I’m a big advocate for finding out what your university career centre offers. It’s competing for your attention with every other service at your university, and may offer things you wish it would but assume it doesn’t.
I thought I was reasonably au fait with university services, but a recent grant writing experience introduced me to some truly spectacular programming at McMaster that I had never heard of, despite my interest in career development. (For the record, the programs that most blew me away are MacChangers; The Research Shop; Open Circle – a program whose website only partly attests to the genius of providing not only volunteer teams to local non-profits, but also volunteer managers; and a student-run tax clinic that doesn’t even have a website yet.)
The basic lesson that I took away from this is that, if you’re looking for ways to test out new skills and experiences, the answer could be very close to home. And it could still require some navigation:
Look beyond your faculty. Some of the programming I stumbled upon looks, at first glance, as though it’s limited to one faculty. Granted, those programs started with a specific faculty, and typically continue to attract students and researchers from that faculty. But they’re now eager to create interdisciplinary teams.
Grad students and faculty may be welcome – or even sought after. While extracurriculars seem often to orient themselves around undergrads, grad students may be sought after. Some programming includes student leadership roles, and having that additional life experience might make you an enthusiastically welcomed addition. Some programming involves faculty, too.
Not all programming assumes that you start with the requisite skills. I was surprised to see how intensive the training programs are for some volunteer initiatives, whether through informal mentorship, structured initial training, or ongoing training and feedback.
Asking around is sometimes the only way in. Pilot projects might not even advertise themselves. Asking at a student services office about what you’re hoping to find may actually lead you to exactly what you’re looking for.
If, as the joke has it, a university is a group of people united by the need for parking, then getting the word out will always be a struggle. On the flipside, spending a little time looking for what you want, may bring you to the experiences, people, and training you hoped for, but never expected to find.