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SPIE Professional Leadership Series

Volunteering With SPIE Is Career Investment

An Early Career Professional, Justin Mansell discusses how his involvement in SPIE member activities is an investment for the Society and for himself.

By Justin Mansell

photo of Justin Mansell

The senior leadership at SPIE considers me someone who has taken the traditional membership path. I first became involved with SPIE as a student going to SPIE symposiums to publish my papers and attend conferences.

Like most students, I became an SPIE member to save on conference fees. During graduate school, my research was in an area that was peripheral to the central focus of my research group, so I used my involvement with SPIE via conferences to meet people who were working on topics directly related to my research area. I met people doing some of the most interesting research and who were the world's experts in their fields.

I met colleagues with whom I was able to collaborate, and I got more done than I could have on my own. This, of course, led to more SPIE conferences and papers. I attended as many talks as I could and worked on my presentation skills. Eventually, I was giving invited presentations and was offered a position on an SPIE conference program committee.

I thought I had maximized the use of my SPIE membership, and yet, there were several things about the way things worked that seemed sub-optimal. Why, in a four-day symposium, were all the conferences I wanted to attend on the same day? Why didn't SPIE offer some of the benefits that my other society memberships did? I heard the same questions from my colleagues during coffee breaks, but none of us knew what to do about it.

Then I was selected at random to participate in a panel discussion on how SPIE was serving its early career professionals (ECPs). I spent some time before that first meeting thinking about the topic and comparing the benefits I received from all my other professional associations. I made a handful of suggestions at the meeting and also learned a lot from my fellow ECPs about SPIE benefits that I was unaware of, like SPIEWorks.com, an employment Web site for optics, photonics, and imaging professionals.

A few months later, SPIE formed a committee to investigate how the Society could better serve ECPs and I was invited to join. I waffled a bit because of the time commitment and the constantly expanding scope of my new position at work, but I eventually decided to join the panel. I figured that I would not be where I am today without the opportunities offered by SPIE, and I felt that I should try to give something back.

While on the ECP committee, I attended teleconferences to discuss recommendations that the ECPs had for the membership committee and talked with the other members of the committee. I was amazed to find out that the other ECPs on the committee had very similar areas of research, and yet we had not met in normal conference interactions.

Before I left for Optics+Photonics 2007, one of the SPIE staff members invited me to come out a day early to talk at the Leadership Workshop that was created primarily for student chapter members. At Optics+Photonics, I met with several of the ECP committee members and the SPIE staff who were organizing and running the committee. The ECP committee members were invited to the Membership Committee meeting, the President's reception, and the SPIE banquet. We were received very warmly by the SPIE staff and met the leaders of SPIE. I was amazed at how interested the senior leadership was in hearing how they could better serve ECPs.

After the meeting, the SPIE leadership decided that one way to have the opinions of the ECPs heard was to invite these younger members to serve on existing committees. There are about 15 committees that provide oversight, guidance, and direction to the activities of SPIE. I expressed interest in a couple of committees and was recently invited to join the Symposia Committee.

My very limited experience with volunteering at SPIE has been extremely positive. I've had an opportunity to meet people that I would have never had a chance to meet in normal conference interactions. If you feel that your use of your membership is stagnating, my advice is to dig a little deeper into the Society and see where else you can get involved. You will find that it's not as much an investment in SPIE as an investment in yourself.

Jump on the SPIE Web site and spend time learning more about the Society. You may find membership benefits that you never knew existed. You might stumble on something new that interests you and takes you down a new path. Are there things that you think could work better? Tell someone who might be able to make a difference. If you are interested in helping to solicit and review papers, talk to the chair of your favorite conference.

If you're not sure who to bug about something, then dig around the Web site to find out who is responsible. I've found that the SPIE staff is very willing to help you find out where you can serve.

By volunteering, you can expand your network, make SPIE better, and make your voice heard. SPIE is listening.

If you are a student or early career professional and want to learn more about volunteer opportunities with SPIE, please contact Jason Hamman at jasonh@spie.org

Justin Mansell is vice president and CTO of MZA Associates Corp. and president of Active Optical Systems, both in Albuquerque, NM. He received his doctorate in electrical engineering at Stanford University and his BS and MS from Case Western Reserve University. This article appears in the January 2008 issue of SPIE Professional magazine.

Leadership SeriesThe Leadership Series is a collection of articles about transitioning from student to career professional produced by SPIE Student Services and SPIE Professional magazine. The articles are valuable for students and early career professionals and focus on leadership in the field of optics and photonics.

Tips and other information about patents, entrepreneurship, graduate schools, trust in the workplace, volunteering, and networking have been the topics of recent articles.

The series is written by a variety of experts who share their knowledge, experiences and practical advice about becoming an effective professional and leader.

If you would like to comment on or contribute an article to the series, please e-mail spieprofessional@spie.org

Posted January 2008.

Return to the SPIE Professional Leadership Series

DOI: 10.1117/2.4200801.11

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