Reach out—it’s good for you

There are 24 h in a day, and most professionals have very few of those hours to spare. With limited free time, you might find it difficult to justify volunteering some of it to organize or assist with science outreach activities. That said, a paper recently published in the Journal of Chemical Education, shows that there are many professional benefits of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach—and that it might just be worth your time.

Enhance skills. Outreach events give you opportunities to develop soft skills in areas such as communication, teamwork, organization, and time management. An outreach event might require you to communicate scientific concepts to audiences with little science background or to people of various ages. If you are an organizer, you will have to understand the science at a higher level to explain it clearly to volunteers with different backgrounds. You might also gain experience with logistic arrangements and skills such as leading, managing, and motivating others. The more skills you are able to use and practice, the more you will learn what you are good at, what you enjoy, and what you want to use in your professional life.

Add accomplishments. Sometimes, because of confidentiality agreements, you can’t discuss your professional accomplishments outside your own company. But outreach is by its very nature public, and talking about it is often even expected. Sharing how you organized an event for 400 people or met a seemingly impossible deadline can be a great way to show a potential employer what you can do—because you’ve already done it. Most potential employers are indifferent about whether an experience was paid.

Obtain training. In some cases, volunteers receive training not only in specific outreach activities but also in delivery skills, such as two-way communication and active listening and handling special requests. While that training is perhaps not comprehensive, it is usually free. Volunteering also gives you the opportunity to put your new skills to use right away, which helps solidify the learning process. Some organizations offer advanced training to regular volunteers, enabling you to improve your abilities in leadership, management, or other specialty topics that could be useful in your professional life.

Deepen understanding. The best way to make sure you really understand something is to explain it to someone else. Developing interesting hands-on activities related to your scientific field can force you to think deeply about the basic principles of your work. Questions asked by event participants excited to learn about your science can make you think about the subject in different ways and might even spark an idea for a new direction or work project.

Build your network. Volunteering is a great way to meet local professionals with similar interests. By working closely with other volunteers, you can learn about where they work and what they do. They will also get to know you, observe your strengths, and learn about your professional interests.

Sharing your passion for STEM or any other topic through volunteer work can reinspire your own enthusiasm, and you might even learn something in the process. The fact that you’ll be having fun is just a bonus!

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published monthly in C&EN. Send your comments and ideas for topics for future columns to [email protected].


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