I have recently finished a fair amount of service to two professional scientific societies and wanted to write a post about what I have found valuable and challenging about these experiences.
I did my first stint of professional society service as a post-doctoral fellow and represented both students and post-docs on the executive of that society. I was a valuable experience and similar in many ways to the various student governments and committees that I’d been a part of in graduate school. It was a fantastic opportunity to network and be involved in selecting the professional development opportunities offered to our early career members.
For the next several years and continuing up to most recently, I’ve served as a judge for various student presentation, poster, and best paper awards. This has allowed me to gain an understanding of what constitutes a great research story and how it can be communicated effectively. I’ve learned a huge amount doing these activities that I now use in my own work and that I pass along to my own lab students.
This was followed by several opportunities to serve as a session chair and the chairperson of several committees in these organizations. This has gained me a subset of very specific organizational skills and allowed me to work with some wonderful colleagues. This work was also very fulfilling as it allowed for the opportunity to overhaul several outdated policies and procedures that we hampering equity, inclusivity, and diversity efforts of the organizations.
I’ve also had the opportunity to contribute to the organization of two scientific conferences which led to the development of a whole host of new professional skills. In hindsight, conferences are a huge amount of work and I would recommend that you wait until you are more than 2 years into your tenure-track job before you take on the task of organizing one!
Most recently, I served on a society’s executive council for three years and this last year I served as the chair for a major section of one of the scientific societies. It was very rewarding, but was more work than I was anticipating, and I’ve therefore made the conscious choice to step back from scientific society service for a few years in order to give myself a break and to allow for alternative perspectives to have a voice.
My take-home messages are:
1) Take the initiative. Sometimes you will be approached to participate, but your contribution will be very welcome if you volunteer through self-nomination.
2) Start small and get your feet wet with some reasonable commitments before diving into duties that are more challenging.
3) Do service that is personally and professionally meaningful for you. I especially liked assignments where I had a fair degree of autonomy and flexibility where I could make a meaningful and long lasting impact on the society.
4) If the timing isn’t right, you should decline opportunities without guilt and take breaks as needed.
5) If you recognize the potential to contribute in others, plant a seed by suggesting that their skills would be valuable and encourage them to get involved.