Who are our Members?
or, How can we best serve you?
Years ago - way back in the 20th century - it was pretty clear who were the members of the CPMT Society. They were certain researchers and technologists in our fields of interest willing to pay our dues and who received, in return, subscriptions to one or more of our journals, this NEWSLETTER, plus a "package" of other benefits such as networking and reduced fees on conferences. Still, in any survey, the key benefit identified by our Members has been the archival, peer-reviewed papers in our Transactions, to guide them in their own development work.
Is this still true? I think the situation has changed in the 21st century. As the IEEE has moved our archives to the internet, with all CPMT papers back to 1954 available and searchable in the XPLORE system, what has happened to our concept of "membership"? Are the "members of yesterday" still likely to be members today?
This year I subscribed to the IEEE's Member Digital Library (MDL - see www.ieee.org/products/ieeemdl/). For $35 a month I can download not only the CPMT-themed papers (for the last 5 years), but any document from any of the IEEE journals and magazines, and even from any IEEE conference. I've been thinking about whether I should continue to belong to several of my career-long Societies (such as Reliability, Computer, Engineering Management, and several others - I'm a bit of a joiner!)
I know that many of you CPMT Members are part of a university, government, or company which subscribes to IEEE's IEL (IEEE/IEE Electronic Library), giving you a "site license" to the full IEEE and IEE collection. In essence, you have a valuable asset paid for by your employer with cost-effective desktop access for you at any hour of the day. Maybe you still like having a "paper" copy of the Transactions; I find it easier to scan and quickly read from the printed version. But online access appears to be the wave of the future.
So, why would you pay the extra Euros (or dollars) to belong to the IEEE and to the CPMT Society? Let me turn the question around: I think the model for the "future of our Society" is to be a generator and reviewer of key technical information, vetting it through peer review for the benefit of any technologist anywhere in the world. You'll notice that I didn't say that we'd be doing this "for our CPMT Members" - as Vice President for Publications, I intend to do this service for everyone, independent of membership status. And I don't limit this to printed documents - I would definitely extend it to peer-reviewed multimedia, training modules, and other useful services.
You see, those we serve (through XPLORE and IEL) include our several thousand "Members", of course, but also another 50,000 packaging/materials engineers and a larger group of perhaps 500,000 engineers in various other fields who have occasional need to quickly acquire some of the papers we've published - almost none of them IEEE Members. Since a great proportion of our Publications income is generated by this larger population of non-members (through the fees paid by their employers in becoming an IEL subscriber), I need to be very focused on serving them also.
You are reading this NEWSLETTER, and therefore are nearly certainly one of our CPMT Members - we appreciate that! I have a tough time getting any information to our non-member users, a huge group I'd like to be in touch with. But there are broader implications. For example, who can become a Board member or Chapter Chair for CPMT? It is "artificially" limited to those few willing to pay the dues (even when they already have full access to all of our papers through a corporate subscription). Should we not consider for office those non-members who are contributors to our field? If we were able to track a person's "clicks" in downloading copies of our CPMT-reviewed papers (which we cannot do), could we then allow someone to run for office who had downloaded, say, 20 of our papers in the past year, and therefore was "active" in our fields? Or how about someone who comes to at least 5 local Chapter meetings in a year? If we know of top researchers in our field who accesses literature through university accounts, can we give them CPMT Society awards, or appoint them to our committees?
It seems to me that the concept of membership in our Society must be reconsidered. As more technologists get our "key benefit" through the internet, paid for by their employers, the Society still provides the same valuable service - perhaps made more valuable through the merging of our focused archives with the much broader multidisciplinary archives across the whole IEEE and IEE. The Society is more important than ever, organizing conferences and workshops for the sharing of information, and peer-reviewing new and exciting developments that need to be archived and made available to the 500,000 engineers worldwide. But as these institutions phase out getting "paper" journals, and join the movement to online research and access, there are fewer reasons to join CPMT. It may be that IEEE and CPMT membership is something that will be essential only to those who aren't employed by an organization that subscribes to the well-regarded on-line collections, and for the (smaller) number of professionals who want to stay "in touch" with others working in the same profession.
What will we be like in 10 or 20 years? I suspect there will still be a "core" of members, perhaps half as many as today, even as the industry expands. But our influence and effect will keep spreading wider as more engineers gain access to IEL (and MDL) and don't need to associate with CPMT in order for us to help them in their careers. The challenge, I feel, is for the Society to find new ways to allow this large population of non-member researchers to participate in the governance of the Society and expansion of the work it does. One way is to encourage all researchers in our fields of interest to self-subscribe to a variety of free "special interest" distribution lists that they'll find valuable and not too intrusive, each one covering highlights of upcoming conferences, applicable new books, and discussion of some of the recent published papers; by encouraging them to dip into their library's IEL subscription and access the full text of recent papers (either from our Transactions or from a conference Proceedings) we "drive consumption" of our key products (the research papers) and excite some of them about publishing their own work within the IEEE.
I'm really quite interested in your observations on how the Society will serve both member and non-member technologists over the next decade and century. Please post your comments at our Discussion Board: www.quicktopic.com/23/H/tk2x9MK8hP8MS (case-sensitive). Then subscribe to the discussion, to follow the comments of others (and my responses). I'll look forward to exploring our new directions with you!
Paul Wesling, VP-Publications
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