I have recently been working with a company based at my university that produces an online educational resource for its community of some of the brightest 13-18 year olds across the globe. Working with such a fun and creative team has inspired me to write this blog about both giving back during the course of your PhD and taking advantage of the opportunities that are offered to you.
I don’t doubt that while you complete your PhD, you’ll hear about lots of things you can get involved with, some with the advantage of offering you payment and others just asking for a bit of help. It is so easy to become wrapped up in your own work and so focused on what you are doing that you end up interacting very little with the people around you and the wider university community. I would encourage you to step-out of your comfort zone and explore any opportunities you hear about that spike your interest.
The word ‘opportunities’ is rather general, so I’ll try and expand on what I mean by this in my own experience. If you have ever been a member of a university, you’ll know there are a whole range of societies you can join that cover almost any interest/hobby you could have so you could combine an interest with learning skills like how to organise and design events and manage budgets. There is also a wealth of volunteering opportunities both within universities and in the local area that allow you to meet new people and learn new skills. There are paid opportunities to supervise undergraduate students, invigilate, demonstrate, give campus tours and be student ambassadors. You can also get involved in teaching, mentoring and widening participation projects. These are just a few ideas off the top of my head.
I say ‘get involved’ as not only have I enjoyed some of the extra opportunities I have investigated further, but they have also enabled me to meet some great people and helped develop my own self-confidence and independence. It also helps once in a while to be involved in something separate from your PhD studies to keep things in perspective and give yourself a bit of a break!
I know some of you might be saying ‘but there aren’t enough hours in the day for that!’ which I can totally understand! I myself have still been in the lab nearly 12 hours after I started wondering why the hell it has taken so long for me to do what I set out to! Despite this, I would still say have a try at something new that works both ways for you i.e. you get something out of it and what you do or who you help is in a better position because of your decision to help out. You can also opt out, or reduce your commitment if it doesn’t work for you, I have found people are more understanding then you sometimes give them credit for! It is also important to realise that even if something you do isn’t directly related to your research, if it benefits you emotionally and/or helps you learn new skills, this can only make you a more dynamic and resourceful PhD student.
So my message for this blog is to seriously consider new opportunities before pressing that ‘delete’ button on your e-mail account!