FROM THE PRESIDENT
Vital Sigma Xi Chapters
Sigma Xi fosters research excellence in many ways, not least
through local chapters. Astute readers, members or not, may
recognize ideas presented here that are transferable and
operational in their Sigma Xi chapters or any other organization
working for the greater good.
Sigma Xi's 500-plus chapters vary widely in their location, host
institution, membership, operating philosophy, leadership, vitality,
influence and success. Most are vibrant and perform well in
providing a venue for "companions in zealous research" and
programs for "enhancing the research enterprise," the
motto and the goal of Sigma Xi. However, some general observations
and suggestions can be made.
President's Advisory Council. Successful chapters establish
a process of recruiting active members and educating them in the
philosophy and programs adopted by the chapter and then promoting
them into leadership positions. Less successful chapters search
continuously for the next one-year president. One way to provide
continuity is to form a President's Advisory Council made up of the
elected officers plus committee chairs and any active or
retired member or enthusiastic nonmember able to attend
program-planning sessions, where advice and opinions are solicited
with the strict promise that no one will be coerced into unwanted
obligations. The next officers can be recruited from this pool of 10
to 15 informed and relaxed participants.
Officer terms—not one year! Most chapters follow the
outdated practice of searching for, enticing and electing a new
president, if not a complete slate of officers, each year. Arguably
easier in the long run is the practice of electing a president every
two years and encouraging multiple reelections. After a year of
"learning the ropes," the second and subsequent years are
manageable and even fun. Treasurers and secretaries should be
encouraged to be elected for an indefinite term, with four to eight
years as a fruitful service period.
Past presidents' insights. Why waste experience? Consider
gathering all chapter presidents every four years for a relaxing
lunch and efficiently orchestrated discussion of past
successes—and failures—with the idea of providing
considered and tested advice to present officers and the President's
Advisory Council. Results are invariably wonderful.
Retired members are productive members. Recently and
not-so-recently retired members are excellent prospects for
positions of influence and leadership in a chapter. Some resist
invitations, but those who accept service to science in the chapter
can sometimes bring to bear a more flexible schedule and a wealth of
experience and contacts.
Critical mass—say 40. Active membership in Sigma Xi
chapters varies from the minimum—18—to more than 600 at
the large university or area chapters. Keeping programs viable with
a too-small functioning group is difficult and frustrating. Small
chapters must aggressively pursue a critical mass for their
institution and situation, a number probably around 40. When this
seems impossible to achieve, consolidation for viability and
vitality with another chapter across town or across the state is
recommended. Sigma Xi's staff can assist with both building
membership and consolidating chapters.
Discover 40- and 50-year members. Any Sigma Xi member who
has paid dues for 40 or 50 years deserves to be acknowledged by the
chapter as a guest at a function. Imagine the positive impression
created when a 50-year member describes her career triumphs in a
four-minute response to a plaque presentation before, for example,
six science-fair winners and their parents and teachers at a Sigma
Xi presentation ceremony.
Involve the host. Chapters can only benefit from assiduous
cultivation of a positive two-way relationship with their host
institution. The corporation research director, university vice
president for research or college dean of sciences is probably
providing administrative support, mailing privileges or no-cost
function space to the chapter. The chapter should reciprocate,
adding value to the host institution by being cognizant of its needs
and identifying ways for the chapter to help satisfy those needs to
the mutual benefit of all parties.