Volunteering for Fun and Profit

December 3, 2012

Volunteering is a great way to pick up new skills and expand your professional network.  However, there are thousands of worthy volunteer causes that could use your time and talents.  How do you decide where to put your time and effort?  Below are some tips to help you get the most out of your volunteer activities.

What do you really care about?

Not everyone is interested in the same things, so make sure that whatever you choose to do it is something you are personally passionate about, and are excited to see through completion.  Obviously you should believe in the organization’s mission, but you should also be excited about the particular project you will be working on.  Knowing the task is beneficial and important will help motivate you to do your absolute best, and persevere when you encounter difficulties.


Will you learn a new skill?

One reason to volunteer is to learn a new skill in a low-risk environment, where mistakes won’t jeopardize your livelihood.  For example, if your current professional position does not require you to manage a budget, maybe you want to become treasurer of a local organization.  This will give you some real hands-on experience with setting a budget, tracking income and expenses, and so on.  Not only will you learn whether or not you can manage finances, you will learn whether or not you enjoy financial responsibility.  When the time comes to do this in your paying job, you will have the experience to do it right.


Will you work with good people?

One of the best reasons to take on a new volunteer position is to get to know new people.  Before you make a large commitment to an organization, spend some time with the other people involved, maybe assisting with a small or one-time event. Are the other volunteers fun to work with?  Do you share a common vision for the organization?  Does the professional staff (if any) treat the volunteers with respect?


Will you be appreciated?

With most volunteer work, your only payment is other’s appreciation of your job well done. Some organizations are better than others at thanking volunteers, and making sure they feel appreciated. Is the sense of accomplishment at the end of the project going to be sufficient reward for your hard work?

Can you get out?

Leaving gracefully can be the hardest part of a volunteer job – especially if you’re doing a great job, and no one wants to see you go. Picking a job with a fixed term limit is a good way to make sure you have a limited commitment.  Even if you have a term limit, you want to think ahead, and have a successor ready to go. Let them take over when it’s time, and resist the temptation to tell them how to do things, or insist they do exactly what you would have done.

Volunteer positions can be extremely rewarding, both personally and professionally.  By carefully selecting the organizations, projects and tasks that are going to benefit from your skills, you can ensure that you get as much, or more, than you give.  ACS offers many opportunities to get involved as a volunteer.  Two of the easiest places to help are in your Local Section and your Technical Division.

Get involved in the discussion

The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers)._—Brought to you by ACS Careers.

Do You Know How To Deal With Deadlines?

October 1, 2012


Every job has deadlines – certain dates and or times by which tasks must be accomplished.  We each handle deadlines in our own way – some start work well ahead of time, while others prefer the “just in time” mode. Some people create milestones (mini-deadlines) along the way, to keep themselves on track. How you handle deadlines, and if you meet or miss them, is a big part of your professional reputation, and greatly affects how your co-workers think of you.  Making sure you are responsive, and responsible, to your projects’ deadlines can go a long way toward advancing your career and making your team function more smoothly.

Determine the Deadline

Every project or task you are responsible for comes with at least an implicit deadline. Especially if it’s an important project, you want to ask questions and make sure you know exactly what and when results are expected of you.  If the deadline appears unrealistic, ask questions to make sure you understand the true scope of the assignment.  In some cases, you may need to re-negotiate the resources (time, materials and personnel) assigned to the task in order to make the deadline realistic.


Evaluate the Margin of Error

In some cases, “by close of business (COB) today” really means “on my desk when I arrive in the morning”.  In other cases, it means “must be completed and entered by 4:45 EST tonight” or “I’d like to see it sometime this week”.  Different companies, managers, and even different projects have different cultures, so make sure you know what the deadline really is.


Critical Path

You need to understand the dependencies between your tasks and other tasks on the same project.  Are there other people or projects who cannot move forward until your tasks are completed? Or are you working in parallel, so if something happens to hold up your piece, the overall project can still proceed in a timely fashion?  Obviously if others are waiting on you, meeting the deadline becomes critical.


Trim or Miss?

If you are not going to be able to meet the deadline, should you trim part of the project and submit 80% on time, or continue working and turn in a perfect result late? As soon as you anticipate a problem meeting the deadline you need to start thinking about contingency plans. The earlier you discuss contingencies, the better you will be able to focus your efforts, and the more time co-workers will have to adjust their expectations.

Balance Competing Deadlines

Rarely will you be working on only one project, with only one upcoming deliverable or deadline.  (And even if you are, you probably want to break it down into smaller pieces, each with their own deadlines.)  Making sure each project is moving forward, and will meet its own deadline is essential.

In the end, deadlines can be useful tools to help prioritize work and keep it moving forward. Tracking and meeting all your deadlines, will enhance your professional reputation as reliable and dependable – and set you up for new career opportunities.

Get Involved In The Discussion

Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Careers blog (acscareers.wordpress.com).—Brought to you by ACS Careers

Are Your Presentations Perfect?

September 3, 2012

As scientists, we are often called upon to give oral presentations about our work. ACS national and regional meetings, job interviews, and departmental seminars are great ways to let others know what you have been doing, and at the same time get instantaneous feedback from your peers. Whether you are presenting to other scientists or to a lay audience, careful planning and tailoring of your message are crucial for effective communication.

Know Your Audience

The most important question is “Who is my audience, and why are they here?” By keeping in mind the characteristics of your audience (educational level, amount of scientific background) and reason for attending (interest or job requirement) you can tailor your presentation to their needs.  Their level of familiarity with the subject matter will directly affect how much background information and detail you should include.

Start Strong

Your first few sentences set the tone for your entire presentation.  First, decide what information you need to include – an introduction of yourself?  The purpose of your presentation?  A broad outline of your talk? Background on your area of research?  Then, plan the wording carefully – It may be easiest to draft the introduction last, after you’ve figured out exactly what and in what order you are going to present your ideas.


You want to lead your audience through a compelling story. Present your data in the most logical order (which may or may not be chronological), with clear demarcations between sections.  Ensure that the transitions between slides, and between sections, are well-marked and smooth.  While you may not want to write out every word of your entire presentation, you do need to know how you are going to transition smoothly.  Use outline slides or other cues to remind the audience of where you are relative to the overall flow, or introduce them to the next section of the presentation.

You Are the Expert

You probably know more about the topic than anyone else in the room, so the audience will be looking to you for expertise.  Don’t undermine your own authority by mumbling, apologizing for the slides, or rolling your eyes.  If you have confidence and a command of the subject matter, your audience will sense and respect that.

Finish Strong

The end of your presentation is every bit as important as the beginning.  Summarize your key points, point out the next steps, and thank your host.

The shorter a talk is, the longer it will take to prepare.  Almost as soon as you know you’re going to be doing a presentation, start gathering information, drafting slides, and framing the content.  You may not be able to fill in everything right away, but the more time you spend thinking about the overarching framework and organization the better it will be.  You will be more confident, and your audience will have a better experience.

Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every  month in C&EN. Post your  comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network.— Brought to you by ACS Careers