Psychology Volunteer Experience- It all counts!
One important thing I have learnt during my undergrad years in Psychology is that the thing that makes you stand out from the rest is your experience. Now experience doesn’t necessarily mean work experience or even just paid jobs, it includes any situation where you’ve had contact with others and how you handled the situation.
When I first applied to college and had a one on one chat with the Vice Principal, he repeatedly asked of my extracurricular activities. I told him I was involved in sports and part of the math team, etc. Clearly not satisfactory enough for him, he asked outright, if I was involved in any charities and events held in school. Then I clicked on! He wanted to know if I did anything outside of academics willingly and to help others. Explaining my involvement in bake sales and fundraisers, I seemed to have impressed him. At the end of the ‘interview’ he explained that the importance of such extracurricular tasks was taken as high priority when applying for University and jobs. “It looks good on your CV”.
Not understanding the value of voluntary work at this point, I only got involved in what my college was providing. Setting up stalls for Breast Cancer Awareness, sticking up posters for Red Nose Day, organising events for wellbeing week and showing new comers around on open day events. When it came to the end of my college years and I was applying for psychology, my research into the subject area showed me that voluntary work which required any sort of contact with other people was a bonus and looked good on the CV. Speaking to career advisors and lots of internet research told me I should look into clinical settings to gain psychology volunteer experience.
I was delighted to know that my year abroad counted towards voluntary work. I volunteered at a hospital as an assistant to a doctor who not only saw to patients but carried out tests and other procedures as well. I was required to shadow him for a few weeks and getting used to the idea of being in such an environment. Since I did not have any fixed hours to work, I volunteered whenever I was free to do so. Over time, I was allowed to actually be involved in the consultations with patients and even told to explain test procedures to patients prior to the test. It became my job to ensure the patient was fully informed of what was to happen and to answer any questions they may have and alleviate any worries. I made a ton of friends during my time there and the experience helped me greatly in terms of communication, responsibility, patience and confidence.
After college, I applied for local, minor jobs some of which were paid, just to earn the pocket money. At this point, I had managed to get in touch with a third year student in my chosen university and hassled her to no end of all the do’s and don’ts of the course. She explained that whilst writing my personal statement and even my CV, explain what I learnt from each experience, whether it be a paid job or voluntary. Every experience had its own lesson to be learnt, it was all a matter of finding what that lesson was. I recalled learning how to deal with difficult customers as a Sales Advisor, I learnt the importance of time keeping and responsibility as an assistant therapist and I learnt how to adapt to a different environment working at a takeaway.
My most recent Voluntary work was at my local GP practice where I handle most of the administration work as well as reception work when required of me. I realised that skills that psychology students are required to have, I had learnt during my time here. Privacy and confidentiality and how important it is for both the patient and their doctor. Adapting to the needs of each patient especially in terms of language, thank god I’m bilingual! Working in a team and being responsible with delegating and being delegated to. Adapting to the needs of the environment, quickly and efficiently, depending what the situation requires of you. Along with the above, I made the most amazing friends and became friendly with so many patients.
It isn’t necessary that you set out particularly for one thing and end up not getting it. It is definitely common knowledge that psychology is a competitive course, everyone wants in. Students are looking for experience in every nook and cranny they can find. Hospitals and clinics have more volunteers than they have spaces but it is not only these places that provide the skills. Especially with places like SLV opening up and providing places, opportunities for volunteering are there, they just need to be found.
If Psychology is a three year course, don’t be afraid to change your mind a million times in the first two. Even after choosing the specific options for my third year, I realised that maybe this isn’t what I want to do. But support from my tutors and colleagues helped me realise that there were options within my chosen options. It’s not the end of the world.
My advice for psychology students, get involved in anything and everything because there is always something to learn from it that will ‘look good on you CV’. My quote of the week which I heard from one of my lecturers and which hasn’t left my head since is “If you want to become something, act as if you already are it”.