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Blog – The Volunteer Spirit: Why I Became a Volunteer & What Came Next

By Iratxe Puebla

As for most of us, my life is already pretty packed with duties and commitments, I work full time, I am a mum, and I try to keep in as much contact as I can with family and friends, then there is also the household chores, bills and school activities to keep up with. With so many calls on my time already, you may wonder why would I choose to add volunteering to my list?

Paying it forward

I had been pondering about volunteering for a while before I got involved with CamAWISE. While I had always been somewhat amazed and flattered when others asked for my opinion in a professional setting, I had gotten to a place professionally where I felt I had perhaps accumulated enough experience (that sounds better than years, doesn’t it?) that what I had learned may perhaps be of some use to others. I had always been grateful to those who had acted as mentors and advisers for me in different roles and I thought it was time that I paid it forward. I was also interested in getting to know people beyond my usual circles, and joining a group as a volunteer was an opportunity to develop new contacts.

As an additional motivator, I had had the privilege to see first hand what a volunteer-led organization can achieve. Since 2012 I have been involved as a freelancer with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), an organization that promotes integrity in scholarly publications and which develops practical resources to support its member journals and publishers. COPE is run by a group of volunteer Trustees and Council members, it is a collegial group who supports their communities and each other, and over the years I have seen many professional ties and friendships develop among those volunteers.

Being part of CamAWISE

So I decided it was time to take the step and I joined the CamAWISE Steering Committee in May last year. After an initial chat with the Chair, I came to the first committee meeting with a mix of slight restlessness and excitement, the first of those feelings dissipated very quickly as I met a group of enthusiastic and talented women who made me feel welcome from the get go. I quickly settled into the CamAWISE Steering Committee schedule, the committee meets monthly and we discuss different aspects of the running of the association: ideas and preparations for upcoming events, activities for members and connections with the local community. While the committee meetings usually happen in person, since the lockdown measures started we moved meetings to take place online via Zoom.

Contributing to CamAWISE activities allowed me to gain confidence in myself, I was trusted to lead activities and I felt empowered to bring new ideas to the pool, so much so that I caught the bug and became Co-Chair last February. Since then I have been working with Raheela, our skilled co-Chair, and the committee members on some forward-looking planning for the association, we have reviewed the feedback from the survey we ran earlier this year and we completed a SWOT exercise, taking all the information into account we have now distilled the items into a plan for the coming year.

The journey one year on

Since joining CamAWISE I have made many connections in the local community which I would not have made through my usual professional and personal circles. The CamAWISE Steering Committee members have also been a fantastic source of support, they have a wealth of experience in organizing events, which has proved invaluable for other activities I was involved in. A good example is the Cambridge Festival of Ideas event which I co-organized last October with work colleagues: during the preparations for this event, I encountered challenges getting the venue arranged given our budget constraints, I was facing a looming deadline with organizers and making little progress in finding a venue. I mentioned this to the CamAWISE Steering Committee members who quickly made suggestions for possible options, they put me in touch with a local researcher, and as a result of this contact I was able to both book a venue and have the researcher as a panellist at the event!

There is obviously a time commitment element to volunteering. In addition to the monthly meetings, we also discuss activities between meetings and we may handle other items such as liaising with event leads, queries and contacts with others in the local community and items necessary for the running of the association. This usually requires a few hours per month which can be a luxury if you already have a full plate of responsibilities, at CamAWISE we understand this and we note to those who volunteer that they can be flexible in their contributions. While fitting CamAWISE activities into my timetable can sometimes present its challenges, I view the balance very much in the green in terms of the experience and relationships it has offered me in return.

A big highlight from the last year has been the friendships I have developed with the Steering Committee members. In between meetings we keep in touch via email and Slack and (before the lockdown measures were in place) we have also met for brunch or coffee on several occasions – something I very much look forward to doing again when it is safe for us to meet in public.

If you are looking for opportunities to develop soft skills, grow your network and create or strengthen  personal and professional relationships, volunteering may be something for you. Choose a cause or movement that you are passionate about, think through what you can contribute and what you’d like to gain from it, and be pragmatic about the time you can devote – with this and an open mind and you are bound to get valuable experience by volunteering.

It has been a great journey for me so far and I highly recommend it, why not give it a go?

Wondering whether volunteering for CamAWISE may be something for you? I encourage you to come to one of our Steering Committee meetings, we are happy to have anyone interested attend to get a flavour of what they entail and of our activities. Do email if you would like to attend, if you would prefer to chat more informally feel free to reach out to one of the Steering Committee members.

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