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Professional Interest Groups Reflections Column
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Reflections Column

by ASHS President Carl Sams


Is a “Professional Interest Group” really still a “Working Group” by another name?

I must admit that I had not thought much about the name “Working Group” and certainly did not perceive that it may be thought of as anything other than members with mutual interest “working” together on topics related to that interest. However, as part of the information collected through surveys of graduate students and early career members, focus groups and  discussion sessions with young faculty, and  students at regional meetings (John Dole’s Reflections column in the June 2017, ASHS Newsletter), it was widely felt that the term “working group” was not as self-explanatory as I had thought. It was pointed out that the working group sessions on the schedule at the annual conferences were perceived to be private groups working on specific topics, and thus not open to those outside the group. Given this information, the change was approved by the ASHS board with the hope that the name “Professional Interest Group” would be more welcoming.

What does an Interest Group do within our society? My hope is that Interest Groups will fulfill the basic goals that the Working Groups were organized to accomplish and reach far beyond those goals. In the ASHS Bylaws, Art. VI, Sect. 2, “Working Groups” are defined as follows:

“Working Groups”- Within each division there shall be working groups of members sharing interests in special horticultural science areas or activities pertaining to that division…working groups shall be responsible directly to the vice president of the division to which they are assigned administratively. Each working group shall be headed by a chair and chair-elect, elected by its members…A working group shall consist of a minimum of 20 members, and may be created by petition of 20 or more Society Members to a vice president, or directly by the vice president on approval of the Board of Directors.”

Further, the Policy and Procedures Manual and Bylaws state that:

“Working groups shall provide the forums for discussion of mutual interests in horticultural science and shall be the chief focus for structuring workshops at annual or special meetings of the Society.” 


The objectives of Working Groups include the following:

A.   Promote interaction between and among the research, extension, teaching, and industry components of horticultural science

B.    Provide a forum for the development, discussion, exchange, sharing, or dissemination of ideas, information

C.   Promote, encourage, facilitate, or coordinate basic and applied research and education by identifying critical needs, developing methods and procedures, or preparing proposals

D.   Promote good working relationships with other organizations with similar interests

E.    Educate the public

F.     Encourage recruitment of young scientists

G.   Recognize outstanding contributions.


I have included these sections of the ASHS Bylaws from the Policy and Procedures Manual rather than referencing them to provide background and to support the discussion of the true potential of Interest Groups.

First, note that the definition of Working Groups focused on “members sharing mutual interest.” So, in the interest of clarity, Interest Group is a more positive title. However, will changing the name from “Working Group” to “Professional Interest Group” bring renewed interest in joining and participating in Interest Group meetings and activities?

The name change is good, but the value of the new name may be minimal if the content is not also re-evaluated and invigorated. The goals of promoting interaction, discussion, identifying critical needs, exchanging ideas, and developing methods and procedures were the principal reasons for creating Working Groups, and have been utilized effectively particularly in the form of workshops.

However, workshops seem to have evolved over the years.  Many workshops had transitioned into only consisting of a series of speakers on a topic of interest, often with inadequate time for discussion. Certainly, there are subjects that may be best covered through contributed papers, and Interest Group leaders may opt to use the groups’ program time in this manner in the form of a "Planned Oral Session".  In addition, the Annual Conference Technical Program Committee can develop oral sessions on any topic where a minimal number of papers in a similar interest area are submitted. These only need to be submitted as an oral abstract and follow the rules of oral submissions (with the appropriate category selected).  Poster sessions are similarly organized, and the Interest Group could have walk through discussions of these posters.  The Interest Group also has the option to develop any number of other activities for a proposed Interest Group session that would fit the objectives described in the ASHS Bylaws.

As referenced above, workshop presentations at the annual conference have been one of the key ways in which groups have chosen to interact in recent years. However, the number of workshop proposals for presentation has been limited more recently due to time constraints with the program. For this reason, the workshop structure has been realigned with the original intent of emphasizing participation and group discussion, often with problem-solving or hands-on efforts.

The name change also presents an opportunity for the vice presidents of each division to work with the leadership of Interest Groups within their division to foster and develop affiliations both within and external to ASHS that would strengthen and unify interest among outside groups and ASHS. I will address some of the options that we have been developing in a future Reflections column.

I refer all members, especially the Chairs and Chairs-elect of the Interest Groups, to the “Professional Interest Group Manual” that is available online on the ASHS website.

ASHS has an excellent website that includes online discussion groups for all Professional Interest Groups as part of their overall individual web pages. These resources are currently underutilized, and all members are encouraged to get involved in their Interest Group and make use of these resources to continue communication and develop ideas that are often not possible within the restricted time available at the annual conference. Often, the election of officers takes place at the meeting when there is a small percentage of the Interest Groups’ membership present. These elections could be done online with greater participation by all members of the Interest Group.

Possibilities for engaging activities are numerous, and one of the benefits of being elected to leadership of an Interest Group is the opportunity to show your creativity and leadership by bringing new ideas and excitement to your Interest Group. Our hope is that, with the name change, a Professional Interest Group will not be a “working” group by another name! It will be engaging and relevant, and will pique everyone’s curiosity and make them want to be involved in the group.

I welcome comments on this column on the ASHS website at Discussion with the ASHS President to continue the discussion on Professional Interest Groups. The new “Events and Education Planning Committee” will be developing ideas on this and other topics. I look forward to working with this committee and all members to continue to add value to ASHS membership. Please contact me with input at; or, better yet, let’s get the discussion going online at

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