The Youth Division of the Royal Flemish Chemical Society (Jong-KVCV) has over 300 members, accounting for approx. 45 % of the total society. Christophe De Bie (President of KVCV), Jens Maggen (President of the Jong-KVCV), Lucia Habets Vicepresident Jong-KVCV), Kersten Van Langenhove (Secretary Jong-KVCV), Karel Haesevoets, Geert-Jan Graulus, and Niels Van Herck talked with Vera Koester for ChemViews Magazine about the work and aims of the Jong-KVCV as well as their personal motivations and ideas for the future.
What is it like working in the Jong-KVCV?
Geert-Jan: Working in the Jong-KVCV should not be considered working. Everybody contributes his/her abilities and follows their interests. People with an eye for graphics design posters and other promotional material, great networkers maintain our ties to the chemical industry and to our contacts at the various Flemish universities and colleges, and so forth.
Jens: Working for the Jong-KVCV does not feel like working, like Geert-Jan said. We are a group of friends that try to divide the work equally and combine it with some fun. Although we have a president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer, everybody is at the same level and helps where necessary.
Christophe: That’s true. Working in the Jong-KVCV for me is working with volunteers in a friendly environment; organizing events to promote chemistry among students and beyond.
Kersten: Working at the Jong-KVCV is often a creative task where we can build upon the experience of our older working-group members and continue to improve the services we provide and events we host.
What tasks do you do?
Karel: I took on the responsibility of being the graphic designer for the KVCV for general presentations and advertisements and designed logos and artwork. Currently, I am president of ChemCYS, the international chemistry conference for young scientists, organized by the Joung-KVCV. It is my task to ensure that the 2018 conference is a successful event for young chemists from all over the world.
Christophe: I am currently the president of the KVCV. My role within the Jong-KVCV is mainly that of a consultant. In the past, I held the position of secretary (2007–2008), president (2008–2010), and vice-president (2010–2011) within the Jong-KVCV.
Kersten: As secretary I am tasked with organizing the agenda of our quarterly meetings where we discuss all matters concerning the Jong-KVCV, prepare the reports, and distribute them among our working-group members so they can have a concise summary of what was discussed about past events and future work.
In addition to being secretary, I also aid in making sure our local invited lectures run as smoothly as possible for both the speakers and audiences.
Jens: For the first two years, I was a general member of the Jong-KVCV supporting the team in Leuven. Later, I became president of the Jong-KVCV. My goal as president is to get more students and adults interested in chemistry by organizing lectures and company visits.
Karel: In terms of raising scientific awareness and science dissemination, the Jong-KVCV participates in the annual ‘Dag van de Wetenschap’ or Science Day where most of the KVCV working-group members are present in organizing fun and relevant science experiments for young children.
In addition, we organize a lab day for the students who pass the first round of the Flemish Chemistry Olympiad, and we support the general KVCV with study days around specific topics in chemistry and company visits. Topics vary and tend to encompass the full chemical spectrum: The chemistry of making chocolate, beer, gin, chemistry in 3D printing, chemical warfare, environmental care, for example.
What skills do you need and how much time do you need?
Lucia: Being social and able to work in a team is definitely a must. Because everyone comes from a different corner of Flanders, it is important that you communicate well. We see each other only a few times a year, and it is, therefore, during these moments that we exchange as much as possible about the comings and goings within the division.
Karel: You need to have an interest in chemistry and the motivation to put time and effort into organizing events for others. However, the organizing team of the Jong-KVCV will guide you in your development within the organization and you will grow into the role. I invest around five hours every week in the KVCV. Of course, for ChemCYS this amount will increase significantly the nearer it gets to the conference, but this is a job I solicited for and I know what it’ll take.
Geert-Jan: You don’t need any particular skills, just a love of chemistry and the will to put yourself behind our projects. Moreover, if you lack a certain skill, the Jong-KVCV is an ideal place to learn new things and immediately get hands-on experience.
Kersten: That’s what I think. The Jong-KVCV offers a learning environment for skills needed later in both academia and industry. Skills range from information and communications technology (ICT) and communication to setting up an appointment, managing budgets, making financial reports, and the logistics of coordinating our biannual science conference.
What do you like about the KVCV and is there anything you would change?
Kersten: I very much like that the KVCV tries to involve their members as much as possible in events, workshops, conferences, and company visits, thus bridging the gap between the individual (chemist) and the large chemical industry we have here in Belgium.
Niels: I like how we can develop the aforementioned skills by taking part in the KVCV activities. This is really an added value with regard to working in a team in an industrial environment.
Lucia: What I think is “fun” about the KVCV is that they try to bring science into the spotlight. They make sure that outsiders – who are not in the field of chemistry – get a clearer picture of chemistry. And they try to keep those who work in the chemical sector up to date with the latest developments and to help each other network. This versatility of the KVCV is something that I greatly admire.
Geert-Jan: I like the fact that we try to matter to all students pursuing a chemistry degree. We welcome all of those interested to join the board of the Jong-KVCV. Unfortunately, our board consists primarily of male Ph.D. students, so it would be interesting to increase the percentage of female board members to better represent our target audience: people studying chemistry. Getting some students on board would also help to keep track of new trends in chemistry education.
Karel: My most prominent point of change would probably be the modernization of the KVCV: New logo, fewer divisions, more appearances to the general public. I am not saying there has been no change over the years, I’m saying change occurs slowly and I think that a rebranding of the KVCV should be a swift one. However, this is an opinion from a member of the Jong-KVCV who has only been a member for five years.
Christophe: The small scale of the society has its charms. However, sometimes this makes it challenging: The number of volunteers is limited.
What have you learned during your work with the Jong-KVCV? What is most important to you?
Karel: Leadership, networking, organization skills, talking in public, and organizing events.
Kersten: I learned to organize, plan, delegate, and solve problems with participants, speakers, and industrial sponsors. The most important, however, is that I could be part of a team of creative young scientists who strive to make the KVCV better year after year and confer their knowledge to a new generation who will undoubtedly do the same.
Niels: I have learned that time management is very important. Organizing activities should not interfere with your studies, therefore, keeping track of multiple agendas/projects and the time you spend on them is very important.
Geert-Jan: I learned to organize lectures, from inviting a speaker and fixing a date to serving a drink during the reception afterward.
Jens: Leading a group as president was the biggest challenge for me. The most important thing for me was getting in touch with new people. Not only in Belgium but also across Europe. This gave me a good insight into how other societies work and how they try to increase the interest in science.
How are you organized?
Karel: There is the general KVCV board. They regulate the divisions like food, education, history, biochemistry, medicinal chemistry, for example.
Christophe: The Jong-KVCV is one of these 11 divisions.
Karel: Within these divisions, there are work groups that organize in their own way. The Jong-KVCV is the largest division and we have our own president, treasurer, and secretary.
Christophe: The core team of the division consists of around 20 volunteers, geographically distributed over Flanders. Most of them are master’s or doctoral students at a Flemish university. A few of those 20 volunteers have a function within the division (president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, webmaster).
Karel: Then we have work groups at each university that organize the lectures in their academic districts. ChemCYS has its own work group. We meet about six times a year. The president then reports to the president of the general KVCV.
Niels: A president keeps the group together, which is a balanced mixture of very experienced members and newbies. This ensures knowledge transfer when experienced members resign.
Geert-Jan: When it comes to larger projects such as the ChemCYS conference, usually a number of board members commit to spending some additional time to the Jong-KVCV and form an ad-hoc ChemCYS committee, the composition of which can change from meeting to meeting depending on the task at hand.
Every two years you organize a conference, ChemCYS. Can you please say something about it?
Karel: I am the president of the 2018 ChemCYS. ChemCYS, the Chemistry Conference for Young Scientists, is an international, biennial conference, held in Blankenberge, Belgium. It aims to create a platform for young scientists (master’s students, Ph.D. students, and postdocs) to present early results of their research. We target a broad audience as the topics cover all major fields of chemistry and the life sciences.
Since 2010, this conference has received increasing international interest and a growing number of participants: 342 participants from 39 countries in 2016, and we’re still growing and expecting even more participants in 2018. Owing to this international appreciation, since 2014 ChemCYS has been officially endorsed by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences (EuCheMS).
The headliners of the conference are the plenary speakers. We are proud to announce Nobel Laureate Ben Feringa, University of Groningen, The Netherlands, Sir Martyn Poliakoff, University of Nottingham, UK, and Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, as plenary speakers at ChemCYS 2018. Along with presentations and poster sessions by our attendees, we organize KaféCV, a platform where attendees can interact with professionals from all major and minor chemical companies in and around Belgium. Furthermore, workshops, such as a CV clinic, leadership, reviewing skills, and more, are organized. ChemCYS couldn’t be organized without the financial support from the Belgian chemical industry and the Flemish universities. The most challenging part about ChemCYS is supervising and keeping in touch with as many supporters as possible.
Christophe: The target audience is young researchers who would like to present their work as a poster or lecture. Organizing a conference like this means looking for a suitable location, date, keynote speakers, and workshops, and also looking for sponsors, dealing with all the registrations, composing a jury for the different sessions, checking up on payments, and so forth. Besides that, a lot of writing, designing, and reviewing work comes up: the website, mailings, flyers, posters, banners, presentations, book of abstracts, etc. An event like ChemCYS consists of a lot of smaller tasks that all have to be realized within their specific timeframe, ranging from two years in advance up to months after the closure of the event. Realizing these things on time with a small team of volunteers is a big challenge. Nevertheless, the feeling at the end of the last day of the event is very rewarding, looking back at its success.
Niels: ChemCYS is for young scientists, organized by young scientists. All the flaws or frustrations that we experience at other conferences are filtered out. Therefore, this conference is the best of its kind!
Is the work of a society such as the KVCV still of importance today?
Christophe: Of course! It is very important to inform and excite society about chemistry and the life sciences.
Karel: Yes! Chemistry is often conceived as being a negative influence on the world by the general public. We’re viewed as polluters while the majority of the chemical community focuses on solving the world’s pollution/environmental issues. We make change happen and the public should know this. Also, the world is in need of more scientists to make further technological developments possible. Therefore, we should keep young and future scientists interested in and excited about the possibilities of science.
Kersten: Very much so. Even though technology and information technology are proceeding at a rapid pace, it’s also making it more and more difficult for the individual to find their place both in the virtual and real world. KVCV offers a platform for members to find the information they need and bring together people who would otherwise never meet one another. By bringing together academia, industry, and the individual, important synergies are created.
Lucia: Definitely! What struck me during the short period of time I’ve been active at the KVCV is that non-chemists have little knowledge of what is happening in chemistry. Chemistry is hidden everywhere. Without chemistry, we could not make many products and could not even prepare a lot of food. And that makes our work so important. We as the KVCV and mainly the younth division should promote chemistry well. Especially to young people, even to children. So they also realize that chemistry is more than tests in a lab.
Geert-Jan: Of course! Our lectures focus on subjects not necessarily part of the normal curriculum, our company visits bring students into contact with possible future employers, and ChemCYS offers a great first conference experience for junior students, while being a great networking environment for the more experienced researchers.
Jens: I can only agree with what is being said by the other. Of course, societies like the KVCV are of big importance.
What advice would you give students who want to become active in a society such as the KVCV?
Karel: Please do so. You’ll be embraced by your peers. Don’t mind if you’re not that engaged or if you’re not really into organizing events. Try it. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. We’ll support you either way but if this turns out to be something valuable to you and you want to engage more, we’ll support and teach you.
Christophe: If you have an interest in chemistry, please engage actively within a society! I can only recommend it. You will learn more skills then you’ll ever be able to acquire at school or university. You get to know new people, which enlarges your network, nationally and internationally. Moreover, it is very rewarding!
Kersten: Don’t be afraid to try it out! Because of the scale of the activities (lectures, company visits, etc.), and functions present in the working groups there will be something for everybody where they can contribute based on their own set of skills and interests.
Geert-Jan: I agree. Why not give it a try? If it isn’t your cup of tea, you can still help by regularly attending our activities and providing us with your honest feedback.
What would you like to be doing five years from now?
Karel: In five years I probably will be leaving the younth division. I’ll be an active KVCV member for sure, but I don’t know if I’d be in an organizing committee of one of the other (or general) KVCV divisions. Outside of the KVCV, I will have completed my Ph.D. and I hope I’ll be working in a chemistry/technology company with a clear view on a path towards a management role.
Christophe: I sincerely hope to still be able to combine my professional job with my role as a volunteer within the KVCV. Moreover, I hope to further professionalize our society in the coming years.
Kersten: Having spent an extended time in academia, I would like to see myself continuing the research I performed at university and better bridge the gap between academic research, policy makers, and research institutes. And I also definitely see myself attending the annual ‘Science Day’ organized by the Jong-KVCV!
Geert-Jan: I hope to be successful at my postdoc while having enough time to continue to contribute to the (Jong)-KVCV. Unfortunately, I will probably have to change divisions, as I will be getting too old to hang out with the cool kids of the Jong-KVCV 😉
Anything else you would like readers of ChemViews Magazine to know?
Geert-Jan: If you really want to get to know the Jong-KVCV, you should stop reading this article and come and meet us at ChemCYS 2018. Cancel your other appointments and register for the ChemCYS conference or follow us on twitter @www.chemcys.be
Many thanks for this interview.
- Website of the Jong-KVCV
- Website of KVCV
- Webiste of ChemCYS – Chemistry Conference for Young Scientists