Volunteer opportunities for psychology students are plentiful, but it pays to know how to go about looking for them. Some opportunities will stand out in your favor on your permanent record, while less reputable gigs won’t do anything for you, contributing very little by way of valuable skills and experience. Worse still, they can tarnish your reputation, and function against future job prospects working out in your favor. Simultaneously, poor presentation strategies can cost you some otherwise beneficial opportunities.
By entering into a volunteer effort well-informed, you will substantially improve your chances of tracking down constructive openings. Volunteering your services is an absolutely worthwhile effort, provided it is carried out properly. Here are five ways to volunteer while pursuing a degree in psychology.
Avoid Using Form Letters
As is the case with a cover level, or a grant proposal, you need to tailor your inquiries to the individual you are trying to reach. One of the best avenues for volunteering your services as a psychology student is that of the research assistant. If you intend to secure such a position, you need to show each of the individuals you are contacting that you are familiar with, and are interested in, their particular areas of expertise. You need to be familiar with the projects they currently have underway.
Practice Personal Restraint
In their enthusiasm, many aspiring student volunteers make a number of common, easily avoidable mistakes. One such mistake is to bombard multiple instructors with multiple queries each, with each individual query tailored to one of the included instructors. A simple mistake with sending an email can jeopardize your chances of landing a position. Though it seems counter-intuitive, limit the number of queries you send out per day, and be careful to focus on one opportunity at a time.
Don’t Be Afraid to Cross Institutional Boundaries
Many people believe that pursuing a volunteer position as a laboratory or research assistant means staying within the institution which you’re personally attending. In fact, you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to the world at large. By pursuing some opportunities with individuals employed at other institutions, you will broaden your research horizons — and establish the beginnings of your own professional network.
Always Contact Your Target Individuals Directly
When a particular researcher or academic offers specific instructions on how to reach them, especially with regard to the pursuit of volunteer opportunities, take care to follow them to the letter. Otherwise, as a general rule, reach out directly to those individuals with whom you are interested in volunteering. Do not approach them through departmental or otherwise indirect channels; personal contact is an important part of demonstrating your interest.
Use Your Volunteer Experience to Your Advantage
Whatever the nature of your volunteer position, don’t be afraid to use it as an opportunity for personal growth — particularly if it isn’t the experience you had hoped for. You don’t necessarily know whether or not you want to pursue a particular subject or specialty in-depth until you’ve sampled it; volunteer work may take options off the table for you, before you’ve put so much time and energy into them as to have that constitute a severe professional loss. Use your opportunities to narrow your options and refine your interests, instead of feeling individually beholden to each and every one of them.
Further Information is Available
There’s a lot to be said on the subject of improving your portfolio through volunteer work while pursuing a degree in psychology. Studies show that volunteering one’s services improves overall academic performance by bolstering time management skills. For more information and direct assistance, consider speaking to your school’s guidance department.