Working With Learned Societies: Top Tips For PhD Students

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Academic or learned societies can be a great way to engage with the wider scholarly community as a PhD student as well as to gain experience of conference attendance and conference papers. Yet there are often many more ways of working with learned societies that can lead to a plethora of opportunities for PhD students seeking to develop their skills ahead of their first academic job. This article aims to give five top tips for working with learned societies for PhD students who wish to pursue an academic career.

  • Find out the existing learned societies in your area of research and become a member. Most learned societies are very welcoming and many will have discounted membership rates for postgraduates. The first contact with any learned society tends to be the membership secretary; their welcoming email tends to give an indication of the tone of the society. It can be really helpful to get to know the membership secretary and to make sure you are on relevant mailing lists in order to receive emails about events and conferences in your subject area.
  • Attend as many events and conferences organised by the society as possible. It might not always be possible to attend the annual conference of the society, for example, since funding for postgraduates to attend these events tend to be scarce. Nevertheless, some societies will offer discounted rates, and attendance at events, whether you decide to give a conference paper or not, will lead to opportunities for networking with colleagues and more experienced researchers in your subject area.
  • Volunteer for opportunities within the society. This might mean volunteering to review a book for the society’s journal, or to help to hand out drinks and snacks at receptions, or it could mean a more substantial role such as a postgraduate representative position. Volunteering your time for the society can put you in contact with senior academics, while also helping to develop your skills and experience. In the event that you are able to apply for a postgraduate representative role, it is important to emphasise your existing skills in the application process, while also recording how you could help the society. Postgraduate representative roles can lead to a whole series of opportunities, including the chance to organise a postgraduate event or conference, which in turn can develop your skillset to include organisational, leadership and team working skills.
  • Apply for funding from the society. Academic societies regularly have funding opportunities, which might include funding to carry out fieldwork or to attend a conference. Through applying for these funding opportunities, your research can be scrutinised by senior academics and you have the opportunity to develop your contact base; even if your application is unsuccessful, this can prove a valuable experience of writing funding applications for your future academic career.
  • Enter competitions run by the society. Some societies host competitions for the best academic poster while others might offer a prize for the best article published by a postgraduate author in the society’s journal. Again, such activities bring you into contact with senior academics while also developing your skills—designing a poster, for example, is a superb way to develop the capability of explaining your research to a non-specialist audience. Entering a competition, or better still, winning, also adds to your CV as well as offering the potential for a cash reward and indeed for academic prestige.
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