A Week in the Life of a Student Branch Chair

Are you an IEEE student member looking for leadership experience to help you land that first job?

6 October 2010

Are you an IEEE student member looking for valuable leadership experience to help you land that first job? Consider becoming chair of your school’s IEEE student branch. To give you an idea of what the benefits could be and what you might be in for, The Institute asked Student Member Frank Austin Nothaft, 2010 chair of the Stanford University IEEE Student Branch, to describe a typical week of balancing schoolwork with his branch duties. Here’s what he had to say:

Being chair of the student branch has been a good thing. I’m surrounded by highly motivated students who serve as branch officers working hard to help other highly motivated students at Stanford understand the current industry climate. Although it isn’t easy running a branch (especially when you’re taking five classes!), it’s a really gratifying experience for me and the other Stanford IEEE officers.

Depending on the time of year, a week can go from being moderately to very busy. Between planning branch events, doing schoolwork, and sleeping, most Stanford IEEE officers make full use of all 168 hours in the week.

The university has about 14 000 students, with 8000 graduate students and 6000 undergraduate. Instead of having two 15-week semesters like many other U.S. universities, Stanford has three 10-week quarters. Electrical engineering is the largest department in the university, thanks in part to our large EE graduate program. The student branch has about 300 members, ranging in member grade from student to full member. Because of our large size, we are very fortunate to have between 10 and 15 student officers, who share the job of planning and executing our events.

We try to host one event each week. We generally avoid holding events during finals, midterms, or Ph.D. qualification exams, however, because such events are both poorly attended and bad for the organizers’ sanity. As chair, I may not execute the organizing details of any of these events, but I’m deeply involved with their planning, and I work behind the scenes to make sure everything goes smoothly.

An industry tech talk is a fairly common event; we aim to hold two or three of them each quarter. Quite a bit of organization is required to make it all happen. We usually have five officers working on each one. Typically, an officer or an alum who had been an officer in the Stanford IEEE Student Branch suggests someone to give the presentation and acts as a liaison between the branch and the speaker. Another officer coordinates the logistics of the event, such as time, date, and location. The branch treasurer and I coordinate reserving the room, and our public relations officer is in charge of coordinating the promotional efforts.

Come Monday morning before, say, a Thursday evening tech talk, a flurry of e-mail goes out among branch officers, discussing the room reservation and food, and providing the speaker with directions to the room we reserve. We also decide when to send out final e-mail reminders about the event and where to post fliers. Those reminder messages get answered sporadically throughout the day, as students juggle studying, attending class, and relaxing. At some point, either the treasurer or I will realize we still need to finally reserve the room (college students are legendary procrastinators), and we put that on our to-do list for the following day.

Tuesday and Wednesday are spent tightening those last few remaining details. Someone typically has to badger the university people in charge of student group bank accounts to approve our purchase order to pay for the room. The student officer coordinating the event makes the food arrangements and a few students post fliers in the engineering buildings.

Thursday morning is spent being nervous. No matter how many events you’ve hosted, and no matter how well attended they were, you always worry that no one will show up, the speaker will get lost, or the room will be double-booked. As the day goes by, you consult the RSVP list many times to reassure yourself that you’ll have an audience, and you stroll by all the posted fliers to make sure they are still up.

Eventually, the event takes place and is a huge success. The speaker wows all the students, who typically hang around for 45 minutes afterward, congregating and conversing. All the officers are happy and relieved, and they then talk excitedly about the next tech talk.

Life moves on to Friday morning, and back to planning the next event. E-mail starts going out about, say, an upcoming talk featuring a Stanford alum, a meeting with the IEEE Santa Clara Section the next week, or an upcoming IEEE Region 6 meeting. Being a student branch chair might not be relaxing, per se, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


For more information on the duties of a student branch officer, visit the IEEE Student Branch Officer Responsibilities and Administration site.

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