Six Ways Research Can Fire Up Your Chapter

Let’s say you’ve just been elected president of your ACS student chapter. Member attendance this past year was lower than in previous years, and you’re looking to reinvigorate the chapter. But how? More socials? More outreach? What about more research?!

Educators have long known that research does far more than simply advance the field of chemistry. Getting involved in research helps you build and integrate your chemistry knowledge. You have the chance to develop instrumentation, safety, and critical thinking skills — the types of skills employers look for when hiring.

Most importantly for chapters, research is a great way to engage students in science. But how can a student chapter support research? Here are six ways your chapter can use chemistry research to fire up its members.

1. Talk about research

Group discussions about research can give members opportunities to reflect on the skills they acquired through their coursework, and how those skills can help them pursue ambitions after college. You can hold these talks at each chapter meeting, once a month, or each semester. They can take place in a classroom, lab, or other low-key setting.

Invite chemistry faculty or chapter members who are doing research to discuss their work in brief talks that leave lots of time for discussion. Invite outside speakers from regional universities or companies to give longer talks. Such keynote speakers are usually pleased to be invited by students and will most likely accept the invitation.

Chapter members who have not started an active research project can also give presentations. Working alone or in pairs, these members can investigate current trends in science and give low- stakes presentations to the chapter.

2. Develop skill-based workshops

Chapter members or faculty involved in research can provide tours of their lab(s). In addition to areas of chemistry, tours can emphasize a lab’s scientific techniques, specific instrumentation, or methods of data analysis. After a semester’s worth of tours, members can decide which areas and techniques piqued their interest. Then student- or faculty-led workshops can be scheduled.

These workshops could help student members develop a broader and deeper understanding without the need to join multiple labs for undergraduate research. Hands-on, problem-based approaches to the workshops can expose students to modern techniques, instrumentation, and data analysis in realistic settings.

Student member workshops can also focus on foundational, cross-disciplinary skills that all science majors should master. These workshops provide an opportunity for the chapter to involve other student groups. Short events led by upper-level students can focus on freshmen and sophomores practicing basic skills, such as safe handling of hazardous materials, preparing solutions, making dilutions, pipetting, using gel electrophoresis, distilling, and titrating.

Software commonly used in research and data analysis, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, ChemDraw, NVivo, and LaTeX can be learned and practiced outside of assignments and classes. Give your chapter members opportunities to learn how to use software packages that challenge their data analysis and communication skills. For example, they could learn to use Word’s built-in reference and cross-reference tools before they write their next big paper or undergraduate thesis. Other examples include learning to use the graphing capabilities and analysis toolpack available in Excel and other software programs.

3. Invite alumni to visit

Alumni can bring many opportunities directly to your members, yet are often an untapped resource for an ACS student chapter. Alumni can offer a perspective to help students envision and plan their future careers because they have literally been where you and your fellow members are.

Younger alumni can discuss topics like entering the workforce or graduate school, what areas of chemistry employers are interested in, and how research is conducted in industrial, academic, or government labs. Seasoned alumni can give members a glimpse of how research techniques have changed over the years or what trends have come and gone… and come again.

In addition to offering their perspective on their particular workforce sector, alumni can help chapter members understand the importance of, and how to start, networking. Homecoming is always a great time to bring in alumni. With enough planning, you can also hold alumni panels, where alumni can share their experiences and members can ask questions.

4. Organize a chapter research program

The National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program gets lots of attention. But what about students who don’t get an REU, or first- or second-year students and chapter members who aren’t chemistry majors?

All year, your chapter members have been meeting with students and faculty, learning what type of research they do. Why not see if these labs have any unpaid or even paid positions available? Perhaps there are smaller projects that your less-experienced members can help with during the semester or over the summer.

An ACS student chapter can become the central hub and scientific community for its members. Member events can include time for professional development activities, such as writing résumés and cover letters and presenting research findings. You could even conclude the term with a poster session highlighting members’ contributions to science.

5. Recognize active members

Show your appreciation for fellow ACS student members who spend time enriching the chapter. Many chapters have awards such as Student Member of the Year. Your chapter may want to recognize the accomplishments and service that other members bring to an active chapter, such as Active Student Researcher Award, Student Professional Development Award, Student Master of Scientific Techniques, and Student Master of Scientific Instru- mentation

6. Get started on your chapter’s future

Chapter leaders, with input from members and the department, have many opportunities to shape the direction of their chapters. Examples include helping to connect members with research and other learning opportunities, as well as hosting events to give members first-hand experience in scientific techniques, tools, and procedures. Other options are organizing activities and projects where members can practice their initiative, work ethic, and skills in communication, teamwork, planning, or leadership.

The bottom line is that one of the most valuable services that your chapter can provide to its members is to provide activities and events that are not only fun but also give members the experiences they will need to stand out from the crowd, wherever their future careers take them.

About the Author

Justin D. Fair
is associate professors in the chemistry department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Fair has research interests in organolithium methodology, green chemistry, and organic laboratory curriculum.

Anne E. Kondo
is associate professors in the chemistry department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Kondo’s research interests are in the effects of molecular and laser parameters on nonlinear laser-molecule interactions.