State of the Society

January 24, 2018

By Stuart L. Cooper

Stuart CooperOver the past year significant changes and improvements have been made in Sigma Xi administrative operations, programmatic activities, and outreach initiatives. This update will summarize these accomplishments as well as point out the challenges that remain to be overcome to maintain and grow Sigma Xi as a premier scientific research honor society.

Having scaled down personnel at headquarters and moved into a more sustainable office complex in 2015, we are now positioned to deal with advancing the mission of our Society. Now we are tackling the challenge to stabilize and grow our membership by increasing the nominations of deserving researchers for membership, engaging citizen scientists and K–12 students as affiliates and explorers, and working toward programmatic activities that active members will find valuable as their careers progress. Finally, increasing the Society’s resources is vital to address contemporary challenges that the science enterprise faces in terms of research funding, encouraging the next generation of researchers, and standing up for research-based policy initiatives from our political leaders.



Jamie Vernon was selected as our new executive director, chief executive officer, and publisher of our award-winning magazine, American Scientist, succeeding John Nemeth who held the interim position for the past two years. Jamie brings expertise in the area of molecular biology, has an interest and track record in the area of research communication, and has significant interactions with our sister scientific societies. Jamie’s previous responsibility at Sigma Xi was as director of Science Communications and Publications. 

Fenella Saunders, who has been at the helm of American Scientist  as executive editor, has been promoted to the position vacated by Jamie and is now Sigma Xi’s director of Science Communications and Publications and the magazine’s editor-in-chief. She is also responsible for Sigma Xi’s journal for pre-collegiate research, Chronicle of The New Researcher.

Michael D’Ambrosio has been hired as a full time major gifts officer in a rejuvenated development operation complemented by consultant Amy Dawson. Previously we reduced our fundraising activities by downsizing our development personnel. However, we have continuously maintained a professional and successful annual giving operation led by Jasmine Shah. We are currently exploring ways to further enhance our corporate fundraising.


Sigma Xi was the first major scientific partner of the March for Science in Washington, DC, in the spring of 2017. We collaborated with the march organizers, sent a bus from North Carolina, and helped several regions manage finances associated with the event. Several chapters also organized transportation to the march.

Sigma Xi has arranged for three receptions to present our leadership team to provide an overview of our rejuvenated Sigma Xi organization to communities around the country. The first event was held in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, in the fall; the second will be held at the AAAS meeting in Austin, Texas, in February; and the third in Washington, DC, in the spring.

The Sigma Xi Annual Meeting in November was shortened into a Research Symposium on Atmospheric Chemistry, Climate, and Health combined with our traditional Student Research Conference. While smaller than usual, this meeting, designed in part to conserve resources, was most successful. Next October we will bring back the Annual Meeting format with workshops and career development sessions in Burlingame, California, with the theme, “Big Data and the Future of Research.”

In the development area we initiated a President’s Circle multiyear pledge campaign seeking a five-year commitment at the level of $2,000 per year. So far we have gifts and pledges from six past presidents and hope for increasing participation by individual members in the years to come.


We launched a “climate science” category for the Grants-in-Aid of Research program and we continue to invite donations to enhance these funding opportunities for students. A particular emphasis will be to increase endowed funds for this purpose. A minimum donation of $25,000 is necessary to establish a named fund.

Our electronic publication of research produced by pre-college investigators, Chronicle of The New Researcher, has received additional manuscripts. The third issue is expected to be released this spring.

We welcome volunteers to help develop and seek funding for a new program to serve the interests of new as well as mid-career Sigma Xi members focused on various topics including ethics, lab management, and communications. This will be addressed as part of the programmatic activities at the 2018 Annual Meeting.

We are working assiduously with local chapters to enhance their programming, nominate increasing numbers of deserving scientists and engineers for membership, and to provide recognition by honoring research accomplishments. Additional goals are to facilitate networking across the disciplines and to activate chapters to speak out on societal issues which derive benefit from scientific underpinning. Suffusing these initiatives will be substantial attention to diversity and inclusion.


We have staunched the flow of red ink with respect to Sigma Xi’s finances. Now we must move forward with prudence and significant fundraising so as to support the new initiatives that will benefit our membership.

Research support for science and technology at all levels in industry, academia, and national laboratories is under even more than usual pressure at the present time. Sigma Xi must partner with other scientific and engineering societies to draw attention to the value research provides for the economy and the future welfare of our society.

Stuart L. Cooper is 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