Monthly Archives: August 2023

Learned Friends

Some memorabilia from the recent Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) centenary meeting kindly sent to me by Dr Teresa Valencak (SEB President’s Medallist 2009).

Are you a member of a learned* society or academic organisation?

Maybe you are, maybe you’re not. Or maybe you are, and you don’t know it!

When I ask this question in my career workshops, usually only one or two hands go up. However, on further questioning, it turns out quite a lot of researchers belong to some kind of learned society, even though they don’t immediately realise they do!

Why is this?

Learned societies are academic ‘clubs’ that have memberships ranging from a few hundred to many thousands. They are associated with particular academic subjects of interest, for example, the Biochemical Society, the American Society of Cell Biology, the Genetics Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry. Some of them are very old and have even recently been celebrating their 100th birthdays.

Depending on your own academic research field(s), there is bound to be one or more learned societies that match with your interests. In fact, you’ve probably attended one of their conferences and were offered a reduced registration fee if you joined as a member. The membership then usually lasts for a year, after which you can continue to pay your subscription fee or not.

This is how many researchers become learned society members, but soon forget that they are ‘in the club’.

Advantage Club membership!

My advice is: Keep your membership going, especially if you plan to stay in academia. In fact, look around and see if there are other learned societies that you could join.

Why? Because learned society membership is usually very good value, both financially and, more importantly, professionally. Your outlay is more than compensated for by the following advantages:

  • Access to funding
    Many learned societies offer PhD and postdoctoral researchers the opportunity to apply for travel grants (e.g. 500 euros or more) to research conferences and lab visits. This can help to expand your networks and horizons. It also gives you a degree of independence, as well as practice at writing for competitive funding.
  • Awards
    Poster and talk presentation prizes, best young scientist, writing, photo and other media competitions give you opportunities to showcase yourself and your research and to highlight your achievements;
  • Networking
    A learned society generally comprises students and early career researchers through to distinguished professors, as well as research stakeholders such as industry, NGOs and publishers. Unlike in your own academic research institution or university, where there are few researchers working in your particular field, a learned society brings together all manner of people who have an interest in your research field. It’s a prime opportunity to connect, engage, network, share ideas, create collaborations and even find your next position.
  • Communication
    This is a BIG one! Many large learned societies get their funding from the journals that they own. Because they are charities, they re-invest the profits from their journal subscriptions back into the organisation. This means that they have the means to organise subsidised conferences, where their members and other researchers can present and discuss their research. Many of them also run education, policy and career programmes, offer academic mobility opportunities and invite members to join their committees.
  • Mentoring and patronage
    Having worked for a learned society myself, as the head of education and public affairs (for nearly 20 years), I have witnessed many early career scientists benefit from interactions with other more senior members. Because learned societies are so specialised, members have lots to talk about and it’s inevitable that useful discussions take place, such as suggestions about your research, being exposed to role models and even being offered a position.

And if this hasn’t yet convinced you of the benefits of being a member of a learned society (and, better still, getting involved in some way), the new narrative CV** includes a section about your contribution to the wider research community; guidance suggests that you provide evidence of, for example, being involved in a learned society, organising a meeting, being a member of a committee or initiating a collaborative project.

So, think about learned societies as your learned friends. Whether you’re aiming for a career within or outside of academia, the benefits are there for the taking. I took on one early career researcher science communication intern per year whilst working for the Society for Experimental Biology, all of whom went on to forge amazing careers. Equally, I know of other researchers who have benefitted from internships in policy, conference organisation, journal editing and publishing, to name but a few!

*Note that ‘learned’ is pronounced as if it has an accent on the second ‘e’ – ‘learnèd’. Or imagine that it as a hyphenated word: Learn-Ed.

** If you want to find out more about narrative CVs contact me to discuss my trainings

Related blogs:

Learned societies
Learned societies – a party worth joining