A topic that comes up repeatedly in my meetings with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows about their professional development is that of extracurricular activities. These students and fellows regularly ask me, “Do I add them to my resume or resume? Do they count? Such questions are excellent starting points for them to think about what matters to them, what inspires them.

If you are considering the next step in your career and have similar concerns, ask yourself, “Why did I participate in this activity? What kind of impact did I have during this experience? What core skills have I developed that I can showcase to my potential employer? »

For example, one student I met with wondered if the volunteer experience he had in a hospital before the pandemic was important for getting a job in data science and should be included in his resume. ‘a page. I asked them a few questions, and here’s how they answered.

Q: What were your duties?

A: I had to help at the registration desk to make sure patients had all their information and direct them to the right resources if they had questions.

Q. Did you notice anything that you helped with?

A: I noticed that every Friday there was a live band performing in the lobby, but some bed patients couldn’t attend. I asked my supervisor if I could invite some of my musician friends to play for these other patients in their room, if the patient wished.

Q. And then what happened?

A: They really liked and supported my idea, so I invited my musician friends, and they came every Friday for an hour to play for the patients who otherwise couldn’t attend the performance in the lobby.

Q. How long did it last?

A: The whole time I was there, about four years.

Tell your engagement story

All the student had written on his resume was “volunteer at the hospital, but his response to the specific questions I asked pointed to a meaningful experience. With these prompts, the student wrote a story and changed what he originally wrote on his resume to a CAR (context, action, results) statement: patients, resulting in rave reviews and positive.

Is this statement relevant for a data science job? If the job description calls for “excellent teamwork and initiative,” then most definitely. Simply volunteering won’t give you an edge on your resume, but initiate or sustain meaningful commitments and showing their impact on your resume as it relates to the position can make a difference. This student’s story highlights that he can think outside the box beyond what is expected of them and make distinct contributions to his employer.

Here are some other examples of student engagement stories:

  • Nara starts working in a lab and realizes that the members aren’t recycling optimally. Nara studies green lab techniques and implements strategies to reduce waste by 35%.
  • Dayo’s experience performing and teaching the violin enhances teaching techniques for mentees in academia.
  • Sam’s participation and leadership in swimming and his lifelong experience in immunology has landed him a role as an advisor for COVID protocols on a national swim team.
  • Jun initiates an interdisciplinary reflection group for post-docs and finds a new collaborator, which results in a joint publication.
  • Adel joins an Ultimate Frisbee group and, through the sports network, meets a future employer and mentor.

Find the right commitment

Does that mean you have to volunteer at hospitals and start new clubs? No. Also, discovering the right engagement for you doesn’t start with all the available options, it would be too overwhelming. Colleges and universities have hundreds of clubs. How to choose ?

The best way to find the right effort is to identify something that resonates with you, that you care about, that you are good at, and that you enjoy doing. If you think about and brainstorm these topics, you can figure out what types of activities are best for you, and even find an already existing and relevant group of students to contribute to. Such a commitment could be a new collaboration, a new protocol that you optimize for other members of the lab, a blog that you organize with peers interested in raising awareness, a financial group to discuss the monetary aspects of being a graduate student or a postdoctoral fellow, or a wellness or EDI (equity, diversity, inclusion) initiative that incorporates your love for the arts.

My story

In my case, I fell in love with piano and singing during my childhood, and I have been involved in several musical groups throughout my life. I am also an avid figure skater. Also, while I was working on my PhD, I was on the student council and really cared about mentoring and helping people plan their career options.

During my postdoctoral days, I started an a cappella singing group, continued to skate, and was active in postdoctoral professional development. From my singing group, I found someone to collaborate with on a publication. Through my skating community, I met others to mentor and learn skating techniques. In the postdoc group, we created the first feedback form to improve communications between postdocs and their principal investigators.

Later, as a biotechnology scientist, I regularly spoke at career events. Through this, I merged my biotech industry experience with my lifelong interest in career development and engagement with other mentors and stakeholders. This paved the way for my current role as Director of Graduate Professional Development. My years-long “extracurricular” interest in professional development had now become central to a career.

More recently, I have pursued my songwriting interests by taking classes, meeting other mentors in the music industry, and releasing my compositions for friends and family. It’s something I love by nature, and it’s provided me with a feel-good retreat, especially during the pandemic.

How did music fit into my current professional role? For starters, I talk to many students who are stressed. If they can play the piano and are open to it, we had impromptu piano duets on my office piano (or pre-pandemic), which added a light moment to their day.

In addition, in distance courses and workshops, I invite students to play their instruments during our class breaks. It has been a delightful icebreaker and community building tool during these virtual months. I also collect musical suggestions from students and play them during breaks. And I coordinated a collection of video series, Scientists present the arts for well-beingfeaturing our graduate students and their Dance, visual arts and the music during the pandemic.

These activities are not part of my job description. They are what matters to me and what I like to do; the creative process and its implementation are the results of inner inspiration.

What is the role of figure skating? It provides me with much-needed exercise, so I feel more energized, and it has also inspired new musical compositions and work ideas. Scientific research, professional development, musical composition, figure skating, all these activities make me a unique person and have inspired my career development.

Find inspiration with other people

All of these inspirations for new ideas for my own lifelong development have been delightfully made possible through my own reflections and with the essential help of my colleagues, peers, mentees and mentors. They helped me create new ideas for courses, workshops and student initiatives. They also helped me brainstorm ideas for my book, articles, and new programs. Their joy and love for our work together gives me motivation and energy to create ideas for future projects that have yet to be invented. I am eternally grateful to my community of supporters. You know who you are and I thank you for that.

For the readers of this essay, I hope that your mentors and cheerleaders from all of your professional and extracurricular activities will also provide you with much inspiration to help you create the unique you that you bring to the table in everything you do. you do.

To be inspired. Build your support community. Create your career path and your meaningful life.