26 June 2018

Changes Coming in AAS Membership Classes

Diane Frendak

Diane Frendak American Astronomical Society (AAS)

AAS LogoLast summer, following the recommendations of the Governance Task Force Report (available as a PDF), AAS members voted to approve new Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws. If your first reaction to this accomplishment was “Meh. Doesn’t affect me.” — well, it just might!

We’ve already implemented many of the required adjustments to our leadership structure, and now it is time to do the same for the AAS membership classes. These revisions will clarify the difference between Members (who can vote) and Affiliates (who cannot vote), remove some historical anomalies, eliminate potentially discriminatory age limits, and simplify membership application and processing tasks.

This post is the first in a series of messages about the upcoming changes to our membership classes. (Need a recap of the multi-year process of overhauling our governance structure? See “New AAS Articles of Incorporation & Bylaws Approved!”)

It’s easiest to begin with what, in general, isn’t changing: if you’re a Full Member, you’ll remain a Full Member with all that class’s extant benefits and privileges; likewise, Educator Affiliates and Members with Emeritus status will see no changes to their rights and responsibilities.

A minor adjustment to the International Affiliate class pertains to abstract submission: like any other Affiliate, an International Affiliate is entitled to present a paper at a Society meeting with sponsorship of a Full Member.

More significant changes are in store for students, previously known as Junior Members. Starting this year, the Junior membership class will be split into two: one for Graduate Student Members, and one for High School/Undergraduate Affiliates. Finally, the AAS will welcome Amateur Affiliates who are advancing the astronomical sciences through scientific research on their own time and Alumni Affiliates who have achieved membership status and have subsequently left the field but would like to retain a connection to the AAS community. Expect more information about these new Member and Affiliate classes soon.

Now let’s get into the changes to the Full and Associate Member classes.


If you are currently a Full Member of the Society, you won’t see any difference in your membership, but if you’re interested in becoming a Full member, then expect something new. While the Bylaws definition for this membership class is basically unchanged (“individuals deemed capable of preparing an acceptable paper upon some subject of astronomy or a related branch of science”), the mechanism ensuring compliance with this definition is moving away from nomination by two Full Members in good standing to instead meeting at least two of the following criteria:

  1. possessing a graduate degree in astronomy or a related science;
  2. receiving the nomination of a current Member in good standing; or
  3. placing a refereed publication in a recognized international journal, such as the Astronomical Journal, Astrophysical Journal, Icarus, etc.                    

Recognizing that the Society cannot imagine all possible individual circumstances, a final appeal is allowed to the AAS Membership Committee.

So, why the change? In the past, Full membership typically required a doctorate; now, those with master’s degrees are welcome to apply, thereby increasing the diversity of the Full Member population and potentially the leadership of the Society as well. According to the Governance Task Force, “the currency of the profession is refereed journal articles,” and these publications “serve as a better proxy for assuring reasonable contributions to our scientific meetings than the signature of two members at some distant time in the past.” Lastly, the Governance Task Force recommended opening several pathways to Full membership, easing the process of joining the Society.


The most significant membership class revision — the sunsetting of the Associate Member class — strives to eliminate potentially discriminatory age requirements. Under the old Bylaws, the Associate Member class included any person, 28 years of age or older, who is no longer a student and has not obtained a PhD in astronomy or a related science.

The Society currently has 546 Associate Members who are essential to advancing the astronomical sciences but who will need to find a new membership class by the end of 2018. The AAS membership department will reach out to each current Associate Member to discuss the available options. As far as we can tell, most Associates are eligible for Full membership. If you’re a current Associate Member who meets the criteria for Full membership, complete our AAS Full Member Eligibility Form and we will switch your membership class.

NEXT IN THE SERIES: Changes to student memberships.