The task force was charged with making recommendations to improve perceived gaps in the selection of interdisciplinary scientists, women, or candidates from other underrepresented groups.

When the first class of Fellows was elected in 1962, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) was a very different organization than it is today. The percentage of members from outside the United States nearly doubled from 1975 to 2014 and has grown from 32% to 39% during the past 14 years. In addition, the percentage of women members has grown from 15% to 22% since the year 2000. Cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary science has also grown, as noted in the recent AGU Scientific Trends Report.

Recognizing the impact and importance of these changes, AGU established a task force in October 2013 to review the Fellows program. The task force was charged with reviewing the current AGU Fellows selection process and making recommendations for any potential changes that might improve perceived gaps in the selection of interdisciplinary scientists, women, or candidates from other underrepresented groups while maintaining the current prestige of the Fellows program.

“AGU membership has grown more diverse in the last 50 years, and the prevalence of interdisciplinary science has grown significantly,” said Rana Fine, chair of the AGU Fellows Program Review Task Force. She is an AGU Board member and past chair of the AGU Honors and Recognition Committee. “Because the AGU Fellows program is so important to the membership and because it holds such prestige and regard within the worldwide Earth and space science community, the leadership of AGU considered it both timely and wise to review the program’s performance and operations to ensure that its legacy remains as meaningful 50 years from now as it does today.”

The results of this yearlong assessment were recently published in a comprehensive report that outlines a series of findings and recommendations for improving the Fellows program.

Task Force Recommendations

The task force made the following recommendations:

Communicate Best Practices: The AGU Honors and Recognition Committee should aggressively communicate best practices and guidelines for encouraging and supporting more diverse Fellows nominations. These best practices include establishing section and focus group canvassing committees to help broaden the candidate pool, promoting diversity in ranking and selection committee membership, training committees on how to avoid implicit bias, and capturing institutional memory from past leaders of ranking and selection committees.

Revise Fellows Selection Criteria: AGU should update and revise its criteria for selecting AGU Fellows to more explicitly recognize a home for scientists working in emerging interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, or cross-disciplinary scientific areas. AGU should also remove current wording such as “paradigm shift”—this wording is loosely defined and describes something that often cannot be recognized until long after it happens.

The new criteria for evaluating scientific eminence are

  • breakthrough or discovery
  • innovation in disciplinary science, cross-disciplinary science, instrument development, or methods development and/or
  • sustained scientific impact

Track and Report Diversity Performance: AGU should continue to collect data on diversity performance and distribute these data to members of canvassing and ranking committees. Transparency would be increased by publishing these demographics in Eos each year.

Recommendation: The h-index—a measurement used to describe scientific productivity based on the number of papers written and the number of times those papers have been cited—should no longer be required as part of a nomination package.

Provide Explicit Instruction and Caution on the Use of h-Index: The h-index—a measurement used to describe scientific productivity based on the number of papers written and the number of times those papers have been cited—should no longer be required as part of a nomination package. Guidelines for nominations should state that when the h-index is used, it is meant to be compared only within a scientific discipline. When used in a nomination package or mentioned in recommendation letters, it would be incumbent on the writer to include the source of the h-index and a URL that has been uniquely identified for the candidate’s h-index calculation.

Adopt a Consistent Policy of No Holdover Nominations: AGU’s Union Fellows Selection Committee should adopt a consistent practice of no holdover nominations. In the past, some nomination packages were designated to automatically be considered the following year without being resubmitted. Going forward, sections and focus groups should solicit updated packages for all nominations and provide feedback from the Union Fellows Selection Committee to the nominator.

Establish an AGU “College of Fellows”: The AGU Honors and Recognition Committee should explore the concept of a College of Fellows, whose members could contribute to activities such as outreach, education, mentoring, shadowing, the development of position statements, and fundraising.

Continue Research on Diversity and Interdisciplinary Representation and Possible Interventions: Some recent trends—particularly the growing diversity of Earth and space scientists, AGU membership, and recipients of AGU honors and recognition—merit further study. The impacts of implementing the recommendations of this report will also require follow-up study to evaluate their effectiveness. The task force recommends that AGU continue to explore these issues further, perhaps as part of a follow-on effort to evaluate the effectiveness of the specific recommendations from this report that are adopted.

Approval by the Council

The task force’s recommendations and associated background data and discussion are included in the report, which was presented to the AGU Council in December 2014 and which is now available to the public. The report includes extensive demographic data along with discussions on related topics, such as the criteria for selecting Fellows, diversity considerations, details of the limitations of the h-index, and opportunities for increased engagement with AGU Fellows.

“The task force presented its recommendations to the AGU Council in December 2014, urging that they be pursued and adopted as soon as practical. The Council approved all the key recommendations, and I’m pleased to say that much of this work is now under way, including the development of a strategy for those recommendations that require further research on AGU’s part,” said Samuel Mukasa, AGU’s 2015–2016 Honors and Recognition Committee chair.

The task force’s report and additional information about the project are available online.

AGU Fellows Program Review Task Force Members

Kelly Caylor, Princeton University, Princeton, N. J.
Nancy Crooker, Boston University, Boston, Mass.
Eric Davidson, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Appalachian Laboratory, Frostburg, Md.
Cindy Ebinger, University of Rochester, Rochester, N. Y.
Rana Fine, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Miami, Fla. (Chair)
Achim Herrmann, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, La.
Mary Anne Holmes, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Lincoln, Neb.
George Hornberger, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
Qingtian Lu, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, Beijing, China
Tony Lui, Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
John Orcutt, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, Calif.
Carle Pieters, Brown University, Providence, R. I. (ex officio, 2013–2014 Union Fellows Selection Committee Chair)
Carol Raymond, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.
Rosalind Rickaby, University of Oxford, Oxford, U. K.
Alan Robock, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N. J.
Dominique Weis, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B. C., Canada
Don Wuebbles, University of Illinois, Urbana, Ill.

—Billy M. Williams, Science Director, AGU; email:

Citation: Williams, B. M. (2015), Task force recommends ways to improve AGU Fellows program, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO025545. Published on 3 March 2015.

Text © 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0
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