Delegate Report on the Annual Meeting of Sigma Xi 2004
The 2004 annual meeting of Sigma Xi, The Research Society, was held over November 11-14 at Le Centre Sheraton Hotel in Montreal, Canada. As is always the case, this meeting was an diverse mix of science, mentoring, and disposition of Society business. The long weekend offered several inspiring experiences but also some disappointments. For those unfamiliar with this Sigma Xi institution, the main purpose of the annual meeting is for chapters to attend to business matters involving the Society as a whole and its individual regions. This includes nomination and election of officers, voting on the Society budget, and frank discussions on the performance and direction of Society programs. Each chapter can send one voting delegate to the annual meeting and must participate in at least one meeting every three years to remain in good standing. This was my fifth opportunity to represent the Quinnipiac Chapter at the annual meeting. Matters pertaining to the Society as a whole are addressed in three Assemblies of Delegates held over the course of the meeting. The 70,000 members of Sigma Xi comprising over 500 chapters are organized into geographical regions (the Quinnipiac chapter is in the Northeast Region). The Society is also divided into chapter Constituency Groups that reflect the range of host institution type and member interests (for example, Research Universities, Industry and Government Laboratories, etc.). Regional and Constituency Groups meet, elect officers, and discuss programs and issues at least twice during the meeting. Workshops usually focus on strategies to enhance chapter vitality and effectiveness. This year a student research conference ran concurrently with the annual meeting. This very well attended event involved poster presentations submitted by high school and college students. Posters were judged for scientific content, clarity, and organization by meeting attendees. I served as a judge this year and can attest to the high quality of the posters presented. The student research conference is a testament to the priority of the mentoring mission of Sigma Xi. It is not possible for a single delegate to participate in all events of the annual meeting. Nor is there space enough here to describe all of my experiences but I will pass along the highlights.
Richard L. Meyer, Treasurer of Sigma Xi, presented the current financial position of the Society. He pronounced the organization to be a vibrant one with a clear sense of direction. The excellent fiscal health of the Society is a result of a strict plan, good staffing, and a tough-minded Board of Directors. Revenues are up for 2004 due to gifts and improved performance of investments. The new Headquarters building in Research Triangle, North Carolina was completed under budget and reinforces economic stability by eliminating rental payments to house offices of the Society. A cloud looms over the longer-term financial health of the Society, however. Overall membership continues to decline. Staff and officers at all levels urge increased effort to reverse this trend. The Assembly of Delegates unanimously passed the eight-point resolution setting dues for full members for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2006 at 60.00 USD.
The annual meeting is an occasion to recognize contributions not only by established scientists, engineers, and writers but also by promising young investigators. This year the success of this endeavor was mixed. Dr. Murray Gell-Mann, Nobel laureate and Distinguished Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute delivered the William Proctor Prize Lecture. His lecture entitled Simplicity, Complexity, Regularity and Randomness was a visually bereft tour of the history of the universe, quantum mechanics, and chaos. The John P. McGovern Science and Society Award is presented annually to a researcher who has made "an outstanding contribution to science and society." This year the award went to Dr. David Suzuki who promotes a Foundation bearing his name. His lecture entitled The Challenge of the 21st Century: Setting the Real Bottomline seemed to underscore that prospects for a 22nd century are dimmed by headlong destruction of our environment by human activity. Science was indicted as "part of the problem" by ushering in innovations that ultimately lead to overpopulation and depletion of natural resources. The reductionist approach to science was dismissed as narrow-minded. Nevertheless, many in the audience rose to applaud this talk. On a more positive note, Dennis Overbye, science reporter for The New York Times, was made a Sigma Xi honorary member. In an intimate gathering of attendees, he described how he became a science writer and how the personal lives of great scientists reveal a novel dimension to the process of discovery. Jason Nieh of Columbia University was the recipient of the 2004 Young Investigator Award. He described his research aimed at devising more mobile, secure, and reliable software interfaces for home and office in an address entitled Letís Get Virtual: The New Wave of Computing.
A preliminary report was presented on the results of a survey of the experiences and attitudes of postdoctoral research associates in the United States. This survey is sponsored by Sigma Xi and supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The final report, to appear in the May/June 2005 issue of American Scientist, will focus on issues such as salary and benefits, career plans, and relationships with mentors and host institutions. This study should be required reading for Project Investigators and research institution administrators.
Election of officers is an important function of the annual meeting. Chris Lange of SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY has served two three-year terms as Director of the Northeast Region and, therefore, could not succeed himself for another term according to Society bylaws. Quinnipiac Chapter President Albert Notation ran for the post of Director but was edged out by Zachary Jacobson of the Ottawa Chapter. Dr. Notation will continue to serve the remaining two years of his term as Associate Director of the Northeast Region. I continue to serve on the regional nominating committee and was appointed to the national Committee on Resolutions earlier this year. Dr. Lange stood for President of the Society but this election went to James F. Baur, President of Science Solutions Inc. of San Diego, CA. Dr. Baur will succeed President-Elect Lynn Margulis who will serve a one-year term starting July 1, 2005. We should all commend Chris Lange for his energetic support of Sigma Xi spanning many years and urge his continued involvement in the Society.
Although we won no special recognition this year, it is clear that the Quinnipiac Chapter continues to be among the most active in the Society and maintains a high profile at the national level. The strength of our program is based on the excellent seminar series offered free-of-charge to the community and support for undergraduate research. But our continued success as a chapter depends on member support and our numbers have dwindled somewhat over the past few years. Each of us should make it a priority to bring in one new member or re-establish an inactive member over the next year. I would also take this opportunity to remind you all to visit the Sigma Xi Web site (www.SigmaXi.org) to find out more about the range of programs and benefits available to members. Links to many chapter Web pages (including ours) are available through the Society Web site. The Sigma Xi headquarters staff continues to improve the Society Web site. They have also enthusiastically assisted chapters in construction of their individual pages. We truly are well served by this dedicated group of people.
Richard B. Peterson