7 May 2020

Frequently Asked Questions About the AAS Fellows Program

Megan Donahue, AAS Past President                                  Paula Szkody, AAS President

AAS Fellow PinIn February the Society announced its first class of AAS Fellows, members honored for extraordinary achievement and service. The late E. Margaret Burbidge was named Inaugural Fellow, and some 200 other distinguished AAS members were named Legacy Fellows. Now it’s time for our first annual call for nominations of new Fellows, AAS-member colleagues worthy of recognition for original research and publication, innovative contributions to astronomical techniques or instrumentation, significant contributions to education and public outreach, and noteworthy service to astronomy and to the Society itself.

Since our February announcement, we’ve received many inquiries about the AAS Fellows program. Here, in FAQ format, are answers to some of the questions asked most often.

Q: What is the point of an AAS Fellows program? We went 120 years without one.

A: There are only a modest number of annual AAS prizes, but there are many outstanding AAS members. With an AAS Fellows program, we have the opportunity to acknowledge the superb, long-term, generous work of our AAS colleagues. Furthermore, we are not just celebrating contributions to astronomy and the field of astronomy by individuals — we are advancing the visibility and prestige of astronomy groups and departments. An award from a national professional society is one of those outside indicators of success that are very much appreciated by colleges and universities. If you work in an astronomy-only department, you and your chair may be unaware of the kudos that individuals in other departments accrue, but physics societies, chemistry societies, and other scientific associations have Fellows programs — and your dean is aware of them. Society fellowships are among the metrics that academic institutions use to evaluate the importance and reputation of their programs. If you are already in a highly valued and extremely visible astronomy department, you might scoff at the notion that your group would benefit from having an AAS Fellow named at your institution. But those of us who sit in joint departments or in up-and-coming astronomy departments understand that an AAS Fellows program benefits all of us, not just the individuals recognized.

Q: I can’t believe Dr. Astro was not included among the Legacy Fellows! Why not?

A: The Board of Trustees established a Legacy class of Fellows to avoid a large backlog of highly deserving individuals. It was not intended to be complete or definitive. The criteria used to select the Legacy Fellows were based on data that were 100% under the purview of the AAS: membership status and duration, receipt of a career prize by the Society or one of its Divisions, and long-term volunteer service and leadership on one or more AAS committees. (Note that the selection criteria going forward are much broader but will continue to include scientific accomplishments and service to the field and to the AAS community.) We added a handful of individuals with significant scientific and/or community-service accomplishments who may have been overlooked in the past.

So the simple answer is that Dr. Astro might not have been included as a Legacy Fellow because of their current AAS membership status, their record of previous AAS awards, and/or their years in AAS committee service — despite otherwise being highly deserving of being elected an AAS Fellow. If Dr. Astro is a current AAS member satisfying the criteria described below, consider nominating them this year.

Q: Who is eligible to be elected a Fellow of the AAS?

A: Only current AAS members in good standing are eligible, and since the intent is to reward career achievement and service, nominees are expected to have been full members for at least 5 consecutive years or 10 non-consecutive years. Years of now-discontinued associate membership count toward this eligibility, and current emeritus members (who, by definition, meet the membership-duration requirements) are also eligible, as are honorary members. Under special circumstances long-term international, educator, alumni, and amateur affiliate members who meet similar requirements may also be eligible.

We seek to honor individuals who have best enabled the AAS to achieve its mission of enhancing and sharing humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe. That is a broad charter, and Fellowship will recognize AAS members for their scientific achievements, education and outreach accomplishments, public policy work, and service to the Society and the wider astronomical community. Future AAS and Division career-prize awardees will be offered AAS Fellowship if they meet the membership requirements described above.

The AAS Fellows Selection Committee will evaluate the nominations and forward the ones they approve (up to 0.5% of the number of current full members of the Society each year) to the Board of Trustees for ratification. Before the Board takes action, individuals under active consideration for AAS Fellowship will be asked to go through the same ethics self-disclosure procedure that applies to all of the Society’s honors, prizes, and awards.

Nominations for AAS Fellowship are allowed to remain active for three years, so nominees not confirmed the first time around may well be confirmed a year or two later.

Q: Who is not eligible to be an AAS Fellow?

A: Nonmembers, as well as Society members who don’t meet the requirements described above, are ineligible for Fellowship. Also ineligible are current AAS employees, current AAS and Division officers, members of the AAS Board of Trustees, and current members of the AAS Fellows Selection Committee — though, in practice, we will try to populate that committee with current Fellows and Board members.

Q: Who may nominate Fellows?

A: Nominations may be sponsored by current AAS full members, international affiliates, and members of other AIP member societies if they are in leadership positions such as director of a science center or chair of an academic department. You can nominate yourself, as is true for nearly all AAS prizes, awards, and honors. We also encourage our six topical Divisions to organize nomination campaigns for qualified members; this will help ensure that our Fellows reflect the full diversity of disciplines represented by our membership.

Q: What’s the nomination deadline?

A: 30 June each year (the same deadline as most other AAS prize and award nominations). 

Q: How do I go about nominating someone to be a Fellow?

A: Visit the AAS Grants-and-Prizes Portal on the OpenWater Awards website and navigate to the AAS Fellows page. There you'll find detailed instructions, a checklist to ensure completeness, and the nomination form itself.