This GradHacker post is a Guest Post by Kathryn Young. Kat is graduating this summer with an M.A. in Anthropology and Museums Studies at the University of Denver. Check her out:,, or @ryn_young.

I know what you are going to say: “I’m way too busy to do anything but study, go to class, and barely reach the basic needs for survival…let alone volunteer!” Well, if there was one thing that I learned while I was a graduate student, it would be that my experiences working and volunteering outside of the classroom were invaluable to me, and that I continue to reap the benefits as a result of the connections I’ve made.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at some snapshots from these experiences and see what happened later down the line:

1) First week of classes, first year: I contacted the head of the anthropology museum at my university and asked to volunteer. I started out slow, only giving two hours of my time each week. I gradually became familiar with the staff and proved that I was worthy. Most importantly, I stuck to my word and continued to volunteer regularly every week. One year later, when I was granted work-study, I was given immediate placement at that same museum because I had already established my credibility. Instead of working somewhere completely unrelated to my professional and academic interests (for example, the Registrar’s Office) I was able to gain experience and earn money.

2) Summer, second year: I saw a posting about part-time positions with the University Writing Center. I thought to myself, “Hey, I’m a good writer…I like talking with people…why don’t I apply?!” So I did. I worked at the Center for a year and I gained numerous contacts around the university, worked with students, and improved my own writing during the process. Six months later, my supervisor asked if I had any interest TA-ing for an ESL writing class in “Rhetoricand Academic Writing.” If it had been one year before, I would have had no experience or confidence to TA for such a class; however, after working at the Center, I felt great about it and accepted the position. This was an excellent experience as I learned more about teachingoutside my field in a diverse environment.

3) Spring of second year: My supervisor at the museum mentioned that the University library was looking for a student to put up an exhibition (another example of a connection from #1) and said that she would recommend me if I was interested. I was, so I started doing background research and contacted my former adjunct teacher who worked at a nearby institution to see if I couldstop by their library to conduct some research. She helped me out, and in reaching out to her I reinforced my name and my work. Little did I know that one year later I would be interested in a paid internship with that same institution. I now work there as an intern and don’t doubt that inreaching out a year earlier I was some how paving the way to where I am now.

So, Grads, what I’m saying is: take that step outside the classroom now and you can start making connections for you professional and academic life later. Not to mention, you are helping others.

Here are a few tips to help you along the way:

1) Follow your interests with a passion and don’t let others discourage you

2) Make a little effort to take that next step.

3) Be reliable, honest, and communicate openly about what you can do (and cannot do); people respect this and it will pay off in the end.

4) Don’t spread yourself too thin. Knowing when your efforts and involvement are too much is just as important as making the effort in the first place.

What about you? Share your fortuitous, or not so fortuitous, stories below in the comments section!

[Image by Google Images user and used under Creative Commons License]

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6 Responses to Get Involved, Stay Involved: Volunteering

  1. I like your advice. I think that volunteering with different departments can also keep us grounded in the real world.

    It is also a good way to make connections with your local community as well. Getting outside that insular academic bubble will ease the transition into “the real world”

  2. Eric says:

    I started volunteering on an archaeological excavation 5 years ago. This year I’m returning as a senior staff member with compensation. Beyond the money, I’ve had the opportunity to present at conferences and work on publications. My peers that mocked my volunteering years ago are now wondering why I’m so productive!

    I’ll also add that volunteering is an awesome way to add those extra feathers in your cap that may set you apart from other candidates down the road. I know people volunteering in athletic academic counseling, honors education, and digital humanities settings. All of these are growing fields, but nobody leaves grad school with a certificate in athletic academic counseling. The best way to build that credential is to get out there and do it!

  3. Katy Meyers says:

    Volunteering at University of Edinburgh made me feel more connected with the broader community and helped me hone my skills in human and animal skeletal identification. I think its important to give back, even if our time is lacking.

    Great post and advice Kat!

  4. cory.owen says:

    This is great advice and should be used even in professional settings. The last two jobs I received were due to the volunteer work I did during conferences. By bosses were able to see my work ethic well before they had a position open, but kept me in mind for future opportunities.

  5. Kat Young says:

    Thanks for your comments, everyone! I’m so impressed with the GradHacker site (I really wish it had been available when I was just starting grad school). Kudos to all of you. I really enjoyed working on this post and hope to work on another after my thesis defense in two weeks!

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