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Q&A with AAAS Chief Membership Officer Beth Bush

AAAS Chief Membership Officer Beth Bush talks to AAAS staff about the new Employee Ambassadors Program. | Peggy Mihelich/AAAS

AAAS is in the midst of transforming itself into a more digitally savvy, member-focused association. It's an initiative that was launched in April 2014 with the goal of positioning the organization to maximize its usefulness to the scientific community and the broader society throughout the 21st century. Since the announcement, AAAS has adopted a \"digital first\" mindset, having launched the online-only, open-access journal Science Advances, with plans to soon launch online-only Science Immunology and Science Robotics journals, as well as a full-redesign of its flagship journal Science online. In addition, AAAS has developed a new science communication platform, Trellis, available to the scientific community.

On the membership side, work is well underway to grow AAAS membership, starting with scientists and engineers in both the academic and private sectors, and eventually reaching out to the general science-interested public. Leading this effort is Beth Bush, AAAS's new Chief Membership Officer. She provided MemberCentral with an update on the progress she's made since joining AAAS in April 2015, and what members have to look forward to in the months ahead.

MemberCentral: You are the Chief Membership Officer at AAAS, a position that did not exist before last year. What is the goal of this new position?
AAAS Chief Membership Officer Beth Bush: AAAS has been best known for Science and its related journals, not as a membership organization. AAAS leadership determined that the organization needed to focus on its members—to again become a member-centric organization. Of course, Science is a major benefit for members, but as an organization we have so much more to offer our members. My position was created to launch the Membership Department and really put strategy behind the expansion of the membership value proposition for our existing members and prospective members.

This includes strategic and operational planning and execution, market research, and new product development. We are looking at how we can support members of the science community through their education, to their first job, all the way through to retirement and beyond.

The goal is to significantly increase membership. In order to do that and to do it well, we have to meet the needs of our members, and to start that planning, I looked at the overall population AAAS serves—or could serve—and placed them into these groups:

  • Scientists and engineers
  • Early-career scientists and engineers (graduate students, post-docs, through the first five years as a working professional)
  • Students, teachers, scientists and engineers working in K-16
  • International
  • General public who are avid supporters of science

MemberCentral: You have stated the goal for the Membership Department is to significantly increase AAAS membership. What does this mean for our current members?
Bush: We have research that demonstrates in quantifiable ways that the association's mission—to advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people—resonates with our members, and they want to contribute to that mission. And so by bringing on members in multiple disciplines and strengthening our membership numbers, we will be expanding the network of scientists and engineers with whom our current members can network and collaborate. Part of the strategy is having members become more engaged and to recruit their colleagues and friends to be members, too. This helps our growth and the mission of AAAS. There are a lot of ways to accomplish and/or support the advancement of science. This is one key way we can do this.

Additionally, our growth and member-centric focus means better support for our members. We are very interested in expanding—and better promoting benefits our members need.

For example, in addition to having a lead for each member audience, I have hired a director of Member Experience and Engagement, whose job is to insure every communication or contact with a member is the best experience possible; to anticipate their needs and provide the ultimate in member service. I've also hired a director of Professional Development and Career Services, who is working closely with subject matter experts and putting together courses to assist our members in challenges they have at each stage of their careers—such as understanding the Federal R&D budget, the top 10 issues that derail a grant proposal, communicating science, and how professional etiquette can boost one's career. These courses are aimed at different stages of members' professional lives and will bring value that will have an immediate impact.

MemberCentral: What are the biggest challenges for the team?
Bush: Our goal is to provide membership that is invaluable and will accompany our members throughout their whole journey. For example, a high school student who is exploring STEM fields for their future has very different needs than a bachelor's student wondering if graduate school is the right next step. A post-doc has decidedly different needs from a membership organization than does someone looking at retirement. This endeavor will take teamwork, innovation, determination, and a lot of creative planning. Our staff is working across the entire organization to assure that the members' needs are anticipated, that our programs, products and services exceed expectations.

MemberCentral: What are some current initiatives?
Bush: First, we are building out a membership team to create all these new initiatives. In addition to a director of Member Experience and Engagement, a director of Professional Development and Career Services, I've brought on individuals who will build a strong relationship with members and develop new and exciting products and services that will help at every stage of their career.

We are rolling out a new welcome series. We want to establish a relationship with each of our members. The series includes new messaging and communications that will accompany each member throughout their first year with AAAS. And for current members, we are initiating new communications designed to focus on the issues that are most important to them.

In January we relaunched the Member Update newsletter. Each month we highlight a program of AAAS or an issue of importance to the scientific community. In addition, members can get updated on news, events and awards offerd by AAAS and Science.

AAAS is committed to being a major contributor to the career successes of our members.  We are about to launch our first two professional development courses later this month, Avoiding Common Errors in Proposal Writing, and The Federal R&D Budget: Process and Perspectives. These two courses will be online. More courses are planned for later this year, so keep a look out for upcoming announcements about them.

Our new Employee Ambassadors Program is really exciting. Every member of AAAS staff has become a member of AAAS. They are experiencing firsthand what it means to be a member, what we offer members and how we communicate. This has provided our staff with new insights and we have been rewarded with great ideas from this new channel. The staff is now finding opportunities to communicate what they are doing as mission-focused to members, helping all to see the overlap between our mission and our membership.

We also have completely changed the way members renew their membership in AAAS. We believe that the new renewal process is streamlined and the system is easier to navigate.  Our first renewals to members under this new system have been met with overwhelmingly positive results. Members can choose at time of renewal if they would like to have the digital or print version of Science, if they would like to choose a one-or two-year membership, and, as we evolve our member website, they will be able to add on additional products if they would like at the time of their renewal.

MemberCentral was launched as a separate communication portal for members. has long been the public-facing platform for the association. We want to join these two sites into one cohesive experience and the first step is moving MemberCentral over to Members will still be able to log in to update their account and access exclusive content, just as they can now. After MemberCentral and are one, which should be completed by the end of June, we are planning a full redesign of the site.

I've mentioned some of the new products we are working on, but AAAS has many resources already in place. My team is working to identify ways to better communicate to members the extensive value they add to membership.

And, we will be collecting feedback from our members on an ongoing basis. Already initiated, a member satisfaction survey. We want to know what AAAS does well and how we can better serve members.

MemberCentral: What would you like to ask of members to help with AAAS membership growth?
Bush: Members have the opportunity to spread the AAAS word! MemberCentral has a great tool that allows members to provide a friend or colleague with a 72-hour trial period to see what we have to offer online. It's a wonderful (and free!) chance to have someone get a sense of AAAS membership before joining. Between now and the end of June, I invite all members to refer a friend or a colleague and start the conversation with them about why membership is such a valuable investment.