Whither AAPG?

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

This year I have heard many members express opinions about future membership trends, without the benefit of membership data. Because we’re scientists, let’s look at the data, the programs that AAPG has implemented, and where AAPG might go in the future.

The following figures illustrate our long-term trends in membership since 1979, so that we can consider the implications of our membership policies.

Historical Membership Trends

See Figures 1 through 9.

The first eight figures show the ages of members in groups of five years on the horizontal axis, and total number of members for each group on the vertical axis.

Three comments on the graphs:

  1. The statistics are a snapshot from January 1 of each year (mid-year FY calculations). As we’ll discuss below, the timing of this snapshot affects how we calculate membership for recent years.
  2. The average price of oil for each year is shown in terms of 2012 dollars.
  3. The figures show certain specific years when major population cohorts move from one age group to another (e.g. from 31-35 to 36-40).

Looking at Figures 1 through 9, the key point is obvious. The Baby Boomers are now in a similar decline curve as their LITT forefathers. For AAPG to maintain a large number of members, we must recruit new members to succeed the Baby Boomers.

Next, let’s analyze the programs that AAPG Leadership has implemented during the past decade to see how they’ve affected membership.

Student Members

See Figures 10 and 11.

Five programs and policies to increase student memberships have had some success.

  1. Sponsorship of students’ dues. Halliburton started paying students’ dues in 2003; Chevron later took over in 2006, and currently pays the dues for all 11,000+ students.
  2. The Imperial Barrel Award Program. This has become one of the premier programs for geoscience students. This year’s competition had 100 teams with five persons per team. This translates to 500 students, 70 percent who were from international regions. Participating in the IBA leads to commitment to AAPG – last year, 53 percent of IBA participants became Associate AAPG members, in contrast to the overall 9 percent retention of all student members.
  3. Grants-in-Aid. This program supports student research. This year, $185,000 was awarded to 84 students. Note that last year, only 32 percent of students who received grants became Associate members.
  4. The Young Professional and Students Membership Committee was developed five years ago, and this has had good success encouraging involvement with younger members.
  5. The House of Delegates (HOD) passed the “Student Bridge” program, which allows student members to have the option to remain in the student class after ending academic careers. With the billing cycle for FY2013, 4,656 students who are graduating were changed to Student/YP status and were billed $10 for their dues. We are hopeful this program will assist recent graduates with retaining their AAPG membership.

When we compare the number of Student members with Baby Boomers and the LITT Generation (Figure 9), it appears that the Student members are replacing the decline of the Baby Boomers, and becoming the dominant group in AAPG – just like when the Boomers joined in 1979 (Figure 1).

However, the graph in Figure 9 is misleading. The reality is that the number of Student members fluctuates considerably within any one year. Specifically, two dates for Student member numbers are shown in Figure 11 for the most recent five-year interval: March 1 (pre-billing) and June 30 (post-billing).

Graduated Dues and Non-U.S. Membership

See Figures 12 through 14.

The AAPG HOD voted for graduated dues for members at the April 2007 Annual Convention in Long Beach. This allows members with lower incomes to pay lower dues. The purpose was to increase our membership, especially in the non-U.S. arena. Note that the SPE and SEG already had similar policies.

Finally, let’s review three additional important aspects of membership.

See Figures 15 through 17.

What do all of these trends mean?

The future success of our Association depends largely on the recruitment and retention of new members to carry out the missions of the Association. However, it is difficult to project membership trends into the future due to the number of variables – for example, Student retention, non-U.S. membership, and the rate of Baby Boomer decline.

The real question, then, is – whither AAPG? What does AAPG want to be in the coming decades? Primarily a U.S. society with 15,000 members? Or perhaps a global society of 40,000 members or more?

You may recall at the 2011 All-Convention Luncheon, Harrison “Jack” Schmidt (Apollo 17 astronaut and AAPG Honorary Member) observed that the average age of the NASA engineers who worked to place humans on the moon was 26. I think this is a wonderful metaphor for AAPG’s future.

From my AAPG travels this year, speaking with members in 25 countries as well as the United States, I have seen the face of the AAPG’s future, and I like it! The face of our future is a young face; an international face, speaking multiple languages. These students and young professionals are hungry for knowledge. They see science and technology evolving rapidly – especially in the area of unconventional resources – and they want to apply new techniques now to help accelerate the transformation toward unconventional to conventional resources. What they want from AAPG membership is to access as much state-of-the-art geoscience information as they can. Fortunately, AAPG has the potential to do this.

In summary, here are my key learnings and recommendations for increasing membership and improving the overall health of the Association through services.

♦ Companies investing in universities globally.

In nearly all of the countries that I visited this year I was struck by two things. First, students expressed their frustration about the lack of access to AAPG’s scientific information. Not all university libraries can provide access to the wealth of AAPG publications. Second, it also became evident that there is a surprising lack of engagement between companies and universities. There are several reasons for this, but the primary reason is a lack of desire on the companies’ part. This divide between companies and universities has an immediate negative impact on the future of AAPG in terms of building and retaining memberships, and on the long-term health of our profession.

I have encouraged companies to do two things: (1) Take the time to give talks and speak with students at local universities about the profession. (2) Donate a permanent subscription to AAPG Datapages to increase universities’ access to all of AAPG publications.

Here is one scenario. In Country X, let’s say that 10 major universities have broad programs in petroleum geology-related fields, and participate in the IBA program. If the five largest companies who operate in Country X gave $30,000 each, their combined gift of $150,000 would give the universities lifetime access to AAPG’s publications. I cannot think of a better investment for the future.

Finally, in addition to the IBA program, the AAPG also can help universities by placing more regional lecturers and VGPs into Regions. We are starting to implement this program.

♦ Cooperation with other societies.

In my January column I discussed the need for AAPG to increase its level of participation with other societies, partly because our members are demanding we do so. In response, we opened the joint office with the SEG in Dubai in early March. Previously, on February 24, select members of the AAPG and SEG Executive Committees met with staff members to discuss additional areas for future collaboration. One surprising fact that emerged was the number of members who belonged to both societies (about 6 percent of SEG). I hope our collaboration will increase so that we can co-sponsor additional events for members.

Another example of cooperation is the EAGE Memorandum of Understanding to increase our joint offerings. We expect to sign this in June. The first joint EAGE-AAPG research conference will be held in Cyprus in early 2013, with plans for subsequent annual affairs around the globe.

AAPG’s mission and activities are not always aligned with other societies. However, without more cooperation all associations will lose ground to for-profit organizations, which are diluting the market for high-quality scientific conferences.

♦ Reconsidering membership requirements.

The movement toward membership simplification that began several years ago continued this year, led by members Jeff Lund and Andrea Reynolds. These are a series of positive continuing steps to make the AAPG application experience more efficient (process) and welcoming (qualification and application requirements).

What I learned this year from speaking with many members is that most do not understand the reasons for our membership requirements, and they think the process to become an Active member is unnecessarily onerous. That is one reason, if not the primary reason, for the decline in Active membership (Figure 15). To increase our membership and, importantly, the number of Active members, will require further simplification and re-evaluation of some of our requirements.

♦ A new golden age for applied geosciences.

I think the AAPG is entering into a new golden age for applied geosciences due to the confluence of two emerging factors. First, our science has evolved considerably during the past few years – the move toward unconventional resources is challenging many traditional concepts that involve petroleum systems, migration, reservoirs, and porosity systems, while pushing us to develop new methods and technologies to explore for and produce these resources.

Second, we now have the ability to deliver our scientific information almost instantly around the world. In our April column, Steve Laubach, Ted Beaumont and I reviewed our ongoing efforts to improve the Association’s abilities to deliver science. This transformation will take two-three years, but I think this is absolutely essential to our future ability to entice new members and retain current members. With these capabilities, we could globally reach the full potential of our influence as a professional society.

In summary, as we honor the past, we must also begin to ring in the new by embracing the opportunities of the present and future. Our best path forward is to use the influence we have already earned, and apply new learnings to grow membership and the long-term health of the organization.

Editor's Note: This month’s column is extracted from my address at the opening session of the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Long Beach, Calif., on April 22. I thank AAPG staff members Vicki Beighle and David Lange for their extraordinary help in generating these statistics and figures.

A recurring theme of my columns is the long-term health of AAPG. In this column I’d like to focus (again) on long-term trends in membership.

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