Student Scientists On Board, 1948

By Vicki Zwart

Students have been an important part of the American Geophysical Union membership for more than 60 years.  Student participation in the Union was first explored in 1948 when a special committee investigated if adding a student membership grade was feasible. The committee discovered that college students could not give the Union the kind of financial support it was looking for. But committee chairman Woodrow C. Jacobs wrote in his report in Transactions, Vol. 31, No. 4, that the Union should “attempt to attract, at whatever cost, the better student minds.”

By 1954, AGU was attracting more students and established a student membership grade, allowing students to participate in scientific meetings and receive Transactions but not vote. Dues were $3 a year. Their student classification would end a year after they graduated and if proved eligible, they could be promoted to Associate Member.

Student scientists quickly became one of the fastest growing segments of AGU. There were nearly 700 student members after a decade of enrollment and the numbers continued to climb with a large part of AGU’s membership expansion in the early 1980s attributed to students.

The special student category of membership was eliminated in 1972 and they were given full membership privileges, including the right to vote, while still enjoying reduced fees.

In 1984, roughly one-sixth of the total membership was students – over 2,500 members. AGU’s General Secretary, L. H. Meredith, acknowledged at the time that students had little input in how the Union was run and after soliciting student feedback, efforts were made to improve their membership perks, including sponsoring contests for the best student papers presented in each Section and announcing the winner in Eos. The honors continue today with the Outstanding Student Presentation Awards (OSPA) for undergraduate, Master’s and Ph.D. students.

Now, students make up about one-quarter of the Union’s members.



In 1951, AGU’s General Secretary was authorized to establish a student subscription rate for Transactions of $4 a year. Subscriptions were limited to 100. Form letters regarding the student subscriptions were sent to 200 institutions with geophysics departments. About 25 students signed up by the end of the year.

From 2002 to 2009, the growth of the number of members who were students was 66% while the growth among nonstudent members was 29%.

Some of the other student membership perks include: student only sessions for papers, travel grants to help increase the diversity of participants, reduced fees for meeting registration, abstract and journal subscriptions, and access to back issues with the introduction of electronic journals.

AGU’s 20,000th member was a graduate student. In 1986, Rainer Uhrenbacher was studying at the Institute of Geophysics of the University of Kiel, Federal Republic of Germany.

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