Why you should do volunteering during your PhD

Rabia Turgut Kurt
26 Jun ’24

Is volunteering a new challenge for you, an opportunity to develop your skills, or a means of getting to know a new culture? No matter what it is, volunteering is a great way to achieve many goals. I have been volunteering for several years, and as a PhD student, I have seen the many benefits that come with it. Here are some reasons why I believe volunteering is beneficial during the PhD process.


As a PhD student, mastering skills outside of academia is essential for success. Volunteering provides an ideal platform to hone these skills. For example, volunteering will allow you to improve your public speaking and language skills, which are crucial in both academic and non-academic settings. You'll also have the opportunity to improve your leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills, which are essential for managing the complexities of a PhD. Teamwork and time management skills can be seamlessly transferred to PhD tasks, boosting confidence along the way. In addition, volunteering allows you to gain skills that may be directly relevant to your PhD, such as technology skills, social media skills, and project management. Thus, you should take the opportunity to develop both personally and professionally through volunteering.


Volunteering in connection with your PhD topic is a valuable way to gain practical insights and knowledge. Let's say you're pursuing a PhD in the field of climate change. By volunteering on various climate change projects, including ecosystem restoration, you could gain practical experience in this field. You might use this opportunity to discover your passion for educating others about climate change or gain insight into policy-making processes. This experience might steer your career path toward science or even a government role focused on climate change. Harnessing the power of volunteering might even lead to unexpected changes in your academic trajectory during your PhD studies.


The path to complete the PhD might be long and sometimes even exhausting. However, volunteering can help by creating the mental space needed to return refreshed and engaged to ensure success in your studies. It is instrumental in maintaining psychological wellbeing throughout the PhD and enhancing the overall enjoyment of the journey. For example, I spend a few hours a week tutoring students in their second language acquisitions. This activity allows me to switch off from the academic routine, recharge my mental batteries, and gain a new perspective.


Volunteering offers the opportunity to make new contacts and create valuable networks. As a PhD student, you can expand your social circles beyond the usual by interacting with other volunteers and staff in your volunteer placements, as well as interacting with the wider community. Building these connections is crucial during the PhD and benefits both your professional careers and your social contacts. And who knows? The people you meet while volunteering could one day serve as valuable references for your applications.


While PhD students have a variety of skills, such as problem-solving, effective communication, and the ability to work with diverse groups, it might be difficult to showcase these skills on a CV. However, volunteering might be an effective way to demonstrate your skills in these areas. Volunteering not only showcases your diverse skills, but also highlights your ability to work effectively with people from different backgrounds. For example, I have volunteered at a non-profit educational institute where I was responsible for workshop management. By coordinating volunteers and managing workshop logistics, I was able to demonstrate my leadership and problem-solving skills on my CV.


Volunteering challenges you! However, overcoming this challenge gives you the opportunity to tackle problems in your PhD project. Volunteering takes you out of your comfort zone and gives you the opportunity to meet new challenges, people with different lifestyles, and organizations with different perspectives and experiences. By finding a balance between learning something new and using your existing skills, you might use your skills to contribute to the community while developing yourself. This, in turn, will boost your confidence, stability, and the flexibility that new challenges and experiences bring both in and beyond academia.

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