A learned society with international reach

In this blog, Sam Wilkinson, committee member and communications lead on the Learned Society Committee, discusses IChemE’s ongoing learned society activity that is contributing to achieving Aim 2 of Strategy 2024.

Name: Sam Wilkinson

Job title and organisation: Strategy Director Food & Beverage, PSE Formulated Products

IChemE roles: Committee member and communications lead on the Learned Society Committee, and Chair of the Early Careers Research Forum

Bio: My role at PSE is focused around advancing the use of digital solutions in the food and beverage industries. I have experience in industrial research and development, process design, technology transfer, software product development and strategic business development. I have been an active IChemE volunteer since 2012.

IChemE exists to advance chemical engineering’s contribution worldwide for the benefit of society. One of the four aims of our Strategy 2024 is for IChemE to be “recognised as a vibrant learned society that materially impacts on the Global Grand Challenges”. Also, that we will provide professional and technical leadership by “developing and supporting special interest groups, members groups, communities of practice and relevant forums”.

IChemE is a global community with approximately 35% of members based outside the UK, and a strong international reach in chemical engineering course accreditation. The Learned Society Committee (LSC) sees IChemE having a learned society with international reach as a key priority to meet these aims.

Initially the LSC sought to understand IChemE’s current position in this area and identify a way forward to provide stronger support for its members globally. The LSC has been working with local stakeholders in regions such as Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore to understand ways of working, member access, and levels of engagement through Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and members group activities. IChemE has 20 SIGs: 18 have the bulk of their membership in the UK, with one each primarily based in Australia and Malaysia. Outside the UK, the 18 SIGs operate in a wide variety of ways for historical and pragmatic reasons.

In Australia and New Zealand, most activities (including technical) are led by local member groups and often depend on the interests of active volunteers or collaboration with other local professional engineering institutions. Most SIGs do not organise local activities here and timings of SIG webinars are often inconvenient.

In Singapore, the national board has representatives, each of whom aim to line up with one or more SIGs, and in some cases are SIG committee members. In Malaysia, there is the Palm Oil Processing SIG (POPSIG) as well as eight local chapters of UK SIGs, all of which have representation in their respective UK committees and report to IChemE’s Malaysia board.

SIGs face a number of challenges in delivering an international reach to their members, particularly around the timing of webinars. During our initial engagement, feedback from international SIG committee members included suggestions to upload webinars and slides and run them multiple times to widen participation.

It has also been suggested that the SIG offerings to international and UK regional members groups should be multi-platform. A multi-platform offering from the SIGs would be welcomed by these regions to deliver a more integrated and diverse membership engagement. An early success in this area is the introduction of a new webinar series: “How Chemical Engineers and the Scientific Community are Serving Society During this Fight Against Covid-19”.

The webinar series showcases different international examples of interest to chemical engineers, assists members to develop leadership skills, and is held at a convenient time for members in Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore. Feedback has been very positive.

Looking at the worldwide spread of SIG members reveals significant interest from nearly all countries with IChemE members so it will be essential to work with all regions and not just those mentioned in this blog.

There is great strength in depth in IChemE membership across these regions, covering a variety of sectors and skillsets. The LSC is keen not only to provide stronger support for members globally, but also to ensure that members have the opportunity to learn from each other and to grow their professional skills regardless of where they are based geographically.

To realise a learned society with international reach, the LSC has agreed to set up a new task group which will look at all member communications in the learned society and collaborations with members groups, and discuss how IChemE can improve:

  • active participation in learned society activities from across the global membership base;
  • regional applicability of learned society outputs; and
  • access to learned society material irrespective of geographic location.

If you’re a member of IChemE and would like to contribute to this work, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact LSC@icheme.org.


This article was written with inputs from LSC members in Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand. It also appeared in the latest issue of The Chemical Engineer.

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