Conferences

How learned societies can boost your scientific career

Anne Osterrieder is a Research and Science Communication Fellow at Oxford Brookes University. 

Over the next few days I’ll be blogging from the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology. This year it takes place in Valencia, Spain and as always features tons and tons of plant, cell and animal biology.

Pink Dinosaur in Valencia
A pink dinosaur shows you can take experimental biology too far in Valencia. Photo: marcp_dmoz/Flickr

I don’t think I got the point of a ‘learned society’ when I first started my PhD. My supervisors, both active in different societies, encouraged me strongly to join a couple of relevant ones. I only realised the benefits a year later, when I wanted to travel to my first international conference. I was able to apply for travel grants under the condition that I presented in form of a poster or talk, and that I’d write a short report for their magazine.

Both of these things seemed relatively unimportant at the time when my main focus was on getting data. But when it comes to writing up your PhD and putting together your CV, these are the first – and sometimes only – opportunities for young researchers to demonstrate their ability to win external funding (yes, even if it is ‘only’ £100 – everyone starts small!), write a ‘published’ article and show initiative. It doesn’t stop at travel grants. Societies also offer public engagement grants as well as funding and help to organize meetings.

Palacio de Congresos
The SEB are meeting in the Palacio de Congresos. Photo: vil.sandi/Flickr

I have been a member of the SEB for almost ten years. I doubt that I’d be where I am now without their ongoing support for ‘young’ scientists. They ran the first science communication workshop I ever attended. I still vividly remember how I struggled to write a press release about my PhD project. “Imagine the headlines! ‘Scientists have found out that….and now write!”. Ummmm. “Scientists have discovered that Golgi bodies can form de novo…which means that….[blank face and despair]”. It was in a careers session at an annual meeting that I first heard of the importance of having an online profile (at that time the example was Nature Network). Now I am the one giving talks about science communication and online identity. I can only hope that I will be able to inspire others as much as I have been after all of these these SEB training sessions.

The SEB also awards prizes to outstanding young scientists and early career researchers. These prizes are a great career boost, and sometimes also a much needed motivational boost (we all have gone through the ‘Valley of Sh*t’). You might think that your research is not good enough, but I strongly encourage you to enter whenever you have the opportunity.

Even if the membership fee for joining a learned society might seem like a lot of money, it will be worth the investment. Societies offer opportunities. You just have to take them.

You can find a list of bioscience learned societies here, put together by Sarah Blackford, SEB’s Head of Education and Public Affairs.

Images:
City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia by marcp_dmoz/Flickr. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa licence.
Palacio de Congresos by vil.sandi/Flickr.This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-nd licence.