It’s that time of year again.  All the organizations that I’m a member of have been sending out mass emails asking me to renew.  Forking over money, especially during the run up to Christmas, is tough.

So, I’ve decided to review the organizations I’m a part of, or have interacted with in the past.  I want to get a good idea of what I’m paying, and what I’m getting for that price.  On a tight, graduate student budget, are these academic memberships really worth it?  Or are they an unnecessary line on my cv?

The ones I’ve reviewed here apply specifically to me, either as an oceanographer, an earth scientist, a polar scientist, a graduate student, or a woman scientist.  Some of them are also specifically US-based, but there may be similar counterparts in other locations.  Hopefully this at least gives you a good idea of where to start when thinking about professional organizations.

Organization: American Meteorological Society (AMS)
Description:  AMS is a national organization (with international members) primarily for meteorologists, but also encompasses oceanographers.  AMS sponsors an annual meeting as well as smaller meetings for specific sub-fields.
Student cost: $20
Student perks: Subscription to Bulletin of AMS (BAMS), subscription to Physics Today, ability to apply for awards/grants, Career Center, discounted meeting rates
My review:  BAMS is an excellent, detailed magazine that almost makes the membership worth it on its own.  I don’t have that much time to read it, but when I do, I’m impressed.  As an oceanographer, a lot of what AMS sends out doesn’t apply to me, but they have some excellent scholarships available, including travel money to attend the annual AMS meeting without submitting an abstract.  I’ve never been to the annual meeting, but I went to a smaller Polar-themed meeting, and it went very well.  If you are a meteorologist, this is a must-have membership.  As for me, I’m interested enough in BAMS, the career center, and the occasional specialty meeting to make it worth it.

Organization: Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS)
Description:  An organization for early career scientists studying the polar regions of the earth.  Anyone from social sciences to physical sciences, and beyond, is welcome.
Student cost: $0
Student perks: Job board, mentoring system, conference interactions/sessions, webinars and virtual poster sessions
My review:  APECS is an excellent networking tool.  For most major conferences that have a polar theme or sub-theme, they send some official representatives and hold networking events or mini-sessions on themes specifically for early career scientists.  They have a fairly robust job board, although the listings are often delayed from when they originally appear in other lists or on other boards.  APECS is also very involved with other organizations and governing bodies, which use APECS as a way to reach students.  For example, a large cryosphere meeting will be held in Europe next summer.  APECS worked with the conference committee to identify sessions where early career scientists could be session co-conveners and put out a call for applications to their members.  If you do research that is related to polar science, there is no reason you shouldn’t be a member.

Organization: American Geophysical Union (AGU)
Description: A large organization for anyone who falls under the broad category of geophysics.  Located in the US, but open to international members as well
Student cost: $20
Student perks: Subscription to EOS, discounted meeting rates, access to member sub-groups, Career Center, ability to apply for awards/grants
My review:  Apparently you can become quite involved in AGU if you are interested in that sort of thing, but I never really figured it out.  I am part of AGU to get the discounted student rate for the joint Ocean Sciences Meeting, held every other year.  The other stand-out part for me from AGU is their weekly magazine/newsletter, EOS.  EOS includes articles on science, policy, upcoming conferences and workshops, research highlights, award recipients, and job listings.  It is one of the first places that most institutions consider publishing job advertisements in.  The cost has recently jumped from $7 to $20, but is still very affordable and worth it.

Organization: Association for Women in Science (AWIS)
Description: US based organization for promoting the needs of women in science.  Open to anyone and actively participates in policy making in Washington, D.C.
Student cost: $65
Student perks: Subscription to AWIS Magazine, subscription to Washington Wire, free access to monthly webinars, option to join local Chapter or Affiliate groups, opportunity to engage in advocacy and public policy
My review:  AWIS is one of my favorite organizations.  The price is a bit steep for graduate students, but you get a lot out of it.  If you are at all interested in women in science, this organization is the best place to be.  They are very involved with science policy in the US, especially how it involves women.  The members are extremely active, which you can see by looking at their linkedin group alone.  The webinars cover a variety of topics from work-life balance, to leadership issues, to women’s issues in science.  These webinars are offered at a price to everyone, but are free to members.  This one hurts my wallet a bit, but I get more out of it, per dollar, than most other organizations.  Also, if you are at ODU, they have just set up an AWIS affiliate group on campus.

Organization: Young Earth System Scientists (YESS)
Description:  An international network for early career scientists working in a earth systems field
Student cost: $0
Student perks: Networking opportunities, notification of upcoming events and conferences, online community board
My review:  YESS is a relatively new international early career group, that originated in Germany.  I haven’t had much interaction with them yet, but they are very up and coming.  YESS is currently working on broadening its scope to be a truly international organization.  They are adding features and upgrading the organization to be closer to the level of APECS.  If you are interested in being a part of a community like this, it is an excellent time to jump in at the ground level and help them build it up.  If you don’t want to get that involved, I’d suggest joining anyways and just keep up with their progress through emails as they add more functionality to the group.

Organization: The Oceanography Society (TOS)
Description: An international organization for oceanographers.
Student cost: $30
Student perks: Access to Oceanography magazine, reduced conference costs
My review:  Unless you are interested in leadership roles in an oceanographic-specific organization, I’d have to say membership in TOS is not worth it for students.  While the Oceanography magazine is an excellent publication, it is also open access, which means you can read it without joining the society.  Also, TOS co-sponsors conferences, but so far has not held their own.  Thus, if you plan to attend the Ocean Sciences Meeting, held every other year, a membership in AGU gets you the same discount as a membership in TOS.

I hope this gives you a good idea of what professional organizations are out there, and which ones are beneficial to you as a student to join.  I’d suggest not joining them all at once, but pick the ones that seem to fit you best, based on your preferences, and what conferences you may attend soon.  You can always join others later.  However, keep in mind that the price of these organizations goes up steeply (for most) once you are no longer a student.  Thus, if you can spare the money, now is the time to try them out and decide what is a good fit for you.

Are there any other organizations you would recommend?  What is your experience as a member?