Together, Scientists and Engineers Achieve More
Peter T. Kissinger
Professor of Chemistry
Not long ago I woke up one day to discover I was being recognized as a 50 year member of several science organizations! That didn't take very long and was achieved without special effort. Why do scientists and engineers join groups such as the American Chemical Society (ACS), Sigma Xi, IEEE, American Physical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) among the choice of so many?
My generation joined as undergraduates and graduate students. We looked for the networking and the information resources and were not disappointed. We wanted to understand the profession we aspired to and meet its leaders. Early on, information was conveyed only via publications, telephone, and national meetings. Today such organizations have daily eNewsletters, webinars, membership databases and opportunities to blog. They all distribute tables of contents for their many technical journals for no charge. We are now challenged by the quantity of communications. It takes some discipline to avoid having them consume too much of our time. Some confuse time spent with productive work accomplished. Fortunately we have search engines to help us focus, or as we might say, pull the signals out of the noise. It is more difficult today for many to see the value of membership organizations. The specialty journals and conferences and posting of job opportunities that were once unique are today ubiquitous.
Nevertheless, I advise students at all levels (undergrad, grad, postdoc) to consider joining a general science/engineering organization along with one more focused on the narrower discipline of their major subject. Scientists and engineers remain tribal and recognition by your tribe starts early. My favorite general science and engineering organization is Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, because it has breadth, an excellent monthly publication in American Scientist, and a daily news blast on interesting topics. Most important, however, is the fact that Sigma Xi is uniquely organized in local chapters. For example, the Purdue Chapter has a long history of sponsoring distinguished lectures, recognizing excellence locally with a Research Award, sponsoring a multidisciplinary poster competition and an annual banquet that crosses all the disciplines.
The AAAS is also an excellent organization for science and engineering that impacts public policy and is an excellent way to keep up with current thinking. The weekly publication, Science, can overwhelm, but none of us digest more than 5-10% of any issue. There are many hundreds of more focused organizations in the science and engineering disciplines. Some exceed one hundred thousand members while others have only a few hundred globally who share a passion. Success in science and engineering disciplines often comes from connecting the unconnected and seeing what others didn't see. Those connections often later look obvious, but the better thing is to see them early. Joining a club of like-minded scientists and engineers will benefit you in many ways. The human connections made will be your personal internet of professional colleagues, sharing a purpose of understanding the world and making it better. You can't shake hands and make eye contact with Linked-In. You can do both as a member of Purdue Sigma Xi!
Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society is the honor society of scientists and engineers that recognizes scientific achievement. It is the mission of the Society to enhance the health of the research enterprise, to foster integrity in science and engineering, and to promote the public understanding of science all for the purpose of improving the human condition.