Being Involved in Academic Societies – Is It Worth It?

From the Society of Personality and Social Psychology to the International Society of Behavioral Medicine and the Stress and Anxiety Research Society (just to name a few that are relevant to me), there are so many different academic societies out there for all sorts of disciplines and subdisciplines. These societies span both local (e.g., the Australasian Society of Behavioural Health and Medicine) and international (e.g., the International Society of Behavioral Medicine) territories. They offer fantastic opportunities for researchers and practitioners to network and cross-pollinate their knowledge. They also afford (voluntary) opportunities in being involved with the running of the society. But should you sign yourself up?

I am where I am today because of my involvement in academic societies

I am involved with both the International Society of Behavioral Medicine and the Australasian Society of Behavioural Health and Medicine. I hold different roles in both societies and have been involved with both of them for a number of year. Over that time I have had the opportunity to develop organisational, leadership, and communication/outreach skills (including to ECRs, other academics – including big name academics, society members and potential members, and other stakeholders) that I just would not learn in either teaching or research. So, without this being a brag-fest, yes, I think being involved with these kinds of societies are well worth it!

What exactly do these societies offer?

It depends… Doesn’t it always!? It depends on how much you are willing to give and what the society is willing to offer. Generally, there will be something targeted toward ECRs like resources, grants, postdoc positions, workshops, social networking opportunities, and professional networking opportunities. Generally there will be an executive committee which would see you placed in a position of responsibility over some aspect of the society. If the society holds conferences, then there will be multiple teams that you could be involved with in helping to plan the conference. You could also volunteer at the conference to help out with the day-to-day running. There could be websites and social media pages that need managing. The list goes on. Whatever the role, these extra duties provides the opportunity for you to showcase your skills to other academics (often very senior academics), to learn from the other society members and refine your skillset, and to be pushed to further better yourself in ways you might not have been expected to do so. Above all else, it is an amazing networking experience!

This all sounds very time consuming…

I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t. If you are on a 40/40/20 workload then this becomes what is known as ‘external service’ and contributes to your 20. If you are a student (like I was when I started with these societies) then I saw it as a way to break away from study without feeling guilty. However, ultimately, all my roles in academic societies probably contributes about half of my 20% service load for work. The other half is taken up by internal service; committees like ethics, academic progress/integrity, learning and teaching, and research. So while serving in academic societies is no small task, it also will not overload or overwork you.

The takeaway

If you can, I would recommend taking a more active role in at least one society. See where it takes you and what you can learn!

~ Chris

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