Undertaking some voluntary work while you are doing your doctorate can offer many benefits. Voluntary work can give you a much needed break from the grind of research and allows you to focus on something more practical. It may give you the chance to do something fun and of interest to you that is of value to others. It may also benefit your personal development and your career.
Many institutions provide support for volunteers aimed at either students, staff or both groups. Typically these are located in the students union, careers service or staff development centre, however this does vary from institution to institution. If your institution does not offer any support in this area you are likely to be able to find a volunteer centre in a local town. Use the links from this page to help you locate more opportunities.
‘I taught voluntarily in a school ...as part of the ‘Researchers in Residence' scheme. Clarified that I enjoyed teaching, but also allowed me to see what life was like working in a different city. ’
UK GRAD survey of doctoral graduates (2007)
Voluntary experience can enable you to explore alternative career paths and develop your skills. To make the most of voluntary experience try the following.
- Plan a reasonable amount of time to volunteer. If you only give one afternoon you are unlikely to learn much. A regular commitment is far more likely to lead to useful developmental opportunities.
- Think about what you are looking to achieve from your volunteering and look for opportunities while you are volunteering.
- Look for opportunities to lend your skills to the organisation. You may be able to complete a piece of research or undertake some project management as part of your volunteering which can be of benefit to you and the project.
- While you are volunteering, ask the people you are working with to introduce you to other people in the field. Make sure that you have your contact details ready to give out so that people can contact you if they want to know more.
- Try and volunteer for more than one organisation. You will gain more skills and contacts if you can broaden your experience.
- Consider volunteering in a field different from your own. Volunteering is an excellent way to road test different career paths without a great deal of commitment.
- Let someone know if you are not getting what you are hoping for out of your voluntary work.
- Put your volunteer experience on your CV's ‘experience' section and not under Hobbies or Volunteer Experience. Separating this experience sends a message that you don't consider this experience valuable professionally.
- Keep in touch with the people and organisations you have volunteered with. They may be able to help you with a reference or offer other relevant contacts in the future.
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