The IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) is the world’s largest international society of biomedical engineers. Volunteering for IEEE EMBS can be an enriching experience for students. We recently interviewed two exceptional EMBS volunteers to gain insight on their volunteering experience with EMBS.
When did you start volunteering with EMBS?
Khanita: I was appointed by IEEE EMBS in 2017 as the Digital Media Ambassador.
Kaveri: I started volunteering with EMBS in 2020, bringing to realization the leadership role at the intersection of engineering and medicine at Columbia.
What is your role?
Khanita: My primary role is to enhance the digital media platforms of IEEE EMBS. I work in collaboration with IEEE EMBS staff, committees, chapters, and members.
Kaveri: The Columbia University Student Branch Chapter of IEEE EMBS had been dormant for the last several years. I researched what would be involved to petition for the formation of our chapter, outlined a mission and constitution, and recruited 11 more board members to serve on our founding executive board with the help of Columbia BME Prof. Andrew Laine.
What motivated you to volunteer for EMBS?
Khanita: I would love to help grow the biomedical engineering field. I know that working with an international organization, especially with the oldest and largest technical society, will help me professionally.
Kaveri: I was motivated to reinvigorate our chapter because I wanted to create an outlet where like-minded individuals with passion for a subject could come together to enjoy teaching and learning from one another. During the remote learning lifestyle brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a virtual community has been all the more important. We have had some awesome events over this past year (see a glimpse of them at our website here: https://blogs.cuit.columbia.edu/ieee-embs/past-events/).
What’s one memorable highlight of your volunteering experience with EMBS?
Khanita: I was responsible for supporting the organizers and creating digital media content and announcements during EMBC’18 in Honolulu. This is the flagship conference of IEEE EMBS and at such a large-scale conference, you need to be flexible, helpful, and on your toes all the time to solve unexpected problems. It was pretty challenging for me, but in the end, I learnt many useful and transferable lessons. It’s a fascinating experience to connect with people worldwide and increase the vibrance of EMBC each year.
Kaveri: The most memorable of all our events in the last academic year was the Lightning Talk Competition. It took a significant amount of time to plan and involved our Columbia faculty who served as judges, as well as planning, organization, and advertising by multiple board members which culminated in a successful, intellectually stimulating and fun event. Enthusiastic student speakers received great feedback on their “Lightning Talk” pitches about their scientific research from faculty.
Any advice or thoughts for other current or future volunteers?
Khanita: The most important thing is to know “why” you want to be a volunteer and “what” you expect in return. A volunteer is about passion and inspiration. First, you need to have a passion for what you volunteer. Personally, I love creating graphics and animations. I never tire of doing it. Therefore, helping EMBS with creating digital media pieces matches my passion. Second, be inspired and inspire others. Inspiration is essential for a volunteer; find a motivation to push you forward and improve yourself. I find that talking to more experienced volunteers inspires me a lot and that helps strengthen my core value in life.
Kaveri: My main advice for current/future volunteers would be to give your fellow IEEE EMBS board leaders/members freedom to pursue their individual ideas with just a touch of support and oversight, and you will be pleasantly surprised at the amazing pinnacles of height passionate EMBS volunteers are able to achieve.
Khanita, you spend many hours every week volunteering for EMBS despite your busy schedule as a final year Ph.D. student. What kept you going and how do you balance your time?
Routinely, I start the day by greeting my advisor, setting the main goal for the day, and then prioritizing it into small, actionable micro-goals to make my research progress. This is how I can make myself focus on my task and getting it done without distraction. So, after work and spending quality time with family, I can spend my 8–10 PM with EMBS to help what I can help. It’s important to focus on the task, get the job done within the timeframe, and make the most out of 2 hours. Time management and self-discipline are the two traits that keep me in balance.
Kaveri, what challenges did you face in leading the Columbia University student branch? What would you like to see more of from EMBS in the future?
Initiating our chapter was one of the most challenging things I faced in leading our student branch thus far, especially because there was a pre-existing branch that had been dormant. I was happy to see the enthusiasm for forming this group, leading to the selection of 11 fellow board members, both current and “elect” members who will take over when current members graduate to ensure continuation of our mission. Advertising and gaining participation virtually were challenging, but we used the incentive of having great faculty speakers, like Prof. Paul Sajda introducing the IEEE Brain Initiative, to attract an audience. We advertised on multiple channels as well as personally via word of mouth. It would be great to see EMBS have a “chapter leaders” meeting once every few months, so we can talk to others like us and share leadership challenges as well as memorable experiences we have had and learn from one another.
Any last thoughts for your fellow EMBS volunteers/students/members?
Khanita: I always remember a quote that Prof. Shankar (EMBS past president) told me during EMBC’18—“It is important that you keep contributing to your technical society. It’s important to make your research community grow.” I think IEEE is a fantastic organization with so many dedicated volunteers at every level around the world. My four years of volunteering with IEEE EMBS developed my professional skills and broadened my professional network connection. IEEE EMBS has given me countless opportunities to try new things, lead a project, and be included in many activities.
Kaveri: Leadership and service are tremendously rewarding endeavors, not because of a grade at the end or a trophy or a degree. Volunteers like my fellow board members and I lead because we have a drive to do so … just because we can. Even if it takes a little bit of “activation energy” to get things going in the beginning, because inherently we are passionate biomedical engineers, and when we are given even just a little push, our passion shines through our EMBS service no matter how far apart we may be.
EMBS Student Activities Committee (SAC)  is currently searching for volunteers to support and lead projects in mentorship, student conferences, marketing, membership development, etc. Time commitments are flexible, and all active EMBS student members are eligible to apply. If you feel inspired by the stories of Khanita and Kaveri and are interested in joining a diverse network of students volunteers whose mission is to design and implement global-scale initiatives, enrich and enhance the EMBS experience, support the development of EMBS student chapters and clubs, and to advocate for the needs of EMBS student members, fill out the SAC Volunteer Application Form.
- J. An and S. Dutta, “Crafting the future—Opportunities for students by the reinvigorated IEEE EMBS Student Activities Committee,” IEEE Pulse, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 38–40, Apr. 2021.