Learned societies are academic ‘clubs’ which specialise in a particular discipline, with a membership made up of people who share an interest in that subject. Members can include academics, university researchers, people working in industry, postgraduate and undergraduate students, teachers and even school students and members of the public. Each learned society has its own set of rules on its membership reach, fees and benefits.
There are dozens of bioscience learned societies in the world each with their own specialism. For example, the Society for Experimental Biology offers membership to animal, plant and cell biologists and limits its reach to academics, researchers and postgraduate students. The Biochemical Society, in addition to these membership categories also accepts undergraduates and teachers. The Society of Biology goes even further and offers membership to members of the public and schools students.
Many learned societies own journals from which they earn substantial revenue in the form of university library subscriptions, which they use to fund their activities. These societies tend to offer the most benefits to their members in the form of reduced registration fees to their conferences, travel bursaries, awards, competitions and specialised training workshops. Most academic conferences are organised and subsidised by learned societies; if you look at lists of scientific meetings you will usually see the name of the society in the title of the conference. You can join as many learned societies as you like regardless of where you live (e.g. a French person can join a UK-based society, a British person can join a US society, etc.). The membership fees vary but it tends to be relatively cheap (as little as $30/£20/€27 for students, increasing for postdoctoral researchers and academics). Make sure you check the conditions of membership: for many societies you need to have been a member for a minimum of one year before you can apply for benefits.
Benefits offered by learned societies include:
- Reduced registration fees at conferences and other meetings.
- Travel funds to attend conferences, symposia etc.
- Opportunities to organise your own meeting or session.
- Awards, competitions and recognition.
- Newsletter keeping you in touch with the subject discipline.
- School and outreach support resources.
- Career development and support
Examples of bioscience learned societies are listed below but this is not an exhaustive list so look out for other societies which may be relevant to your discipline – ask your supervisor to advise you which would be the best to join.