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Volunteer Voices: Alessandra Zimmermann chats about chairing a local section

The budget and policy analyst shares how volunteering with ACS has allowed her to build leadership and other professional skills

by Nina Notman, special to C&EN
June 29, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 20


Alessandra Zimmermann.
Credit: Courtesy of Alessandra Zimmermann

Alessandra Zimmermann


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A look at the stars that make ACS invaluable

Alessandra Zimmermann moved into science policy after graduating with a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Maryland in 2019. Her current role is running the R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). “I maintain a record of how much US federal money is going to the major R&D agencies and display it publicly so that everyone can see how science is being funded, or prospectively being funded, in the US,” she says.


Current location: Washington, DC

Current job title: Analyst, R&D Budget and Policy Program, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Current volunteer role: Immediate past president, Chemical Society of Washington

Favorite molecule: SYBR Gold, a nucleic acid stain

Zimmermann is the 2024 immediate past president of the American Chemical Society’s Chemical Society of Washington. She recently spoke with Nina Notman about what chairing a local section involves and the benefits of taking on this role at an early career stage. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Why does the Chemical Society of Washington not follow the usual ACS local section naming conventions?

We’re called the Chemical Society of Washington, not the Washington, DC, Local Section, because we predate the formation of local sections. Our constitution is structured a little bit differently and our titles are different.

What led to you joining the Chemical Society of Washington’s presidential succession?

I started attending events about alternative careers at our local section as a graduate student. One of the board members at the time noticed that I was showing up to quite a few of them and asked me if I wanted to volunteer at outreach events. After about a year, the same person asked if I wanted to submit a nomination to be a manager—the lowest position on our board. Then, the same person again (she’s our unofficial recruiting arm) asked me if I wanted to be president. I was the president elect for a year, then president for a year, and now I’m the immediate past president.

I have been able to experience things and learn skills that no one would reasonably pay me to do at this stage in my career.

Can you elaborate on what being a chair of an ACS local section involves?

The way we are structured is that the president is the host and moderator for many of the local section events. The president also manages our monthly dinner meetings, which are a dinner plus a lecture. The president sources the people giving the lectures, helps organize the dinner, and supports the advertising of the meetings. The president also runs the section board meetings. We have an administrative assistant who helps out, and the past president serves as a source of advice throughout the year.

Why do you think others should consider volunteering to be a local section chair?

I have been able to experience things and learn skills that no one would reasonably pay me to do at this stage in my career. It has allowed me to showcase leadership, being a member of the board of my local section has been on my [curriculum vitae] for the past 4 years. If you’ve never had any event-organization experience, it’s a good way to figure out what works. You also get to meet a lot of really interesting people through the events that you moderate. My job right now is a lot of public speaking; being the de facto host for a year was a good way of testing out public speaking techniques in a safe environment.

Alessandra Zimmermann sitting at a desk in a conference room with a mask on.

Credit: Courtesy of Alessandra Zimmermann
As a local section chair, Alessandra Zimmermann (right) improved her public speaking skills, which are now essential in her paid job as a public policy adviser.

Because our local section tends to pick presidents that are relatively early in their careers, our presidents-elect attend the ACS leadership retreat in Atlanta. I attended the [ACS Leadership] Institute in 2022 and met tons of people there who I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t been part of the presidential succession.

Are there any tips you would like to share with other ACS members considering volunteering to be a local section chair?

Remember you can adapt the role to your needs, interests, and availability.

Remember you can adapt the role to your needs, interests, and availability. The constitution or bylaws may have a definition of what the role entails, but it’s always a little bit fluid. Our board is about 30 people. Each individual doesn’t have a set list of things they need to do or a set amount of hours they need to commit—it’s all of us coming together to operate the local section so as to meet membership expectations.

Have you always been someone interested in volunteering?

Yes. My hobbies are just more work: I like being productive. I’ve volunteered with the Canadian Science Policy Centre for 5 years now. I’ve also volunteered with the National Science Policy Network, and I foster cats. For the Chemical Society of Washington, I am also currently the communications chair and one of six councilors who represent the section at ACS Spring and Fall meetings.


Nina Notman is a freelance writer based in Salisbury, England.


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