This is a guest post by Dr. Rae Taylor
I was reminded the other day to investigate my professional memberships — what I wanted to renew and what I wanted to let lapse. You may think I was reminded by an email or letter from one of the many professional societies., but sadly it wasn’t anything that normal. I was actually reminded while writing my daughter’s name on a toy ID badge. There was enough room for her name and fake academic credentials, but none left for professional affiliations. It left me wondering what I would write myself, as it’s been so long since I wrote them down, and they’re hard to remember since I move around a lot between institutions.
I guess I should state now that my professional affiliation has lapsed. I was a member of a civil engineering specific society, but after I left my full-time job and became a part-time independent scientist/homeschooler/full-time daycare teacher/older neighbor welfare checker, the $245 membership fee seemed too high. Now, to be fair, this organization does provide one year of free membership should you find yourself no longer gainfully employed, which is brilliant. I applied for it and heard nothing back. I assume they were inundated with applications as many people were losing their jobs at that time.
Proposals for professional societies came to my door
So, after my membership ended, I considered renewing it, but for what reason? I get letters from them regularly to remind me that I’m not a member and I really should be, how useful it is, all they do for me, and, of course, how I can send them a large check. Every time I get one of these marketing messages, I think I should really rejoin this time. But again and again, I don’t. While I could probably point to any number of reasons I haven’t done so, the main one is clearly that I personally don’t currently see the value in my professional membership.
This feels very strange for me to say as I have not only been a member of a professional body for a long time, but I also used to promote them…
Belonged to IOM3…
I remember I was so excited when I joined the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE). It was amazing to be part of the world’s first professional engineering body and with it had access to all the standards on which the country (the UK) was built and the people who built it. I would use these to develop as an engineer, gain chartership, and become a mentor for others along the way. As I moved through my career, I realized the ICE wasn’t the institute for me, but the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) was where I belonged. I could have been in both, but I had to pay my own dues and didn’t really like the idea of paying two fees, especially when I wouldn’t be using ICE for anything in the foreseeable future.
Networking and… Institutional value?
Thinking about all this made me ask the question, “Why do I no longer feel the value of my current institution?” There is no argument that professional institutions have value. Networking and CPD/PDH hours being the main benefits. I live rather remotely, so the networking events do not appeal to me, and I use LinkedIn for networking. If I need to think about building my network, I go directly there and, quite honestly, don’t even think about looking at my institution.
CPD/PDH hours, while useful, are expensive, and I have found it’s often cheaper to pay the non-member price for the odd one or two courses I want to take, rather than maintain a professional society membership. Some institutions have free continuing education hours for members, and I do find this a big selling point. In my case, I had done all the free ones I could, so again, not really a selling point.
I thought about choosing a few professional companies…
That got me wondering what professional societies could offer that would bring me back. It’s a bit of a cheat, but truthfully, the first thing would be if my employer paid for it, and that really isn’t the best reason to be a member of something. But an employer-funded membership would get me access to CPD/PDH hours at a reduced members’ rate, which would encourage me to do more of them.
The next thing I thought of is that I would, of course, join an institute if I had to for some reason. Now, that might sound a bit strange, but the Project Management Institute (PMI) (full disclosure: I am not a member, but will be soon when I start my CAPM) makes it almost necessary to be a member in order to gain and maintain their qualifications.
Using the carrot-and-stick model, PMI has gone with more of a stick approach, rather than relying on the carrots of networking and CPD/PDH hours. But it works and, on the plus side, their site is very easy to use — as soon as you step into that world you know what is needed from you and why.
At the end…
So far, this doesn’t seem to bode well for professional societies. I’ve come up with free membership and required membership as my reasons I would join them, which I’m sure is not what the professional societies would want me to say. Maybe that’s part of the problem. For many of us, the advantages of joining professional societies are just not that obvious, especially given their cost. So, to the professional societies out there, if you’re listening, you need to up your game as far as benefiting your members, or maybe just better advertise all that you already do. Convince me that at this stage of my career I need you.
About the Author:
Rae Taylor is an Engineer with extensive experience in advanced techniques for materials characterization. She received an award-winning Ph.D. in Materials Science, which focused on the analysis of microstructures using electron microscopy. Prior to her research in Materials Science, she worked in the clean and wastewater industry. Over her career, Rae has gained extensive experience in project management and lab management, including team building, process engineering, construction oversight, safety management, and quality assurance. She has over ten years of experience designing, developing, and testing experimental procedures. Rae is team-oriented and has extensive experience teaching and tutoring, both in the work environment and in the classroom. She has presented her work to a wide variety of audiences, ranging from academics and industrial specialists to the general public and holds a particular interest in the development of resilient whether it is in materials or infrastructure as a whole.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s post by guest author Rae Taylor.
Have a great 2022!
Anthony Fasano, P.E.
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success