Here I share my experiences volunteering in science and my learning on how it can help to advance your career.
Identifying a suitable volunteering opportunity
Although I used to volunteer in local groups, committees and activities all through my career in science, my first opportunity to volunteer in an international group came quite unexpectedly. I met Dr.Fanuel Muindi, co-founder of The STEM Advocacy Institute at the UNESCO international symposium and policy forum focused on girls education in STEM. He had presented the stories in science project at the symposium. Stories in Science is an initiative through which real stories of scientists are curated from around the world. These stories, which bring to light the challenges, failures and successes of people in science serve as a resource for the public and aspiring scientists to understand the nature of science.
Later, through follow-up emails, I got to know more about the goals and mission of this think tank, which is to conduct advocacy research that leads to the development of new ideas, tools, and insights to support trainees, organizations, and policy makers in science around the world. The concept resonated well with my personal values, ideas, and vision for science to benefit all. I shared my own story in science and very soon I found myself in an enthusiastic science think tank discussing and implementing ideas.
Volunteering in science helps to expand your knowledge base
Despite being a busy working mother, I found time to volunteer for the STEM Advocacy Institute owing to a passion I developed for the stories in science initiative and the wonderful and supportive team. Also I have felt that when volunteering, pressure is less and satisfaction is high. Although the responsibility when taking up assignments is the same as a regular job, there is greater flexibility and added fun element to volunteering. I felt that in very little time, I gained more knowledge on science communications, especially global insights, and realized the power of stories in science to effectively penetrate the society. Also the amount of learning I have gained being in this group is significant as every idea, publication, initiative and tool is shared through the group and regular team meetings.
Volunteering in science helps to expand your network
Needless to say, volunteering for the STEM advocacy institute has helped to expand my professional network considerably. I now collaborate with people from all over the world and the experience is phenomenally rewarding.
Volunteering enables you to give back to the society
Besides the STEM Advocacy Institute, I have self-initiated a couple of voluntary projects to promote the participation of females in STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics) education and careers. One of this is the organizing of the Gender Summit in Singapore in 2019. In my experience, I have not only felt empowered myself through these activities but also have gained a lot of fulfilment in empowering others in the process. I have received tremendous support from like-minded people and that is fuel and strength for forging ahead despite challenges. Finally, when the focus is the benefit of the society and people, it benefits everyone involved.
Volunteering in science can help bridge a career break/ land your next job in science
I joined the team initially as the stories in science ambassador and was later recruited as a Senior Program Specialist at the STEM Advocacy Institute. This helped me put to use my biggest strengths- thorough analysis and development of strategies - as well as networking and communication skills. The volunteering experience enabled me to pursue the next level in my career through renewed confidence, exciting new network and opportunities. Based on my personal experience I highly recommend volunteering/internship in science as a way to expand your horizon and advance your career in science. This is also an excellent way for those, especially women, who have taken a career break to focus on family, to maintain and build networks that may help bridge your career gap and land your next job.
What are the types of volunteering opportunities in science?
You could look for volunteering opportunities 1) within your institute/university such as contributing to outreach and career development programs, 2) local or global non profit organizations such as the UN or UNESCO (https://www.unv.org/become-volunteer) 3) programs such as the On-Call scientists by AAAS (https://oncallscientists.aaas.org/en) 4) freelancing to write articles on science and health care for biotech platforms 5) Self-initiate projects/missions close to your heart such as going to schools and talking about STEM.
Those passionate about science and the society could explore joining the STEM Advocacy Institute through https://www.stemadvocacy.org/about-us/join-us/
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Please enrich this article by sharing your volunteering experiences below in the comments section. Thank you!
Dr. Lakshmi Ramachandran is passionate about writing and speaking as it helps fulfill her aspiration to inspire, provide hope, and motivate people around the world through diverse stories from her life as a woman in science and mother. To know more about her, visit her page https://www.lakshmiramachandran.com/about