Eimear is a PhD student working in computational chemistry looking to apply her knowledge to renewable energy. Due to the underlying implications of her research, Eimear is passionate about environmental protection and preservation which she furthered in her role as a School Eco-Team Coordinator for the Green Schools Project.

Tell us a little about your volunteering

I volunteer for the Green Schools Project as an Eco-Team Coordinator. It entails going to a primary school weekly and putting on workshops for students. I talk about environmental issues with them, and we try to formulate action plans, for example, to preserve nature.

How did you find out about the role?

I found the role on the Students’ Union’s website. I just had to send a CV and a cover letter after which I was invited to a few training sessions as well as to meet the teachers in the school. Then, I started hosting the weekly sessions.

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

I did some voluntary work for the Irish Government during the pandemic, and I really liked it there. I decided it was quite important for me to give some time to make a difference. There’s nothing more valuable than people’s time and it is important we use it to give back to others and the community. As a PhD student I am in a privileged position because I don’t have scheduled lectures and I manage my time more freely. I told my supervisor about this opportunity, and he was really supportive too. I think that if you have the opportunity volunteer, you should do it, no matter what role you take on or if it’s as little as an hour over weekends.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?

There were definitely students who were particularly interested in the scientific aspect of climate change and by covering those I think I taught them a lot as they don’t always get this kind of knowledge in school. We also organised some action projects including a park clean-up which was really fun and more tangible. We picked up all the rubbish in the park near the school. I also saw the kids’ interest grow week by week and that definitely made me feel like the project was flourishing.

What impact has volunteering had on you?

I think it reminded me of the importance of real world applications. Sometimes when I'm doing my research, it can feel a little out of touch. You are not looking at the world around you, particularly because I'm mainly working on my laptop. So, volunteering gives an element of tangibility to my mission and it makes me feel more hopeful, especially seeing the kids’ passion. It pretty much rubs off on you and it tells me that the world is going into good hands.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

I really liked the people I met including the students and the people working at the charity. Henry and Beth from Green Schools Project are so dedicated, it’s inspiring, especially as I imagine it is quite hard to secure funding. They were just really great, and I could always turn to them for support.

And the most challenging? How did you overcome the challenges?

I think when you volunteer, and you become really passionate about your cause it is hard that you cannot do everything for it. Sometimes you would like to do things that might require more funding and I think that is a hurdle a lot of charities face.

Additionally, as you are volunteering you are giving up time, so it requires planning in advance. If you’d like to fit everything in, you really need to be organised. There were times when I felt that volunteering was not as important as my work. But at the end of the day I realised that it is. When you can see the effect on the kids and when you get positive feedback it makes you realise that it is very much worth your time, even if it stresses you out sometimes.

Tell us about something memorable that’s happened to you whilst volunteering

This was just before we started the clubs. We came to assembly and to gauge the kids’ interest that signed up for the workshop we gave a brief presentation about the project. Then, we asked them about how they thought we can save the world. And a lot of them gave ideas along the lines of turning lights off and recycling... And then one girl put her hand up, she was probably 6 or 7 years old and said, ‘deconstruct capitalism’ and I thought that was really funny.

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

I would definitely recommend it. It is a completely different experience from everything else you’ll ever do at university. I would also recommend it to widen your perspective and to see what’s out there. I love learning but it’s really great to put yourself out there and see the physical aspect of what you are studying.

As a PhD student, do you have any advice for fellow researchers interested in volunteering?

I have to say I was really grateful for my supervisor. He allowed me to take the time out which was incredibly helpful and his support made me much more certain I wanted to commit to volunteering.

As much as there is organisation to go into it, and I would do some work on a Sunday evening to prepare, I think it is equally important to ensure that it is not taking over your life and that you have enough time for yourself. I think what’s great about a PhD is the flexibility that allow for fitting all of this in, and we should use that. Don’t feel like you have to burn yourself out to get the full benefit.