One of the most important roles of the Institute is as a community of physicists – both to act as the voice of that community and to bring it together to work towards our common goals.
While our membership is central to everything we do, we recognise that it could be more representative of the community at large and have more active, hands-on involvement in our activities. Part of our new strategy involves strengthening these two areas.
We’d particularly like to see more teachers and more early-career physicists joining, or remaining with, the IOP. Undergraduates account for a large proportion of the Institute’s membership but we could do better at retaining them as they progress into their careers – particularly those that go to work in business. Meanwhile, we have relationships with many schools and teachers through our education programmes, but teachers currently represent only 1% of our 50,000-strong membership. The Institute believes that teaching physics is doing physics, and teachers are just as much a part of the physics community as are our members from industry or academia. Developing a professional-development structure for teachers should go a long way to improving this and adding more value to IOP membership for teachers.
Similarly, there ought to be more teachers among the Institute’s Fellows – one of a few ways in which we’d like Fellowship to better reflect the demographics of our membership. It’s a highly respected status for anyone at the top of their field in physics – not just something for academics – and we’ll be looking to identify people who we think ought to be Fellows but currently aren’t, particularly from outside the world of research, such as teachers and engineers.
It’s not only the perception of the IOP’s Fellowships that is somewhat old-fashioned. Historically, the Institute has offered little to what were seen as ‘vocational’ career paths – no accreditation or professional-development opportunities for roles such as technicians and apprenticeships. We’ll now be encouraging non-degree-qualified physicists to become members, and establishing a professional accreditation process for them. There’s a particular need for this given the numbers of people studying science subjects in further education, and requirements for increasing numbers of technicians.
Finally, we’d like to get more of our current members involved in our programmes. We have a committed, enthusiastic membership but could probably make better use of our members’ skills and expertise, and believe that many would like to get more involved. We’re going to get this started by more formally measuring and reporting current member activity. The more engaged our members are, the more value they’ll see in membership and the more they’ll appreciate just how important they are in helping us deliver our strategy and achieve our aims for physics.