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Conor Courtney is a master’s student studying International Commercial Law at UCL. He told us about his experience volunteering as a postgraduate student, the positive impact it had on his wellbeing and how rewarding it is to get young people inspired to pursue higher education. Read on to find out more!

Tell us a little bit about your volunteering!

I spent this second term volunteering with Brightside, a charity that connects university students with school children, to mentor them on preparing for university and what to expect. What was great about this role is that it involved both in-person and online mentoring. As a master’s student, setting aside time to travel to the UCL Academy was difficult, so being able to also help by mentoring students online was a real positive in this experience. I attended four three-hour mentoring sessions spread out over the term, and I also spoke with my mentees online until early April. The online mentoring could range from an hour a week to a few hours a week, depending on how responsive and engaged the mentees were.

How did you find out about the role?

I found out about the role through the volunteering directory. As an international student here for only one year, it was really difficult to find out about volunteering opportunities like this. When I found the directory it was such a useful tool, especially since I was able to see descriptions of the roles and I could shape my volunteering around my schedule.

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

During my undergraduate, I mentored first-year university students which was a rewarding and insightful experience, so I wanted to try to find something similar to this at UCL as a postgraduate student. I find that volunteering, especially through a university programme, can really help to round out your experience at university, and can give your degree some depth.

 I think it’s always good to have activities that take you out of the stress of your degree, and helping others is a great way to accomplish this.

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

I think that I’ve helped a lot of younger students realise more about what they want from university, what to expect, and whether university is right for them. It was always fun to meet new mentees and start off by talking about their misconceptions about university, or to discuss their fears. Some students knew exactly what they wanted to study, and I was able to help these students think about how to achieve this. Many of my mentees wanted to pursue a law degree and so my experience with this was also a great tool. I was able to tell them about vacation schemes, training contracts, and mooting - all of which they knew little about. This was all knowledge I would have appreciated going into my degree, so I feel that this was a great opportunity for them. The Covid-19 pandemic has also had a huge effect on these students, so being an online mentor, and being able to offer them support at any time, was also a great experience.

What impact has volunteering had on you?

Volunteering has been really beneficial for my mental health. Taking time out from stressing about readings and exams, and focusing solely on helping others, has really helped me with my degree. I think that studying can feel very all consuming at times, and having an extracurricular like volunteering can really keep you focus on the bigger picture. Since I moved to London in September, volunteering was also a great way to meet more people and come more out of my shell.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

I think the best thing about volunteering is being able to brighten someone’s day, or to offer them some sort of support or guidance. I also volunteer at the Chelsea Citizen’s Advice Bureau, and the UCL Rare Dementia Legal Advice Clinic, and these experiences are so rewarding also, but are much more emotional and personal. I really enjoyed Brightside because it was impactful but was also fun, and the students approached every session with a positive attitude.

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

The most challenging aspect, which I think is always the biggest challenge, was signing up. I think it can be so easy to convince yourself that you don’t have enough time, or the skills necessary, or that you just won’t enjoy it. But if you can overcome this fear and actually sign up you will realise how enjoyable and enlightening volunteer work can be, especially with Brightside!

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

I think one of my favourite memories was actually during a break after my very first session. All of us mentors were meeting for the first time, and we were sharing stories about ourselves and the funny and odd questions that our pre-GCSE students had asked during the session. I got to stand on this terrace at UCL Academy overlooking London, and the sun was beginning to set and we were all having tea and biscuits. It really reminded me to sit back and appreciate everything that I had, and to feel positive about the future. As I write this, the lockdown is in effect, and my small apartment feels very far away from that terrace, but that memory is something that I can keep forever.

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

I would definitely recommend volunteering. I think it was so important to my university experience that I would almost say that it helped define it, and it has helped to define the type of lawyer I hope to become. I think that this question is here for students who haven’t volunteered yet, because I think anyone who does volunteer gains so much from it. University is a great place to learn more about yourself and to expend your interests, and so if you are afraid or anxious to volunteer, I hope my experience might give you the push you need to commit to volunteering next year, in whatever capacity.

We’re pleased to say that Conor has wonderfully been shortlisted as a finalist for National Accident Helpline’s Future Legal Mind Award. To enter Future Legal Mind, law students and trainees were tasked with writing an essay about their legal passions and the areas of law which they would like to see changed. In Conor’s essay, he focused on his passion for pro bono work and called for a pro bono requirement to be added to law qualifications. This is a wonderful demonstration of how having a passion for helping others can open doors and give you experiences that you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

We wish Conor the best of luck! 

And if you want to try remote volunteering like Conor, check out our directory where you can browse all our virtual volunteering opportunities.