due to reduced funding from a specific scheme administered by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Imperial Volunteer Centre has…been forced to review its activities.
On its website, IVC used to host a searchable directory of volunteering opportunities. Organizations needing volunteers could submit their opportunities to the database, and students (and staff) could search for opportunities, filtering by category, length of commetment and location. IVC facilitated contact between the volunteer and the organization, and served as a port of call if there were any problems with the volunteer placement. It is this brokerage service that has been withdrawn.
So, why should students be interested in volunteering?
I confess, I have always been somewhat community minded. When I was an idealistic teenager school pupil, one of my proudest achievements was press-ganging convincing the whole school to collect their plastic cups for recycling. We completed the recycling circle by buying pencils made from said cups, and selling them in the School Shop.
In light of the withdrawing of IVC’s brokerage service, here are some anecdotal reasons why students should volunteer.
As a student, and particularly as an undergraduate, your time is your own in a way it has not been before, and probably won’t be for a while afterwards. If you are taking a course which is heavy on contact-time, or you have to balance studies with other responsibilities, then maybe volunteering is not for you right now. Your lecturers are not going to appreciate it if you cut class to go out doing good. But if your schedule is a bit flexible, then now is a good time in your life to consider volunteering.
When I was looking for volunteering opportunities, I deliberately picked one with a time commitment I felt I could manage – about two hours, twice per month – making my volunteering efforts more likely to be sustainable. My placement is also flexible enough – I stopped volunteering in the run-up to exams, and picked up again afterwards. I know one student who spent one night per month answering the telephone for Nightline whilst studying to be a vet. (Not actually at the same time!).
You could consider one-off opportunities too. I often spot IC students helping at Exhibition Road Festival, and I know of one student who went for a week to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales – volunteering and a holiday rolled into one.
- CV points
When I turned to volunteering as an undergraduate, I was less concerned about the future of the planet than the future of my career – I wanted to plug a specific gap on my CV. In the event, my career took a different path to the one I was thinking of when I started volunteering. But, two and a half years on, I am still volunteering.
CV-building is a common motivator for volunteers, and some opportunities have an obvious match with career plans. For scientists, outreach is one area to consider. Imperial will continue to operate its own outreach activities, coordinating a range of opportunities which would be particularly appropriate for someone considering teaching or science communication after they graduate.
My volunteering placement has developed my soft skills in some unexpected ways, from communication (explaining Facebook to someone who has never used the internet…or teaching a computer novice how to use a mouse) to crisis management (when a housebound pensioner expecting your visit does not answer the door nor the telephone).
- Do something different
Being a student (and particularly being a PhD student) is immersive. Students are expected to work hard, and I am not advocating volunteering as an excuse not to be working, but being a desk-bound student I find that taking a little time to do something different to the day-to-day helps to give me some a fresh perspective. I am a befriender (similar to this) – I visit a housebound local resident in their own home, for nothing more complicated than a nice cup of tea and some company (for them(!)).
For IC students, the withdrawal of IVC’s brokerage service might make volunteering opportunities less of a doddle to find. If you feel inspired to give volunteering a go, starting points might include do-it or your own university’s RAG society or outreach service.