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Jingyuan Zou is a first-year undergraduate in the Institute of Archaeology and has been volunteering with UCL Culture Museums. She wrote to us detailing how volunteering helped with her career aspirations as well as her academic studies. Read on if you want to get inspired!

Tell us about your volunteering!

I’m a volunteer at UCL Culture Museums (mainly the Petrie Museum and Grant Museum). I help organise evening events, family activities and work at the front of house in the museums twice per month. 

How did you find out about the role?

I learnt about the opportunity when my department sent out a student-wide email to inform us of the UCL Volunteering Fairs - I also kept an eye on the Students’ Union UCL website for volunteering opportunities.

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

I wanted to volunteer in this role for several reasons: I really wanted to improve my communication skills, develop more of an understanding about the display of museum exhibitions and also because I’m interested in public archaeology (which involves interaction with the public). I’m interested in the work done by the Butser Ancient Farm (an archaeological museum), which actively engages with people - ranging from primary school to cultural workers - to reconstruct and preserve history. I thought that volunteering in a museum would help me get into this area. I also wanted to gain transferable skills that can be applied to different fields, possibly outside of Archaeology.

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

My fellow volunteers and I share the responsibility of keeping the museum tidy and welcoming to everyone. We help take the pressure off of the museum staff by greeting every visitor and answering their questions. We also make sure the museum brochures and activity cards are well-stocked for the visitors.

What impact has volunteering had on you?

After helping organise various public activities with the museum, I’ve definitely become more confident in presenting my ideas in my seminars. I have also learnt detailed aspects of archaeology when volunteering at the Petrie Museum of Egyptology. Since my major is Archaeology, volunteering at a museum gives me a different perspective than just attending lectures to understand more about fascinating civilisations, as I’m more active in the learning process. The staff at UCL Museums are very helpful, patient and helped me settle into my role and develop my skills quickly.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

As a Museum volunteer, I get to help with object-handling sessions when interacting with the public. It’s exciting to explain different parts of animals and encouraging the visitors - especially children - to learn the basics of Zoology. These activities have also developed my skills with interacting with the public, which is essential in constructing a social network, both at university and at work. Overall, volunteering has been a really nice experience and gives me a meaningful break from studies!

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

A capable museum volunteer needs to be able to present information about the museum fluently to every visitor. It can be difficult to present the key points of the museum in (preferably) different ways to every group of visitors (it would be a bit dull if I just memorised a few sentences and presented the same information repeatedly). In order to overcome this problem, I did some research not only from the official websites of the museums, but also the history of the disciplines that the museums relate to (e.g. Archaeology for the Petrie Museum and Zoology & Biology for the Grant Museum).

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

What I’ve noticed when volunteering at the front of house is that almost every visitor of the museums greeted and said farewell with a smile - this has always encouraged me whenever I work at the museums.

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

Definitely. For me, volunteering boosted my self-confidence while also getting to make a positive impact on the public. You can meet more people during volunteering like I did, and many of them may become your friends! Also, having a network outside of my academic department helped me build a closer relationship with the university as a whole; it’s great to have an increasing sense of belongingness.

If you want to find an opportunity to complement your studies or boost your career like Jingyuan, make sure you browse our volunteering directory when you’re back at UCL!