Tuesday, 18 June 2013

What’s in it for me?

Posted by Jean Adams

For quite a while I mulled on the idea of getting involved with the committee of a learned society. Initially I didn’t because I thought no-one would ever vote for a no-one like me. Then I worked out that they’re all pretty desperate for anyone and elections were more about process than manifestos or popularity contests. By which time I had decided it sounded like a lot of work, with nothing much in it for me.

I quite often find myself thinking, “nah...that sounds like a lot of work, with nothing much in it for me”. My interpretation of this is that I am a pretty lazy person with a strong selfish streak. But when I’ve talked about it to other people they say it is ‘being strategic’. From which I have concluded that other people justify their personal shortcomings to themselves by dressing them up in management speak.

It is all about me
But you know how these things happen. You have your annual appraisal and your appraiser says: “why don’t you get involved with a learned society?” And you can’t say straight out that you’re not going to do that because it’s sounds like a lot of work, with not much pay back and that really you’re a pretty lazy person with a strong selfish streak. So you put it down on your list of objectives for the next year. Then you get a e-newsletter from a society seeking nominations for committee members, and your appraiser forwards it to you as well so you can’t ignore it, and before you know it you find yourself as secretary of the UK Society for Something No-one’s Ever Heard Of.

I am General Secretary of the UK Society of Behavioural Medicine. If you’ve not heard of it, you should look us up. It’s a great society. The annual meetings are well organised (I have been to all but one of them), they attract high quality keynote speakers, the parallels are interesting, and the longer symposia and structured discussion sessions are well thought out and stimulating. But the very best thing about UKSBM is that Behavioural Medicine is such a wide topic area that a huge range of interesting people come to the meetings.

I have been General Secretary of UKSBM for eighteen months now. Although my tenure was preceded by a six month period of shadowing the out-going secretary, I think I spent at least the first 12 months of the job feeling like I was just on the right side of totally out of control. My first task was to organise an election for a new Membership Secretary. Which I pretty much made up as I went along. And then there was the minutes – of four committee meetings a year plus an AGM. I guarantee there is no-one in the world who hates writing minutes more than me.

To be honest, it’s not a lot of work. It is, by its nature, something that you have to be pretty well organised to do okay at. Which can sometimes be a challenge. It is possible that I have agreed to organise the 2015 annual scientific meeting, which I expect will be a lot of work. But right now I am doing my best not to think about that. I don’t get free conference registration. I do get one free lunch at a committee meeting and one free pre-conference dinner per year – which is nice. I have met a lot of people I would never have met before.

What I’d never anticipated was something that happened right in the middle of the last committee meeting I went to. There I was, trying my best to document the decisions that were being made, when I suddenly realised that I was enjoying myself. Not enjoying myself writing minutes. That’s never going to happen. But just enjoying myself having interesting discussions on how to make UKSBM better with a bunch of clever, interesting people. Which, I promise you, is more than enough ‘what’s in it for me’ to keep me doing it for at least another 18 months.


  1. Being involved in an academic community is always valuable, even for selfish people. You get to contribute to your scholarly community, run conferences, promote debate, and you also get all manner of other things that selfish people focus on, such as boosting your own CV and developing your personal network. Heaven forfend but you might also get to support other people too.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Sounds like you're much less selfish than me!