Jump to content

Doing "other stuff" aka outreach


Recommended Posts

So I'm nearing the end of my first year, and I'm trying to determine whether I had a good balance of 'other stuff' such as judging science fairs, presenting at elementary schools, helping with outreach in the dept., etc. I don't want to completely overextend myself as I still have classes and research to do, but I also want to help out.  By the way, this entire thought process started while I was answering a question about service to the department on a department scholarship application. 


So how much 'other stuff' do you guys do?  And what sort of things do you tend to volunteer your time for?  What things do you think are a complete waste of time? 

Any other comments about volunteering and outreach?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Far more than my advisor would like. I think he'd prefer that I did nothing other than sit in the lab. 


Personally, I look at it as preparing for a faculty position- I do departmental/university service (committees, etc) outreach to the community (science fairs, but also projects with specific local schools) and teaching in addition to research. 


It can definitely be easy to overextend yourself, and it will probably add to your time to degree, but it's all stuff I've enjoyed and found worthwhile. I've also got a ton of references from administrators and other parts of the University I never would have had otherwise. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I spend more time on "other stuff" than the typical graduate student. This year, I took on a leadership position in my student government and that took much more time than my normal "other stuff" time. Currently, I think I spend around 20-25 hours per month** with my student government. The work has been very fun and very rewarding but I don't think it's sustainable to keep this up along with meeting my own career goals and having "down time" with my friends and family.


Normally, I volunteer for one-off events that interest me. For example, I work with my school's International Student Orientation. This month, I am also volunteering at our International Food Fair and I'm organizing some food from Canada to be given out :) These things take maybe 10 hours of my time in total and they happen once a year. This is the kind of volunteering I like to do best, because the time commitment is over in a few weeks and I'm not making decisions on how my time is spent too far in advance that I might accidentally overload myself later. I also do some outreach like this too--when an opportunity comes up and if it fits my interests and my schedule, I volunteer for it. 


However, I also like to have at least one ongoing volunteering event. During undergrad, I volunteered with a youth group (the same group I was in as a teenager). During my MSc, I volunteered with my TA labour union. And during my PhD, I've been part of my student government. All of these are in non "leadership" role (i.e. executive or "Steering" positions), except for my current position this year. It's very manageable to be in a non-executive position throughout the year and I like doing this because 1) it keeps me in the loop with what's happening on campus outside of my department and 2) there are issues I care about and being involved allows me to do something about it. I think in a typical year, (i.e. other than this past year), I'd want to spend an average of 10 hours per month on "service".**


Personally, I think service (especially work that is outreach related or helps improved our community, such as student government) is really important. I write about this on my PhD applications. Maybe this resulted in rejections at some places but if so, I'm not really upset since I don't want to be in a place that is opposed to this. 


Overall, I am glad that I took my 3rd year (the lightest year in term of workload in my program) to be extra involved in my student community. 20 hours per month is a big commitment for me, but this was the year I had the time to do it and I'm glad I did so! 


I try to make sure to be a little "selfish" in choosing volunteering opportunities. I choose things that meet one or more of these criteria:

1. Meets one of my interests (it has to be fun!!)

2. Allows me to help a group achieve something I'm passionate about (e.g. science fairs, outreach, student advocacy)

3. Allows me to learn something about academia (e.g. "unwritten rules", learn about what makes other groups on campus tick, what are their motivations etc.)

4. Allows me to advocate for myself (as a graduate student) (e.g. union representation, student government, etc.)


I've found that usually (but not always), the things that are a waste of time are organizations that are not connected with education, your school, your department or your field at all that just want students to be warm bodies at some event. Sometimes they are half-heartedly passed off as "outreach events" but they don't really care about outreach and just want random people from your school to be present so they look good. Luckily, I haven't encountered many of these, but that would be an example of something I wouldn't want to spend my time on!


(**Note: In all places where I write the # of hours, I mean hours taken out of the working day or, more commonly, during my evening/weekend free time. I don't count lunch hour meetings (since I don't work at that time anyways) but I do count time prepping and thinking about these meetings).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I probably spend closer to 5-10 hours per week on "service", broadly defined. It's a lot. I've been the head of our graduate student government for the past 3 years, and usually involved in half a dozen University level committees or taskforces. Definitely given me a very interesting insight into the inner workings of the University that's been quite helpful, career wise.


I've finally gotten all of my responsibilities handed off, and am definitely looking forward to a reduced load going into the summer.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use