"Ask Not What Your Chapter Can Do for You..." Or How Sigma Tau Delta Made My English Career
As president and primary recruiter for the Rho Epsilon Chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, I am frequently asked by students, "What are the benefits of joining?" It's a fair question. After all, we do ask for membership dues; students have a right to expect something in return for their money.
So what are the benefits of joining Sigma Tau Delta? My answer to this question is—as with most things in life—you get out what you put in.
In my ten years of involvement with Sigma Tau Delta, I've observed that many students will join the organization merely for the prestige of being a member of an honor society and/or for a line on their résumés. These new members often accept their pins and then disappear into the anonymity of an e-mail listserv, effectively ending their involvement with the group before it begins.
Admittedly, as an undergrad, I was one of those people. I was satisfied with the nifty pin and certificate and the recognition of my academic achievements. To be fair, the university I attended at the time did not have a very active chapter, and participation was not encouraged. In fact, I knew nothing of the society until I received an invitation to join, and I didn't even bother to attend my induction ceremony because no one, students or faculty, seemed to think it was a big deal.
When I returned to college for my master's degree four years later, heart set on admission to a doctoral program and a career in academia, I began to realize the importance of creating a strong CV. Membership in an honor society alone wasn't going to get me into a doctoral program; I needed to be competitive, to demonstrate active engagement in scholarship. It was at this point that the Sigma Tau Delta advisor at Western Carolina University sent me an invitation to join and outlined the opportunities available to members of the society. I was already a member, but I was not aware that I could submit my work to the national convention and to the student journals (or that such things even existed), nor was I aware of the scholarships offered. A student from my university had actually won one of the scholarships the previous year.
So, I took a chance and submitted a paper I'd worked really hard on to The Sigma Tau Delta Review, and it was accepted for publication. Not only did I become the first student from my university to be published in the journal, I had scored my first publication as a student scholar.
Shortly thereafter, I submitted a proposal for the 2010 Convention in St. Louis, and that was also accepted. In addition to providing a congenial atmosphere for hundreds of students like myself to mingle, the St. Louis Convention gave me the opportunity to practice skills that are vital to my career in academia: presenting research, answering questions from an educated audience, and participating in conference panels. I also got to serve as the voting delegate from my university, meet notable authors, and attend interesting talks. The convention was basically a more encouraging version of the professional conferences I am expected to attend as a scholar. In hindsight, it was an invaluable learning experience.
To my surprise, I had papers accepted for The Review and the 2011 Convention as well. Even more importantly to me as an emerging scholar, the paper I presented in Pittsburgh won the Graduate Scholarly Paper Award for 2011. Now that is a line for my CV!
I ended up being accepted into four excellent Ph.D. programs, thanks in large part to the opportunities provided by membership in the society. It is no exaggeration to say Sigma Tau Delta launched my academic career.
On a final note, when I began my doctoral work at Florida State University in 2010, I learned the Rho Epsilon Chapter had gone inactive decades earlier. Feeling indebted to the society that helped me get where I am, I spearheaded an effort to reactivate the chapter. It was a lot of work, but in return, I was named runner-up for the Edwin L. Stockton, Jr., Graduate Scholarship last spring—Sigma Tau Delta is paying my graduate school fees this year!
So, old and new members alike, keep in mind that your membership in Sigma Tau Delta can be as beneficial as you want it to be. If all you want is a line for your CV, then you don't have to do anything but join. If you want professional experience, an introduction to academia, the chance to be published, leadership experience, or the opportunity to help others in your community, then become involved in Sigma Tau Delta; volunteer your time, run for office, apply for scholarships and internships, and submit papers to the journals and conferences. You will find out, as I did, that you end up taking far more from your membership than you put in.