SERVICE SUMMARY Marc Sher–self-evalution


Prior to 1992, my service to the scientific community was fairly conventional. I was a member of the American Physical Society, had refereed approximately 60 papers (over the previous 15 years) for Physical Review, Physical Review Letters, Physics Letters and Nuclear Physics, and had reviewed a dozen grant proposals for the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. Although I was interested in issues of national science policy and budgets, and even went on one lobbying trip to Congress to push for the Superconducting Supercollider, I really didn't play much of an active role.

In 1992, I was elected to the Executive Committee of the Forum on Physics and Society (FPS). The FPS was the first forum of the American Physical Society, and has approximately 5,000 members (12% of the APS membership). The Forum is concerned with a range of issues involving the relationship of physics to society, including arms control, science policy and budgets, and environmental issues. They publish a 20 page quarterly newsletter, Physics and Society, organize a number of sessions at APS meetings, offer short courses, and conduct studies. The Forum has a significant impact on federal science policy and legislation.

When I joined the FPS Executive Committee, I was surprised to find that the committee members had not begun to consider the impact of the computer revolution on the Forum and on the relationship between the physics community and society as a whole. For example, a very strong argument in favor of continued financial federal support for basic research involves noticing what occurred in a physics experiment in Geneva in the late 80's. The experiment was in high energy physics, arguably the branch of physics farthest from the real world. In order to allow members of the experiment to analyze the detector, make changes, and better communicate, the experimenters set up a new form of electronic communication, involving hyperlinks. The new form of communication grew, first to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, then to universities, and then to the rest of the world. It is now called the World-Wide Web, and has clearly had more impact on our society than any other scientific spin-off in decades. It shows how an experiment in basic research, whose primary purpose has no obvious relevance to society, can lead to incredibly important breakthroughs. Yet the members of the Executive Committee hadn't thought about this, and many didn't even know what the Web was (in 1993).

In order to bring the Forum up to date, I established a Web page for the Forum in early 1993 Following our example, he other Fora (Education, Industrial and Applied Physics, and the History of Physics) have now also established such pages. The FPS newsletter was put on-line, and every quarter I put the new issue on the Web (it's much easier now than it used to be). The page, which is still on the physics computer in our department, receives some 10,000 hits per year, and the articles in the newsletter are often accessed by congressional staff members.

In addition, I was a member of a subcommittee which met with the editors of Physical Review and Phys. Review Letters in 1993 and 1994 to discuss electronification of the journal. The journals are now primarily electronic--the paper edition is still used for archival purposes only.

Every year, the Forum holds elections. The turnout, in 1994, was abysmal, with only 200 votes cast out of 5,000 members. I argued that the reason for the turnout was the difficulty in voting: one must cut out the ballot, vote, stamp it, and then mail it. I suggested allowing votes to be cast on the Web. Since virtually all physicists use the Web daily, this would be much easier. Unfortunately, the APS ByLaws prohibited electronic voting, and there was concern about the integrity of such an election. At the request of the APS Executive Officer, I put together a detailed plan for conducting the election on the Web. This plan was then discussed by the APS Executive Council, and a one-year trial was authorized. In December of 1995, an e-mail message was sent to the entire Forum membership, giving them the Website for voting (the site contained, via clicking on the names, the candidate's statements and biographies). The election was very successful, with over 500 Web votes, and 200 paper votes, cast. A detailed report on the procedures, process, and results can be found at

Because of the clear success of this election, which resulted in more than tripling the number of votes received, the APS authorized Web-based voting for all APS units, and asked those units to contact me for copies of the scripts used in constructing the ballot. I gave such copies to a dozen APS units over the next few months, and they all now conduct electronic elections. Finally, the APS itself decided to use electronic balloting for its elections, and has recently gone through the rather cumbersome procedure of changing the By-Laws to allow this. The next APS Presidential election will be available electronically.

In addition to serving on the FPS Executive committee, I have become the News Editor (as well as "electronic communication editor") ofPhysics and Society. My term on the Executive Committee is now over, but these new roles will continue for the foreseeable future.

Last year, I received the honor of being elected by the APS Executive Committee to join the Panel on Public Affairs. This is a group of 20 physicists that advises the APS Executive Council---we basically propose formal statements to the APS Executive Board. It meets three times a year in Washington. In my candidate's statement, I mentioned how a major concern of mine was the status of women in physics. Roughly 10 percent of all tenured physicists in the country are women, and there is rampant discrimination against women in science (and especially physics) at all levels (the "advantage" due to affirmative action, while real, is a minor perturbation).

One early action I took as a member of the Panel involved a proposal by Representative Constance Morella (R-Md) to establish a subcommittee of the House Science Committee to study problems of women in science, engineering and technology (HR-3007). We discussed this with Rep. Morella, and got the APS Executive Council to strongly endorse formation of this committee. During the hectic budget weeks of early October, the APS Congressional staffers and Fellows successfully shepherded the bill through the Congress, and the President signed it the day before receiving the omnibus appropriations bill in mid-October.

The most important contribution that I will make to the scientific community concerns a study that I've carried out in collaboration with Dr. Laurie McNeil, from UNC-Chapel Hill (she is Past Chair of the Committee on the Status of Women in Physics). One of the major impediments to women getting positions in physics is the "dual-career couple" problem. Approximately 80% of all women physicists in the United States are married to scientists. Since jobs are very scarce (especially in academia), the chance that two people will get jobs in the same geographical location is very small. Since, on average, the man is older and thus farther advanced in his career, the woman's career generally suffers (it also often suffers because the couple has children, and it is more socially acceptable for the woman to give up her career---thus if getting two jobs in the same area is impossible, the path of least resistance is for her to quit). Dr. McNeil and I decided to look at this problem, and possibly suggest some solutions.

We set up a detailed survey on the Web. The survey had 26 questions, many of which required narrative answers. David Aday and Susan Bosworth, of the Sociology Dept., were very helpful in preparing the survey. Some e-mail messages were sent out to various list-servs, notices were sent to Physics newsletters and journals. We collected data from January to June of 1998. To our astonishment and delight, we received over 600 responses, many with very detailed narratives, and some with interesting solutions.

Our report was then written. It outlined the problem, discussed the details of the survey, and emphasized why the dual-career couple problem is such an impediment to women in physics. We referred to many of the comments of the survey respondents in this part of the report, and noted that in the overwhelming majority of job searches involving a woman candidate in physics, someone asks directly about the spouse (in direct violation of federal law). We then turned to some suggested solutions, including the growing trend toward split/shared positions and the growing number of spousal hiring programs at major universities. We discussed the best time to bring up the issue during interviews, and went over many of the individual solutions that people have found.

The report was 45 pages long. The APS liked it so much that they sent a hard copy to every department chair, dean and provost in the country. It has now been downloaded over 40,000 times, and I've spoken with the NSF Director and the Director of the Office of Science about it. A condensed version of the report (about 10% of the length) was published in Physics Today in 1999. Finally, a copy of the full report was given to the Morella committee, with suggestions for possible federal legislation (for example, regarding nepotism laws and special grants). The dual career couple report is available at this link. For the years 2000-2009, the report was the first link when typing "dual career" into Google!

In addition, I served a three year term on the Committee on the Status of Women in Physics, and created a listing of graduate schools along with answers to the questions: how many students (women/total), how many faculty (women/total), is there a family leave policy, is there health insurance given, and "what other comments do you wish to make". It has been quite successful (on the APS page), and several departments told me that they developed family leave policies when they found out how many other institutions had them.

In 2012, there was been an explosion of interest on the Higgs boson. This is my specialty, so there have been lots of interviews. Something like 20,000 sites list me along with the words "Higgs boson". The highlight was an interview with Richard Harris on NPR's All Things COnsidered last March 14th (you can download it on their webpage).

Finally, in 2013, Keith Dienes, Program Director for Theoretical High Energy Physics and Cosmology for the National Science Foundation, was required to leave his position for a year (in order to become permanent at NSF, one must be away from NSF for a year). I was asked to take over the position, and agreed to do so in August, 2013. My time with the NSF ended January, 2015. The program budget is roughly $13.5 million, and I decided who gets grants and the funding levels (with, of course, strong advice from reviewers and panelists). It's been an interesting experience, but I did miss teaching (and hated driving up to DC every week for a year...). I have kept in touch with the NSF and have served on numerous panels. I would like to continue doing something with the NSF and am keeping my eye open for rotator positions.