An engaged student membership is a key source of strength and vitality for a professional organization like ASIS&T. With 43 student chapters around the world, ASIS&T has a good foundation of student support; having an active chapter at each university with studies in information science would further strengthen the Association. An early 2014 survey elicited responses from 38 current or past students, 28 of whom had a local ASIS&T student chapter with 23 being members. Just over half had attended an ASIS&T Annual Meeting. Respondents noted the value of networking within the Association and special interest groups and the assistance available for career and research goals. They also observed drawbacks including the cost of Annual Meeting attendance and feeling lost at the large conference. Students are drawn by the opportunities for involvement and networking. Among the numerous suggestions offered to strengthen and enrich the student experience were leadership training, practical skill development and improved communications.

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Association for Information Science and Technology

Bulletin, June/July 2014


ASIS&T: The Student Perspective

by Catherine Dumas and Abebe Rorissa

A professional organization is only as good as the level of involvement and engagement of its members. The more involved and engaged an organization’s student members are, the more promising its future – student members not only give the organization youthful energy and vitality, they are ideal potential professional members. After all, most, if not all, of the members of ASIS&T’s Board of Directors and even presidents (for example, Sam Hastings [1]) started as student members.

In terms of its student membership and their activities, the Association for Information Science & Technology (ASIS&T) is well served. ASIS&T has 43 student chapters (and 13 regional chapters, most of which have student members) in the United States and Canada, one European student chapter and a Taipei Chapter (www.asist.org/wiki/chapters-sigs/index.php/Main_Page). This data shows ASIS&T possesses a solid foundation for achieving the ideal situation where a student chapter, with both undergraduate and graduate student members, is active in each college or university that has a library and information science or informatics program of study. Closing further on that ideal would provide more opportunities for student chapters to help introduce ASIS&T to students and to serve as avenues for recruiting new members. 

Transition and Responsiveness
In the last issue of the Bulletin, 2014 president Harry Bruce rightly said that ASIS&T is both a member-driven association and a member-responsive one [2]. He specifically tasked ASIS&T’s Membership Committee to find ways to boost the number of students who transition to being professional or academic members. 

In order to gauge how responsive ASIS&T is to its members, especially student members, and in an effort to capture a glimpse of the student’s perspective of ASIS&T, we conducted a cross-sectional survey at the beginning of this year. We distributed a call for participation in the survey to the various ASIS&T listservs. Our survey questionnaire consisted of questions designed to elicit responses from current or past students regarding their involvement in student chapters, ASIS&T Annual Meeting attendance, SIG memberships and overall experience with ASIS&T. In this article, we report a portion of the responses we received. A more in-depth report is forthcoming. 

After the initial call and an additional round of reminders were sent to the listservs, we received a total of 38 responses from a diverse group of students. About 74% of the respondents were from colleges or universities featuring student chapters of ASIS&T. A majority of these respondents (61%) are members of the student chapters. Of those whose institutions have an ASIS&T student chapter, 82% indicated that they are members. Figure 1 shows the distribution of our respondents with respect to their student chapter membership. 

Figure 1
Figure 1: Breakdown of student chapter membership 

Of the 38 respondents, a little more than half (53%) have attended an ASIS&T Annual Meeting. Some of the respondents cited the high cost of going to the Annual Meetings as a major factor for not attending multiple meetings. Their main suggestion was the creation of more opportunities for students to be funded to attend Annual Meetings. (The respondents showed little awareness of ASIS&T’s volunteer program, which allows students to get Annual Meeting fees waived.)

Of those respondents who attended an ASIS&T Annual Meeting, several reported positive and negative experiences and offered suggestions. In order to further parse the responses, we categorized them into four main themes: positive experiences, negative experiences, factors drawing student members to ASIS&T and suggestions to ASIS&T leadership.

Positive Experiences
Networking and Being Part of a Community. Networking is a major draw for being involved in a professional organization like ASIS&T. In the responses, networking with professors and researchers of all backgrounds and from all over the world was frequently listed as a positive experience of attending an Annual Meeting. Several students commented on being able to meet the major scholars in the field of information science and feeling a sense of community. These were among the responses:

  • “Getting to meet with renowned faculty members that I have been reading their papers and interacting with them.”
     
  • “Attending the international [reception] and having fun while exchanging ideas with fellow information scientists from around the globe is an enriching experience.”
     
  • “Everyone I met was incredibly helpful and willing to answer further questions by email after the conference – PhDs and professionals alike.”
     
  • “Meeting great people and feeling part of something larger.”
     
  • “It was a great opportunity to network with interesting people with whom I am still in touch.”

As the first author of this article reflects on her experience as a student attending the Annual Meetings, she can attest to feeling a part of something larger and being connected to people in her field. She remembers presenting at the poster session at her second Annual Meeting when Dania Bilal and Jim Jansen walked by and asked her about her research. She had read their work and was delighted when they introduced themselves. They were approachable and showed genuine interest in her study. Over the years, she has experienced a number of similar instances. As a student, it means a great deal to interact with well-known scholars in the field. Students greatly appreciate such accessibility. 

The Value of ASIS&T SIGs. Special interest groups (SIGs) are a vital part of ASIS&T. Among our respondents, interest in SIGs was high – 74% indicated that they belong to an ASIS&T SIG. SIGs are often introduced to new attendees at the Annual Meeting’s new members reception, giving them an opportunity to find a sub-community within ASIS&T that aligns with their interests. SIGs also provide an avenue for new members to become actively involved in ASIS&T. One respondent who attended an ASIS&T Annual Meeting said, “[I] learned about the SIGs and the focus of each, including being able to ask many SIG folks questions about the work they do as part of the SIG and professionally.”

Other positive comments on the SIGs focused on students’ experiences:

  • “SIG/DL’s student session provided a great opportunity to present our work for those of us who study at the master’s level.”
     
  • “Very difficult for master’s students to get work accepted at this conference. SIGs do a better job via workshops supporting students.” 

ASIS&T Helping Career and Research Goals. Almost three quarters (71%) of the respondents believe that ASIS&T is helping them in their career and research goals. Respondents talked about how belonging to the organization and attending an Annual Meeting had a direct influence on their future and research ideas. These are among the comments relating to career and research goals:

  • “After being undecided about whether I wanted to pursue a PhD, I was able to speak with many PhD candidates and attend sessions at which they shared their research; I came away with a clearer vision of the direction in which I was headed, both in terms of end degree and focus for academic electives.” 
     
  • “Getting feedback on my research.”

In the first author’s experience, talking to other faculty and students from other colleges and universities has been influential to her own research. Over the years, several senior researchers have given her suggestions on different research questions to pursue. 

Negative Experiences
Of course, negative experiences were also reported, but most were limited to the Annual Meetings. Each comment is unique and worthy of mentioning.

  • “Poor planning for the AM luncheon where New Leaders were supposed to be recognized and photographed and were not even mentioned to the gathering at large.”
     
  • “Most of those attending the Annual Meeting were PhD students or faculty teaching information science. As a graduate student who seeks to be a librarian practitioner, I felt out of place.”
     
  • “Topics sometimes old-fashioned, too many similar papers accepted, no diversity.”
     
  • “Many of the groups are very cliquish. There is little outreach for newcomers.”
     
  • “Presentations that were too specific to the domain of libraries and archives were hard to follow and not interesting to me.”
     
  • “Not organized according to the needs of the students. Students do not know how to interact/connect with desired scholars.”

The range of issues that students called attention to in this survey was wide and varied. It would be interesting and helpful to hear what other members think about the issues raised by students so that a holistic perspective of ASIS&T could be gained. Perhaps a similar, all-ASIS&T member survey would shed light on these and other issues. The responses could highlight improvements that might be addressed by ASIS&T leadership.

Factors Drawing Student Members to ASIS&T
So what draws students to ASIS&T? A number of respondents found out about ASIS&T through their deans, chairs, faculty and other students in their colleges and universities. Some reported that their schools had strong student chapters. A few talked about reading articles in JASIST. Once again, networking was mentioned several times as a reason they were drawn to ASIS&T:

  • “I was recruited by a fellow student and it sounded like an interesting group, as well as a great chance to meet others in the field at the Annual Meeting.”
     
  • “The opportunity to network with leaders in the field.”
     
  • “Direct connection to the IS academic community.”

Respondents also commented on how ASIS&T emphasizes more technical subjects, information management professions, informatics, and information science. Some talked about ASIS&T having a long tradition and reputation of research that has made advances in the information science field.

Generally, the people who make up the ASIS&T membership serve as a crucial draw for students. Making connections and networking were key factors in keeping them involved. Also, taking on leadership roles, getting involved and becoming a part of the community were listed as important. The following are sample comments:

  • “The people I’ve met over the last few years are wonderful, intelligent and very helpful.”
     
  • “Scholarly networks.”
     
  • “Welcoming community.”
     
  • “Supportive and convivial attitude, interesting programming.”

Suggestions to ASIS&T Leadership
The respondents were asked if they had any suggestions for ASIS&T leadership. The following is a partial list:

• “Create a real new leaders program; otherwise, you may just throw money out the window and call the New Leaders Award a scholarship and be done with it. If you expect to keep new leaders, you need to teach those that are given this designation and award how to be a leader.”

  • “Less emphasis on academia, PhD students and theory, more emphasis on practitioners, case studies and skills development.”
     
  • “Fix the membership databases, they are horrible!”
     
  • “Redo the website! It's slow – it took half an hour to download one webinar using a PC, after several failed attempts on Mac – and the look and feel are extremely outdated for an organization that has the word technology in its name.”
     
  • “Increase outreach to those who wish to be librarian practitioners.”
     
  • “I would suggest to communicate to ASIS&T members in a better way and offer options to exchange ideas, e.g., Wiki, blogs, etc.”
     
  • “Incentives to be officers, such as free or reduced membership fees or costs for the Annual Meeting, etc.”
     
  • “Encourage ASIS&T to be more inclusive in regard to research from other disciplines.”
     
  • “Provide more opportunities for new members to participate in the community. Provide more mentoring opportunities for doctoral students and young scholars in the field.”
     
  • “Recruit the new leaders for outreach in their own communities and expand beyond the United States.”
     
  • “Students should have a mini-leadership, apart from SIGs, roles which will be helpful in future.”
     
  • “I feel like there should be at least equal focus on both professional and scholarly pursuits/issues (if not weighting more toward professional than scholarly). Right now, it feels like the professional resources are undervalued and therefore underutilized. There are far more IS and IT professionals than there are IS/IT scholars and practically ignoring their needs feels like a huge missed opportunity.”
     
  • “Better mentoring options.”
     
  • “It is prohibitively expensive for many students to travel to and attend most ASIS&T conferences. I'm sure student members would appreciate these events being more financially accessible.”
     
  • “Open up to online students. I was an online student rep and they didn't know what to do with me. My everyday world is about collaboration, analysis, data, and I couldn't collaborate with my own peers. 

Hopefully they will do more in the future.”

The ASIS&T Board, its various SIGs, chapters and groups are either aware of or already addressing some of these suggestions. Still, a more concerted effort is required to better communicate that awareness and any responsive initiatives to both student and professional members.

Concluding Remarks
Once again, if ASIS&T is to grow as a professional association and attract new members, especially student members, it must strengthen and expand existing programs, activities and chapters. It must also maintain responsiveness by continuously assessing those programs. As shown by our survey results, student chapters are at the forefront of recruitment for new ASIS&T members. Existing programs such as the New Leaders Award (www.asist.org/awards/asistnewleadersaward.html) and the student volunteer program during the Annual Meeting are crucial because students who attend ASIS&T meetings tend to remain members when they transition to being professionals. Those students who benefit from these programs will likely publicize their experiences (see, for example, http://asistpratt.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/asist-annual-meeting-student-volunteer-edition/). SIGs and regional chapters also need to play a more active role in introducing ASIS&T to students through funding opportunities similar to the NEASIS&T Student Travel Award (https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/acrl-nec-news/3Ra3Lqk76Tg). Last but not least, now that ASIS&T is a truly international association, international student member recruitment programs such as SIG/III’s InfoShare Program (www.asist.org/SIG/SIGIII/infoshare) should be expanded.

Resources Mentioned in the Article
[1] Hastings, S. (December/January 2004). President’s page. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 30(2). Retrieved from www.asist.org/Bulletin/Dec-03/president.html

[2] Bruce, H. (February/March 2014). President’s page. Bulletin of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 40(3), 3-5. Retrieved from www.asist.org/Bulletin/Feb-14/FebMar14_PresidentsPage.pdf


Catherine Dumas is a Ph.D. student in informatics and Abebe Rorissa is an associate professor in the College of Computing & Information, University at Albany, SUNY. Catherine Dumas has been a student member of ASIS&T since 2009 and has held several officer positions in the University at Albany's Student Chapter of ASIS&T. She won the ASIS&T New Leaders Award in 2012-2013 and serves on the communications team for SIG/SI and as a mentorship coordinator for SIG/III. Abebe Rorissa's involvement with ASIS&T spans over 12 years and includes student membership, member of the Bulletin Advisory Board, assistant editor of the Proceedings, Bulletin guest editor and chair of SIG/III. They can be reached respectively at cdumas<at>albany.edu and arorissa<at>albany.edu.