From the Archives: Membership in Professional Societies

(This post originally appeared here.)

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 don’t see much value, especially with no aspirations to be a fellow. The main society in my field comes across as money hungry and slow to change. In your opinion, X, has COVID increased, decreased, or not affected the value of professional society memberships?

  2. I’m a member of two professional societies. One (in my main research field) I paid for life membership early in my career so there are no ongoing costs, but the annual national conference has changed focus to more application than research so I rarely attend it. It is easier to get presentations at if needed and I have done service for them in the past which was a great help when I went up for Associate. The other society covers a very large, broader area in which several of my areas of research are included. I’ve maintained membership and attendance at their annual conference since my last year of my doc program. I would not have gotten my first tenure-track position had I not attended, and doing service for them has led to external reviewers for promotion to Associate and Full. I hadn’t considered going for a fellow, but I’m now inspired to look into it.

  3. Positive Definite: Not sure if COVID made a difference, tbh. I personally don’t give a toss if I am a fellow or not; it probably meant something early in my career, but at this point I really don’t care. However, my department really cares, and they are pushing for getting nominated and receiving fellowships because that enhances the perceived prestige of the department and thus the ranking (which is all about perceived prestige). So I am sure I will have to go up for these two fellowships sometime soon, which does not thrill me in the least. I hate asking people for favors (to nominate me and such).

  4. Anonymath, seems the second society is a real benefit to your career; it certainly makes sense to go for fellow for a society you are deeply invested in and where you feel you’re getting a lot back. Good luck!

  5. I was a member of IEEE for decades—their group term life insurance alone was worth the membership fee, and Spectrum was not a bad magazine. I maintained my membership for quite a while, even after I stopped attending IEEE conferences. I discontinued it when I no longer needed life insurance.

    I was a member of ISCB for a somewhat shorter time—I even served on the Board for a while. It existed mainly to run a big annual conference, which was worth attending. I let my membership lapse when I stopped going to conferences.

  6. Most of ours I pay for membership if I’m going to the conference because of the conference discount generally being equivalent to the membership cost and otherwise let my membership lapse.

    There are a couple of econ societies that are a Big Deal and you only get invited to join if you’re Special. These will pay for you to go to their conferences and will let you put out working papers in their series that people outside the societies read (but they don’t have peer-reviewed journals). And they provide grant support (if you run grants through them) and other opportunities. (One is only for North American academics, the other is international.) These are worth belonging to if you can get in!

  7. I’m a member of the Ecological Society of America because I go to meetings every other year and publish with their open access journal regularly – savings on both are more than the membership costs. I have also nominated several folks for fellows/junior fellows there, which requires membership, and anticipate asking someone to nominate me for fellow some time soon. Also, the society lobbies for Good Things and sends out interesting newsletters…I have a very good opinion of them so don’t begrudge the membership fees (which run about $150/year?).
    Any other societies I’ve participated in have basically been just to get the reduced meeting fee.

  8. The American Astronomical Society is useful. They lobby Congress and run our top (U.S.) journals, keeping us away from the for-profit dominance. They run the most important meeting for up and coming scientists (students and postdocs). That said, I need to check my membership status–I may have missed a re-up during the pandemic.

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