News Archive

Remarks on Sigma Xi's Pathway to the Future by Executive Director and CEO Jamie L. Vernon

March 30, 2018

Prepared remarks given on March 29, 2018, at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC, during a reception titled, "Pathway to the Future: Sigma Xi's Vision for Science and the Society." 

Carter_receiving_lapelpinHello, everyone. I’m Jamie Vernon, executive director and CEO of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society, publisher of our award-winning magazine American Scientist

I’d like to welcome you to tonight’s reception. Before we get started with a brief program, I’d like to thank the Cosmos Club for allowing us to bring everyone together at this distinguished venue and I’d like to thank Dr. Tee Guidotti, Sigma Xi’s immediate past president and member of the Cosmos Club, for serving as our host for this evening’s event.

It’s nice to see so many familiar faces. I’m glad to see some of our past board members, chapter leaders and members from the Mid-Atlantic Region as well as former Society staff. Also with us tonight are friends from our partner organizations and from organizations we’d like to partner with. You all are the reason we’re here tonight. 

This event represents the third in a series of nationwide events that mark the beginning of a new era of engagement for the Society. We organized this tour to connect with our community of scientists and engineers from around the world and to introduce Sigma Xi to those who aren’t yet familiar with the Society. 

We kicked off the series with a reception in Research Triangle Park in September of last year where we discussed the importance of maintaining a healthy and strong research community, through communications, mentorship, and professional development. In February, we gathered in Austin, Texas during the AAAS annual meeting, where we discussed the importance of diversity and research ethics. 

At each stop along the way, we have invited members of the local community to participate in the program. Tonight, you will hear from Dr. Tee Guidotti, who is based here in the DC-area and Mr. Carter Clinton, a graduate student from Howard University, whose research captured our attention during Sigma Xi’s 2017 Student Research Conference in Raleigh, NC.

Our presence here in Washington, DC, occurs at an urgent moment, a time when the tension between science and government is at an all-time high…when it seems that scientists are being marginalized and scientific evidence is being treated as an inconvenience by many policymakers. We are optimistic, however, that, by joining together, the community will persevere during this challenging time for science.

In addition to responding to external pressures, we must also tackle issues within science, such as concerns about scientific reproducibility, the treatment of women in research, global access to scientific data, and the inclusion of underrepresented groups in science and engineering careers. I consider each of these issues to be deeply connected to the ethical conduct of scientific research. For, if they are not addressed, we, as a Society, are not fulfilling our mission of improving the human condition. 

Sigma Xi’s multidisciplinary makeup gives us the infrastructure and capacity to meaningfully engage on these issues, which affect all disciplines of science. For those who are just getting to know us, we are the largest multidisciplinary honor society for scientists and engineers in the world. 

We have a storied history of leadership in the research enterprise dating back to our founding at Cornell University in 1886. Our primary role, over the years, has been to recognize excellence in research by extending the honor of membership in the Society. 

Members are nominated by their mentors, colleagues, and peers based on their contributions to science and engineering. Often, this is the first recognition a young researcher receives from the research community.

From our headquarters in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, we oversee multiple noteworthy awards programs recognizing research achievements and we administer our competitive Grants-in-Aid of Research program that distributes approximately $250,000 annually in student research grants to deserving young scientists.

We also maintain a network of more than 500 chapters around the world, based at universities, government agencies, labs, and industrial research sites. These chapters are busy year round hosting science and policy lectures, organizing Science Cafés, and encouraging young people in science, most recently by initiating Explorers programs at local high schools. Several of our chapters will be participating locally in the highly anticipated March for Science.

Our members are leaders in academia, industry, and government. More than 200 have received the Nobel Prize in their discipline. We are proud of our engagement and commitment to excellence at the highest levels of scientific research, and as the say in Texas, where I trained, “it’s not bragging if you done it.”

Most recently, we were pleased to celebrate Kip Thorne's Nobel Prize for his work with LIGO on the detection of gravitational waves.

On April 20, we’re organizing a ceremony to add Dr. Thorne’s name along with five other recent Nobel laureate Sigma Xi members to our Hall of Honor in Research Triangle Park. 

Although Sigma Xi is a leader in recognizing talent in all areas of research, awards and accolades ring hollow when the fruits of our labor are left to languish on the vine. Our efforts to recruit young people into STEM fields have little meaning if we do not advocate for their work to be valued on its merits and, when appropriate, used to address our greatest challenges.

With this in mind, we are building the means to implement a sustained and effective strategy to strengthen the research enterprise and give a voice to our members and partners. We hope you will join us in this effort.

The theme tonight is Pathway to the Future: Science and the Society. In fact, the entire year is dedicated to Sigma Xi’s view on the future of research. Our annual meeting this October will be held just outside San Francisco. The theme of the meeting, which is being overseen by president-elect Joel Primack, is Big Data and the Future of Research. There, we are assembling a program that engages on research, policy, ethics, and communication.

In addition, through the leadership of our Board of Directors, our chapters, and with your support, Sigma Xi will put forward solutions to the major challenges facing the scientific community on a national level. 

In his remarks tonight, Dr. Tee Guidotti will provide his vision of Sigma Xi’s role in today’s research environment. 

Dr. Guidotti had a 30-year academic career in teaching in medicine and public health, research, and service, mostly at the University of Alberta in Canada and at The George Washington University, before launching a second career in 2008 as an international consultant. Among other distinctions, he has been Fulbright Visiting Chair at the University of Ottawa, in the Institute for Science, Society, and Policy. 

He has published over 300 papers and book chapters in a wide-range of disciplines. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health  and he has received numerous awards, including the Knudsen Award, the highest award in occupational and environmental medicine. 

Dr. Guidotti recently completed his term as president of Sigma Xi. While serving as president, he has led many initiatives designed to maintain the Society’s leadership role well into the 21st Century for which we are eternally grateful.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Tee Guidotti.

Photo caption

From left: Immediate Past President Tee Guidotti, member Carter Clinton, and Executive Director and CEO Jamie Vernon were the speakers during a March 29 reception hosted by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC. Vernon is giving Clinton a Sigma Xi lapel pin. 

Related reading

Read remarks from the reception by Immediate Past President Tee L. Guidotti's.