As a new member of the Membership Committee, I had the pleasure of approaching members at the Academic Surgical Congress (ASC) to ask them why they joined the Association for Academic Surgery (AAS). While the answers were diverse, three themes were common during my conversations with AAS members:
1. Research Mentorship- The Village Neighbor
The overwhelming response for why people joined and remain active in AAS was because of the connections with other academic surgeons that they were able to maintain through mentorship. With fewer surgeons being awarded NIH grants than ever before, having the support and mentorship of other academic surgeons is critical to success, just like a kind and supportive village neighbor. I could not agree more. For me personally, I am amazed when other surgeons who are 5-10 years ahead of me in their academic path readily offer to read my grant and provide feedback. I am even more amazed that when I send it to them, they are true to their word and return it with constructive comments. AAS membership provides you with opportunities via ASC and further involvement through AAS committees and leadership to become acquainted with potential mentors outside of your institution.
2. Career Development Advice- The Village Elder
Especially in the early years of our career, being a member of AAS provides somewhere to belong. You may be a member of a small group of academic surgeons at your institution but at AAS you recognize that you are not alone. Although I doubt this is true, I am hopeful that the relative struggles of obtaining extramural funding, building a clinical practice, and developing an academic reputation becomes easier with time, but I anticipate that the challenges are different and perhaps more complex but not necessarily easier as we progress in our careers. Nonetheless, other members I met at this past ASC have already been mentoring me only 2 months after meeting me. Look to your village elders (more senior members) in AAS who are excellent sounding boards who are unbiased and objective. Furthermore, connections you make at ASC can grow into advisors who can provide feedback on career development and even introduce you to a potential mentor at ASC or another meeting.
3. Formal Coursework and Grant Opportunities- The Village School
Structured AAS-sponsored programs such as the fall Early Career Development Course and Fundamentals of Surgical Research Course provide training in grant writing, research essentials, and career development. Your AAS Village School will provide you with the foundation for success in your career as an academic surgeon. In addition, these courses provide opportunities to identify mentors who can review grants and even provide support and guidance for career development. In addition, research and travel grant opportunities are available to all AAS members to support research and travel not only to attend AAS courses but also for international exchange fellowships worldwide.
Being a member of AAS may not directly equate to a family but being a member does define you as part of a spectrum of academic surgeons nationwide and even globally. We may have diverse pursuits that characterize us as academic surgeons but, as our mission statement attests, we have a “shared vision of research” through the “exchange of ideas.” We are one through our common experience. Look around you at the next Academic Surgical Congress and recognize that these same members will also be transitioning to becoming more senior academic surgeons alongside you. The AAS is your village; these are your people. I hope you will take up the call to be active in your Association as a building block of the AAS home, welcoming and inspiring other up and coming academic surgeons.