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Election policies and procedures

Election to the Fellowship of the Academy is a lengthy and rigorous process designed to ensure that the elections are thorough and fair. Twenty new Fellows are elected each year with up to two additional Fellows by Special Election every three years. The Academy's Council may also elect up to two Corresponding Members each year from among distinguished scientists overseas. There are currently more than 450 Fellows in the Academy.

The election process begins with the proposal of a candidate by at least four Fellows of the Academy, submitted by 31 July each year. The election round finishes in mid-March of the following year when the final ballot is put to the entire Fellowship. During the seven months in between there is an exhaustive process of collating documentation, gathering referee reports and investigation by Sectional Committees and Council.

What are the qualifications for election?

Fellows are assessed to be eminent for their scientific attainments and their research in natural science, which has advanced the sum of knowledge. Such eminence will usually be manifest through the influence the work of the Fellow has had on his or her discipline, related disciplines or on the application of research. For applied science, this includes the discovery or invention of important work which has been successfully applied.

The strict limitation imposed on the number of new Fellows elected each year is one of the instruments that assist in ensuring the scientific standing of Fellows. When the Academy was established in 1954, five new Fellows were elected each year. Today, this has grown to 20, to reflect the growing number of eminent scientists living and working in Australia.

Corresponding Members are eminent scientists living outside Australia. They are elected for their distinguished service to science and their strong connection with Australia and Australian science. The number of Corresponding Members may never exceed 10 per cent of the number of Fellows.

Fellows elected by Special Election are admitted for their conspicuous service to the advancement of science, through a range of means including public awareness of science and strong and successful advocacy on behalf of science.

Sectional Committees

The proposal of a candidate is assessed by one of 13 committees of Fellows called Sectional Committees. After thorough scrutiny of the candidates’ documents, the Committees meet in Canberra in February: each Committee then draws up a short-list of recommended candidates for Council’s consideration. Council selects, from the shortlisted candidates, a list of 20 to propose to the Fellowship for election.

The Sectional Committees are arranged so that the Academy encompasses the many specialised fields of science within 13 broad areas.

The Academy's elected Secretaries for biological and physical sciences are responsible for allocating candidates to Sectional Committees.

What do Sectional Committees do?

After nominations for Ordinary Election close on 31 July each year, the Chair of each Sectional Committee writes to distinguished scientists around the world who are qualified to judge the candidate's contributions. The referees may be suggested by the candidate's proposer, or by the appropriate Sectional Committee.

Referees are invited to comment on a candidate's work, assessing its importance in the progress of that field of science, and to rank the candidate's work in comparison with other leading researchers in that field throughout the world. In most fields of research the comparison group against which a candidate is judged is global.

The assessments of referees and comments by Fellows are collected and distributed to each member of the relevant Sectional Committee before the committees meet in February. The Academy's Council meets immediately after the Sectional Committee meetings to hear oral reports from the Sectional Committees Chairs.

Corresponding Members and Special Election Committee

The Corresponding Members and Special Election (CMSE) Committee assesses nominations from the Fellowship for Corresponding Members and special election Fellows. The CMSE meets and reports to the Council of the Academy in the same way as the Sectional Committees.

Council’s role

At its subsequent meeting in March, Council considers written reports from the Sectional Committees and the CMSE Committee, and the reports and documentation of each of the recommended candidates. Council votes by secret ballot to select, from the short-list provided by the Sectional Committees, the names to be recommended to the Fellowship for election as new Fellows. The appointment of Corresponding Members is at Council's discretion.

Among its many responsibilities, Council has the task of overseeing the conduct of the elections which is governed by the Bye-Laws of the Academy. For instance, the Bye-Laws state that Council '…shall have regard to, amongst other things, the desirability of maintaining a just distribution of the membership of the Academy over the various branches of natural science'. This is a difficult though important task as candidates from different Sectional Committees may not be equally strong, and some candidates whose work crosses disciplinary boundaries, or has been performed in isolation from Australian colleagues, may need special consideration.

The Fellows ballot

Before the Academy's Annual General Meeting each year, the list of candidates proposed by Council is subject to a postal vote of all Fellows. A majority of two thirds of those voting is required to secure a candidate's election.

After the election

As soon as possible after election, and usually at the Academy’s annual May meeting, Science at the Shine Dome, each new Fellow is required to sign an undertaking to promote, declare and disseminate scientific knowledge, and to serve the Academy. Fellows play an active part on the many committees through which the Academy carries out its mission: to champion Australian scientific excellence, to promote and disseminate scientific knowledge, and to provide independent scientific advice for the benefit of Australia and the world.

Nomination papers

Fellows wishing to submit candidates for Ordinary Election or for Corresponding Member should contact the Fellowship and Awards Manager for forms and guidelines:

Phone: 02 6201 9406
Fax: 02 6201 9494