Why should you join? not join?
Why are the membership numbers of some societies declining (some dramatically)?
It seems every month the American Chemical Society (ACS) sends me a letter asking me to join. I am not sure who recommended me for membership. I find it ironic because I once tried to join the Royal Australian Chemical Institute but was rejected because they did not seem to think I was a real chemist. [ouch!] Over the years I have belonged to several societies. But, some of these memberships have lapsed. Recently, I was personally asked by one, "What do we have to do to get you to rejoin?"
I did not have an answer, stimulating this post.
First, let me say why these societies can be incredibly important. They can
- Publish good journals that are owned and run by scientists. These can avoid the problems of commercial outfits such as Nature [sensationalism over substance] and Elsevier [quantity over quality, dubious business practises].
- Organise useful conferences.
- Give prizes and awards to recognise excellence.
- Provide career services, particularly for younger members.
- Represent science and scientists to government, industry, and the community. This is not just lobbying for more funding but making important public statements on issues such as climate change.
If we don't join, we end up with the Tragedy of the Commons, whereby our long-term collective interests suffer because we prioritise our individual self-interest.
So, why not join?
- Membership is expensive, particularly if you belong to several.
- Your mail box (both hard and soft) will be clogged with magazines, newsletters, fund-raising appeals, announcements, elections, ...
- You may be asked to serve on committees.
- There are many societies to choose from, particularly if you live outside the USA and you work at the interface of two or more disciplines [physics, chemistry, biophysics, materials science, ...]. APS, ACS, RACI, AIP, IoP, MRS, ...
- Smaller national societies are struggling for viability in an era of internationalisation. It is not clear why some still publish journals.
- Society conferences compete with a multitude of other conferences. Some national society conferences may not have a critical mass of people or seem a magnet for mediocrity.
- If you don't go to the society conferences and can read their magazine online via a library subscription there is less personal incentive to join.
So, how do you decide who to join? or not join? or let your membership lapse?
What would a society have to do to convince you to join?