President’s Letter: Why Are You an ASPB Member?

Harry KleeWhy did you join ASPB? Why do you continue to be a member? We need to know the answers to these questions.

As I mentioned in my first President’s Letter, there has been a slow but continuous erosion in membership over the past decade. It is vital that we understand what you value most about ASPB membership. Which services and resources do you most and least value? You can help us understand the community we serve and enable us to stay important to your professional development.

It is in this spirit that we are undertaking a broad member survey to accurately measure what you most value. In the near future, you will receive an email asking you to take about 20 minutes of your time to complete a questionnaire. Please accept this invitation. The larger the response, the more accurate the results and the better ASPB can serve you. We are starting with current members because you have chosen to engage with the Society; after we assess the results, we intend to broaden the survey to the broader plant biology community. The end result will be a Society focused on what you most value.

We have a finite amount of money to fund everything we do. Revenues come into the Society principally through membership dues, journal subscriptions, and our endowment. Obviously, if membership drops, so does that source of revenue. Open access and heightened competition threaten journal revenues in ways that are still not totally apparent. It is in the context of tight budgets that we will take a hard look at what we provide to you. We must strengthen or add services you care about and perhaps jettison activities you do not value. With the proper information from our members, change will be a very good thing and will keep ASPB vibrant.

It would be impossible to summarize all of the products and benefits ASPB provides to its diverse community in a short letter, but the following are our largest investments:

  • ASPB journals are, together with the annual meeting, the face of our Society. We strive to produce the best possible products. The journals require major investment to add features and services to make the experience better for authors and readers.
  • The annual meeting is our showcase. It is an opportunity to learn from and interact with the plant biology community. Our goal has always been to break even financially. So we don’t make significant money on this event, but it is an essential part of our mission. Travel grants are intimately tied to the annual meeting. These are a large and, I believe, essential investment in our future. Meeting travel grants are strongly tied to our efforts in education and career development.
  • Regional meetings are the first point of Society contact for many students, and often their first opportunity to give professional talks and their first exposure to members from other institutions.
  • We provide tools that help our youngest members establish their careers. A good deal of those efforts are focused on women and minorities. These tools include job notices and workshops that cover an array of career preparation and development topics. Personally, I think we do a great job of launching careers, and we need to do better at keeping young scientists engaged after finishing their training.
  • Public policy is a critical and expensive part of our mission. This effort encompasses educating our legislators about the value of plant science and educating you about policy issues of importance.

Another point of emphasis in our survey will be how you interact with your Society. How many members read the ASPB News? How many of you have accidentally blocked incoming ASPB mail as spam because we have not figured out a way to prioritize the messages on the basis of content? How many of you don’t regularly use email and rely instead on social media such as Facebook and Twitter for your news? The reason that the way you communicate with ASPB (and its journals) is critical lies in our investment in online resources. The Society is investing a lot of money in the Plantae digital ecosystem, and it is critical that we channel our resources in the right way. Is Plantae the best use of our money? How can we make Plantae work for you?

I believe that the staff and my elected predecessors have done an outstanding job of shepherding the Society. Any pundit who claims to understand the consequences of open access for journal revenue streams is living in a dream world. We can’t be certain what the financial future holds. Just as in the technology space, any company or institution that is complacent is doomed to mediocrity. I consider this survey to be an opportunity to prioritize what our membership wants, and I urge you to participate.

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