You’re an early career scientist (ECS), or maybe you mentor one. So you know that we ECS are busy people, with responsibilities ranging from coursework to teaching, research to outreach, and labwork to fieldwork. And now there is this listicle (no, I’m not embarrassed about choosing this format) telling you to make time in your already packed day to volunteer some of your time to a(n early career) professional organization. Please, take a moment to hear me out.
When I was working on my master’s degree, I saw a workshop that I really wanted to attend, but I knew that similar previous events had been over-subscribed. So, I figured the best way to make sure I had a spot was to help organize the event myself. I enjoyed it and saw how much benefit both the attendees and myself got from the whole process. So, one thing led to another and eventually I became president of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists, an organization created by ECS for ECS to be able to stimulate interdisciplinary and international research collaborations, and develop effective future leaders in polar research, education and outreach. Involvement with APECS transitioned to being one of the first elected early career members of the Council of the American Geophysical Union. Despite the time investment, these opportunities have been very valuable to me, so let me tell you why I (as an ECS) have gotten and continue to be involved in (early career) professional organizations.
1) Networking & Building Connections
Networking doesn’t have to be a dirty word – really, it’s just meeting new people (choose your favorite way), finding shared interests, and keeping in touch with colleagues. Normally, people think of networking as just for extroverts – but there are ways to make it work for introverts, too.
Getting involved with a professional organization can be the key to making friends in your field and having conference buddies no matter where you go in the world. You can practice your networking skills with other ECS: share stories, grab a drink, find out about training courses or job opportunities, and build a support network. The shared mission of your volunteering will help bring you together.
And, if that weren’t enough, getting involved with a(n early career) professional organization can be the key – or the excuse – to meet that rock star scientist whose papers you’ve read. Except you’re not just a fan – you’re a colleague with a reason to interact. Take advantage of this for all it’s worth!
2) Gaining Skills & Experience
There are so many things that volunteering for a(n early career) professional society can teach you. Leadership, running a meeting, building consensus, motivating a team, facilitating discussion, organizing an event, asking for funding, building a newsletter, communicating to diverse audiences – and the list goes on. Whether you bring it back to your research career (running a lab group takes a lot more skills than MATLAB), or discover that you have a knack and love for research coordination and decide to change career tracks, you come out on top by getting involved.
3) Practice Taking Initiative
Making things happen is satisfying and fun, particularly when you’re in a field where results take years to come to fruition (if ever). No matter what career path you take, having the ability to be “do-er” will be helpful. Being on some committees can help you achieve this – and being on others (in a good organization) will give you faith that recommendations put forwards by committees that only seem to provide advice are actually acted on and executed in meaningful ways.
Use your experience and expertise to go from talk to action – following through on meaningful contributions will get you noticed and allow you to continue to build and progress. But make sure that you’re choosing activities that are beneficial to you, too. As an ECS, you owe it to yourself to build skills and connections that you find fulfilling and that will contribute to your future career. Volunteering your time should always be a win-win situation for both you and the team you are working with.
4) Balance and Time Management
While your thesis or pushing out that next paper might seem like the only important thing right now, it won’t be forever. As you continue to grow in your career, multiple projects, proposals, reviews, etc. etc. will begin to pile up – and you’ll wish you had gained more experience handling the workload earlier on.
By getting involved in a professional organization as an ECS, you are getting an early start on training yourself to maintain a work-life balance. You will learn to prioritize what you need to get done and when. You will learn to balance your own time with other peoples’ schedules (both are valuable). You will also learn the importance of everybody knowing what time zone a conference call is on. Getting a thesis puppy might not be right for you, but having something that isn’t just your primary research can be healthy, gratifying, and productive all at the same time.
A Caveat: It’s all about the continuum.
“Getting involved” means different things for different groups – check out your options, put yourself out there, and find out what works for you. Whichever group you choose to get involved with (and I mention a few ideas below), a very important thing to keep in mind is that you want to interact with not only other ECS, but also experienced colleagues who will be able to mentor and guide you. Even ECS organizations should include not-so-early-career-scientists in as many ways as possible, bringing together a continuum and transferring knowledge, rather than reinventing the wheel.
There are many organizations you can get involved with as an ECS, whether it is an early-career specific group (like APECS, PYRN, or ICYS) or a larger international body (like EGU, AGU, IASC, etc.). You could “just” co-convene a session at a conference you are planning on attending (with other ECS or an experienced colleague), organize a discussion group or mentor panel in your department or at a regional meeting, or even set up a pub meet-up sometime. It’s all getting involved in your community: networking, building skills, taking initiative, and balancing your priorities.
Allen Pope is a postdoc working at NSIDC and UW’s PSC, studying snow and ice, mostly from space. He tweets about the cryosphere, remote sensing, and few other things @PopePolar. Find out more about his research and what other projects he’s involved in at about.me/allenpope. The photos accompanying this blog entry are also by Allen.