News Archive

From the President: Sigma Xi's Lifeline

April 23, 2018

Stuart CooperA lifeline, as defined by the Collins English Dictionary, is “something that enables an organization or group to survive or to continue….” For Sigma Xi, the lifeline is retaining existing members and inducting new ones, creating a process of continuous renewal. For my last editorial commentary in American Scientist  as Sigma Xi president, I want to reflect on my experience upon election to the Sigma Xi board of directors and what I see as a profound challenge to the vitality of our organization.

Years ago, when I was an undergraduate researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, my advisor nominated me to membership in Sigma Xi. It was a big deal to me, and I proudly included the honor on my curriculum vitae as I applied to graduate schools and when I interviewed for faculty positions four or so years later. At the time, the traditions of Sigma Xi were strong, it was an organization that had been around for almost a century, it had scores of Nobel Prize winners who were inducted into the organization at the start of their careers, and its credo was that research in science and technology was valuable and important to society. So what has transpired after the many years of my scientific lifetime?

Sigma Xi is still a voice for honoring accomplishments and potential in science and engineering but, compared to a generation ago, research advisors and mentors are not as active in nominating their students for membership in our Society.

I call on our members to double their efforts to identify and nominate promising young researchers for the honor of being elected to Sigma Xi. Members should promote the value of membership, especially in what appears to be a struggle to maintain research-based decision making in areas that are vital to our future. Think of areas such as food safety, water and air quality, and a host of other environmental issues for which ongoing research should support policies that affect us all.

Sigma Xi members are part of the enterprise that carries out such research, and our Society, along with like-minded organizations, is a significant voice in resisting the politicization of science. Indeed, making light of using informed research to develop public policy is close to an existential threat to our well-being. Yet our Society’s voice will not be as strong as it could be unless we have a robust and active membership. I encourage all of our members to identify, nominate, and elect our next generation of researchers for membership in Sigma Xi.

Stuart L. Cooper
Sigma Xi President
Fiscal Year 2018

To nominate someone for Sigma Xi membership, see the Becoming a Member page.