So you want to be more involved in the ChemEd community…now what?

by Thomas Bussey, University of California, San Diego

ChemEd can sometime be an isolating and uphill battle. For those of us in a science department, many of our colleagues/other students, however supportive, may not really understand what it is that we do.  For those of us fortunate enough to have ChemEd colleagues/group members, we may find that the diversity of our field leads us to very different research agendas while the demands of teaching/coursework take up a significant portion of our time.

With an already full plate, why not add a little more, right? In fact, getting involved in the wider ChemEd community is often extremely beneficial as this outlet can offer a unique source of camaraderie, for networking, and for possible collaboration, and can begin to prepare you for the competing demands of your future career.

Careers in academia generally embody three areas of demand on your time: research, teaching, and service. Even outside of academia, job performance is often measured against your ability to juggle multiple demands on your time and expertise. Graduate school often focuses primarily (and often exclusively) on research and scholarship. Sometimes (and quite often to a lesser extent) some graduate students can develop their abilities in the classroom as well. However, classroom experience is often gained after graduate school. Similarly, post-doctoral positions often focus primarily on research. It often isn’t until you begin your career that the demands on your time diverge. At this point, your competing roles can seem overwhelming. While early involvement in service to the ChemEd community will not lessen the demands of your early career, it will provide you with resources, supports, and invaluable experience that can give you a competitive advantage.

So how can you get involved? Here are three things you can do to gain service experience.

  1. Be a part of a DivCHED Committee.
    The ACS Division of Chemical Education has a variety of committees. Graduate students, post-docs, and early career faculty who are DivCHED members can be involved in committee service.

    The easiest way to get involved in a committee is to attend open committee meetings during the ACS or BCCE conferences. Prior to a conference, a list of committee meeting times, dates, and locations will be posted on the Division website. As conferences generally begin on Sundays, these meetings are generally held the Saturday immediately prior to the conference (sometimes these meetings can be as early as the Friday before up through the Sunday of the conference). You don’t need to be a member of the committee to attend an open meeting of that committee. This is a great way to see what the various committees do and how you might be able to get further involved. A description of the various division committees can be found on the DivCHED website.

    The next step of committee involvement would be to become a member of a committee. If you are interested in joining a particular committee, I would suggest contacting the committee chair and expressing your interest in participating. The chair would be able to advise you regarding the needs and demands of the particular committee. You may also submit your name for nomination to a CHED committee via the DivCHED website.

    The Younger Chemistry Education Scholar (YCES) Committee is a great committee with which to begin your involvement. This committee was designed specifically to support and engage graduate students, post-doctoral scholars, and early career (EC) faculty. YCES is currently looking for interested graduate students, post-docs, and/or EC faculty to join the committee. Terms of appointment run for 3 years. If you are interested in joining or if you have additional questions about YCES or other CHED committee, feel free to reach out to me (

  2. Be a Symposium Organizer.
    Another great way to get involved is to become a symposium organizer. Conference chairs general post a Call for Symposia about a year or so prior to a conference. In fact, the end of one conference is a great time to start thinking about and planning a symposium for the next conference. Consider what you liked and did not like about the conference you just attended. What would you like to see next time? This is a great place to begin.

    To submit a proposal for a symposium, you would write an abstract similar to that of a paper or poster. This abstract would detail the purpose, aims, outcomes, and target audience for this symposium. It may be very helpful to team up with a co-organizer who has previously organized a conference symposium. This would give you a reliable and knowledge partner. If you are not sure how, where, or when to submit a proposal for a symposium, contact the conference chair as early as possible. They will be able to provide you with more information about the specific submission process and timeline for that particular conference.

    If your symposium is accepted, your next job would be to organize submissions to your symposium. As such, it may be necessary to solicit presenters to consider presenting in your specific symposium. Consider directly emailing desired presenters or posting notices of your symposium in public domains such as the CER listserv.

    Once the abstract submission deadline passes, you will be asked to review, possibly edit, and accept/reject the abstracts submitted to your symposium. This is often where a co-organizer comes in handy. The turn around time for this is generally very short, so it can be helpful to split the work amongst each other. This also provides an extra set of eyes to catch any mistakes or oversights you may make.

    Following the acceptance of your papers, you will then be asked to periodically communicate symposium or conference information to your presenters. To do so, it is often very helpful to create an email list of all the presenters. I generally create a spreadsheet for each symposium with the name of the primary presenter for each talk/poster, their email address, any additional authors names, the title of their work, the text of their abstract, and, later on, the date, time, and location of each talk. This allows you to easily access and update this information and disseminate it as need be.

    At the conference, I would recommend finding your symposium room a day or so early (if possible). This will allow you to anticipate any last minute announcements that may need to be made about the symposium location or logistics. On the day of your symposium, show up to the location early. Presenters may be lost, flustered, late, and/or nervous, so it will help ease the tension and make things run smoother if you give off an air of confidence (even if you are faking it). You are the leader of this symposium, and presenters and audience members alike want to feel as though you know what you are doing and that you are in control. This is also a time in which an experienced co-organizer comes in handy. They can help answer any questions you might have and will take some of the stress off of you. However, if you run into a question or situation you don’t know how to answer of deal with, please ask for help. The organizer in the room next to yours is a great place to start. In general, people will help you out. We have all been there.

    During the symposium, your role becomes that of a facilitator. You will be timing the presenters and leading the follow-up questions at the end of each presentation. You are also generally asked to prepare opening and closing statements to welcome and summarize your symposium. It is also important to monitor and manage the audience. The conference chair will generally ask for a count of your audience as well as other possible feedback following your symposium. As such, it is helpful to periodically count the number of audience members during the symposium. The highest number of audience members at a given time is generally reported.

    Following the symposium, make sure to complete any follow-up paperwork asked of you by the conference chair. Also, send thank yous to your presenters (email is sufficient) thanking them for their participation and contribution to your symposium. Although it may seem daunting at first, I assure you, it will get easier with time. This is a great way to become more involved and contribute to the discourse in our field.

  3. Be a Reviewer.
    A third way to become more involved in the CER community is to become a reviewer. Journals and grant funding agencies require peer-reviews to assess and critique submissions. Traditionally, individuals whose PhD expertise closely relates to the material being reviewed are asked to conduct the peer-review. In general, offers to become a reviewer will come with experience, i.e., once you have created a body of work, editors and program officers may solicit you for your expertise. However, you may also contact them to express your interest in becoming a reviewer. Examples of research journals to which you could contribute are the Journal of Chemical Education, Chemical Education Research and Practice, or the Journal of Research in Science Teaching or grant funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation or the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  You should plan to submit a current CV to the editor or program officer in order to allow them to evaluate your ability to contribute as a reviewer.

    While you must gain some experience submitting journal manuscripts or grant proposals prior to becoming a reviewer, being a reviewer in these roles can be extremely beneficial to you as an author. As a reviewer, you are offered a glimpse behind the curtain to see how manuscripts or proposals are evaluated, what aspects are deemed good, and (often more importantly) what aspects are deemed not good. With this insight, you can substantially improve your own submissions while adding to the overall discourse and rigor of our field.

If you are (relatively) new to CER, consider becoming more involved. Your involvement on committees, with conference symposia, and or as a reviewer will help you and the broader CER community.

Thomas J. Bussey
LPSOE, University of California, San Diego
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry