"What real benefits are there to membership in a professional organization other than adding the name to my resume?" asked a same-aged colleague this week. My reaction was another question: How could a professional not know about the benefits of a professional organization?
As a long-standing member of three professional organizations (POs), and a consumer who likes to get her return on investment, I cannot fathom not taking advantage of these memberships. There are three traditional benefits associated with POs—network, network, and network. Allow me to expand on these benefits based on my 21st century experience.
Network for information: Lighting-fast techno-news
Since college graduation in the late 1990s, e-communications have been the most feasible way for me to stay in touch with "cutting-edge" topics. From updates on state-of-practice advancements to information on political issues affecting civil engineering and the latest and greatest on publications and technical gatherings, "e-blasts" from my POs keep me posted on subjects related to my profession and therefore my career. My students tell me that their favorite, readily visible way to receive data on internships, scholarships, fellowships, awards, and competitions is through student-oriented PO e-news. Internet searches and hard-copy publications may yield similar results, but it’s great to browse through e-notes that can selectively be filed or "recycled" without adding to my growing cabinet/shelve bulk space.
Network for development: Discounts and career advancement benefits
From Internet purchases of technical publications at lower rates (processing as soon as you hit "Enter"), professional gear selections (lapel pins, brief cases, office décor, et cetera), and group insurance rates, to discounts on conferences, seminars, and specialty and certification classes, my dues trickle back in every transaction I make through POs. For instance, I’m saving $150 on registration to the 2008 ASCE National Conference! Could there be better offers elsewhere? Maybe, but to me, the ease and web-surfing time-savings offset other selections. Plus, I contribute to organizations that serve my profession.
Network for people: Reigning champion
This traditional benefit—in existence before the e-world explosion of the 1990s and this running decade—still rules. Personal interaction at yearly congresses, monthly seminars, weekly social outings, and seasonal volunteer events are a great way to expand your professional circle. These contacts can vary from casual colleague courtesies to career-changing opportunities. Sometimes the personal grapevine carries information on job openings, contracts, scholarships, awards, and other career information that beats the speed of official e-communications.
Plus, you can implement your leadership and social skills with an audience receptive to your background, view points, and the technical puns and funny references. (You know the ones: What’s the difference between mechanical and civil engineers? Old engineers never die, they just lose their bearings. Are boring logs really "boring?")
And, for those who are into serious volunteer efforts, most POs offer members the opportunities to contribute to many committees at the local, regional, and national levels.
In a real way, a PO is akin to a gym: The only way you’ll get the membership benefits and results you want is by investing the time and energy required to "transform" your physique and psyche—the physical one as well as the professional.
What do you think of professional organizations? E-mail comments in care of firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cathy Bazán-Arias, Ph.D., P.E., is senior staff engineer for DiGioia, Gray & Associates, LLC, Monroeville, Pa.