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Phi Alpha Theta - Is It Worth It?


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Hello everyone,

I've recently been invited to join Phi Alpha Theta, the National Honor Society in History. I was sent an email from the faculty advisor of my alma mater and I'm curious if it's worth joining. I've been invited to join Honor Societies before, but I didn't know that one existed for the field of History, and I'm curious what benefits come from being a member. I've read the website, but I can't seem to find any definitive opinions on it, though there are some wishy-washy answers.

Thank you for your help!

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Is it worth it for what?

I'm a foreigner, so of course I didn't come with any knowledge of what Honor Societies are or what they are for. I don't know anyone in my graduate program who was part of it (even though they all came from ranked programs). I got a TT job.* My friends got TT jobs. 

My understanding is that Honor Societies foster community building and networking. Just to be clear, networking is a very fundamental part of our profession. So, if you feel that you could benefit from a network, I'd take that chance. If you had to choose between PAT and a professional organization, I'd choose the latter.

 

[* that said, because I came to the US with absolutely NO network, I had to work hard to build one --being very active in big conferences, attending events and mingling, being active on Twitter, etc.]

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Just now, AP said:

Is it worth it for what?

Worth it in terms of networking and engaging other historians. They have their own journal, regional conferences, and awards/scholarships, I had just never heard anyone in the History department speak of it during my undergraduate years. I also think you're right, joining a professional organization may serve me better than an honor society.

Just now, Sigaba said:

I am not a member. My question is why would you not join?

I suppose if I didn't find valuable engagement. For example, if the regional conferences they advertise don't take place near me (from what I can see, my department technically has a chapter, but it isn't active) and I can't network. I've been invited to join honor societies before for nominal fees, but I've never joined them and I was really curious to know if I should start now.

I appreciate your input AP and Sigaba!

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18 minutes ago, historyofsloths said:

 may serve me better than an honor society.

I suppose if I didn't find valuable engagement.

I very sincerely suggest that you reconsider how you evaluate these kinds of opportunities. To paraphrase JFK, it's not what the profession does for you, it's what you do for the profession.

While a ROI approach to how the Ivory Tower is financed is probably long over due, I don't know if it is sustainable for a graduate student entering a program to gain training to join a profession in which personal relationship are generally vital to one's success. (The exception would be rock stars whose (apparent) virtuosity and charisma allow them to do what they like while being s-birds.)

But if one were to take a ROI approach, the initial fee is a one time payment for $50. Were you to put that into a savings account, in thirty years, your net would be about $1.37.

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I did it in undergrad. I was the president for two years -- which was mostly due to me and one other (who became the VP) showing up to the recruitment meeting! We were a pretty small chapter -- the actual membership at my university was fairly robust, but the people that showed up to meetings was a much smaller number. I enjoyed it - I gained leadership and public speaking skills, skills in organizing events, and got to know more the faculty members through event organizing. The events we put on were faculty panels, workshops, networking/mingling events (such as cider and donuts at the department lounge) and field trips to local archives, museums and so on.

I enjoyed the conferences and our faculty adviser would always really seriously edit our conference papers so that was always valuable. I also got the chance to go the National Conference as well as the local ones. The department always found funding for traveling to these conferences. In general, the undergrads were more involved than the grad students because they were so busy with TAing and other duties. My own grad school doesn't have a chapter, they have a history graduate student society instead. I'll probably join that for networking and getting to know my fellow students. 

I think it does really depend on what you gain from it -- if the chapter isn't at all active, that has much less benefit-  you're basically paying for the ability to submit journal articles and apply for scholarships (helpful, but not hugely). I suppose it might be worth asking if there is funding to send you to conferences despite there being no active chapter and asking in general what benefits students at your uni get from it.  

To summarize, it was great for an undergrad, but I can't really say if it would be helpful or not for a grad student. Let me know if you have specific questions because I was pretty immersed in it for two years!

Edited by starshiphistory
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I wouldn't have joined Phi Alpha Theta as a PhD student, but I did as an MA student after a very mediocre BA career. I figured being part of an honors society would help me find a more serious community of students, form a writing group and have a support network on a campus where I knew no one. I enjoyed my time with PAT and still talk to many people I met through it. Don't join because you think it'll make a difference on your CV--it won't. Most people remove PAT from their CV once they start receiving awards and honors at the PhD level. @starshiphistory is spot on: PAT's worth depends on how active the chapter is. Do they put together workshops for writing and presenting at conferences? Invite guest speakers? Do fun things together (movie night was my fave)? How involved are the mentors/professors?

Btw, PAT offers small grants to members who are pursuing a PhD. I haven't applied for one, but I like knowing it's an option if I ever need to.

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1 hour ago, ashiepoo72 said:

I wouldn't have joined Phi Alpha Theta as a PhD student, but I did as an MA student after a very mediocre BA career. I figured being part of an honors society would help me find a more serious community of students, form a writing group and have a support network on a campus where I knew no one. I enjoyed my time with PAT and still talk to many people I met through it. Don't join because you think it'll make a difference on your CV--it won't. Most people remove PAT from their CV once they start receiving awards and honors at the PhD level. @starshiphistory is spot on: PAT's worth depends on how active the chapter is. Do they put together workshops for writing and presenting at conferences? Invite guest speakers? Do fun things together (movie night was my fave)? How involved are the mentors/professors?

Btw, PAT offers small grants to members who are pursuing a PhD. I haven't applied for one, but I like knowing it's an option if I ever need to.

Thank you for your response! I considered asking my advisors if I should join because the questions you brought up are definitely worth considering. And you're right, I'm not trying to pad my CV, I'm trying to determine if this will help with my growth as a historian not just to have a membership to list.

2 hours ago, starshiphistory said:

I did it in undergrad. I was the president for two years -- which was mostly due to me and one other (who became the VP) showing up to the recruitment meeting! We were a pretty small chapter -- the actual membership at my university was fairly robust, but the people that showed up to meetings was a much smaller number. I enjoyed it - I gained leadership and public speaking skills, skills in organizing events, and got to know more the faculty members through event organizing. The events we put on were faculty panels, workshops, networking/mingling events (such as cider and donuts at the department lounge) and field trips to local archives, museums and so on.

I enjoyed the conferences and our faculty adviser would always really seriously edit our conference papers so that was always valuable. I also got the chance to go the National Conference as well as the local ones. The department always found funding for traveling to these conferences. In general, the undergrads were more involved than the grad students because they were so busy with TAing and other duties. My own grad school doesn't have a chapter, they have a history graduate student society instead. I'll probably join that for networking and getting to know my fellow students. 

I think it does really depend on what you gain from it -- if the chapter isn't at all active, that has much less benefit-  you're basically paying for the ability to submit journal articles and apply for scholarships (helpful, but not hugely). I suppose it might be worth asking if there is funding to send you to conferences despite there being no active chapter and asking in general what benefits students at your uni get from it.  

To summarize, it was great for an undergrad, but I can't really say if it would be helpful or not for a grad student. Let me know if you have specific questions because I was pretty immersed in it for two years!

Thank you so much for your reply! Your last sentence also confirms what my friend said: he was an active member in his undergrad and throughout his PhD and he was able to attend the regional conferences held by our alma mater, but that was the extent of it. I think if I had been asked to join during my undergraduate career I may have considered it more seriously, but from the sounds of it, I think I'm going to pass on this one and actually invest in becoming a member in a society that's tied to my subfield (this advice is per my friend).

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4 hours ago, Sigaba said:

I very sincerely suggest that you reconsider how you evaluate these kinds of opportunities. To paraphrase JFK, it's not what the profession does for you, it's what you do for the profession.

While a ROI approach to how the Ivory Tower is financed is probably long over due, I don't know if it is sustainable for a graduate student entering a program to gain training to join a profession in which personal relationship are generally vital to one's success. (The exception would be rock stars whose (apparent) virtuosity and charisma allow them to do what they like while being s-birds.)

But if one were to take a ROI approach, the initial fee is a one time payment for $50. Were you to put that into a savings account, in thirty years, your net would be about $1.37.

As @ashiepoo72 and @starshiphistory have pointed out, there are diminishing returns for joining the society as an already admitted PhD student. I want to be part of societies and organizations that I can contribute to, not just passively participate in by holding a membership, and from what I can glean, participation would have been beneficial in undergrad. I thank you for your insight and will take your comments into consideration.

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4 hours ago, ashiepoo72 said:

I wouldn't have joined Phi Alpha Theta as a PhD student, but I did as an MA student after a very mediocre BA career. I figured being part of an honors society would help me find a more serious community of students, form a writing group and have a support network on a campus where I knew no one. I enjoyed my time with PAT and still talk to many people I met through it. Don't join because you think it'll make a difference on your CV--it won't. Most people remove PAT from their CV once they start receiving awards and honors at the PhD level. @starshiphistory is spot on: PAT's worth depends on how active the chapter is. Do they put together workshops for writing and presenting at conferences? Invite guest speakers? Do fun things together (movie night was my fave)? How involved are the mentors/professors?

Btw, PAT offers small grants to members who are pursuing a PhD. I haven't applied for one, but I like knowing it's an option if I ever need to.

This.  I was inducted in my final semester of undergrad.  I thought it was something just to put on my CV, which my advisor told me to do for grad schools.  Once I got more awards/fellowships, I took it off since it seemed that a lot of history majors who went into History PhD programs were inducted into PAT.

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14 hours ago, historyofsloths said:

As @ashiepoo72 and @starshiphistory have pointed out, there are diminishing returns for joining the society as an already admitted PhD student. I want to be part of societies and organizations that I can contribute to, not just passively participate in by holding a membership, and from what I can glean, participation would have been beneficial in undergrad. I thank you for your insight and will take your comments into consideration.

At the risk of belaboring the point, your reasoning might easily be rephrased so that the focus is on your personal professional development rather than taking steps that will benefit you personally, especially since the cost of joining this organization is, in the grand scheme of things, minimal.

Something along the lines of Membership in X and Y provides me with greater opportunities to do A, B, and C. 

My larger point is that as you start to craft your personal professional identity, now is a good time to decide if you want to be known as a scholar who is wise for picking opportunities to help others and the profession while always looking for opportunities to grow as a person and a scholar, or as someone who is known a "what's in it for me?" perspective?

Edited by Sigaba
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  • 1 month later...

I am a member; I joined my senior year of undergrad and presented at a PAT conference during my MA studies.  I can't say that it has done much for me career-wise outside of opening up that one conference presentation opportunity, but then again I really have no idea how professors view membership in societies like this when they evaluate applications.  My sense is that a membership in PAT is a weak soft at best in terms of resume-building.

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