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The AMS Fellows Proposal — Frequently Asked Questions

If your question is not listed here, please email the AMS Secretary.

Q. How was the AMS Fellows program proposal developed?
A. Over the past decade various committees and subcommittees of the AMS have discussed the possibility of instituting an AMS Fellows Program, partly influenced by the existence of such programs in a number of other scientific societies. In 2003 an ad hoc committee on Fellows gave a report to the Council in which arguments were presented for and against the concept. Because it is hard to judge a program in the abstract, a smaller committee was appointed with the charge to formulate a specific proposal. This committee included the Council members, John Franks, Susan Friedlander (Chair) and Sheldon Katz. After months of analysis of earlier committee reports, discussions with many AMS members, comparative research into other Fellows programs, and deliberation of what kind of program might suit the AMS, the committee reported back to the Council in 2006 with a specific proposal.

The Council, after strenuous debate, voted to put the proposal on the 2006 AMS ballot. The members could vote for or against the proposal with the information that if two-thirds of the vote was in favor, the program would be implemented. The vote in 2006 was 63.2% in favor.

The proposal brought to the membership in 2008 was a modified version of the 2006 proposal. It took into account certain issues raised by members and also benefitted from feedback between the AMS proposal and a proposal for SIAM Fellows that has since been implemented.  This time the vote in favor was 66.2%.

In 2011 the AMS Council voted almost unanimously (with one negative vote) to place the latest proposal on the 2011 AMS ballot, indicating there that "If more than 1/2 of the members voting on this issue are in favor, then the AMS will implement the program." The vote of the membership was 65.3% in favor.  At its January 2012 meeting the Council decided to implement the Fellows Program. More information may be found at

Q. Is excellence in research the only criterion for being a Fellow?
 Research excellence is not the sole criterion envisioned for selection of AMS  Fellows.  The Fellows Program could recognize excellence in educational activities and "diversity of every kind."

Q. What are the goals of the Fellows program?
A. The goals are:

  • To create an enlarged class of mathematicians recognized by their peers as distinguished for their contributions to the profession.

  • To honor not only the extraordinary but also the excellent.

  • To lift the morale of the profession by providing an honor more accessible than those currently available.

  • To make mathematicians more competitive for awards, promotion and honors when they are being compared with colleagues from other disciplines.

  • To support the advancement of more mathematicians in leadership positions in their own institutions and in the broader society.

Q. What are arguments in favor of a Fellows program ?
A. Here are some of the arguments in favor:

  1. The celebration of newly created Fellows of the AMS would bring positive publicity to mathematics and to excellent mathematicians.

  2. The proposed initial procedure and the relatively large number of AMS Fellows envisaged for the program would enable a more diverse group of mathematicians to be recognized.

  3. Mathematics has been somewhat reluctant to recognize excellence in its midst, other than truly exceptional achievement. The Fellows Programs will enable broader recognition of mathematicians.

  4. AMS Fellows individually and departments associated with AMS Fellows would be given an external recognition which could bring additional resources to mathematics.

  5. The AMS Fellows Program should raise the visibility of the AMS within the mathematics community and could increase the sense of connectivity of mathematicians with the AMS.

  6. SIAM has instituted a fellows program very similar to that of the proposed AMS Fellows Program with almost no negative reaction or response.

Q. What are arguments against a Fellows Program?
A. Here are some of the arguments against:

  1. An AMS Fellows Program could be viewed as not consistent with a tradition of egalitarianism.

  2. Fellows are likely to be those people who already have been recognized in other ways.

  3. Mathematicians named AMS Fellows and their departments are already sufficiently distinguished that the selection of AMS Fellows will lack importance.

  4. Any selection process will necessarily be somewhat political and could be divisive.

  5. Some not chosen to be Fellows may feel a weaker connection to the AMS.

Q. Where can I find more detailed discussions?
A. Pro and con articles concerning an AMS Fellows program appear in the September 2011 issue of Notices of the AMS.

Q. Do other societies in the mathematical sciences have fellows programs?
A. Yes. For example, the American Statistical Association, Association for Computing Machinery, Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics all have Fellows programs.

Q. How does the size of the proposed AMS program compare to that of other societies?
A. In its steady state the proposed AMS Fellows would be approximately 5% of the total membership (i.e., about 1,500 Fellows out of about 30,000 members). In some other societies surveyed the Fellowship varies between about 5% and about 13%.

In its steady state it is expected that the number of new Fellows elected each year will be approximately 0.2 % of the membership.  Each year, the American Physical Society elects no more than 0.5 % of all members and the American Statistical Association elects no more than 0.33% of all members.

Q. How will the AMS Fellows program be started and how will new Fellows be elected?
A. This is spelled out in detail in the proposal itself.

Q. How many Fellows will there be in the "seed pool" and how will the steady state be achieved?
A. The seed process is expected to select 1,000 Fellows in January 2012.  In future years, guidelines for the number of new Fellows would be set by the AMS Council with an expectation of 75 new Fellows appointed in each year of the first decade of the program.  See the proposal for further details.
Q. Why is there a start-up procedure?
A. There are several reasons for starting the program with a well defined set of criteria for selecting an initial set of Fellows:

  • If the program is worth having then it should be up and running from the start with a substantial number of Fellows, so that it is a healthy program.

  • A well-specified algorithm is required to avoid an otherwise massive task of individual evaluation of the initial set of Fellows.  The algorithm should be clear in advance to avoid questions after the fact regarding who was selected and why.

Q. How will the Fellows program be changed in the future?
A. The current proposal for the Fellows program was created by the Council, and it can be modified by the Council in the future. The details of administering the program may be changed in the future to address practical needs, even as the program is initially implemented.

Q. How can I find out more about the Fellows program?
If there is updated information, it will be posted on this site.  You can also ask questions by emailing the AMS Secretary