Steven Sinclair is our Year of Young People 2018 Graduate Placement. He is working on engaging young people with nature, and is involved with National Nature Reserve communications. He tells us about his volunteering experience.
Tell us a bit about your volunteering experience?
I graduated in June 2011 from my undergraduate degree in Geography at the University of Dundee. Two months before graduating, I took on a voluntary position with Tayside Biodiversity Partnership (TBP), based in Perth. I was responsible for researching and producing a biodiversity education guide for primary school teaching. I very quickly recognised the merit of bringing many fragmented resources together, and expanded the audience to include nursery, secondary, and further education, as well as businesses and parents. The position was intended to last one month – it lasted three years!
Three years later I took on a voluntary position with SAGE Publications, setting up and managing the Twitter feed for The Holocene academic journal. I was responsible for sourcing, creating and sharing content about climate change research, and wider geoscience subjects. I monitored digital engagement, and provided reports for the Annual Board Meeting. The Twitter page (@HoloceneJ) audience included academic institutions, environmental/research organisations, teachers, university and PhD students and those with a passion for the environment. That position lasted for one year and seven months.
What inspired you to pursue volunteering?
I studied Geography at university – an incredibly broad subject. Due to a downturn in the economy at the time I graduated, jobs were limited and very competitive. With next to no relevant work experience, I realised securing a job would be very difficult.
So I pursued voluntary positions shortly before I graduated as a way of gaining relevant environmental sector experience and to bulk out the work experience on my CV. The volunteering was also very useful for networking and developing a base of contacts within various organisations.
What skills have you gained from volunteering?
TBP was fantastic – my co-ordinator recognised my ability for self-management and organisation and trusted me to work independently. I had the opportunity to further hone my editorial and research skills gained during my studies, I attended formal Working Group progress meetings, and liaised with over 50 environmental organisations about educational resources.
My position with SAGE Publications was a direct result of a new-found interest in social media engagement, which I explored during my Master’s thesis. That experience was extremely beneficial in practically applying what I had learnt, and ensuring continuity, from my education into relevant work experience. I gained an insight into researching and creating concise yet creative digital content, editing and scheduling material, and monitoring uptake.
What do you consider the most enjoyable aspect of volunteering to be?
Both opportunities were huge parts of my life at the time – I spent between 1-2 hours a day on these projects at times. The experience gave me a foundation in the environmental sector, and helped to steer my career. I found it both exhilarating and satisfying to devote time to pursuing work experience relevant to my education and to my future career. Now, I enjoy the opportunities to apply the skills and experience I gained to my current role with SNH.
How have your career and life aspirations been influenced by the volunteering you’ve done?
My volunteering has strongly reinforced my passion, and in some respects, a responsibility to inspire and educate others about the natural world and related key issues. I have a massive interest in environmental education, creative arts and communications – I am steering my career in those directions.
After six years, I finally secured work in the environmental sector – my voluntary pursuits definitely helped me get there. I now offer my skills and experience to SNH to help promote the work we do.
As a result of volunteering, what do you see your next steps being?
As part of my placement, I’ve already started developing interview skills, co-ordinating blogs and learning about videography (film capture and editing). My project looks at new ways of working with young people for, and in, nature. I’m also continuing to develop my social media communications within a formal organisation setting, and practice nature photography in my free time. The ultimate intention is to inspire people to engage with, enjoy, and care for nature. I will take these skills and the experience to my next role whether with SNH, or another environmental organisation.
Do you have any advice for anyone hoping to volunteer?
While you can undertake volunteering at any time of your life, in hindsight, my career may have benefitted had I pursued opportunities a little earlier, particularly during my first and second years of university education where you have more free time, and there is less pressure on your academic achievement.
My advice to anyone would be to determine the time you have to offer, what will benefit your career aspirations and get involved as soon as possible – the experience is invaluable, and greatly contributes to both future job applications and life experience. It can be a few hours, or a day a week. Write, call or visit an organisation and ask about potential opportunities. The information is available online, or you can call, email or even visit a potential employer – it’s always good experience to communicate with potential employers: it shows you’re enthusiastic, and it gives you an opportunity to build your communication skills.