Professional Organizations and Volunteering

 In the past eighteen months, I have been trying to become (even) more aware of the image I project on social media. Since June this year, I have been much more active on Twitter and dedicated Facebook for sharing things mostly with friends, relatives, and acquaintances. The extra time spent in front of the screen, which was previously allotted to socializing, was redirected almost entirely toward professional organizations. What I noticed once socializing as usual resumed, was my increased awareness and focus in face-to-face conversations. I am much more present. I relish the body language that video-conferencing does not convey, at least not entirely.

The professional organizations in which I have been most active are The Society for Conservation GIS (whose 2021 Conference just ended) and Women in Geospatial. I cannot stress how important being an active member of at least one relevant professional organization is, regardless of your career stage and goals. This blog post was actually inspired by two conversations I had recently: one with a recent graduate who approached me during the online annual conference of SCGIS, asking for career advice; the other one with a fellow member of WIG+, asking me about starting as a GIS freelancer. This was the number one piece of advice that came to my mind. As a recent graduate of my master's studies, I needed to "take my own medicine" and do what I knew all the career gurus were recommending: networking.

In 2017, together with Priscilla Cole, whom I met while working as a geospatial data specialist at NYC DEP, I started the NY/NJ chapter of SCGIS. I have been a member of SCGIS for almost ten years, greatly appreciating its listserv for members - always inspiring, and an effective way to keep up to date on what was going on in conservation GIS. While I was wrapping up my master's studies in Ecology and Evolution at Montclair State University, I noticed that SCGIS was encouraging its members to start chapters in their area. As it happened, SCGIS did not have a chapter in the NY metro area, where I have been living since 2008. I found that rather odd, given the rather high concentration of GIS people focused on conservation in this area. This being volunteer work that most people estimated to be too time-consuming, it was probably not exactly appealing. For me, however, knowing the importance of my number two piece of career advice - volunteering, it sounded like a perfect opportunity.

I must admit that I hesitated at first. I was still too shy and reluctant to "put myself out there", which is something that leadership entails. My shyness and dread of public speaking had been partially cured by the science presentation course required in graduate school. However, public speaking is a skill that, just like any other, needs to be practiced to improve. Fortunately, I also love a challenge... Especially when I have to challenge myself.

Working on your public speaking skills is a good idea even if you do not plan to do any public speaking. Clear speech, communication, storytelling, eloquence, persuasion, adequate body language are features that can improve all aspects of our personal lives in sometimes surprising ways.

It was through SCGIS that I had the opportunity to be contracted as a consultant for the National Geographic Society, as a satellite imagery interpreter. This was the first contract of my consulting business, whose website is still in the works. The open-science product of this endeavor has been recently launched.

I joined WIG+ during the height of the pandemic, through an announcement posted in the SCGIS listserv. Last fall I enrolled in their peer-mentorship program, which I warmly recommend. It has been a deeply enriching experience. I plan to write more about the valuable lessons I learned through this experience in a future post. Our team's project will be made public soon.


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