From your undergraduate years through the later stages of your career, getting your research acknowledged, finding good mentors, and increasing your visibility in the scientific community can be difficult. I’ve discovered that all of these things can become easier, though, by taking advantage of opportunities presented by professional associations.
Becoming more involved in an organization such as SOT might seem intimidating for some individuals, but SOT offers a number of opportunities for members to be involved, ranging from annual commitments to a few hours of in-person service. “If you are uncertain, start small — maybe judge a poster contest at a regional or national meeting. Talk with the leadership in your Special Interest Group, Specialty Section, or Regional Chapter to see what they need help with,” advises Lauren M. Aleksunes, PharmD, PhD, Rutgers, who has been involved in various events, activities, and committees since joining the Society in 2003. “Involvement in SOT activities allows one to broaden their network to scientists in other job sectors or in different lines of research. You never know when these individuals will be able to help provide counsel or work on new initiatives.”
I became more involved with SOT immediately following my first Annual Meeting. I had just attended the 50th anniversary meeting, at which I hadn’t known anyone except for the other students and faculty from my program at the University of Michigan. To me, it was about presenting my poster and expanding my knowledge. At our Regional Chapter reception, it was mentioned that they would be in need of a new student representative, and I just put my name out there for the upcoming election. Since then, I’ve been serving on the Graduate Student Leadership Committee or the Postdoctoral Assembly every year, opening doors to numerous leadership opportunities, networking activities, awards, and great friendships in the years since.
For Jessica M. Sapiro, MS, University of Arizona, engaging in SOT Annual Meeting events outside the scientific program has provided exceptional networking and mentoring options. In 2012, she attended the SOT Mentoring Breakfast, a component of SOT Mentor Match, and established a quality, lasting professional relationship with her mentor. “Through this experience, I have gained different perspectives on topics relevant to graduate students, including enhancing communication skills, building confidence, developing thicker skin, and discussing different career paths,” shares Ms. Sapiro. “Since a mentoring relationship involves asking questions to learn and sharing a lot of information on your professional career, you will become more self-aware and see a greater number of development paths than before.”
Sometimes, these development paths lead you to leadership. Rhiannon N. Hardwick, PhD, Organovo, has held several leadership positions within the SOT community. She formerly served on the Postdoctoral Assembly Executive Board and currently serves on the Continuing Education Committee and as the secretary/treasurer for the Mechanisms Specialty Section. These positions have provided opportunities to Dr. Hardwick as she transitioned through the early stages of her career. “Not only are you able to learn a tremendous amount about the field of toxicology in general, but you are able to vastly expand your network, which can provide huge benefits for future job seeking,” she shares. “Being involved in leadership positions gives you visibility in the larger SOT organization on a national, even global level”.
For many scientists, their involvement in SOT activities can shape their future goals and research interests. “It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Haydee Jacobs, an undergraduate researcher at our University of Massachusetts Amherst lab, told me after returning from the 2016 SOT Annual Meeting. She attended the meeting as a Pfizer SOT Undergraduate Student Travel Award recipient, giving her first presentation at a national conference. “Having quality conversations with so many accomplished scientists was a unique opportunity for an undergraduate student,” says Ms. Jacobs. “It was incredibly inspiring to have conversations with experts about my own research.” Following her poster presentation, she was approached about several internship opportunities, opening doors for career exploration and advancement for her future. “I went in knowing that it was going to be an unbelievable opportunity and left thinking that this was what I want to do for my career.”
Each year, SOT and its component groups bestow more than 150 awards, like the one Ms. Jacobs received, recognizing individuals across a wide range of career stages. “It can be difficult to broadcast your research to the larger toxicology community while establishing your career,” says Dr. Aleksunes, the 2016 SOT Achievement Award recipient. “Recognition from the Society provides great visibility to junior investigators and provides a new avenue to disseminate your research.”
In short, the benefits of being an SOT member aren’t just related to attending the Annual Meeting at a discounted rate. By engaging in component groups, applying for awards, and taking advantage of career development activities, you can gain experiences and relationships that enhance your professional and personal lives. I am very grateful that I volunteered for my first Annual Meeting more than five years ago because it introduced me to a network of career opportunities that I never would have discovered otherwise.