Establish additional summer research opportunities for U.S. and non-U.S. undergraduate students at premiere research facilities outside the country of their home institution.
  3. Significantly increase international student and early-career participation in APS annual and Unit meetings. Expand existing APS programs and meetings that focus on young international physicists.

Goal 4: Advance government policies that promote international scientific collaboration.


  1. Advocate for international research activities and for stable funding for large-scale international projects.
  2. Promote and advocate for scientific mobility (e.g. visas and immigration policies, removing barriers to engagement), including a proper balance between open scientific exchange and intellectual property and security concerns.
  3. Establish an APS State Department Fellowship Program and/or expand APS sponsorship of existing AIP State Department Fellowships to further engage APS members in policy formation.


Along with its recommendations, the Task Force also developed an Implementation Plan with specific actions designed to accomplish each goal. This Plan gives the pragmatic next steps for each recommendation and is provided in Appendix A of the full report (available at The Task Force also recognized the need for APS to consider: 1) evaluation and assessment of current international programs; 2) measures of success (metrics) for existing and future international activities; and, 3) impact upon resources and sustainability of key initiatives.

The Task Force’s ultimate observation, however, was that APS must deepen its international engagement across the full range of Society activities. This is a transformational proposition, one that affects far more than programs under the direct purview of the APS Office of International Affairs. Therefore, international goals must be embraced by the APS leadership and consistently incorporated into the Society’s ongoing strategic planning. More specifically, the Task Force asserted that APS must allocate sufficient resources (staff, financial, and leadership attention) to develop and implement a five-year roadmap with near-, mid- and long-term goals.

The Task Force emphasized that if the Society is indeed committed to expanding its international engagement, APS must make transformative change a priority and commit resources accordingly. In particular, some international activities may be especially attractive to potential donors or foundations, and APS may launch fundraising campaigns for certain new initiatives.


The Task Force recommendations covered a wide range. Most importantly, the Task Force hopes that APS members, leaders, and staff will embrace its overarching proposal: that APS fully incorporate international engagement into all of the Society’s activities. To realize this vision, the Society must proactively welcome international members and integrate them into all APS activities and leadership levels.

Even the most carefully developed recommendations, however, have little impact without follow-on commitment to progress. Consequently, the Task Force stressed that its report represents merely the first step towards expanding the American Physical Society’s service to the international physics community. Doing so will not only benefit the APS members, but will also strengthen the Society’s leadership in serving all physicists worldwide.

*Task Force members: Jonathan Bagger, Chair, TRIUMF; William Colglazier, Vice-Chair, Center for Science Diplomacy, AAAS; Dirk Jan Bukman, APS Editorial Office; Luisa Cifarelli, University of Bologna; Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, São Paulo Research Foundation and Universidade Estadual de Campinas; Laura H. Greene, National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Florida State University; Alan J. Hurd, Los Alamos National Laboratory; Young-Kee Kim, University of Chicago; Patricia McBride, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory; Eliezer Rabinovici, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Johanna Stachel, University of Heidelberg; Nai-Chang Yeh, California Institute of Technology. APS staff: Amy K. Flatten, Director of International Affairs; Michele E. Irwin, International Programs Manager.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik

January 2019 (Volume 28, Number 1)

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Physics Highlights from 2018
Blending Paint with Physics
APS Membership Unit Profile: The Forum for Early Career Scientists
Shoucheng Zhang 1963-2018
New Supported Sites Chosen for PhysTEC
2018 APS Division of Plasma Physics Meeting
International News
This Month in Physics History
Education and Diversity Update
News from the Office of Government Affairs
FYI: Science Policy News from AIP
Profiles In Versatility
Letter to the Editor
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