I heard about Society for Neuroscience (SfN) for the first time seven years ago. It was during a smaller conference I attended where everybody was talking…
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us – postgraduates-early career researchers (PGRs-ECRs) and many other groups as well – had to shift from working on-site to exclusively working from home. This shift freed up commuting time and meant new possibilities to work with other things besides the main work.
In my case, this meant more opportunities for volunteering to support our community and doing part-time works to save additional expenses when doing PhD research in the UK. Here, I hope I can share some optimism of volunteers or part-time work during and after the pandemic focusing on three key themes: Prioritise your work values, Enhance digital capabilities, and Reflect and develop your skills.
Prioritise your work values
When doing my PhD research in the UK, I have also been working part-time in different positions, including as a healthcare assistant, telephone interpreter (in medical, social, legal, or other areas from Vietnamese to English and vice sera), residence tutor, teaching assistant, and researcher academy facilitator.
I have also volunteered as a pharmacy postgraduate representative and engineering mentor (Open-source Assistive Devices (OPAD) group) at the University of Nottingham, as a library language teacher and Salvation Army connected mentor in Nottinghamshire, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are different ways to help you understand your work values and one of the approaches is the so-called eight career anchors defined by Schein and Van Maanen. According to their research, in order to identify your critical principles, you can rank them from the most to the least important factors whenever you choose to do certain tasks.
Because I love doing new experiments, motivating the younger generation and supporting vulnerable groups, this helpful advice reconfirmed my top five important career goals in the following order (as 1 is the most important, and 5 is the least important):
1) Service/dedication to a cause: People feel motivated when serving others and making a contribution to society;
2) Security/stability: People dislike risk and enjoy identifying with an organisation because it makes them feel safe and secure;
3) Technical expertise: People have a high level of specialism in a particular area and would not want to move into a management position;
4) Lifestyle: People who are keen to achieve a good work-life balance;
5) Managerial: People are generalists and like to lead and move around into different areas of work.
Enhance digital capabilities
You can understand your work values before, during, or after choosing certain types of part-time jobs or volunteer work. More importantly, when recognising your work values, it will be more beneficial when you utilise different digital resources and tools to help reach your career targets, particularly when people need to work from home.
Although there are different useful digital resources, you should be ready and prepare for key things such as digital learning activities, digital skills for work, and digital wellbeing.
For digital learning activities, you can try 12 free online study tools. For example, you can explore Quizlet to practice with the tests or matching games, or use Hippocampus to enhance visual learning when approaching new terminologies or interesting topics.
You can strengthen your digital skills for work with several useful tips such as “Curating content to show expertise”, “Get active on Linkedln”, “Talk to an expert”, and “A professional presence on the web”.
For example, we shouldn’t wait until we need further information or additional supports to get connected via LinkedIn. As a result of applying those tips, I received more valuable connections which has broadened my academic and industrial network.
Additionally, Jisc discovery tool has been recommended as a good summary of digital capabilities for individual development, which is beneficial for improving your digital wellbeing. It is an informative and practical approach for learners to expand their strengths and improve their weaknesses by targeting specific topics along with their own confidence levels.
Thanks to this tool, I noticed that our “personal brand” can be easily recognized online and/or offline when we provide more consistent information when updating our profiles in official organisation/personal website and other social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
Reflect and develop your skills
To maintain good physical and mental health when working and/or socialising online or offline, it is important to develop a habit of keeping virtual track of your progression – no matter how small or big this progress is to your work career.
For example, self-reflection of your digital well-being can be effectively learned and applied from internal and external courses or platforms such as “Social Media Dos and Don’ts During a Job Search” or “COVID-19: Student Volunteer” module (from the University of Nottingham).
They offer practical materials or tools for your self-refection and self-development, which helped me to remind myself of what I want, need, and have to do to fulfill my life so I can balance work and social life.
For example, I have been a Healthcare Assistant to help reduce the shortage of NHS staffs, a Residence Tutor to maintain mental health for those who are self-isolated in the University Accommodation, and Medical-Social Interpreter to support my Vietnamese community for their appointments in the hospitals, clinics, schools, etc.
As can be seen, those experiences were invaluable to follow my pursuit of a great researcher and lecturer in pharmaceutical sciences in the future.
For example, I could have a comprehensive understanding of real-time systems (like being in the field) of Healthcare or NHS, the Interpreting Services or Community-centred projects, the Education or University Management. I also could fulfil my passion in supporting different vulnerable groups and motivating a range of people with diverse backgrounds.
Hence, despite facing a high level of infection risks due to COVID-19, we can still be more motivated and skillful when doing and sharing additional things for supporting our community to recover after this challenging time. All of us can help others under hard circumtances that the pandemic have shown to be for many people by giving of our time and the skills.
Me continuing doing experiments during and after Covid-19 pandemic
Finally, I hope sharing my experiences can be relevant to other PGRs-ECRs that also want to make the most of their time and at the same time help others to find suitable part-time or volunteer jobs as well as support the community, especially in this moment when the world hopefully may be leaving the COVID-19 pandemic somewhat behind them but that has been replaced with feelings of worry and hopelessness because of the new reality of war in Europe.
If you love to inspire other people, as well as gaining practical skills and doing your scientific research, why not participate in doing volunteers or taking part-time jobs? I believe those experiences will be beneficial for your independence & multi-tasking skills to launch or boost your own research projects in the future.
Featured image is a private photo of University campus in Nottinghamshire, UK and belongs to the author.