The Biologist Vol 61(4) p28-29
There have been many student societies throughout history: some small, some public, some secret and some that housed the great minds of future scientists. The Plinian Society was a student club at the University of Edinburgh back in the early 19th century that witnessed the early stages of many great scientists’ careers, including Charles Darwin’s. Despite it being a student society, regulations were very tight, with an elaborate code of laws and a highly selective joining process. Members, once voted in, would meet in an underground room at the university, discuss papers and sometimes even present their own research, usually in a form of critiques of the work of established scientists.
The format of student societies might have changed a lot since the 19th century, with this slightly macabre, underground atmosphere giving way to a more open and social environment, but the principle behind them is the same: a society remains a safe place to discuss scientific ideas, and to promote collaboration and engagement in science.
Lectures may form the basis of students’ education, but science doesn’t always fit into a nine to five day and there is always much more to learn. Every university carries out research, but often students know next to nothing about it unless it is directly involved in the curriculum. This is one of the reasons why a group of biomedical science students founded the Society of Life Sciences at London Metropolitan University. Their annual conference, Research Inside Out, provides a platform for local scientists to share their ideas and projects with students.
In addition to providing academic support, societies organise social events where students from different courses can network. “We organise themed monthly socials so students can get to know each other. The most memorable event so far has been our freshers’ party, where everyone came in white and brought a marker pen, so students ended up drawing on each other – which was really fun,” says Alice Francis, the president of Life Science Society at the University of Sussex.
Student-led societies can register with the Society of Biology and benefit from a closer working relationship. Such an affiliation provides many advantages, such as reduced membership rates, free membership for the president, resources and merchandise, networking opportunities, and general help and advice. More than 30 student societies in the country are registered with the Society.