One of the first questions I (Emmanuel) ask when approached by anyone seeking any form of career advice is whether they are members of any professional societies or professional bodies in their subject areas or career interest areas. Just for reference, the terms “professional societies” or “professional bodies” are often used interchangeably.
I have to admit, at times I get a blank look like errrr…and often it tends to be a NO answer and a funny look like my question is a silly one.
Reflecting back a few years, when I worked in industry, I was not an active member of any professional societies thus, I never got involved in any professional activities with my peers outside the work place. This changed when I embarked on a PhD and advice from my wonderful mentors. Having attended many conferences and society organised events to date, it is clear that society membership and society events are not limited or restricted to professionals from any individual field i.e. it is not only for people in academia or research hence, it is imperative for any student, early career or mid-career professional to take joining societies as a very key element in career development and positioning.
As with everything else, there are usual challenges and sometimes grumbles when people talk about joining societies. In this post, we talk about thing to be aware of when joining a society and the opportunities you can get from being a member.
But there are many societies, how do I know which to join? – this is often the comment that I get in the discussions about joining societies. Yes! There are indeed several societies in the different subject areas which does create some confusion. In an ideal world, many would be happy getting involved with the different societies, however the reality is different. This is because membership of the societies come at a cost (annual membership or joining fees). This sometimes serves as a deterrent for some to join professional societies however in our experience, the benefits far outweigh the cost implications of membership.
However, think about it like joining a gym, we’d all obviously like gym memberships to be free, but to use the facilities, to have the social interactions and to be part of a group with a common goal of fitness and health you had to pay a membership fee didn’t you? The professional societies obviously do not work like gyms (maybe the worst analogy!!) but they provide helpful and very useful activities and opportunities that members greatly benefit from.
Before you join – to help you decide on what society to join, the first thing we’d advise you to do is look through the pages of the society website. Where there are no functional websites for the society (not a good indicator!!), find someone who is an active member of the society and enquire about the activities and benefits of the society generally and also what the individual has benefited from the group. Keep in mind the interests of people joining these societies are not always the same and tend to be for different reasons. Thus, try and identify what would you would like from the society before forking out membership fees to join any society.
Once you join – now this is the important part, the easiest part is joining the society, the harder part is navigating through the society and having real benefit from your membership. It is important you have an understanding of how the society functions and the different activities as well as opportunities that you can take advantage of as a member.
We will now briefly highlight some of these opportunities……
Conferences and workshops – every functional professional society runs at least one conference annually or two years (dependent on the size of the society as well). Some societies run an annual conference for all members and smaller local meetings and workshops which are open to members in different regions. This is a good place to take advantage of things like discounts on books, new and existing technologies and freebies. For many, this is a chance to unwind whilst interacting with other professionals in their field of expertise. I (Emmanuel) love attending conferences as it not only offers me a chance to showcase my research, I also get to listen to and see new and ground breaking research in my field whilst developing new networks, collaborators and many new friends.
CPD – the added advantage of joining professional societies is the ability to have some level of professional development. These could be in the form of courses or attendance at seminars and conferences and is useful for professional progression or career development.
Career and mentor events – this is fast becoming a key part of the activities of many big professional societies. For example, the American Society for Microbiology at the annual general meetings hold career workshops for students, PhD and Post-doctoral members. At these events, different employers especially those from major organisations including Biopharma, National institutes, Universities, Marketing and Commercial speak to the delegates and offer free advice on careers and offer mentoring which the delegates find incredibly useful.
Collaboration – this is a key part of society activities and active membership. If you are already a member of a professional society then ask yourself this question. How many functional collaborations have you made as a member and how many of those are active? Being part of a professional society means you have better access to different sectors within your field and you should make use of this. If you are a student and seeking opportunities for the next phase of your career then you are in a good position where you also have access to key employers in your field who are always seeking great talents and in our experience comment on the enthusiasm and zest of young individuals who make the effort to attend conferences or engage with them at society sponsored events.
Grants and awards – I tend to refer to this as a “mini lotto”. You pay £2 with the hope of winning millions or at least more than £2 if you have that magical pen. Well professional societies offer grants and awards which enable members attend events, conferences and support members who have ideas or initiatives that are a beneficial and of relevance to other people in that field. Memberships grants could be anything from support for travel costs to thousands of pounds/dollars to attend major events or for international capacity develop activities. Both Amara and I have benefited from some of these grants such as the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) conference studentships which enabled us attend the annual summer conference in different cities in the UK and Ireland for many years.
Committee activities – want to bolster your CV? Join a committee!! Within the societies, there are usually several committees such as student committees, organising committees for conferences, editorial groups etc. where possible, get involved with a committee within your professional society after you join. This is not only beneficial, it is rewarding and you can develop yourself a lot more than as a by-standing member.
Networking & Friends – We have discussed networking in some detail and would suggest you read our previous posts. Joining professional societies would undoubtedly enlarge your scope for networking and as we mentioned before, the aspiring professionals’ hub was a child of networking at a professional society event from many years ago. Also, in these professional societies, you will find many people like you, looking to interact and engage with others. We have had many contacts that have become friends and we have shared many great times and memories as a result.
So what are you waiting for? Join a society today and reap the benefits that are widely available to you in your field and area of expertise or go make a friend or two.
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