On Membership in Professional Societies

Show of hands: How many academics actually consider professional-society memberships to be useful?

I recently renewed my memberships of two professional societies. They were not cheap.

For one of the societies, I do not remember ever having had a real use for the membership. Ever. I understand that for people outside academia these memberships perhaps provide a way to stay current with the technical literature, but for this particular society I fully admit that I renew because sometime in the next few years I plan to go up for fellow, which is expected of a reputable academic in my department and at peer institutions. I have done service for the society, again mostly to help with the eventual fellowship application. I don’t like to publish in their journals (slow and don’t have high impact factors). I engaged with them in the past (the year Smurf was born) about the conference I was organizing, but they did not make anything better, easier, or cheaper — quite the contrary. Further involvement of the society would’ve resulted in vastly higher conference registration fees and far too much of a trade-show feel, both of which I wanted to avoid. So never again.

For the second one, my main reason for renewing is, also, that I eventually plan on applying for elevation to fellow. However, I am also more engaged with this society, as I like their journals; I both publish in them and review for them often, but I could do that just as well without the membership, if we’re being honest. The membership does offer benefits for the attendance of certain meetings, including a massive annual one, but far less now than when I was junior. The membership costs less than for the first society, so I don’t get quite as grumpy when the time comes to renew.

Overall, I keep renewing grudgingly every year because it is expected, but I don’t actually see the benefits, not in my daily work or meeting attendance. Again, I understand there are benefits for professionals outside academia.

Blogosphere, what are your feelings about professional-society memberships?

8 comments

  1. I only maintain continuous membership in one professional society. Mainly because their annual meeting is the only one that I make a point of attending (almost) every year, and you need to be a member or be sponsored by a member to submit abstracts.

    Membership also saves money publishing in their flagship journal, which I do occasionally.

    Other societies I’ll usually join for one year if I want to present something at their meeting that year.

  2. I dont’t find membership to be particularly useful. I let mine lapse from the various societies I belong to lapse frequently, and then join when I want to present something. It is very expensive keeping up society memberships.

  3. The best advice I ever took (and should have taken earlier) was to just bite the bullet and join as a life-member for my main professional society. The cost savings over my career will be nice, but more importantly I don’t have to deal with the bother of renewing each year, or remembering whether I renewed, etc.

    New faculty: see if you can use your startup money to do this — I know some people have done so successfully. If you have to do it on your own dime, you can take a tax deduction for a professional expense.

    What I like about my professional society: they do lobbying and run professional-development and keep an eye on important statistics in the field and publish a nice magazine about the field. They keep their cost to publish and cost to attend meetings low, and I know my fees are helping spread that cost around. But I do attend every year, so it really is my main community.

  4. I tend to only join if I am going to their conference that year or applying for one of their grants. Membership itself is useless, it’s the benefits like those that matter. I’m sure when I get a real job, I will be a member of several, but on my paycheck? No way! Also, none of them have adjunct rates…

  5. Joining professional societies is a relatively simple and inexpensive way of boosting the visible professionalism on your CV—particularly important for women trainees and junior faculty who, for some bizarre reason, are sometimes considered “not serious” about their careers. Considering the “cost” the individual is already paying by taking years away from other paid work to pursue an MS or PhD, and the difficulties and challenges of earning additional research publications and other credentials, the low cost of a trainee membership is 100% worth it.

    As a professor, belong to at least 6 professional societies, which gives me reduced rates at attending their annual meetings and publishing in their journals. These non-student memberships are not cheap and usually require you to also subscribe to the print version of a journal – I probably wouldn’t belong to so many societies if I had to pay it out of my research budget or personal funds. My faculty appointment (at a medical school) provides me with a set amount of $ each year that I can only use for paying my personal professional society dues and nothing else (I’m not sure how common this is?)

    I consider it very important to maintain my society memberships because these societies critically engage in political lobbying to maintain funding for scientific research, they provide career resources and networking for students and trainees, and they also publish legitimate and low-cost scientific journals. Unlike the commercial scientific publishers or the millions of scammy online-only junk journals out there, society journals are relatively expensive even for non-members to publish in, they have rigorous peer review, and they are also way cheaper for institutions to subscribe to. As a professor, I consider it very important to do what I can to support legitimate scientific publishing in biomedical science.

  6. For many years I was an IEEE member, because it was not very expensive, it looked good professionally, the Spectrum magazine was pretty good, and they had a much better deal on term life insurance than my university had. Initially I had joined for conference discounts (and student membership was dirt cheap), but after about 15 years my interests had drifted enough that IEEE conferences were no longer very interesting to me.

    When I no longer needed life insurance (sufficient savings for my family to retire on) and the Spectrum magazine shrunk to a fraction of its former size, I discontinued my membership. I might have continued it for a few more years if I had been given the prestigious “Fellow” title, but I never advanced past “senior member”. The price was simply too high for the tiny value associated with being a member.

  7. To be honest I only renew when I’m going to the society’s meeting that year… In which case it costs the same to renew as not to as the cost is deducted from the meeting fee. So I have been a bad society member many times (when the meeting is too far away or otherwise inconvenient to attend).

  8. Come to think of it, there is one additional big benefit to belonging to a professional society. When going up for promotion, at least where I’ve been (and I think this is fairly general), the “service” criterion is divided into department level, university level, and national. Volunteering to do something for your society’s annual meeting (chairing a platform session & etc.) is one of the easier ways to get something to put on the “National Level Service” line of your CV.

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