Professional Development: Volunteering

Materials World magazine
5 Mar 2013

You might think of voluntary work as something only those at the start
of their career should be interested in, but the range of opportunities
available make it a great option at any point in your career. Rachel
Lawler considers how volunteering could benefit you. 

Volunteering can be a rewarding experience at any stage in your career. Completing a placement or committing to a part-time role can open up lots of new opportunities and introduce you to a completely different circle of contacts. If you’re still looking to get your foot on the ladder or are ready for a new challenge alongside your current work, voluntary work can be a great way of furthering your career and helping a good cause.  

At the start of your career 

Whether you are studying or have recently graduated, if you’re still at an early point in your career you’ve probably already thought about undertaking some work experience or a placement. This is a great idea for a number of reasons. If you’re still struggling to decide which area of materials science you’d like to study further or aren’t sure what type of career you’d like, completing an industrial placement is a great way to narrow down your options. Even if you don’t find your dream job, you’ve still added some experience to your CV that may come in handy when applying for a role that you really want.  

Don’t pass up volunteering opportunities just because you already know which area you’re looking to work in, though. Voluntary work experience demonstrates a passion for your chosen field and willingness to work. Completing an internship or placement at a firm that hires graduates is a great way of getting to know a company, and gives you a chance to show off your skills in a way that simply applying for a job won’t. If you’ve made enough of an impression you may well find yourself with a job offer at the end of your placement, or at the very least being the first to know when a vacancy does arise.  

Once you’ve graduated and are busy attending interviews and completing aptitude tests, many people are tempted to accept that looking for work is a full time job in itself. While job applications can be a lengthy process, taking up a voluntary position during your job search can be a good option at this time. It’ll prevent you from having the dreaded gap on your CV and helps you stay focused and positive through what is often a difficult time.

Later on in your career 

Even later on in your career, with a range of experience under your belt, voluntary work can still be a valuable experience. Some voluntary positions will give you the opportunity to learn new skills that you may not have had a chance to develop at work.  

For example, the right organisation will give volunteers a chance to manage a team or organise important events. Speak to those in charge of your local society and see if there are any available roles or any activities you could help with. Or why not contact your local branch of the British Science Association, where there are often vacancies for committee members. Taking on extra responsibilities such as these in your spare time will give you some great experience for when you’re ready to take the next step in your career, and is a great way to make some useful contacts.  

If you’re more focused on giving something back through a volunteering scheme, why not consider a part-time mentoring role? There are lots of schemes running in local areas looking for professionals willing to mentor young scientists. Try contacting your local university and see if there are any roles available. Employers may also arrange mentorship for young employees, so it might be worth speaking to the HR Department at your company.  

If you’re not ready to make a long-term commitment or don’t have enough free time for one of these schemes, you may still consider taking part in an ambassadors programme. Lots of local and national initiatives welcome professionals from STEM careers to volunteer for events and talks or even just to be the willing subject of a profile or interview. Scientists and engineers at any stage of their career are usually welcomed to take part, so you only really need to be passionate about your profession. Encouraging a younger generation to take up an interest in your area of expertise can be a really rewarding experience. You’ll also demonstrate your love for what you do. Programmes such as Future Morph, WISE and STEMNET are just a few examples of schemes looking for scientists to inspire young people to take an interest in the topic.  

  • Do you do any voluntary work at all? Or have you previously completed a placement or undertaken a mentoring role? Contact