Diego Gloria is a marine science student who’s really made the most of his time in Australia. He has volunteered, signed up for experiences, and met lots of new people in the process. In this article, he shares why volunteering while studying is so beneficial as a student preparing to one day enter the workforce. Thanks Diego!
Diego: One of the most common career tips in just about any field is to gain experience. We’ve all seen those job ads that require a plethora of skills and those jokes about entry-level positions requiring multiple years of experience.
This was a realisation I had early on as a marine sciences student, and I knew I had to get the ball rolling pretty quickly – and it was all through volunteering and putting my hand up for just about anything that came my way. The tips I’ve written below are based on my experience, but are left a bit broad so that they can be applicable to a wide range of disciplines.
But first, why should I put my hand up?
Fair enough – a lot of the opportunities you’ll find as an undergraduate will rarely be paid or compensated. You’re probably going to spend hours doing something you don’t fully understand in an environment that you never really thought existed. But volunteering allows you to do several important things that will be valuable for you later on:
- Gain hands-on experience in the field you’re pursuing
- Understand what skills you need for your career path, and what your strengths and weaknesses may be
- Network with experts and other budding professionals
- Figure out specifically what you want to do in your field…
- … and just as importantly, figure out what you definitely don’t want to do
At this point, I also want to say that you should try volunteering in things that you don’t initially find appealing! You may find that your interests change over time, and volunteering can help open your eye to new prospects.
In my case, I always thought I wanted to study mangroves, and so I put my hand up to help out with some related research. I very quickly realised that as much as I loved mangroves, it was something I didn’t necessarily want to be researching on a daily basis! Gaining volunteer and field experience has allowed me to narrow down and start planning what I want to do for my Honours year – without it, I’d be going in blind.
Meeting new people
A lot of the incredible people I’ve met so far have been through volunteering. These include experts who are at the top of their field, and learning from them has been eye-opening and informative. After all, these people have travelled the path that you’re trying to pursue, so why not learn from them? It also tends to be the case that they also know other professionals who may be valuable for your professional journey, and that opens the door for more possibilities.
In other words, volunteering puts you out there – whether that’s for others to see you, or for you to see your field.
Great, so where can I find these opportunities?
Within university, lecturers are a great start. I always start by reading their research – some of these experts may already be doing something you’re interested in, and you can ask if you could tag along and help out! Lecturers are almost always happy to discuss their work and opportunities for you over a cup of coffee. Griffith’s organizations also tend to have links to projects that require volunteers. In my case, the Griffith Marine Society had PhD students who needed help with their research and would advertise through the club – and it was really helpful to get these opportunities delivered straight to my social media feed or email.
What really did work for me was the university’s mentor programs. Griffith offers different student-mentor setups where you can pair up with a lecturer or industry professional to learn from them. In my case, I did it through the Griffith Honours College and met my mentor who had years of experience in coastal ecology and management. After several coffee meetings and planning sessions, I found myself on a boat to do research in the middle of Moreton Bay!
Outside university, you’ll also find different organisations that may align with your interests – just do a quick google search or even ask for help from the student guild. Within marine science, some of the well known organisations are Ocean Connect, Humpbacks and Highrises, and Watergum – but there are many more that you can reach out to.
And remember – once you put yourself out there, you’ll also want to be a reliable person who is keen to learn and contribute to projects.
Balance it all!
You don’t have to put your hand up for absolutely everything. Set your own boundaries and understand that at the end of the day, you’re doing this for yourself. If you find that an opportunity is taking too much time from your work, social, or family life, then it might be worth reassessing what you’re doing. Often, you can discuss these concerns with your volunteer coordinator or mentor – you might be able to find a more well-rounded solution that suits everyone!
In my next article, I’ll give you some more practical tips for getting involved during your studies at Griffith.
See you soon,