There are hundreds of professional associations and these organizations are typically not-for-profit groups with the mission of furthering the advancement of a particular profession as well as the general interests of people within that career field. Most associations require an application and an annual membership fee; however, they help connect you to like-minded professionals and a slew of resources. Many organizations also offer discounted rates for students/trainees or new graduates. Some examples of science-specific organizations include: American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), American Chemical Society, American Association of BioAnalysts, American Society for Microbiology, and the list goes on and on.
You might have an idea of the right professional association for you to join, but perhaps you are unsure how exactly this membership can be of benefit. Professional societies can provide many direct and indirect benefits for scientists in their career, including: awards and honors that you can apply to (travel grants), publishing opportunities, leadership experiences (if you serve on a committee or volunteer to help plan local or national meetings), knowledge and key articles about issues within your field and new hiring trends. Last, but not least, most associations also have job boards which will likely only post positions that are truly relevant to you.
However, the most important benefit from your association in a professional organization is the networking opportunities. There are two main ways to network within a professional association – online or in-person.
Attend In-Person Events
Most professional organizations have an annual conference. Some even have smaller, regionally-focused meetings or dinners for local chapters. These events can be key to building your network and your credibility within your field. At the very least, you should attend, but as time goes by, you might also want to think about presenting on topics at conferences or panels. Hopefully, over time, your affiliation with the group will grow and you can consider seeking a leadership position within the group. Pursuing leadership positions will help elevate your brand and your reputation within your field.
Access Online Membership Directories
Once you have membership to the organization, you are granted access to a member directory where you can learn about other members in the group including where they work. This can be hugely beneficial if you are looking for collaborators on projects or if you are trying to network for your own professional purposes. Not only is there a membership directory on the organization’s website, but most groups also have active LinkedIn groups that you can join. Try not to be a passive observer. Instead, comment on discussion threads within the group or start a new conversation of your own. The more you engage and increase your visibility, the most people will begin to recognize you as a trusted peer professional.
Many professionals are actively engaged in multiple organizations/associations. If you are just starting out in your career, we recommend joining one. When in doubt, ask for recommendations from your mentors/network in order to choose the best option for you.