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.