Tribute to Jessica Pfeifer

Jessica Pfeifer

Jessica Pfeifer

Executive Director, 2013-2020

Jessica Pfeifer took on the job of Executive Director of the PSA on February 2, 2013. In her eight years in the post Jessica has been instrumental in the transformation of the PSA from a nascent, financially struggling, administratively outsourced, rather conservative and somewhat narrowly focused association into the dynamic, expansive, responsive and exciting organization that we have become. Her job changed throughout this major growth spurt with increasing demands and responsibilities, but also produced more opportunities for the PSA to benefit from her wisdom, her creativity and her vision. Jessica worked closely with four PSA Presidents (Helen Longino, Ken Waters, Sandra Mitchell and Alison Wylie), multiple members of the evolving Governing Board, PSA committees and caucuses, affiliated societies, publishers, hotels, and PSA members in planning and executing our biennial meetings and the growing number of other PSA activities. Her careful oversight put us in a better position than many associations to weather the challenges and uncertainties of the current global pandemic. The list of reasons for our gratitude is as long as Jessica‘s impact on PSA is indelible. What follows is a list of milestones in the last eight years—only partially marking the impact of Jessica on the PSA—interspersed by tributes to Jessica from PSA Presidents. We invite you all to join us in thanking Jessica Pfeifer for her extraordinary service to the Philosophy of Science Association. In recognition of her contributions, we have awarded Jessica a life-time membership to the PSA and a book certificate with Cambridge University Press.

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Jessica Pfeifer becomes Executive Secretary on February 10, and PSA Office moves to UMBC


Jessica Pfeifer‘s first official act: representing PSA at the AAAS Annual Meeting

PSA finalizes new contract with University of Chicago Press


PSA Graduate Student Essay Award and PSA Recent Ph.D. Essay Award reinstituted (renamed the Mary B. Hesse Graduate Student Essay Award and the Ernest Nagel Early-Career Scholar Essay Award in 2018)


PSA begins collecting demographic information from membership

New Committees formed

  • Lectures and Awards Committee
  • Membership Committee
  • PSA Archive Committee (to pursue formation of the PSA Archive)
  • Journal Committee (to work on a plan for collecting demographic information for journal submissions)
  • Teaching Outreach (to explore ideas to help support teaching of philosophy of science)
  • Program Chair Guidelines Committee (to work on writing up guidelines for Program Chairs)



New Committees formed

  • PSA 2016 Poster Forum Committee
  • Gender Climate Committee renamed Diversity Committee and becomes standing committee
  • Cognate Societies invited to present special sessions
  • Interest group lunches inaugurated
  • Early-career scholars events introduced
  • 521 attendees (increased from 2012‘s 419 attendees)

Letter from a Past President

Jessica and I assumed our respective positions at the same time: January 1, 2013. I had two years prior engagement with issues faced by PSA as President-Elect. Jessica brought her considerable organizational and administrative skills to the job, but the search committee (of which I was a member) had not really briefed her on the task ahead. We immediately began work trying to turn PSA in a new direction. Although, as President, I was ultimately responsible for whatever the Association did, it was Jessica who did the heavy lifting. The Association had been surviving by digging into its savings, but records showed that we were not getting our fair share from U Chicago Press, and it wasn‘t clear that we were getting our money‘s worth from the HSS, to which major administrative functions had been delegated by earlier Presidents and Executive Directors (then called Secretary-Treasurer).

Jessica wrestled PSA‘s budget under control (which involved keeping on top of U Chicago Press, making sure it lived up to its new contractual agreement with PSA, and also on top of the HSS), saw ways to regain control of major functions like voting, and in general transformed the business office into a functional entity. We carried on with new initiatives, like the Caucus for Socially Engaged History and Philosophy of Science, like the inclusion of cognate society sponsored sessions in the program (started small with time before or after the main program, now more integrated), and surveys of gender and race issues in the Association; tried improving child-care availability. None of this, nor initiatives sponsored by subsequent Presidents and Governing Boards, would have been possible without the firm foundation Jessica laid during her first two years. We have a lot to be grateful for. And I, for one, am looking forward to the philosophical work Jessica will now be free to pursue!

Helen E. Longino

Clarence Irving Lewis Professor in Philosophy

Standford University

PSA President (2013-2014)



PSA takes over all of its operations


Jessica Pfeifer becomes first Executive Director

New Committee formed: PSA 2016 Public Forum Committee


PSA restructures membership to add tier for those making less than $30,000 (to go into effect for 2016 membership)




New Committees formed


PSA Elections moved to May, as specified in the Bylaws amendment approved in the 2015 PSA election


PSA lowers membership rates for all tiers under $60,000 and adds discounted 2-year option (to go into effect for 2017 membership)


Letter from a Past President

When Jessica became Executive Secretary, PSA was a conservative organization that hired the History of Science Society (HSS) to run our administrative affairs. PSA was resistant to change, perhaps because we lacked confidence in our ability to do new things without undermining the things we were doing extremely well like putting together the biennial conference program and editing our journal. Jessica recognized that if PSA took charge of its administrative affairs and established its own central office we could adapt the way the Association was run to better meet the current and changing needs of our members. And she was right! Jessica set up PSA‘s first central office and became our first Executive Director. Although there continued to be resistance to change, Jessica proved that we could run our own administrative affairs, and that doing so would free up resources for new initiatives such as the Poster Forum, travel funds for students traveling to North America, and daycare at the conference site. But none of these feats would have been possible without Jessica‘s dedication to PSA and her spectacular administrative talents.

I was President of PSA when Jessica set up our central office and took over the duties previously carried out by HSS. She was fearless! Our weekly FaceTime meetings were a high point of my week. We were dreaming, scheming, and figuring out how, for example, PSA could organize a poster event (something many believed was doomed to failure), how we could move PSA towards being a truly global organization, and how we could provide conference daycare. Jessica was practical and innovative. I thought people would come to the Poster Forum for intellectual reasons; Jessica understood food and a drink coupons would bring them to the Forum and intellectual excitement would make them want to stay. She was proven right. The Forum attracted several hundred participants and after the conference many attendees reported it to be the most intellectually engaging event at the conference, even more so than the paper sessions and symposia.

Jessica understood that travel to our conference was a significant problem for students from Europe, which posed a problem of equity for our global organization. PSA applied for travel funds from the U.S. National Science Foundation, but these funds could be disbursed only to U.S. students. Jessica knew we needed to find funding for students from other countries, and she found ways free up the funds and set up the application and reimbursement processes. Many members realized there was a need for daycare at our conference. PSA had brought up this issue in the past, but were told that the insurance costs would be prohibitive. But following a lead provided by Michael Weisberg, Jessica corresponded with executive directors of small scientific organizations that provided daycare at their conferences. Through considerable work and ingenuity, she figured out how PSA could follow their lead and provide daycare at our conference, and also how we could provide subsidies for those who had dependents at home who would require extra care in the absence of their parent or care giver. These are just a few of the things I saw Jessica accomplish during my two years as President. But they all attest to her success in making PSA more equitable, more inclusive, and more welcoming. PSA is no longer a conservative society resistant to change. And for that, we owe Jessica considerable thanks.

C. Kenneth Waters

Canada Research Chair in Logic and Philosophy of Science

University of Calgary

PSA President (2014-2016)



PSA officially sponsors March for Science on April 22, 2017


Joint webinar with Union of Concerned Scientists Scientific vs. Alternative Facts

Sponsors PSA speaker at Summer Immersion Program in Philosophy (SIPP) in 2017 (continued to sponsor a PSA speaker at SIPP for 2018, 2019, and 2020, though SIPP2020 was canceled due to COVID-19)


New committees formed


Editor-in-Chief of Philosophy of Science

After serving for eight year, Jeff Barrett (UCI) steps down on June 30 and Andrea Woody (UW) takes over on July 1




The PSA becomes an Affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science


New Committees formed


New position of PSA Treasurer approved by membership in 2018 Election vote on amendment to bylaws


Outreach and Engagement Award created, to be presented at the 2020/2021 Biennial Meeting

Governing Board approves Respectful Conduct Policy


Governing Board approves dedicated UPSS Session, which will be held at the PSA 2020/2021 Biennial Meeting

Early Career Scholar Awards Renamed


Letter from a Past President

During my term as PSA President, I worked closely with Jessica, meeting virtually nearly every week. It was a period of expansion in our outreach and engagement with the general public and scientific communities when we introduced the Presidential Plenary session, a joint webinar with Union of Concerned Scientists, renewing our affiliation with the AAAS, and sponsoring the 2017 March for Science. We added a training workshop to PSA 2018 for how to write a philosophical op ed. We are, in my opinion, increasingly successful with our outward-looking three Public Forums, beginning in 2016 in Atlanta How Should Race be Used in Medicine?, 2018 in Seattle "For the Public Good? Values and Accountability in AI and Data Science", 2020 online Putting Covid-19 in its Place: Locating the Scientific, Psychological, and Social Aspects of the Crisis.

During Jessica‘s term as Executive Secretary and then as our first Executive Director we grew the infrastructure of PSA to include new treasurer and secretary positions, added new committees, took on both new outreach initiatives and conference events and increased the number of Governing Board meetings. We have seen important actions in our commitment to diversity including policies on respectful conduct, increased childcare options and initiatives on mentoring young scholars from underrepresented populations. Add to this that in 2015 PSA finally took over all administrative services that had previously been outsourced to HSS locating them in the PSA Central Office. Doing each and all of these required thoughtful planning, organization and execution by Jessica. Jessica has been pivotal for the growth and development of PSA into the remarkable association it has become.

One more new thing Jessica and I worked closely together on was site selection for PSA 2020 and 2022 what would be PSA‘s first independent meetings in 20 years. In addition to working with Conference Direct to get bids from hotels in the cities that the GB agreed could be considered, we went on site visits to the hotels in Baltimore, Washington DC and Pittsburgh. One episode stood out for me. Jessica and I were wined and dined (well breakfasted and coffee-edat least) by the William Penn in Pittsburgh, a hotel that was hailed as the Grandest Hotel in the Nation in 1916 when it opened. And it did have a truly beautiful lobby with crystal chandeliers and arched porticos. But it was not designed for conferences. After walking up and down dark stairways between the three floors of meeting rooms, we noticed (they had not pointed it out, needless to say) that the one women‘s bathroom on each floor had two and only two stalls. The word accessibility flashed before our eyes, dimming the glory of the crystal chandeliers and arched porticos. A whole new way to look at hotel space resulted. Sharing such transformative experiences, learning from Jessica and with Jessica in our weekly conversations, was the most rewarding part of my time in office. Jessica‘s extraordinary contributions may be invisible to our membership, especially given Jessica‘s reticence to shine a light on herself, but we all owe her our gratitude. Jessica‘s mark on PSA will endure.

Sandra D. Mitchell

Distinguished Professor of History and Philosophy of Science

University of Pittsburgh

PSA President (2016-2018)



New Treasurer position: Kevin Zollman appointed




New Secretary position: Chris Haufe appointed


Applied to become a Constituent Member of the American Council of Learned Societies


Cambridge University Press contracted as new publisher for Philosophy of Science


Third PSA Public Forum: "Putting COVID-19 in Its Place"

Agreement with University of Cincinnati for new central office beginning 2021


Ryan Feigenbaum appointed as PSA Executive Director beginning 2021


Letter from a Past President

The PSA has flourished dramatically in the eight years that Jessica has served as our Executive Director, with unparalleled vision, energy and steady commitment. It‘s hard to imagine the PSA without Jessica at the helm, steering us clear of any number of shoals that threaten medium-sized academic societies like our‘s. As journals have gone online and specialist philosophy of science societies, workshops and conferences have proliferated, it‘s been crucial to expand our vision of what the PSA can and should be doing, for its members and in the world at large.

I had the good fortune to come into my term as President of the PSA at a point when, over a decade or more, activist presidents and governing boards had taken up these challenges, building a remarkable array of creative initiatives that have enlivened our meetings, cultivated diversity in our own ranks, and catalyzed outreach programs that bring the fruits of our labours to a broader public. At the same time I‘ve learned, in the course of these last two years, how much each of these new departures has demanded of Jessica and the PSA executive office – not that she ever made a point of this, but it was obvious by the time I was working with her that the Executive Director position had evolved dramatically beyond the expectations that were in place most of a decade earlier when she took it on. Jessica took each new expansion of her remit in stride, in the spirit of ensuring that the PSA would thrive and its mission would be sustainable.

With the end of Jessica‘s term in sight, I had resolved that we should take on no new initiatives! It would be challenging enough to find a new institutional host for the Executive Office and search for Jessica‘s successor as Executive Director. At the same time, however, our publishing agreement with the University of Chicago Press was coming to an end and, given how volatile the journal publishing world is these days, we decided we should explore a range of options. Then the Coronavirus delivered us a pandemic that upended all our well-laid plans for PSA 2020, the final biennial meeting that Jessica would have managed. Any one of these urgent demands would represent a significant overload for an executive office and director already stretched to the limit; taken together they seemed to me overwhelming. There isn‘t one particular event or episode that sticks out as emblematic of what it‘s like to work with Jessica; it‘s the fact that she played an absolutely essential role leading, guiding, supporting me, the Governing Board, innumerable PSA committees, as we navigated all of these crises-cum-transitions at once.

That said, here‘s one example that‘s especially telling. The journal publisher search was a long, labour-intensive process. University of Chicago Press has been an excellent publishing partner, maintaining impressively high standards for the journal and at the same time managing our membership but, after reviewing half a dozen publishing proposals, we decided to move Philosophy of Science to Cambridge University Press. This was the catalyst for bringing our membership in-house, a challenge Jessica took on willingly, indeed, enthusiastically, scaling yet another dauntingly steep learning curve. She identified a number of potential management systems, interviewed multiple providers, and settled on one that will not only meet our membership management needs, but provides an online platform that will streamline a whole range of administrative functions crucial to the smooth running the executive office, the Governing Board and committees, our meetings, and outreach initiatives. Most visibly, it has also made it possible to build out an entirely new member and public-facing PSA website. So at a point when Jessica could have been winding down, handing off Executive Office operations and this new challenge to her successor, she made the creation of this ambitious new PSA website a priority.

One of the first things Jessica did when she first took up the role of Executive Director was to build the PSA website we‘ve relied on throughout her eight-year tenure. It‘s an enormous gift to the PSA that she‘s ending her term with this massive undertaking, leaving the association stronger and richer than she found it in every possible sense. This is not just dedication, but dedication with a vision, from which we will all benefit for a long time to come. We owe Jessica an immense debt of gratitude!

Alison Wylie

Canada Research Chair in the Philosophy of the Social and Historical Sciences

University of British Colombia

PSA President (2018-2020)