Volunteering in your scientific society: six lessons from a COMPASS alum

Compared with all other ASCB committees, membership in the Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS) fluctuates with a fast tempo, since students graduate and postdocs are not permanent positions. Since its formation in 2013, COMPASS has already “graduated” 23 alumni – some of whom were on the board for a few months, whereas others (myself included) volunteered for years. I think most COMPASS alumni found it an important learning experience for their careers; for some it was a critical experience to help them change careers; for others, it has made them better scientists.

What lessons can a COMPASS alum give to people thinking about joining COMPASS or another volunteer activity in a scientific society?

1) Use COMPASS as a “leadership school.” Organizing meetings and events, setting deadlines, and managing people and budgets are all part of a committee such as COMPASS. New members will learn a lot in the beginning and then can go on to lead subcommittees and then even the full committee. As your responsibilities increase, you will definitely hone your management skills, which are very important especially for scientists who aspire to manage entire teams of investigators. It’s also a great place to learn leadership skills, and COMPASS is a great incubator for leaders. Unsurprisingly, some of our alumni are now seated in leadership positions, such as directors/managers in universities, nongovernmental organizations, and advocacy groups.

2) Improve your other scientific skills. Volunteering with COMPASS also offers the chance to work on projects and actions not directly related to academic research, such as writing and outreach development. These fields build skills you can use in your career after your grad school/postdoc, whether you choose to remain in academia or not.

3) Improve skills for use in academic research settings. One of the most important duties of COMPASS is to organize the Microsymposia during the ASCB Annual Meeting. COMPASS members select topics of interest, review abstracts, and moderate the sessions during the meeting. This process requires sharp scientific knowledge and keeps COMPASS members on top of their game regarding the latest cell biology research. Also, for some COMPASS members, this is the first time they are acting as referees of scientific abstracts, which is a key skill for academics at all career stages.

4) Learn to organize meetings/events. Another important role of COMPASS is to organize talks and events during the Annual Meeting. This includes inviting speakers, organizing schedules, chairing sessions, getting feedback from the audience, and working with other ASCB committees. Few places give grad students and postdocs the chance to be active on such fronts, but COMPASS enables you these organization opportunities.

5) Gain a better understanding of how your scientific society works. When you volunteer in a scientific society, you really start to understand how things work from the inside. It’s a rewarding experience because ASCB is a society open to suggestions and discussions from its members in multiple forums. When you participate in leadership positions, you can definitely see how much you are able to do, and when you know how the society works from within, your suggestions and discussions can be more effective. Furthermore, one of the greatest experiences as a COMPASS alum is meeting and working with the ASCB staff, a group of fantastic hardworking people in Bethesda, MD, and also working with the ASCB leadership.

6) Network. All the topics cited above are strongly related to networking. Networking is a critical skill needed for any type of career, scientific or otherwise and at any stage. Volunteer work as a COMPASS member gives you a lot of experience talking to people and establishing collaborations—whether academic or nonacademic. COMPASS members have the potential to become formidable networking agents.

In the end, all the alums have made their own COMPASS experience unique—contributing and learning as much as possible—and many of them miss being a part of COMPASS. As one of the COMPASS founding members, it is very gratifying for me to see that the committee continues to work independently and collectively and is getting more and more dynamic throughout the years.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the views of the author(s) and do not represent the official policy or position of ASCB.


About the Author:

Bruno Da Rocha-Azevedo is a Senior Staff Scientist in the Department of Biophysics at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Bruno studies the spatiotemporal dynamics of endothelial cell receptors using single-molecule imaging. He was one of the founding members of COMPASS, and co-chair during 2015-2016. Bruno was the founder and co-chair of the LGBTQ+ taskforce (now Committee) and currently is a member. He is a member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce. He volunteered on the ASCB 5-year strategic plan, helping on creating the guidelines for further democratizing the society by ensuring leadership and decision making reflect the broad range of the membership and their interests and priorities E-mail: brunodarochaazevedo@gmail.com Twitter: @brunodra

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