Are society memberships kinda like herd immunity?

As the year is drawing to a close, I've realized something. Due to some strange financial road blocks at the start of the year, I put off renewing my regular memberships to the three societies I normal pay dues to. Then I got busy and forgot to send in the paperwork, despite having it prominently on my desk. All three memberships include a print journal that I also did not receive all year.

So, you would expect I really missed out on some stuff this year, no?

The reality is that I didn't miss out, which is also part of the reason my motivation to renew was fairly low. It's not that I don't support these societies or don't want to be involved, it was more that there was no downside to forgetting to renew. I still have access to all the journals online and get email table of contents for them all. I even still remain active in a service role for two of the societies as a member of the editorial board of one and chair of a committee in another. The fact that I didn't drop a couple of hundred bucks to be an "official" member seems to have had zero consequence.

Part of the reason for this was an unusual summer schedule that took me to some conferences for other societies, rather than making my normal rounds. The meetings I typically go to overlapped with these others, making impossible to get to all of them. For that reason, my membership in my normal societies slipped under the radar in a way that likely would not have happened in other years.

Nevertheless, it does make me wonder a bit about the utility of society memberships to the individual. I should note that I am not advocating that people not renew their memberships because I realize that if everyone opted out of membership a society would go under - hence the title of the post. I also plan to renew my membership in the new year, but if one was interested in answering the question "what would happen if I didn't renew my membership for a year", it would seem that the answer is "nothing".

12 responses so far

  • Bashir says:

    I think you've hit it on target. I don't quite get society memberships. I understand that once upon a time it meant getting the physical journal, which was the only way to keep up. Those days are long gone, and I certainly never saw them. I can't think of a way memberships are useful for the individual. For me they are just part of the cost of going to conferences.

  • Namnezia says:

    To me, not renewing the membership means having to pay $1000 + $500 per color figure to have a paper published in their journal.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    Back in the pre computer days, I belonged to eleven societies and received 23 technical journals. I don't know how I would function in today's world. I think I would belong to my core society (actually am a life member) and support same, but I probably would free load on some of the others. When I retired, I dropped over $1000 worth of memberships and subscriptions.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Certainly there can be significant financial incentives, but that assumes that you publish in a particular journal every year. Plus, many open access journals are going to a flat fee model anyway.

  • Some of the societies that I belong to are great for networking and you see a lot of folks and great science at the annual meetings but none of us would publish in their journals because its pretty weak and the IF is in the tank.

  • CoR says:

    Society fees pay for graduate and undergraduate travel awards to meetings, right? That in and of itself is a reason for me to maintain my membership(s), albeit, few of them.

  • Jean Grey says:

    A few weeks ago I shelled out about $500 for four memberships...I had to renew one of them because I wanted to apply for a society-sponsored award, so I decided to be a good citizen and update my three other important ones at the same time.

    Prior to that I was the same as you, I let all but the most important one lapse for the past year. I had a few month pay gap in between graduation and my first pay day as a postdoc, so I simply couldn't afford to pay the dues. That and for some dumbass reason, most of my renewals are due in December, when I can't even afford to feed myself because of the holidays.

    The most interesting things is that when I renewed each of these memberships, I expected them to require that I pay the past year's dues (which I had skipped)...but surprisingly they all waived the delinquent fees. No complaints here!

  • Odyssey says:

    I think one of the more important things Society's do is lobby for increased funding for science. Then there's organizing annual meetings, outreach etc. My core Society does a pretty good job of those things, so I believe they're well worth the cost of membership.

  • GMP says:

    I currently have only two memberships (down from 4 or 5) to two core societies and I think both are worth the money. Member registration fees for the conferences they sponsor are significantly reduced, they offer excellent travel funding for students, and I love their monthly magazines.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I am not saying that all society memberships are not worth it and the benefits of reduced cost for members for conferences, publications and potential grad travel money are all worht the price of admission. However, if one is not in the position to take advantage of these benefits for whatever reason, the benefits to being a real live card carrying member are marginal.

  • Dr. O says:

    I let my one major society membership lapse this year for the first time in 10 years. Mainly because I knew I wouldn't be going to their meeting this next year, and I've had a few other things going on... I haven't noticed an impact myself, either - journals are provided by my institution, a spare monthly magazine is always available in the break room, and I know their lobbying is continuing in the absence of my postdoc dues. I'm sure I'll pick it back up next year, but I think the benefits of these societies are more long-term than short-term - most of the time.

  • neurowoman says:

    Biggest thing for renewal in my area is you need to be a member to submit abstracts for the conference (or have co-author who can), and there is a substantial reduction in registration fee for members. If you're not attending the conference, then no biggie, but you never know when you may want to send a student or trainee. Receiving a print journal is irrelevant, I would decline it even if it were free, so that I don't have an office cluttered with old volumes like my advisors' always used to! Ruling factor is having funds to pay for memberships, I wouldn't want to pay for it out of pocket.

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