Why should you become an IEEE volunteer?

IEEE logo

If you’re in the technology field, you have probably heard of IEEE before. It is the largest professional organization in the world, with over 400.000 members in more than 160 countries. IEEE is associated to over 1000 scientific conferences annually, and publishes over 100 peer-reviewed journals. However, IEEE can do much more for students than providing scientific knowledge. This post is aimed at students, both graduate and undergraduate, and tries to explain how IEEE can have a major contribution to your personal and professional development.

Student Branches (SB)

The easiest way to get started in IEEE is to join the local Student Branch in your university. The SB is the way that students can get support from IEEE and participate in all the activities. Many universities already have an IEEE SB, but if yours doesn’t, try to contact someone from a nearby university and they should be able to help you start one.

One you have signed up for a membership, and associated yourself with a Student Branch, it’s time to get busy. In a Student Branch, you’ll probably find like-minded people. From my experience, it is the best way to find pro-active people with similar interests in an academic environment. Each SB must have a small management team (chair, vice-chair, and a few other people), but this is just a small part of the Student Branch’s activities Most of the SB’s members’ energy will go towards creating cool activities and disseminating knowledge. Our SB at ISCTE-IUL has only been created around one year ago, but we have been fairly active. Here are some examples of activities you can participate in and organize.

Workshops

IEEE ISCTE-IUL python workshop

Workshops are the easiest events to organize. You probably have lots of talented people in your SB. Is anyone a master in Python? Maybe someone is a web design expert, or has lots of experience with node.js. Open a “call for workshops”, and let your members submit ideas. It’s a win-win situation: the speaker gains some presentation skills, and the audience learns about a new subject. Two key issues when organizing a workshop are marketing and logistics. It’s important that you announce the workshop in advance using both physical (posters, flyers) and virtual channels (facebook, twitter, e-mail). In terms of logistics, don’t forget basic things such as making sure you have a big enough room, having a place to sit for every participant,  and power and internet connection if you’re hosting a technical workshops.

An interesting idea is to borrow a workshop from a different SB. In our case, we invited members from the University of Porto’s IEEE SB to host a Python workshop at our university, and it was a total success. We are also taking one of our members to Greece for a big bootcamp on web development at the IEEE University of Central Greece SB.

Societies and Chapters

Societies are special-interest groups, such as Robotics and Automation, Power and Energy, or Computer Society, and there are dozens of different Societies in IEEE.  A Chapter is the embodiment of a Society in a local community, such as a Student Branch. A few of your members can join up and start a Chapter within your SB and have access to finantial support for activities, expert knowledge, competitions, grants, and special events.

Student Branch Congresses

IEEE Student Branch Congress Porto 2013

One of the most rewarding things about being an IEEE volunteer is to be able to meet like-minded individuals and work together towards ambitious goals. One of the ways of fostering networking are Student Branch Congresses. There are national and regional Congresses, and usually some members of each SB receive financial support for travel expenses. Our SB has been present at several congresses, such as the Iberian Student Branch Congress in Oporto, the Portuguese Student Branch Congress in Guimarães, and the Region 8 Student Branch Congress in Madrid.

Grants and Competitions

IEEE strives to support its members through the awarding of grants and scholarships, or by fostering competitions. There are many grants up for grabs, and some are not even listed on the main page. Sometimes it is necessary to browse the website of each Society to find some grant opportunities. In terms of competitions, there are also plenty available. There are challenges for everyone, from the Student Paper Contest, to the Best Student Branch Website, and the famous IEEE Xtreme Programming (a 24h programming marathon).

Improving Yourself

If you’re not an IEEE volunteer, you’re missing out on an amazing way of getting the tools that will help you achieve your goals. At the end of the day, being an IEEE volunteer is all about improving your soft and hard skills, getting involved in cool projects, meeting awesome people, and making stuff happen. Check if your university has an active Student Branch and join up. Otherwise, just get a bunch of friends and start your own SB!  It’ll be one of the most important decisions in your academic life. I’ll leave you with a video from our friends at the IST Student Branch.