Many undergraduates think of school as a place to attend lectures, take exams, and receive homework assignments. Science majors especially devote long hours to studying because they usually intend to pursue graduate degrees whose admission requirements emphasize a strong GPA and academic honors that can only be achieved through hard work. But science students risk overlooking other opportunities outside the classroom that can also help their professional development. I fell into this category until I applied for a scholarship requiring volunteer experience, community service, and leadership involvement.
When I started the California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) chapter of Beta Beta Beta (TriBeta), a Biology Honors Society, the only thing I knew about running a chapter was that it would help me fulfill the requirements of a scholarship that I wanted to apply for. I was not one of the most popular students of my class, so trying to recruit members to run the chapter with me was challenging. Many of those interested were previously involved in research projects and other organizations at CSULA and they struggled to balance their time. I had to actively educate many of my classmates about the chapter’s vision. But little by little, more were listening to what I was saying and responding with their own ideas.
It took a couple of months of hard work before the organization had many supporters putting their hearts into the chapter’s mission: to cultivate the interest of students in biology, facilitate scholarly attainment, and encourage scientific investigation, thus promoting the dissemination of knowledge among students of the life sciences.I started to see how I was becoming a more effective communicator and I gained more confidence at forging interpersonal relationships with my schoolmates and faculty members. These leadership skills cannot be picked up in the classroom setting.
With each participant who joined, I realized that I could use the power of the team to promote one of my innermost motivations: to motivate students to pursue research and broaden their prospective science degrees. I have always been disturbed by the general belief that scientists only work in laboratories, are socially awkward, and that they don’t get paid well. In reality, scientists can thrive in multiple settings including laboratory/industry management, writing, faculty positions, entrepreneurship, policy making, regulatory affairs, and even art – just look at Leonardo DaVinci’s work to contemplate a perfect combination of art and science. Moreover, scientists must collaborate, network, and exchange knowledge. If scientists cannot forge connections and communicate their science, their knowledge will never reach any audience and their conclusions will not bring about any benefit to the community.
Our chapter discussions led us to realize that we all shared the motivation to inspire others to pursue science, and we decided to take advantage of our club to demystify common misconceptions about scientists.
Using school funding and facilities, my team and I invited a series of off-campus speakers to our meetings to give talks on different career options in science. My inspiration came from my attendance at national scientific conferences, including ASM, ABRCMS, SACNAS, and the Experimental Biology / ASBMB Annual meeting. The general idea was to introduce budding scientists to non-traditional career paths as the speakers walked us through their own professional experiences and provided insights on how to become the top scientist in their respective disciplines.
We also planned a Nature Photography contest and Exhibition as an opportunity for science majors to explore their artistic talents. This provided a platform for students of all majors to interact with one another in an informal gallery-style setting, further enhancing their communication and interpersonal skills. Other initiatives included several volunteer service opportunities, events promoting environmental causes and donation drives. Generally, all of our events were carefully chosen to prove that scientists are dynamic, multi-talented, and extremely capable of succeeding wherever they please.
What began as a scholarship requirement quickly became an opportunity to satisfy my goals to promote science at CSULA, to improve science’s reputation, and to inspire my peers to follow their scientific passions. More importantly than being able to list experiences on a resume, I can say that I am an individual who graduated college with valuable expertise, values, and an irrevocable desire to promote scientific careers among my peers.
Overall, I learned that as leaders, students can take on new roles and benefit from improving skills applicable to professional endeavors. I encourage each and every one of you with a desire to achieve professional growth and with a passion to give back to the community to get involved in campus leadership. Make it your new year’s resolution!
Feel free to comment below about your own leadership experiences, or if you have questions. If you’re going to the ASBMB Annual Meeting, make sure to go to the “Exploring Careers after College Workshop,” which will guide you on how best to use your skills in various scientific career paths.
You can learn more about my chapter at CSULA here: http://csulatribeta.wix.com/csulatribeta.