Volunteering usually calls to mind images of people building houses, serving meals at community kitchens, cleaning up playgrounds and parks, or spending time with the elderly. While these are all worthy causes, you may not realize there are also chemist volunteer opportunities. As a chemistry professional, you have a unique knowledge base and skill set that can make a big difference – whether in a third-world country or your own neighborhood.
Benefitting the causes and people you serve should be your core motivation for volunteering, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t acknowledge what you get out of it as well. If you’re actively or passively looking for chemistry jobs, the perks are numerous.
Volunteering in your field grows your professional network and boosts your skills. If you’re between jobs or want to try out a new discipline, volunteer chemistry opportunities are a great way to stay active and up to date on industry trends. Volunteer work can help strengthen your resume, too (more on that later). Plus, there are myriad studies that show serving others positively impacts your physical and mental health.
There are a number of volunteer chemistry jobs throughout the US and abroad. Below are three organizations that run a wide variety of programs year round including onsite projects as well as remote and virtual positions that enable you to contribute wherever you live.
ACS offers many opportunities for you to “share your passion for chemistry with others.” You can become a Chemistry Ambassador and educate your community on the importance of chemistry and chemists. Every year, ACS hosts National Chemistry Week (NCW) and provides materials and guidelines on hosting local events and kid-friendly activities.
As an experienced professional, you can be a mentor for Project SEED (summer research program for economically disadvantaged youth), ACS Scholars (educational support program for underrepresented minority students), and/or the Personal Career Consulting program. Act4Chemistry, described as “your entry point for member advocacy,” is a legislative network of 15K+ members aiming to increase investment in research and improve math and science education.
Founded in 2004, Chemists Without Borders works in locations around the world to address the humanitarian problems of poor water quality, maldistribution of medicines/vaccines, and lack of chemical education, among others. Interested volunteers can help with projects with varying degrees of participation, from writing blogs and newsletter articles to developing and running a major project or fundraising program. Recent initiatives include providing arsenic education in Bangladesh, “chem-lab-in-a-baggie” kits in Sierra Leone, and low-cost potency tests for drugs purchased in Africa.
AAAS, an international non-profit, runs a number of volunteer STEM programs for K–12 students. Additionally, their Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) have opportunities for you to contribute behind the scenes or interact directly with the public. AAAS is also looking for volunteer science book and film reviewers as well as On-Call Scientists to aid human rights organizations that are in need of technical expertise.
AAAS supports science-related volunteer programs should you decide to start your own. They provide recruiting assistance, educational materials (including copies of Science), guidance from experts, and outreach via their MemberCentral portal.
Volunteering, especially in your industry, should almost always be mentioned on your resume. How much information you include on your volunteer chemistry jobs will depend on the scope of your involvement as well as how relevant it is to potential employers.
For example, if your volunteer role directly relates to the types of positions you’re currently targeting, it definitely deserves at least a few lines on your document. If you volunteered while unemployed for a significant amount of time (6 months or more), this experience can also help fill the gap. Plus, it shows potential employers you are committed to the chemistry field – whether you’re being paid or not.