My first encounter with the acronym IEEE came when I saw it next to the numbers 1394. The more technically adept / computer-savvy among you might recognize the name Firewire - a common port available on so many PCs these days. The IEEE develops standards all over the world for technologies ranging from Firewire to USB to Wireless communication. Yes, the IEEE is ubiquitous and in a good way. Right from my school days, I've heard about the IEEE and looked upon it as this mythical group meant only for the engineering elite who are all knowing in matters of technology. The fact of the matter is that the organization comprises 395,000 members in around 150 countries, all working toward progress of any technology that is even distantly related to electricity. It was only recently, by the way, that I discovered that the logo of this organization was representative of the right-hand grip rule (a very well known rule relating to electricity and magnetism) .
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers had its origins in the American Institute of Electrical Engineers which was founded way back in 1884. The latter merged with the Institute of Radio Engineers to form what we know of, today, as the IEEE. It has the most members of any technical professional organization in the world. It also publishes 30% of the world's electrical, electronics and computer science-related literature and has 38 societies that cover specialized technical domains. However, the IEEE also has different organizational units based on geography. For instance, IEEE India has 10 sections (like Madras Section, Bombay section, Calcutta section and Kharagpur section). It is almost mandatory (if your work lies in an electronic/ electrical/ computer engineering related area) to have your work published in an IEEE journal or accepted at an IEEE conference to add weight to your proposals and research these days.
Membership is available at a discounted rate to students and the benefits of the same are many. Since I took this route, I'll be looking at the IEEE more from a student's point of view. First and foremost, being an IEEE member entitles you to access to the Xplore digital library. This database contains nearly 2 million papers and full-text articles. As part of the membership, you also get IEEE Spectrum, a monthly print (and electronic if you'd rather read it online) magazine detailing the latest developments in vocations related to electrical, electronic and computer science engineering. You also get up to date notification about the latest IEEE sponsored conferences in your fields of interest, not to mention significant discounts in the conference fees for students.
The myIEEE portal is your gateway to this wonderful wealth of information once you are a member. If you do sign up, don't forget to complete your profile and state your areas of interest. Sometimes, you'll get lucky and be offered a free membership (along with digital magazine access) of societies in your field of interest. You'll also find a number of free webinar (that's an online seminar) offers coming your way - all opportunities to get up to speed on recent trends in the areas you've mentioned on your IEEE profile page. And to confirm the authenticity of an IEEE conference, just head over to the IEEE's website and click on the "conferences and events" link. Then use the search function to find the conference you desire.
My own experience with the IEEE has been very good. I've become a member of a few societies too in addition to the basic IEEE student membership. One of my project ideas was shortlisted within the top 27 in the country for funding from the IEEE foundation via Bangalore section. Had a very fruitful correspondence with a professor of Osaka University from IEEE Japan, where one of my papers was sent (what with it being IEEE Region-10 HQ) after being selected among the top 3 student papers at the Madras Section. Access to IEEE Xplore was also very helpful during my internship at IIT Madras. A paper of mine was accepted at an international conference of the IEEE in Shanghai, China and will be published on IEEE Xplore and in the conference proceedings at the end of the year. International IEEE Conferences are a great way to meet and interact with the best researchers and experts in the dominion of the engineering, and to present your ideas to all these scholars who come from far and wide. All this would have certainly not been possible without a membership in the IEEE and access to its services.
Why I even got to help organize and volunteer (showing my talent as a pianist/keyboardist) at IEEE India's 125th anniversary celebrations! It's not all just about academics and research. Recently, the IEEE contributed a major amount towards flood relief in Pakistan. And if you think the focus on electronics is absolute, think again. To state an example, it was from IEEE's Spectrum that I learnt about Sikorsky's recent efforts to build a helicopter that could do 430km/hr+, the sole preserve of fixed wing aircraft. The IEEE even operates IEEE.tv - an internet based television network that delivers content about engineering and technology for the benefit of IEEE's members and the general public. I'd be much obliged if you could refer any of your friends who'd like a student's view on the IEEE to this page. Do retweet these 2 tweets - on twitter if you liked the article. It would sure help convince some fence-sitters to take the plunge.
To summarize, if you're in one of the disciplines that emphasizes a skill in electronics or electrical engineering or computer science, or if your work is vaguely related to these subjects, I think an IEEE membership would immensely benefit you. The IEEE's sphere of influence is vast. Be a part of it!