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Trusting myself to be a Trustee

Dr Divya Shah has been a Trustee on the BSI Board since 2018. She applied for the position to broaden her knowledge of the Society's activities, advance our mission to support early career researchers and promote equal opportunities in immunology. Here, she shares her reflections from her term so far and encourages BSI members to consider applying to join a BSI committee.

BSI committee nominations 2022

What does it mean to be a Trustee?

I always thought that to be a Trustee and direct the work of a charity you had to be senior, have lots of life experience and gravitas - basically, be well known. Turns out, I was wrong. In 2017, I attended a workshop about trusteeships and found there was so much more to it than I had imagined. Did you know there are hundreds of trusteeship positions in the UK, waiting to be filled, by people like you and me?

I am a current Trustee of the British Society for Immunology (BSI). BSI committee positions are now open for nominations and the ideal opportunity for anyone wanting to get involved in UK immunology. Here are some of my reflections from my term so far.

Why did I apply?

I wanted to give back to the community that I was part of. I have been a member of the BSI since doing my PhD, but no longer an active academic. I decided to go for the BSI position because it’s a field that I’m passionate about and have years of experience in, and this position would help me influence and contribute to the BSI’s mission and allow me to dip my toe in being a Trustee. A recent survey conducted by the BSI showed that most individuals with an immunology PhD will not remain in academic research. As one of those individuals, I wanted to have the opportunity to represent that alternative view point at Board meetings and show the other ways my experience as an immunologist could be helpful.

I also wanted to challenge and develop myself personally, understand and influence the thinking that goes on behind the Society and shape its future direction.

The BSI is continually looking to widen the diversity of its Board membership and I was excited about the opportunity to become a Trustee when I saw it advertised, but I questioned whether I would be considered. I assumed that I would have to still be leading a lab or a senior scientist. I made enquiries, and happily found out they would be delighted to accept an application from me, so in early 2018 I plucked up the courage, with a little support from my friendly colleagues and applied.

How does my experience help?

I love science, specifically immunology, and this, along with my experience in research helps to engage with the scientific areas of interest to the BSI. A few years ago, however, I left academia and began to pursue an alternative career in science. I had landed a brilliant job, working as a research funding manager for one of the largest biomedical charities in the world, Wellcome. As I always say to everyone, I still get to do a lot of things I love about science, without the stress, or at least it’s a different kind of pressure! Due to my curiosity to learn I had picked up a whole new set of skills to go with my previous ones. My role at Wellcome has equipped me with knowledge of the UK and international funding landscape, working with different groups, including other charities and organisations, and developed my skills in leadership, management and strategy.

So, what does being a Trustee mean in practice?

I represent the BSI at events and attend quarterly Board meetings to discuss, debate and make decisions that influence the Society’s direction. So far, I have been involved in nominating distinguished immunologists for awards and been part of the decision-making process on their future publishing strategy. Recently, the Board of Trustees got to work with the senior management team, to share our thoughts and opinions and help set the direction of the new strategy, for the BSI, for the period 2021 to 2026. It was a great chance for everyone to work together and see how all views and experiences were being valued.

I enjoy my role as a Trustee immensely, I’m giving a lot to the BSI but also getting a lot back from the experience. As I mentioned BSI Trustee and Forum positions are now open and I encourage you to consider applying. If you want to know more about the BSI role, or being a Trustee in general, then do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.

Dr Divya Shah
Research lead, Infectious Diseases Health Challenge
Wellcome Trust

This piece was originally published on LinkedIn. Click here to view it and follow Dr Divya Shah on LinkedIn.

We currently have ten vacancies on our committees. The nominations period closes at 17:00 on Friday 1 April. Please visit the committee nominations webpage to find out more about the roles and put yourself forward to stand for one of the vacancies.