======= Date Modified 11 May 2011 20:40:07 =======

I'm almost 9 months into my PhD and even though I'm a bit behind I have started to think that I should do more outside University in the evenings and weekends. The obvious things would be to go out with friends, go to the gym, take up a hobby etc., but whilst I want to do all of those things I've been through a lot in my life and want to feel like I'm giving back. Most of my jobs have been community focused and doing a pure science PhD has felt so different from what I'm used to. I made the decision today that I want to volunteer to help people, particularly those with mental health issues or from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I'm kind of torn between volunteering at a homeless shelter, mentoring for a support group or working for the Sams. Becoming a Samaritan looks really hard and requires night shifts, I don't know if I'd find it emotionally draining whilst also writing a PhD. The other things might be more realistic in the short term. I don't know. Has anyone done any volunteering whilst on their doctorate, especially in a completely different field to your research? Did you find it helpful, or did it get in the way of your studying? I don't want to commit to a project then find I have to quit.

I'd really love some perspectives on this...


Hi Cornflower

I volunteered to record audio books for the blind when my masters starting going pear-shaped! I really enjoyed the experience although I wasn't struck on their choice of books. I haven't done it during my PhD as I felt I didn't have the time as it was quite time-intensive. I have recently signed up to become a tutor with an adult literacy service near me. I am really looking forward to it. A Samaritan, would I imagine be very emotionally draining and I don't know whether I would be able for it. I am coming to the end of my write up and it is a good idea to have something which reminds you that there is more to life than this darn PhD!

Good luck with whatever you decide


I volunteer half a day a week for a local charity doing administration. Whilst its not really relevant to my PhD, I like it because its always busy and it takes my mind off my PhD for a few hours a week and lets me accomplish other things! Sometimes, if I've had an unproductive week, just going and doing simple tasks there can make me feel a bit better!

The only thing I struggle with is committing to the charity at the same time each week - because my diary is so hectic, it can change quickly if I need to be at uni for meetings, meet with students, attend courses etc. The charity I work for is pretty good and quite flexible but I do feel bad if I have to change the day/time at the last minute!

If its something you can fit into your schedule (you said you're a bit behind?) then volunteering is always good and you could always try a few different volunteer jobs before deciding which one is for you. Good luck! :-)

Avatar for Batfink27

I volunteer too, in a slightly different way - I'm the Chair of my local Fairtrade Town group (actually, I set the group up when I was working as a community development worker before my PhD, and decided to continue as a volunteer when I left that job to start my PhD). I find it great - it gives me a connection with my local community and means I spend time with people who aren't connected to the university and work on things not connected to (and completely different from) my PhD. Otherwise the only connections I would have with people would be at university and in the pub with my mates, and those two things don't feel like a rounded view of society to me! I didn't want to feel cut off while I did my PhD.

I'd agree that the regular commitment is the important bit. Sometimes I resent all the work involved, if I have to rush from doing PhD work to doing something for the group, but I don't regret being a volunteer. And having those regular commitments gives me a structure to my time that isn't just about the PhD, so I feel much more rounded that way.


Thanks everyone. Batfink it's that community connection and feeling of being 'part' of what's really happening which I want to get back. I also did community development type project work before my PhD and have been feeling enormously disconnected. Academia has a particular way of working which is very different to a grass-roots community project. Since many academics have just never worked outside of research aside from casual work, it's so easy to lose touch with a different kind of work ethic. I also really, really want to give back and to help people, it feels so important to me. I think that's why I feel torn about what to do -- front-line service with the Sams or something more community and project based with an adult support group or a shelter. I want to stay away from the exact field I used to work in (community environmentalism) because I'd want to get involved with everything and think that it would too quickly take over from my PhD.

Yes (sorry I can't remember who asked), I'm behind right now -- poor time management, mainly. I've had a lot of problems and have a lot to do. I'm going to give the issue until at least the end of May or perhaps June before I definitely commit to anything. That way I know how much time I'll have spare whilst also getting work done, which, to be honest, worries me a lot as I've got so much to do. At the same time if I try and focus on research 24/7 I am going to burn out really quickly.

Do any of you find your volunteering takes more time than you agreed? So if you say 'one evening a week' that soon becomes one afternoon, one evening and a follow-up meeting on Saturday morning? I remember that kind of thing from my old volunteering, but then, I have poor time management skills (that's only been a problem since starting my PhD).


======= Date Modified 03 Oct 2011 11:05:23 =======
Hi there,
It sounds like you have previously done a lot of fantastic community / volunteering work in the past and would be great at it again. Although I can not suggest any imediate projects for you to get involved in, have you thought about putting all your fantastic experiences to good use after you finish university, or in one of the long summer breaks?

You may not have thought of this before, but how about going on a months traveling to volunteer abroad? take a look at www.vounteer-advisor.co.uk and please let me know what you think. From what you have mentioned, although I doubt you can do this right away, it sounds like it could be right up your street and be very satisfying for you, as well as a great help to those you will be volunteering for. Better still if you have any friends who might be interested then even better. I look forward to knowing your thoughts and feel free to send me a PM if you like.