Volunteering to Enhance Your Life and Career

I belong to a Facebook group called Wildlife Science Career Network where people who work in wildlife or conservation give online advice to newbies – like me. New graduates from conservation, wildlife, or environmental programs post often, and the one question I see the most begins with, “Help! Nobody will hire me. I have no experience. What can I do?” Guess what the most common answer is!

Volunteer. Volunteer. Volunteer.

New grads typically do not like this answer and reply, “I don’t have time”, or “Volunteering is for the privileged, I can’t work for free.”

I’m graduating this April with my Science degree. I do not want to be in the no-experience-boat, and I don’t want you to be either! To avoid the “no experience” dilemma, I will share with you what I know about volunteering and how it is affordable, does not take up a lot of time, and is not just for the privileged.

In the past, I have worked for agencies who like their volunteers to work up to three 4-hour shifts per week. I did this for one summer at Salthaven Wildlife Rehab. I got to feed baby birds with tweezers, baby squirrels with a syringe, and I got to interact with snakes, some of my favourite animals! On top of that, I have gained professional relationships that could provide a future reference. But that time commitment may not be possible for everyone, especially if you have a part-time job, full-time school, and family demands. However, if this sounds amazing to you, I encourage you to check it out

Thankfully, not all agencies need this amount of time from you. For example, another one that I worked for only wanted 2 hours per week, and they were on Western University’s campus. Since I was a student there, it was easy to do! Many profs would love you to volunteer, and some may only need you for a few hours per week. I highly recommend reaching out to any profs or TAs you know. You may be surprised with how easy it is to find a volunteer position that fits with your other life commitments.

Bug Day (below) was a volunteer job for me and it’s only 4 hours once a year. Talk about an easy time commitment! And I get to play with bugs! Volunteering in such a way will add to one’s network in the industry and may lead to future opportunities.

Photo credit: Dr. Nina Zitani on Twitter

Here is another easy volunteer evening out - Eco Hikes with Thames Valley Trail Association and the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. My daughter and I spent one evening picking native grass seed and throwing it all over a big patch of soil with many other volunteers.

Photo credit: Wendy Boucher

Here is the link to that hike: https://www.londonenvironment.net/come_hike_walk_with_us_july2. You can be a member of the Come Hike and Walk With Us group on the Meet Up app to get notified about when future Eco Hikes happen.

Still think you don’t have time? The Digital Information World website highlights a report by GWI, showing that we spend an average of 21 hours per week scrolling on social media. Any place I have volunteered never asked for more than 20 hours per month. Perhaps doing 2 hours per week would seem totally doable if we just abandoned our phones for a little bit each day.

Or, if you want, you can incorporate your phone into your volunteer work! Yes, there are actually volunteer activities you can do while using your phone. Check out this citizen science opportunity with Birds Canada. Regular non-scientist people are often called on to do Citizen Science. If you spend some time searching online, you may find the perfect CitSci job that you can do in the field and from your favourite electronic device! This owl survey is next on my list and takes place every April.

Like blogging? TTLT gladly accepts blogs on conservation or nature, and I am doing this right now sitting on my sofa with a coffee. How easy is that!? Check out their website for more info. I call this free-lance blogging. Here is an excerpt from a blog I did on canoe camping.

Photo credit: Canadian Destinations Mag

I was not paid for this or many other articles I wrote for this online mag. It wasn’t like work, though, because I love to write and love to camp even more! Many blog hosts really enjoy guest blogs; see what you can find out online and offer to submit a blog of your own. This can go on your CV and add to your volunteer experience.

I have volunteered my entire life and I am a mature student, so my entire life has been a long time! I have always made the time to give back to my community. And for me, the money eventually came – I just needed to be patient. If you are a new grad and think you can’t afford to give away your time for free, then remember this:

Do what you love, and the money will follow.

Volunteering your time now will be noticed. Those who notice it will either help you find a job, give you an excellent reference, or hire you. At the very least, you’ll get that valuable experience so YOU will be the person on the Wildlife Science Career Network Facebook group telling people:

Volunteer. Volunteer. Volunteer.

All the best finding volunteer work! If you still can’t decide, try this link to start - https://www.thamestalbotlandtrust.ca/volunteer. Yes, I have applied to volunteer with the TTLT, too :)