The 2024 ISGS Member Survey – Responding to your Feedback

The ISGS Board recently sought feedback from the International Sol-Gel community on the current activities of the ISGS and what changes, if any, the Board should consider implementing. This is an important initiative to help inform the future directions of the ISGS, as we seek to continuing building a professional, inclusive and equitable international community of practice. 

In all, 49 responses were received (around 3 % of our Newsletter mailing list), which provided some interesting insights into the impact of our current initiatives and new initiatives that we might consider exploring. A summary of the responses obtained to each of the questions posed in the survey is included below. 

Demographics
Survey respondents were located in over 20 different countries, with the majority being senior scientists or research heads in either academia or national laboratories (71 %). Only a small number of responses (12 %) were received from the future leaders of our community (PhD students and postdocs), suggesting a need for the ISGS to better engage with this critically important group. Around 45 % of respondents were long-term members of the ISGS, with the next-largest group currently being non members (16 %).

Current and Future ISGS Initiatives
Since its inception in 2003, the ISGS has supported the selection of host cities for the biennial International Sol – Gel conference, and not surprisingly, the majority of respondents (although not all) were familiar with this important conference series. Many of our more recent initiatives, including the eSeminar series, PhD thesis awards and ISGS Newsletters, were also familiar to respondents (>85 %). More established initiatives, such as free access to JSST, Lifetime Achievement Awards, ISGS Fellowships and Summer Schools were also familiar, with over 65 % of respondents indicating an awareness of these. The Renata Reisfeld Award and eMarathon, initiatives which are both intended to support our PhD students, attracted the lowest levels of awareness among respondents. Similarly, only two respondents had submitted an application for the ISGS PhD Thesis Award and only one had applied for the Renata Reisfeld Award. Further, only seven respondents had applied for the biennial Ulrich Awards. 

These responses suggest a need for the ISGS to better connect with, and identify the support needs of, our PhD students and early-career researchers. In this context, respondents proposed several new initiatives or modifications to existing initiatives for supporting our future leaders: 

• Mobility awards, to enable PhD students to travel to laboratories outside of their home institutions to access facilities or expertise not otherwise available to them. 

• PhD student travel awards, for attending the biennial International Sol-Gel conference. 

• Poster awards (note that poster awards are already given at the biennial International Sol-Gel conferences. 

• Awards for sol-gel practitioners based in industry. 

• Best paper published in JSST (note that this initiative will be introduced by JSST in Berlin during September 2024). 

• Extending the eligibility period for the “Best PhD Thesis” Award, noting that the deadline is often too close to the time at which most students defend their theses. 

• Other awards (unspecified by the respondent) to encourage young sol-gel researchers. 

Several of the suggestions provided by respondents have already been in place for many years, suggesting a need by the ISGS to better publicise the awards that are available for our PhD students, early career and mid career researchers. For example, each year, the ISGS typically receives less than 10 nominations for the “Best PhD Thesis Award” from the many hundreds of students in our Sol-Gel community of practice. One respondent indicated that the prizes offered as a part of this latter award are not particularly attractive, suggesting one possible reason for the low number of applications received.

ISGS Newsletter and eSeminar
As two of our more recent initiatives, the ISGS Board was particularly interested in any feedback provided by respondents on the Newsletter and eSeminars. Anecdotally, readers of the Newsletter have often indicated an interest in the regular History section, with over 60 % of respondents indicating that they regularly read this content (note from Editor: gathering this information is time-consuming, but one of my favourite Newsletter related tasks…I always learn something new when researching this section). Respondents also indicated an interest in the “Micrograph of the Month” contribution.

The feedback received on the eSeminar series was mixed. Around 35% of respond-ents indicated that they attend the majority of eSeminars, while 43% indicated that they occasionally participate. Several respond-ents indicated that they only consult the recordings (10%). One respondent indicated that the eSeminars are often held too early in the morning (local time) for them to partic-ipate, and they find it difficult to navigate the ISGS website to access the recordings. It is an unfortunately reality that no one time is going to be convenient for all members of our international community. However, the issues with navigation of the ISGS website will hopefully be resolved soon by the launch of our reconceptualised web-site. The new site should be fully operational before the beginning of the 2024 International Sol-Gel Conference in September.

Additional Comments
The member survey concluded by providing an opportunity for respondents to record any additional comments or feedback for the ISGS Board. Many respondents indicated that they found the activities of the ISGS to be very positive. Other comments provided valuable insights that will help the Board better shape our initiatives to meet

the needs of the diverse International Sol-Gel community. Examples of these include: 

• The imperative to consider the needs of researchers from less developed countries, to ensure their participation in ISGS activities. 

• The provision of travel grants to enable PhD students, post-docs and other early-career researchers, who sometimes do not have sufficient funds to cover travel costs and registration fees, to participate in key international conferences that can provide them with crucial networking and career opportunities. 

• Tutorial articles and news stories on specific fields in which sol-gel science and technology is making an impact, including photonics. 

• More stories from retired/senior sol-gel scientists, to discuss their careers in sol-gel science and technology, how they entered the field, their teaching activities, etc. 

• Holding ISGS Summer Schools in Asia as well as Europe, to reflect the significant contributions of sol-gel scientists based in Asia to the development of sol-gel science and technology. (Note from Editor: a highly successful sol-gel school has also been operating in Latin America for nearly two decades. The XIth version of the Sol-Gel School will be held at Universidad Nacional de San Martín, Buenos Aires, between September 23rd and October 4th, 2024). 

• Tutorial and educational sol-gel resources providing a consolidated course on sol-gel science and technology.

Conclusions
Overall, the feedback provided by the 49 respondents provides both an affirmation of the current initiatives being pursued by the ISGS Board, while proposing new initiatives and directions that should be considered. An over-arching conclusion that can be drawn from the demographics of the respondents is that the ISGS Board must consider new and more effectives ways in which to engage with the International Sol-Gel community, particularly our PhD students and early career researchers. This will be a priority of the Board. 

We are grateful to those who took the time to provide their feedback via the 2024 ISGS Member Survey. As always, we would welcome any additional feedback or comments that you have. These can be addressed to the ISGS Newsletter Editor, Secretariat and/or President. We look forward to receiving and implementing any ideas that you might have for supporting the international sol-gel community of practice.