Remember student council elections in high school? Typically the most popular student running would win, but everyone was full of enthusiasm and excitement to attain those coveted positions! Fast-forward a decade or so to filling positions in organizations like the student council during graduate school and the picture looks dramatically different. We each take a turn, but we tend to do so grudgingly. High school was grueling, don’t get me wrong, but as the years progress the demands on our time change, the expectations are different, and the student body is less diverse (no more Poli Sci majors to eagerly take on the class president position).
Organizations that support fellow trainees and coworkers are typically run by volunteers. Each year we need people with a fresh perspective to step up and help with maintaining organizations such as the Graduate Student Council, the Sackler InSight, the Post-Doc Association, and, up here in Maine, the Research Fellows Association. There are so many important career and social events that just would not happen if these organizations were to disappear, not to mention how much smaller our voice within the school would be.
If you find yourself holding back from taking part in one of these community serving groups because you simply don’t have time between experiments, think of participation as a convenient way to get some career development in. Those of us who have been shoehorned into leadership positions can tell you firsthand how much rigorous practice we get in using the “soft skills”. In the business vernacular these include but are not limited to social and emotional intelligence, ability to develop people, delegation, structure and tactile development (how you get stuff done and how you tweak things to make sure it keep s getting done), style flexibility, and focus1.
Experience on a leadership team will create a tangible CV bullet that is particularly important for anyone interested in going into industry, but such experience will also be very helpful for people staying in academia (think committee and ancillary duties). It’s all in how you frame your skills to your audience.
Any of the students currently serving on committees or volunteering in other capacities will be more than happy to share their experiences, what their responsibilities and time commitments have been, contacts they have made, and what they have gotten out of their service in terms of personal and professional development.