The State of the Society

January 24, 2017

By Tee L. Guidotti

Tee GuidottiOver the last 131 years, Sigma Xi, as one of the oldest and largest scientific research honor societies in the world, has been indispensable to STEM in and beyond North America, a lighthouse with a long beam guiding the research enterprise in stormy times and enabling science to be better and sometimes enabling scientists to stay at the bench. Our challenges are changing and we must change with it. Your Society has done a lot of soul-searching and is getting back in shape for a new era of championing excellence in science. 

Our members and friends know that Sigma Xi has just gone through a difficult period. Today, the “state of the Society” is much improved as we strengthen our core programs and build for long term sustainability:

  • Grants-in-Aid of Research remains our highest priority and most significant program and is poised for expansion (we are calling this “GIAR 2020”) on the Society-wide level and prioritized for fund raising, while chapters continue to support GIARs at the local level.

  • Chapter revitalization efforts are providing much more help for our chapters, the bedrock of Sigma Xi.

  • American Scientist continues to be world-class and win many awards; responding to the changing world of publishing, we are putting operations on a sustainable and scalable footing.

  • Global outreach is strengthening chapters outside North America and fostering new ones, cautiously because Sigma Xi must not overextend itself; science is global, not national, and so Sigma Xi must be.

  • Identifying qualified candidates for the Transition Team considering U.S. Presidential appointments to STEM-grounded positions, together with partners like AAAS, to ensure voices for sound science inside the federal government.

  • Expanded opportunities for participation, with the Affiliate category for friends of the Society and a new “Explorer” category added for young people.

  • The Golden Key Award started last year to honor STEM leadership.

To do all this, Sigma Xi has had to reverse a long-term decline in membership, restore its national visibility, and manage through a nasty fiscal crisis. This took decisive action:

  • Sale of the building, which ended a serious drain on our finances for an overbuilt facility we did not need.

  • Tightening of financial management controls and a stringent but sustainable budget.

  • Building a modern advancement and development capability, to earn trust for philanthropy and to demonstrate fiduciary responsibility.

  • ”Right-sizing” of staff and investment in better technical support.

  • Restructuring into three operating departments with streamlined management.

  • Stabilizing and growing membership by more responsive member services, outreach, and much higher visibility.

  • Adoption of a formal Strategic Plan, which provides more general guidance for planning, prioritization, and decision-making.

  • A “diplomatic initiative” with our sister organizations, federal agencies, and past partners to return Sigma Xi to its historically central role as an effective and visible advocate for the scientific enterprise and evidence-based decision making.

In the near future, look for:

  • A new conference series starting in 2018, with an emphasis on emerging work, science policy, young scientists, and deliberations on the future of research. (The Annual Meeting will not be held in 2017, so we can bring the meeting cycle in line with our fiscal year.)

  • A big emphasis on diversity, not only in our membership but within the scientific enterprise generally.

  • A professional development initiative designed to help our members transition in mid-career to research and research management leadership.

Key words: revitalization, turn-around, recovery, ambition, leadership, discipline, sustainability, advocacy, assertiveness in the defense of research. File under “We’re back.”

Tee L. Guidotti is the president of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society. 

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. On Twitter: @SigmaXiSociety