What Can We Do for Our Institutions?

February 08, 2016

Mark PeeplesSeveral years ago, I was sitting in the office of the vice president for research of my institution, Ohio State University. I don’t remember what I was trying to accomplish, but I think it was just to tell her that Sigma Xi was on campus and that one of our goals was to support the public understanding of science. She thought that our Science Café was a great idea, and that our budding Meet a Scientist plan for outreach to public schools was, too. The previous VP for research had agreed to pay for some of the student winners of the Research Forums to attend our chapter’s annual banquet, to be recognized for their accomplishment, to meet other student scientists, to meet science and engineering faculty outside their department and classes, and to hear a distinguished Sigma Xi speaker discuss his or her expertise to a broad group of scientists and engineers. 

She was pleased that her office had been providing such support. And she had an idea. Would Sigma Xi be interested in supporting the Student Innovator of the Year award? I agreed, and the Ohio State Chapter has sponsored this award for the past three years. It involves a cash prize and gives us a presence at the university’s annual “State of Research” celebration.

But when I told her that we support communication between scientists and engineers across disciplinary lines, she really became interested. I told her that our annual chapter banquet was a place where scientists and engineers could meet each other, as were our field trips to interesting geological and cultural spots, with expert Sigma Xi members who could bring topics to life for us. And I told her of our idea for Faculty-to-Faculty Chalk Talks without slides or specific data, encouraging discussion of scientific problems and approaches. She was excited. This is what the university needs—encounters that enable collaborations, especially between scientists and engineers.

At the end of our 30-minute meeting, I asked if she was a member of Sigma Xi. She was not, but would be honored to join. She was inducted and is one of our strongest supporters on campus. She recognizes the importance of our science outreach to the general public who ultimately fund our research, she appreciates the recognition that Sigma Xi brings to new scientists, and she sees the potential Sigma Xi has for bringing together scientists and engineers. 

Every science administrator that I have talked to has had the same response. They have been supportive of our efforts, conceptually and financially, and have wanted to be part of Sigma Xi. Who knew? I didn’t, until I started the conversation. Talk to your administrators or bosses. I bet you’ll find the same positive response to Sigma Xi, particularly when it comes to partnerships and to bringing researchers from different disciplines together. Your university or workplace needs Sigma Xi, and vice versa!

More About Sigma Xi: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society is the world’s largest multidisciplinary honor society for scientists and engineers. Its mission is to enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition. Sigma Xi chapters can be found at colleges and universities, government laboratories, and industry research centers around the world. More than 200 Nobel Prize winners have been members. The Society is based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. www.sigmaxi.org. On Twitter: @SigmaXiSociety