Volunteer as a graduate student. I promise it’s worth your time

Written by Graduate Ambassador Yasha Butt
Department of Chemistry
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

three students gathered around a chemistry research poster at the Chemistry Graduate Research Symposium at Wayne State University
The 23rd annual Chemistry Graduate Research Symposium at Wayne State University in 2022.

According to the iceberg theory, a gigantic part of ice is hidden beneath the surface compared to what is seen above. Similarly, when attending a successful event, what we see is a vivid event happening at a specific time and place, but what’s out of sight are the countless hours and people who came together to make an event successful.

I hadn’t deliberated much on this until I signed up to be a committee member for the Chemistry Graduate Research Symposium (CGRS) in early 2022. I believe it was a great decision, because taking purposeful short breaks from studying or research refreshes your brain, increases productivity, and boosts your ability to focus.

CGRS is an annual scientific symposium entirely organized by graduate students in the chemistry department at Wayne State University. It is a scientifically edifying event where fellow students get to share their amazing chemistry research with peers, prospective students, and faculty.

23rd CGRS organizers (left to right): Carlos, Vinicius, Chamod, Yasha, Rukshana, Shakila, Sameen, ​Faria, Ayesha.

Committee meetings for CGRS event planning began months before the actual event day. In these meetings, a synergistic team was assembled, event goals were set, a budget was allocated, and duties were assigned. From getting sponsors on board to finalizing speakers and the photographer, to managing promotional materials, communicating with registrants, and selecting catering services—all responsibilities offered some opportunity to work together on similar goals and to make really good friends on the go.

My duties were to reach out to the sponsors, help organize breakfast, and take photos at the event. I emailed, faxed and even cold called companies like Illumina, ThermoFisher, Millipore Sigma, Airgas and USA Scientific. I learned that having strong connections with the industry personnel was key. It was also important to get sponsor proposals and tier offers to the right departments at the right time.

Helping plan this event allowed me to bolster a handful of soft skills such as networking, teamwork, taking initiative, attention to detail, active-listening, communication, and flexibility, which play an important part in any career.

READ: Spotlight: Graduate Ambassador Yasha Butt

Fast forward to the early morning of October 8, 2022—event day.

The symposium started with opening remarks from Chair Matthew Allen, Ph.D., followed by incredible talks from invited speakers including alumnus and Associate Professor Indika Arachchige, Ph.D. ‘07, from Virgina Commonwealth University, Professor Tehshik P. Yoon, Ph.D., from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and selective students from within the department.

attendees take a lunch break at the symposium
CGRS attendees take a lunch break.

Then began short presentations, followed by a lunch, the poster session, and finally, closing remarks.

In years past at other research conferences and symposiums, I simply presented my research. But for this event, not only did I present, but I also participated behind-the-scenes, where so much goes into planning and execution for a successful event.

I am sharing this small perspective for enrolled students, who I’d encourage to try designating some time trying to volunteer for such committees and contemplate. I think you’ll find the experience more than worth your time.

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