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How Diego embraced volunteer opportunities

After sharing the opportunities he’s embraced during his time at Griffith University, Filipinoi student Diego Gloria outlines exactly how he did it in this post. We’re inspired by his go-getting attitude and know that you will be too!

Hi Diego! How did you do it?

I’ve had a mixture of paths that have led me to volunteering and gaining experience in all sorts of crazy (yet fun!) things. The key thing has always been to contact people (even if you think it may not lead anywhere) and put yourself out there – and if an opportunity comes up, grab it.

Emailing for opportunities

The COVID pandemic made pursuing marine science a bit difficult because, well, a large part of marine science is being in the field, which was just not possible during a lockdown situation. I was stuck overseas during the pandemic, but I still emailed organizations to ask if I could somehow help them out with anything online. Luckily, one citizen science organization – Humpbacks and Highrises – got back to me and said I could help with data entry. This gave me some experience with the technical side of science while still allowing me to meet both experts and peers in the marine science field. And I’m still able to keep in touch with them now that I’m in Australia, which is always nice.

Griffith’s Clubs and Organisations

One of the great things about being a university student is the access it provides you to student societies and clubs. These groups often have connections to academics and industry professionals who may be looking for a volunteer or even their next postgraduate students – which is why you should look into joining whatever organization specializes in the field you’re pursuing.

In my case, the Griffith Marine Society was right up my alley. I was participating in just about every event I could join and assisted in whatever capacity I could. There were fieldwork opportunities that allowed us to do sample plankton in the Gold Coast Broadwater, networking and career nights, and of course, call-outs from postgraduate students to help with their studies. I was able to sample seagrass beds and care for jellyfish as part of research projects, and this helped me gain relevant experiences within the different sub-fields of marine science. More importantly, it put my name out there as a (hopefully reliable!) volunteer that anyone could call on should they need any assistance.

Right now, I’m part of the executive team of the Griffith Marine Society, and we’re working on adding more events that get students out into the lab or into the field. One of our current projects allows us to work with other universities to track marine invertebrates in Moreton Bay. This has allowed me to meet some incredible people who I’ve learned so much from.

The Griffith Honours College

Being invited to join the Griffith Honours College (soon to be called the Griffith Student Academy of Excellence) allowed me to use its mentoring program, which has helped me tremendously. This allowed me to meet up with a mentor of my choice on a regular basis to learn from and gain experience from them.

In my case, I chose a mentor who was really involved in the specific fields I was interested in – coastal ecology and marine management. Eventually, I applied for a research bursary (also from the Honours College) that allowed me to help in one of my mentor’s ongoing research projects. This got me out on a boat in the middle of Moreton Bay to map different underwater habitats using underwater video surveys – which taught me quite a bit about the kind of fieldwork and science that goes into policymaking. That probably remains one of my favorite Griffith experiences to date. Through my mentor, I’ve also met quite a bit of people – including some of his PhD students who I’ve also been able to help out in the field.

Another interesting experience I had with the Honours College was the opportunity to go to Thailand to attend the 2022 Green Summit hosted by Humanitarian Affairs Asia. In this case, I honestly did not pay attention to the announcement when it was first posted, as I thought it was somewhat unfeasible and beyond me. However, I got a call from our then-director one morning asking if I wanted to go, and that she thought I was a perfect fit. It was a trip that would be subsidized by Griffith, and it would allow me to meet with environmentalists from different disciplines around the world. She told me to think about it and to give her a call, but not to wait too long as she would look for someone else to go. And that was it – I called 10 minutes back saying that I would go as she had changed my mind and I decided to grab the opportunity.

I guess sometimes you have to go after the opportunities, but other times, the chances will come after you – and in both cases, they’re often worth pursuing.

Trying to make a name for myself

I remember attending one of those employability workshops at the start of university, and the importance of building a personal brand was made abundantly clear. In my case, I knew I wanted to be known as someone who was keen to learn and above all, reliable. That I could be counted on to show up when I said I would, and that I would do what I could to the best of my ability. Throughout the opportunities I’ve had, this mantra has always been at the back of my mind – and I hope I’m doing it right!

Part of grabbing volunteer opportunities is not just learning for yourself; it’s also about putting your name and identity out there for people to see. As one of my mentors said, you want to be at the top of the list when someone thinks of people they can work with for an opportunity. Marine science opportunities are honestly a bit hard to come by – I sometimes go through periods of time when I wonder if I’m doing enough to learn and gain experience. But we do what we can with what we have – and then we take the chances we get.

All the best for your own volunteering journey!


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