October 12, 2015
A couple of months ago, I agreed to be the outside-the-college faculty member for a student dissertation. The student had studied the history, location, and movement (generally northward) of native Ohio plants over the past century. Her dissertation and presentation were both excellent, and she easily passed. When she returned to the room to hear the committee’s decision, I said that I was so impressed with her work and her potential that I was going to nominate her for membership in Sigma Xi. She was pleased and accepted. Her advisor and another committee member said that they had been meaning to join for a long time. I sent both the nomination form and a letter describing what we do. Another committee member said that she had joined just last month.
Sigma Xi is a membership-driven organization. Surprisingly, at least to me, our membership has continued to decline. One reason for the decline is that we have neglected to nominate our colleagues for membership. It may seem difficult to ask a colleague to do one more thing but think about the benefits. Sigma Xi enables us to honor, encourage, and support the next generation of scientists and engineers, to reach out to the public and school students to tell them what we do and why it’s important, and to bring together scientists and engineers from different disciplines around our passion for science and problem solving, providing the opportunity for collaboration.
How do we ask a colleague to join Sigma Xi? It takes preparation. I start by making a list of all of the things that our national organization and my local chapter does. It’s an impressive list that I have made into a one-page letter for our chapter. I use it to remind myself of all the great programs we sponsor and to prepare my “elevator pitch.”
My pitch is more of a conversation, like this: “I’d like to nominate you for membership in Sigma Xi.” What’s Sigma Xi? “It’s ‘Scientists Supporting Science.” How do you do that? “We support new scientists with awards (Team Science and Evolutionary Science at the State Science Fair) and Grants-in-Aid of Research (undergrad and grad students; both local and national awards). The competition encourages development of writing skills, winning builds confidence, and the support helps the advisor, too. And we work to strengthen the public’s understanding of science through Science Cafés and our Meet a Scientist program in the schools. In addition, we bring local scientists together at our annual banquet.”
I do this recruiting when I see a colleague on the way to the parking garage or when I sit next to one before a seminar. Most agree immediately to join. I email them a nomination form and the chapter letter that describes what we do. It often takes a reminder or two, or even a visit to help them fill out the form. One thing I have learned is that a blanket email does not work; personal contact does.
I’ve been fairly successful in the past several years, adding 30 new members to our chapter, many of them colleagues. With more members your chapter can be more effective at accomplishing our mission to enhance the health of the research enterprise…for the purpose of improving the human condition, and it can be more fun, too.
Mark E. Peeples