In this installment of the SSAR leadership profiles project, Jessica Tingle, who chaired the Student Participation Committee from 2018-2021, explains the committee’s activities and her experience getting involved with the committee.
In general, the Student Participation Committee aims to increase student engagement in any way possible by providing opportunities for individual students to have a voice in the SSAR. The committee does not have a cap on the number of students who may join, and its activities depend in part on the number of active student committee members at any given time.
Historically, the committee has focused on organizing student events (e.g. workshops and socials) at the annual Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (JMIH), and also on working with other committees to brainstorm ways to recruit and retain student members. The committee has expanded its role since summer 2018 by taking on several new projects, detailed below.
Because neither the SSAR bylaws nor the supplement to the SSAR constitution outlines duties for the Student Participation Committee, this committee has considerable leeway. Jeremy Feinberg, a previous chair, created a manual to help with the job. New chairs can add to this living document as they go.
Activities throughout the year, including at the annual meeting
Organizing student workshops for JMIH begins with brainstorming ideas for workshop topics. In the past, we’ve had workshops on topics such as “how to get a job,” “law and order in herpetology,” “how to teach a field course,” and many others. Once committee members decide on the topic for the year’s workshop, they must seek out experts in the field who would be willing to help lead the workshop. Then, they must work out logistics such as advertising and figuring out whether they can provide lunch during the workshop. Sometimes the SSAR student committee works with the Herpetologists’ League student committee to set up joint workshops.
In August 2018, the Student Participation Committee created a survey for students, postdocs, and other young members (summary of the results here). This survey provided information that has guided the committee’s activities over the last several months. For example, we have created a monthly email newsletter in response to comments that the SSAR should be more communicative about its activities and opportunities. The Student Participation Committee now helps out with the SSAR’s social media presence. We began this series of SSAR leadership profiles to give members a better idea of the SSAR’s organization, activities, and ways they can get involved. We’ve also worked closely with the SSAR president, secretary, treasurer, and other leaders to improve the SSAR student experience in various ways. Some examples include the push for the SSAR to provide money for conference travel grants before JMIH instead of afterwards as reimbursement, and looking into ways to secure affordable food for students who attend JMIH.
Day-to-day activities on the committee involve a lot of communication by email to discuss current projects and new ideas. When we have a project, like these SSAR leadership profiles, individual students work on their parts of the project and we pass document drafts back and forth to give each other feedback. Some committee members stay on top of the SSAR social media accounts throughout the year. As chair, I spend a lot of time communicating with other SSAR leaders and occasionally the leaders of the other major herpetological societies, Herpetologists’ League (HL) and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH), to figure out new initiatives. For example, we share many goals in common with the HL’s Diversity and Inclusivity Committee, so it makes sense to collaborate.
Interactions with other SSAR committees and leaders
As mentioned above, the Student Participation Committee regularly works with other SSAR leaders. The committee chair communicates with the president, secretary, and occasionally the treasurer involving upper-level SSAR decisions that affect students. The Student Participation Committee and the Membership Committee share a similar goal of engaging with members, so we bounce ideas off each other and can join forces whenever it makes sense to do so. We often interact with the Web Committee to put new materials online. More recently, a couple members of the Student Participation Committee have been working closely with the Mentorship Committee to expand the JMIH mentorship program. I can foresee working with several other committees in the future, including the Long Range Planning Committee. Additionally, some members of the SSAR Student Participation Committee help out with Herpetologists’ League’s Diversity and Inclusivity Committee and Graduate Studies Committee to achieve shared goals between the societies.
Path to joining the Student Participation Committee
Then-president Rick Shine asked me after JMIH 2018 if I’d be willing to chair the Student Participation Committee. I wholeheartedly agreed, since I’d been an SSAR member for seven years and wanted to become more actively involved in the society. Prior to talking to Rick, I did not realize that students could get involved in a variety of ways. It turns out that I could have become involved much earlier, had I known!
After becoming chair, I sent a general call to students trying to get more people on the committee. The enthusiastic response wowed me, with high-school students up to PhD candidates offering to help out. The Student Participation Committee provides a relatively low-stakes way for students to become involved in the SSAR. Since the committee has several activities, individual members can pick which ones interest them the most. Some students have chosen to take on small roles that give them a taste of leadership responsibility in the SSAR, while others have chosen to take on larger roles.
Anyone can contribute to the Student Participation Committee without needing a lot of “relevant” prior experience. We’re all capable of coming up with ideas and helping out in some way or another. As a result, becoming a member of the committee is a great first step for getting leadership experience. It’s also not hard to join the committee. You simply have to email the current chair and tell them you’re interested!
As far as chairing the committee, I’ve found that organizational skills and people skills can both be really helpful. In my case, I was a member of an undergraduate herpetology club during college, and eventually became president during my senior year. The experience coordinating with other students to organize field trips, outreach events, and guest speakers has helped me tremendously. I’m also a pretty organized person in general, which has helped me keep track of multiple committee activities that often happen simultaneously. It also helps that I really like people – as a committee chair, you end up interacting with a lot of SSAR members on a regular basis.
Future of the committee
The lack of very specific guidelines for the Student Participation Committee creates a challenge at times, but it also provides wonderful flexibility for the committee’s role to evolve as students who join it bring in new perspectives. I hope that we maintain our current momentum, as I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the last few months through the efforts of several dedicated individuals and the strong support of the SSAR leadership.
We especially want to increase involvement of younger students and students from underrepresented groups. Representing students with the greatest possible variety of personal experiences will increase our ability to identify areas of need so that we can make positive change. With the supportive leadership that we currently have in the SSAR, students can make substantial contributions to the future of our field. We really are the future of herpetology.
If you are a student who would like to join the Student Participation Committee, please contact the current chair of the committee, whose name and information is listed on SSAR’s committee page. We welcome students of any level: high school, undergrad, grad, and folks in between degrees.