When I started my first academic appointment back in 1998, I was overwhelmed by the demands on my time to prepare new courses, write grants to generate research funds, and to generally be a good citizen for my department.
I had been a member of the IOP’s polymer physics group throughout my time as a PhD student and as a postdoc, but when Athene Donald suggested that I should become more involved with the group, my immediate thought was that this would be yet another activity for which I didn’t have enough time. Thankfully, Athene put my name forward anyway.
Perhaps because I was one of the few polymer physicists in a materials science department, and, later, the only one in a chemistry department, the group became an important part of my professional life. While I enjoyed the opportunity – despite the occasional headaches – to organise conferences for the group and to have influence over the themes and the choice of speakers, the greatest benefits of my involvement are less tangible. What comes to mind was the opportunity to network with colleagues who were able to help me navigate the idiosyncrasies of grant peer review, readily introduce me to scientists from overseas, suggest to potential PhD students to apply to work for me, and so on.
Even though I have now left the committee, I continue to value the friendships that developed during my time as first an ordinary member and later as treasurer and secretary. My involvement with the group was central, particularly during the early stages of my career, to developing an international network and to becoming known within the wider physics community. Both of these were important in helping my career develop and to being appointed as head of department – although that is perhaps, for some, a reason to steer clear of being involved with groups.
Now that I’m about to become pro vice-chancellor for science, I intend to even more jealously guard the dates of the group meeting and already I look forward to the opportunity to meet up with old friends, make new friends, and immerse myself in nothing but polymer physics for a couple of days.
My experience has been that groups are incredibly welcoming of new members – so if you would like to be involved, don’t be afraid to put your name forward for one of the committees.