Jim Landwehr
AT&T Bell Laboratories

Newsletter for the Section on Statistical Education
Volume 2, Number 1 (Winter 1996)

Many ASA activities are organized and implemented by volunteer members working through chapters, sections, and committees. If you're a new member of the statistics profession, or if you're not such a new member but decide that now would be a good time to become more involved in professional activities through ASA, you can easily look at the organizational maze and not see a good way to get started. The newsletter editors asked me to write an article giving my suggestions.

My suggested overall principle is to volunteer for something SPECIFIC that you're interested in doing; then when your offer is accepted, follow through and do a conscientious job. This will likely create an expanding series of future opportunities.

The ASA Chapters offer an ideal way to get started since they are geographically organized and you shouldn't have to travel much. First join the chapter for your region. Most have several talks or programs throughout the year; attend a few, introduce yourself, and see what goes on. Every meeting needs someone to take care of the arrangements, handle reservations or registrations, etc., and from my experience there is never an oversupply of people to do these. It's not too exciting but it needs to be done. Your offer to volunteer for this is almost sure to be accepted. By doing this work and showing you're a responsible person, you're likely to get the opportunity to serve on the chapter's program committee. This lets you help decide on the topics and speakers and have a real influence on what goes on in the chapter. Serving on the program committee also gives you a good excuse to call people you'd like to know but don't and ask them for their ideas and input. Most people are flattered to receive a call asking for advice, whether they know the caller or not, and by doing this you expand your personal network of contacts in the profession.

After you've done a good job on some arrangements and program for a year or two, there's a good chance you will be nominated to be a chapter officer. This gives you further leadership opportunities, you can continue to expand your personal network, and you may also have the opportunity to attend special workshops for chapter officers that are held at the national ASA meetings.

Another important area of chapter activities involves outreach such as Adopt-A-School and Quantitative Literacy programs. If such activities are going on in your chapter, talk to the people already involved and consider expanding them to schools or school districts where you have your own contacts. If there isn't such activity in your chapter, talk to staff in the ASA office in Alexandria and they can help you get started. What you need to have is some point of contact in a school district so you're not just calling someone out of the blue, an interest in trying to find out how the school perceives its needs, and a willingness to follow through.

The Chapters are easy to get involved in. They offer great opportunities for networking in your geographic region and can help you get to know other nearby statisticians who work in different fields from yours. Personally, I have found this rewarding and it has broadened my knowledge of the statistics profession.

The ASA Sections are organized on a national basis. Their main activities take place at national and regional meetings and through publications. They offer great opportunities to become part of a national network within a statistical discipline of interest to you. To get involved, you need to have the interest and opportunity to attend professional meetings outside your region.

A good way to get started in a section is to offer to chair, and possibly find a discussant for, a contributed paper session at a meeting you will be attending. This gives you a good opportunity to meet and talk with people in the field and to present yourself briefly at the meeting. Section program chairs are always looking for people to chair sessions, so your offer to do so is quite likely to be accepted as long as you are aware of the deadlines and volunteer in time (often far in advance of the meeting).

Organizing an invited paper session for a section allows you to have important influence by shaping a part of the program. Each section has a very limited number of invited sessions, however, so your offer to organize one is more likely to be accepted if you have already been involved in some way in the section's activities. Volunteering for a specific section office such as secretary, treasurer, publication officer, or "webmaster" for the section's homepage on the internet is also a good way to get started. The nominees for senior offices in a section -- such as program committee and chair, newsletter editor, representative to the council of sections, and section chair -- are usually drawn from people who have already fulfilled some of the other roles listed above.

ASA's many committees offer a third type of involvement in professional activities. Members to most committees are appointed by the ASA president-elect in consultation with the executive director. I believe they try to come up with a mix of experienced people and new faces. While they don't want the appointments to be limited only to people they know personally, they also have a huge membership to choose from and don't make appointments at random. Thus, if there is a specific ASA committee you are interested in serving on, it is quite reasonable to nominate yourself by writing a letter to the executive director in which you specify the committee and describe why you are interested in serving on it and your qualifications. It won't hurt to mention successful chapter or section experience, and there's nothing wrong with asking someone else to send a note attesting to your qualifications for the committee. In fact, section and chapter chairs are regularly asked to suggest names of people for committee appointments.

One final point. It's not something the editors asked me to address, but I think it's a reasonable question to ask yourself: WHY should I become involved in ASA volunteer activities? My answer includes several reasons. These activities can give you broader contact with the statistics profession and a broader knowledge about statistics than any of us is likely to get through our normal day-to-day job activities alone. Meeting different statisticians and finding out about different kinds of statistical problems are valuable activities, and they are hard to achieve otherwise. Professional volunteer work can also lead to nice feelings of personal accomplishment, to expanded career opportunities through networking, and to professional recognition. Finally, and by no means least importantly, it can be a lot of fun and you can meet interesting people and make good friendships. Good luck, and I hope it is fun for you, too!

James M. Landwehr
AT&T Bell Laboratories
Room 2C-257
600 Mountain Ave.
Murray Hill, NJ 07974-0636;
Phone: (908) 582-7405
FAX: (908) 582-3340

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