Organizing a scientific conference can be a daunting prospect. You know it can provide exceptional career benefits by fostering your network and helping you develop those well-known soft skills: communication, teamwork and time management. But you might think that the process involves an unacceptable level of stress, complications in your unpredictable schedule, and even more delays in that unfinished project.
Still, you should consider the alternative. You will refine skills that are not necessarily innate and which you will need in any job. Why not coax them into setting up an enthusiastic student body?
I became involved in student activism during my high-school days in Italy, before moving to the United Kingdom to study physics in 2010. As an undergraduate at Imperial College London, I joined student associations to meet like-minded people and get a taste of a variety of research fields.
I visited my department’s laboratories and found that the gratitude of other students is extremely rewarding. Through the Imperial College Physics Society, I also co-organized several trips, some of which later led me to pursue my PhD in plasma physics – our visits to the Culham Center for Fusion Energy near Oxford in 2013, 2014 Other than none. and 2015.
A separate chapter began in August 2014, when I and six others together founded the Italian Association of Physics Students (AISF). Since then, our group has grown to over 1,000 members in Italy and has become one of the most active in the International Association of Physics Students (IAPS).
We have organized public lectures, lab tours and outreach events, offer simple demonstrations to school groups of all ages and participated in the 2015 International Light Year Celebrations, which aims to highlight the importance of lighting and optical technologies .
Since then, AISF has also made annual visits to Italy’s Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Abruzzo, the European Gravitational Observatory near Pisa, and other major research facilities. The Italian Conference of Physics Students has become our premier annual gathering, bringing together over 100 students from institutions across the country in a different city every year.
In 2015, a year after the establishment of AISF, we submitted a bid to host the 32nd International Conference of Physics Students (ICPS). It seemed a bit over-ambitious at first, but we demonstrated that our collaboration could raise the necessary funding and institutional support. It could hardly have been better.
In August 2017, the ICPS took place in the Italian city of Turin with 450 participants from 44 countries, and included about 200 talks and posters from university students of all levels.
I was part of an excellent team that helped showcase Italian academic research, the wonders of our national cuisine, and local artistic treasures. Our program included visits to the Turin Astrophysical Observatory, the Sacra di San Michele Abbey, and the traditional wine cellar.
Organizing student events shapes how you collaborate with people. I found out what kind of team player I am. I learned that balanced group dynamics fosters motivation, enthusiasm, and effectiveness, rather than individual strenuous efforts.
I’ve always wanted my influence to exceed my direct reach, and so it was necessary to connect with others who are leading my efforts. It has been extremely rewarding to see other people freely repeat the events that I started.
I started with practicality, but had little understanding of the art of compromise. This is now compelled to me by countless online meetings, most recently as part of a committee to reform the rules of the IAPS.
The international setting of these efforts gave me the opportunity to travel, practice languages, and gain exposure for fundraising. I have developed significant friendships and increased the competitiveness of my PhD applications, which in turn brought me to the United States.
Joining student unions, organizing events across Europe and being part of a community of enthusiastic young scientists has helped me go beyond lecture halls, research laboratories and supervisor meetings. The skills I have acquired have given me the freedom to enjoy more of my own scientific career.