Volunteering in the British Science Association Scientific Sections
Supported by: The British Science Festival team
Aim of the Sections:
Since the foundation of the British Science Festival (formerly the BA Festival of Science and annual meeting), the Section committees have played a crucial role in developing the Festival programme, organising talks, demonstrations, field excursions, exhibitions and other activities. While involvement from external organisations has increased in recent years, the Sections remain a major basis of continuity in the British Science Association's structure and activities.
There are currently 16 Sections, intended to represent the complete scientific community. The task of each section is to create a programme which appeals to all the British Science Association's audiences, and they are strongly encouraged to work with other Sections and relevant professional bodies in developing their programme. The Sections’ events also serve as a showcase for their discipline.
What Sections have to offer volunteers:
Being involved in a Section is unlike most other committee experiences. It is voluntary, time consuming for relatively short periods, but during those periods is extremely engaging and rewarding, giving you responsibility over bringing areas of your discipline to the wider public. It provides opportunities to make contact with a wide range of people from multiple fields at various levels of their career, exposing you to new ideas and developments within your own and other disciplines.
Where are they based?
Much communication between Section committee members is done virtually, however regular planning meetings are necessary which will take place at a location most convenient for all members and therefore varies between Sections. Depending on Section arrangements, most Section committee members will be required to attend the British Science Festival in September.
In addition, Section Recorders (see below) are requested to attend two meetings a year with the British Science Festival team. One will be in London in spring, the other at the Festival itself.
Level of Commitment:
This varies depending on position held within the Section, as outlined below.
The process adopted is informal, depending on the Section’s requirements. Direct approaches to the relevant Section Recorder or to the British Science Festival team are welcomed, while many Sections seek applicants through their own contacts and advertisements will be placed on the British Science Association Volunteers webpages.
This is the core role, and the longest serving – normally five years. The Recorder has overall responsibility for all aspects of the Section, including acting as the main liaison with the British Science Association Head Office, and coordinates the programme seeing it through to completion.
Typically Recorders are people in early to mid career who have established themselves in their own field and therefore have a sense of who is doing what in their area and have a network of connections. An incoming Recorder will ideally have at least one year’s experience on the Section committee so they have better understanding of the role and the Section’s aims. A recorder needs to be comfortable in dealing with their team, effective in maintaining communication channels and organised in coordinating information.
The Section Presidents serve for one year, coming into office at the very end of the preceding Festival. It is a prestigious appointment, granted to those with high professional standing and visibility. Presidents are usually chosen by the Section committee for their expertise that fits within their particular choice of topic for their programme that year. Alternatively the President can direct the Section’s programme. Presidents do not have to be scholars in the formal sense but, given the high profile of the Presidential events at the Festival, it is vital they are good communicators as well as eminent in their field.
This is a vital role during the Festival, acting as the Section’s person on the ground. They should be located close to the host venue of the Festival so have knowledge of the local area, and are expected to visit and report back on venues allocated for the Section’s events. They are also integral to disseminating the Section programme around relevant university departments, local interest groups and higher education institutes, as well as suggesting marketing outlets.
Due to the local nature of the role, this tends to be a one year position. Local Secretaries tend to be recruited from the host university, but may also be from a local organisation such as a science centre, museum or SETPOINT.
The Communications Officers’ key responsibility is to coordinate their Section’s contact with the media, working closely with the British Science Association's Press Office. Speakers at the Festival are required to provide press papers for their talks and remain available for media contact if required. The Communications Officer should coordinate the provision of press papers and maintain contact details for all speakers for during the Festival.
An additional aspect to the role is to coordinate promotional strategies for the Section’s programme of events, and implementing these if required by the Section. It is not necessary for Communication Officers to have a specialist media/marketing background, but an interest in the media and communication in their field is desirable.
There are several other positions within the committees that the British Science Association does not require but many Sections find useful to have. Not least are general committee members who, while not having specific roles, often bring invaluable knowledge of particular areas or contacts that are useful when putting the Section’s programme together.
Experience and skills vary according to the role, as described above. A critical requirement for any Section member is they believe in the British Science Association’s objectives in terms of communicating all sciences to the public. However, the most important qualities are flexibility and enthusiasm!