Saturday, February 8, 2014


I had a nice affirmation yesterday, but one that is less than moderately comprehensible to my American colleagues, friends and relatives (and even some of my British colleagues, friends and relatives), that are unfamiliar with the academic organizations of Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations, and related institutions: I was "elected" a Fellow of the RSA, the "Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce."

This is not a huge deal, as academic honors go. The RSA is easily confused with the Royal Society or RS. To be elected to the RS would be a much, much bigger deal.

RSA fellows are far more numerous than Royal Society Fellows. You really have to be "eminent" to become a Fellow of the Royal Society; whereas the RSA has 27,000 Fellows all around the world, the RS has only about 1,600. I wouldn't be eligible for the RS, because I'm not a particularly eminent academic. And the RSA is more about practical applications of science and philosophy, less about pure research and new knowledge, which are the main concerns of the RS.

There has already been some confusion around campus, which I'm anxious to dispell.

The official line is, "Fellows must have demonstrated achievement or potential related to the arts, manufactures and commerce." By "the arts", they mean the liberal arts, and so science and social science are included. In recent years the RSA has adopted a sustainability mission, which I found particularly attractive. The benefits for me, my students and the college will include access to ideas through conferences, meetings, networks and publications, and access to small amounts of competitive funding for researchers, practitioners and students. There was an application letter and they asked for referees. They must have thought about it somehow, since they kept me waiting for a couple of months.

I think, other than studying their webpage, the best way to understand what this is about if anyone is particularly interested is to watch the following animation from the current Chief Executive of the organization:

PS: Wikipedia keeps a list of RSA Fellows here.

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