President’s Letter: Your ASPB – The Things You Most Value

The results are in from our membership survey. First, I want to acknowledge the work of Shea Keene, a University of Florida graduate student, and her mentor Dr. Thomas Colquhoun, who collected and analyzed all of the data. I also sincerely thank those of you who participated and am taking this opportunity to explain the logic behind this survey.

The survey used a somewhat unorthodox, though scientifically rigorous, method involving rating a complete set of scenarios describing a “product.” In this case, the product is ASPB membership. Each scenario consisted of (1) a resource provided to members, (2) a benefit of membership, (3) how that membership is paid for, and (4) how we communicate with our members. You were presented with every possible combination of the elements in a random order.

Although taking the survey might have seemed tedious, the end product permits objective evaluation of the value that a member places on each and every element without specifically querying about that element directly. If something is very important to you, it causes you to rate the scenario in which it is presented proportionately higher. The beauty of this method is that it provides an unbiased assessment of value for all elements without directly asking participants to rate each element. We also collected demographic information, revealing some significant differences within the population.

We undertook this survey of membership, at least in part, to help us focus resources on those things that are most important in attracting members and keeping them engaged with the Society. We must keep in mind that this does not mean that we’re focused only on the present. But knowing what our community finds most valuable does allow resource prioritization. Most importantly, it gives us guidance on what resources and benefits we can grow to make ASPB even more valuable to the plant science community.

The rank order of each element, shown as an interest value, is shown in the accompanying table. Although the cutoffs are somewhat arbitrary, elements are color coded as positive (green), neutral (pink), or negative (red) interest.

It should come as no surprise that the most valued ASPB resource is our portfolio of journals. Members feel an affinity for the ASPB journals. This is our “brand.” The strong support for journals cuts across all demographics. This is a strong endorsement of the job done by publications staff, editorial boards, reviewers, and the Publications Committee. Every penny earned by these journals is returned to the Society to support everything we do. The high regard in which our journals are held not only means that we consider submitting our best work to these journals; it also means that we are more inclined to say yes when asked to review for ASPB journals or serve on an editorial board. This support is vital to maintaining the quality of the products and distinguishes our journals from those published by for-profit entities.

Ranked Number 2 overall and closely linked is discounts for publication in ASPB-affiliated journals. Publication in any journal is expensive, and a discount is very highly valued by membership. The strongest support for this element came from midcareer scientists—the ones who have to pay the bills.

After journals, the annual Plant Biology meeting is the next most highly valued Society resource. This high ranking is a tribute to ASPB staff, the professional meeting organizers, and the Program Committee (headed by our elected secretary), all working in concert to deliver a very high-quality product. Their efforts are widely recognized by members. The high survey ratings of networking opportunities, travel grants, and professional development are intimately tied to the annual meeting, as is discounted registration for ASPB members, students, and members of affiliated societies.

Access to teaching tools is another highly rated resource. Not surprisingly, the strongest support was shown in the age groups most active in teaching (35–54). More surprising was a significant difference between male and female respondents. Women ranked this resource Number 2 of all items in the survey, whereas men were neutral on its value. I have no idea what’s going on here, but these resources are extremely valuable to half of our membership. I think we have to seriously look to the Education Committee for ways that we can strengthen teaching and outreach resources.

Science advocacy is ranked by members in an overall positive light. Two topics were included in the survey: advocacy with the U.S. government and support for global issues relevant to plant science. Somewhat surprising to me is that global issues received more support than government advocacy. Perhaps this is a consequence of fully one-third of membership being outside the United States. Despite being the “American” Society of Plant Biologists, we have always emphasized opportunities and needs of the plant science community beyond our borders.

If we look at advocacy support by age group, there is substantially stronger support in the 55–64 age group. I suspect that this is likely an experience gap. The older generation knows about the role of the Science Policy Committee and recognizes the value of our outreach efforts in the nation’s capital. This survey indicates that we must be more aggressive in building broader support for these efforts among our younger members. We need to create opportunities to draw them in. A recent example is highlighting our behind-the-scenes advocacy for maintaining favorable tax treatment of student stipends. When I spoke at the Midwest regional meeting in March, most students were unaware of efforts on their behalf. Similarly, many young members may be unaware of our hard work lobbying for increased plant science funding, an effort that was quite successful in the 2018 final budget.

The value of regional meetings was judged as decidedly neutral. Although one demographic, 35- to 44-year-olds, viewed these meetings strongly positively, other groups were neutral. I found it surprising that the 18–34 group viewed these meetings as neutral. Regional meetings are the first opportunity for many of them to present their work in front of a large, receptive audience and to develop relationships with colleagues at other institutions. Apparently, their mentors see more value in these opportunities than they do. This is our first point of engagement for many of our “clients,” and we must find more effective ways to engage them.

The results evaluating the various modes of communications between the Society and members also surprised me. The extreme negative response to social media interaction was particularly enlightening. Everyone knows Facebook has peaked. When grandparents have pages, the kids have already moved on to other platforms. But the strong negative responses to all the social media platforms were consistent across all age groups. The best responses to any mode of communications were neutral. The ASPB website, bimonthly newsletter, and periodic e-mails were most favored, but all were viewed neutrally at best.

I think the message here is, “Don’t call me. I’ll call you. I get too much chatter, and I don’t want more until I’m ready for it.” Obviously we need to communicate with members. There are times when we need your support on legislative issues. We have a very low rate of voting in elections and nominating members for awards. How and when we communicate with you is something that will require greater emphasis.

It is disappointing to see a strong separation between men and women on the value of mentoring for women and minorities. We need to refine our strong message of inclusion into the fabric of everything we do, promoting the broader goals of our plant biology community. We can and must do better to provide every opportunity for career advancement to all our members.

To me, the take-home message is that we must do everything in our power to strengthen our core business, the journals, and the annual meeting. We cannot control the trend to open access, and none of us knows how or when that will impact revenues. We will make every effort to keep our journals’ reputations as high as possible for authors and readers alike. The positive attitudes toward activities associated with the annual meeting (networking, professional workshops, and discounts associated with membership) are essential to build community and lifelong membership. We must work to enhance and refresh the annual meeting to build a stronger sense of community. Timely workshops. Job training tools that are relevant to a changing landscape. Career enhancement and teaching tools. This is our opportunity to give young members all that they need to succeed in the workplace and get them to stick with us. Please keep in mind that just because we have completed the survey, we are never done soliciting input on membership. Let us know what we can do to improve our product by adding your comments and thoughts in the comments section below.

Average Interest Values (InV) for Each Survey Element for the Entire Study Population, Ranked from Highest to Lowest (N = 242)


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