If you already spend all day hanging out with other scientists, the last thing you might feel like doing is joining a professional scientific society. With today’s shrinking budgets, you might also start to question whether this line on your CV is worth the membership dues. However, joining societies has many career benefits in addition to being important evidence of your commitment to the scientific community. Here are ten of the benefits I have received from belonging to professional societies*:
1. Scientific meetings
Annual meeting registration is often substantially cheaper for members, and you can usually join the society at the same time that you register for the meeting.
Many societies negotiate with commercial companies for member discounts. This varies, but larger societies typically have deals on things like computers, insurance, hotels, car rentals and books.
Society newsletters and email lists let you know what’s going on in your field and help you keep up with current scientific and professional issues. Society publications also cover current events from the angles that are most relevant to members.
4. Money for scientific meetings
Professional societies usually offer fellowships, prizes or travel awards that you are only eligible if you are a member. Thanks to a society travel award, I got to travel all the way from Sydney to San Francisco for a conference. Many societies also maintain lists of external funding sources.
5. Science jobs
All professional societies have career development resources. Examples include job boards, mentoring programs, career symposia, career guides, webinars, CV reviews and discussion boards.
If you’re interested in switching fields, joining the appropriate professional society can help you test the waters and get a feel for how to become part of that community. I found this helpful when I made a switch from genetics to cell biology, and then again when I switched to science writing.
Getting involved in a society is a fantastic way of expanding your professional network, particularly to people outside your university and from different career stages. But by getting involved, I don’t mean paying your dues and turning up to the annual meeting, I mean volunteering your time or joining a committee. There are lots of activities that societies need help with. For example, I’ve written articles for member publications, organized a career symposium, screened meeting abstracts for press promotion and helped with social media.
In addition to giving you the opportunity to network, getting more involved in a society can round out your CV beyond bench work. Experience in science policy, communications, law or outreach can be hard to find in a lab, but can often be found through professional societies. And serving on a committee or organizing a special project allows you to demonstrate your leadership and teamwork abilities.
9. Get a voice in your field of science
Professional societies are run by members, for members. This means you can influence your society in ways that you can’t always influence your research institution. Want to know more about a particular field? Propose a session at the annual meeting. Want better career development resources? Lobby your society to create them. Don’t like the way postdocs are treated? Join the postdoc committee and think of ways to make a difference.
10. Your scientific future
Professional societies represent their field to the media and to policy makers. Whether it’s bringing scientific expertise to policy decisions or lobbying for greater investment in science, it’s scientific societies who can take your message to those in power.
What about you? Do you think professional societies are worth their dues?
*Disclosure: I’m kind of a professional society addict. I’m a current member of the American Society for Cell Biology, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the National Association of Science Writers. I’m a former member of the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Genetics Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Australasian Genomics Technologies Association.