Learned Societies – a party worth joining

“I would like to thank the Society for Experimental Biology and the Company of Biologists very much for supporting my attendance at this very valuable symposium and, in general, for giving young researchers the opportunity to participate in conferences and symposiums.”

Comments such as these from reports of winners of the latest round of SEB travel grants made me wonder how many researchers and PhD students are aware of these types of benefits, widely available to them in the early stages of their careers. Many academic learned societies own journals, which earn quite substantial subscription income and, as charities, they return much of this money to their members and relevant disciplinary communities. Some of the biggest beneficiaries of these returns are early career researchers and students, who can apply for all sorts of awards and receive considerable discounts on conferences. I noticed, for example, that the Society of Biology is offering grants to student members travelling to an Arabidopsis conference in Vancouver in July this year, and its affiliated societies, such as the Society for Experimental Biology, Society for General Microbiology, Physiological Society, Biochemical Society and British Ecological Society, give out a vast quantity of funds between them, which help their members towards travel to conferences or enable them to visit other research groups to learn new techniques.  

Mobility and building up independence is important if young researchers are to succeed in academia. It doesn’t just give you the chance to present a talk or a poster, it’s also a valuable opportunity to network with those working in your area of research. Most conferences feature job boards and, even if they don’t, professors get a chance to see you in person and, if they’re impressed with your work and enthusiasm, may even go a step further. As someone noted in one of the travel grant reports, “I was even offered a job at the conference dinner!”

Getting access to funding for conferences (most of which are organised by learned societies), is just one benefit for those who choose to join a learned society (and you can join as many as you like). Awards, competitions, member newsletters and blogs also help to promote you and keep you in touch with the wider areas of your discipline, such as education, policy and outreach. You can cross national boundaries and join societies outside of your own country of residence – for example half of the SEB’s membership is based outside of the UK.

As one student stated in their travel report, “I gained valuable insights, received feedback on how to improve my research methodology based on the logistical information exchanged and cannot imagine achieving any of these outcomes within the time scales without attending this conference”. Membership fees are very reasonable for students and early career researchers, so why not give your career a boost and join in the party? Ask your supervisor which are the most relevant for you – you can guarantee many of them are current members or have been members in the past.

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Networking presentation



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