“I refuse to belong to a club that would have me as a member”, so said legendary comedian Groucho Marx in one of his many famous quotes. He wrote it in a fake resignation letter which he sent as a joke to the Friars Club of Beverly Hills, the private show business club of which he was a member. Other members included Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Hope, Judy Garland and Dean Martin so he was in good company.
In actual fact, the value of being a member of a professional club is no joke and should be considered very seriously. Having worked for a learned society for over 20 years, I probably know more than most the benefits of membership for those in the academic community, especially students and early career researchers. For a relatively small fee, these charitable organisations offer services such as discounted conference registration fees, awards, travel grants, a newsletter, mentoring, career support, opportunities to get involved in activities such as blogging, committee membership, outreach, event organisation and much more. These experiences add value and bring advantages to those who get involved, giving them access to personal and professional development as well as a privileged network.
Dozens of learned societies exist, especially those associated with the biosciences: the Microbiology Society, Biochemical Society, Physiological Society, British Ecological Society, American Physiological Society, American Society of Plant Biologists to name but a few. International in their membership, the big ones are usually funded by their journals, which generate very large annual incomes used to fund staff, act as a communication platform for science dissemination and provide benefits to members. To read more about these societies visit my webpage.
Learned societies are particularly valuable for those wishing to pursue academic careers. However, if you’re looking to move into a non-academic career joining professional bodies and networks associated with a particular career sector can be more fruitful and rewarding. For example, as a career professional I am a member of several organisations associated with my professional interests, including the Career Development Institute (CDI), the Higher Education Academy and the Association of Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS).
Students and researchers interested in a career in science communication might benefit from membership of Euroscience, as well as other organisations such as the Association of British Science Writers, the Science Entrepreneur Club and networks like BIG and STEMPRA. Meanwhile, those considering a research career in industry might consider joining organisations such as the European Federation of Biotechnology, Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI) or the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (ASPS).
For some organisations such as the Royal Society of Biology and Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), there are different grades of membership depending on the seniority of your current role and your competency level, whilst others such as the Medical Science Liaison Society and TOPRA welcome complete newcomers aiming to break into MSL and regulatory affairs roles, respectively.
The International Society for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics (ISCB) has student and postdoctoral membership categories and membership of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) includes an early career and a limited-access networking and engagement category. For those associations that are closed to non-professionals or who only offer organisational or partner membership, such as Europbio, BioDeutschland and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EPFIA), it can still be worth visiting their websites to learn about their work and latest news to enhance your knowledge of the industry.
So, if you’re not currently a member of a professional club think about joining one or two relevant to your present and future career ambitions. For any profession you can think of you’re likely to find an associated organisation by simply plugging it into a Google search (I looked up ‘Oil Pipe Association’ on a whim to prove this to myself and sure enough one exists!). Why not give it a go yourself? Once a member, make use of the information and networks and even see if you can play a more active role – who knows where it could lead and who you might meet along the way?