Service as PhD Student

By Jacob Abbott

Author Jacob Abbott

Volunteering and service are considered to be a vital part of a faculty member’s responsibility, to such an extent that many professional positions in academia specifically have it listed as a jobrequirement that faculty budget approximately twenty percent of their time to service.  For PhD students who may be interested in future careers in academia, starting to build a practice of serving now will help demystify an area that is not often discussed as a significant amount of work, so start reading below with the “Service to the Profession” section. To anyone who is not interested in pursuing a career in academia, please keep reading too! While the specifics of the next section might not apply to you, the remainder of the information for “Service to the University” and “Service to Community” can still be helpful as many fields outside academia of late are placing higher values on engagement outside of simply just a classroom.

Service to Profession

Providing service to the profession typically comes in the form of volunteering your time and experience towards a workshop, conference, or journal. Frequently this includes serving as an invited reviewer of peer reviewed submissions for journals, conferences, or workshops.  Helping to plan a conference or workshop as a member of a committee or organizing reviewers is another method of serving the profession. Many conferences run thanks to the help of many volunteers and it is not uncommon for students to volunteer to help with a variety of tasks during the days a conference or workshop meets. Being a student volunteer at a conference or workshop is a great opportunity to meet students, faculty, and researchers outside your own university and learn more about the work that goes on behind the scenes to make a conference happen. The best advice I have for finding opportunities to volunteer as a student for service to profession is to find a conference or workshop that your advisor, faculty, or other students in your department submit to or already have experience serving in the past and apply to be a student volunteer if they have a program. If they do not have a specific student volunteer program, try seeing if you are acquainted with someone on the programming committee and sending them a polite inquiry if they might need a student volunteer to assist.

Service to University

All students have some level of connection to the institution that they are attending for their PhD program. Whether they plan for a future in academia, industry, government, or something outside those sectors, it is still important to have a level of engagement through the university, college, or department wide groups. As a PhD student there are many opportunities to provide service to the university that might not immediately be recognized as service. For example, mentoring an undergraduate student for a Research Experience for Undergraduates is a semester long program that would count as service for a PhD student. Participate in University wide governance bodies, such as the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) as a departmental representative. Plan a workshop or symposium for other students and faculty to present research and discuss ideas.  Lead a group of students in an event to raise money for a charity that collectively they believe in. There are many topics and methods that students can choose to use to engage with their university, so it is important to find a topic that speaks to them and to which they feel connected.

Service to Community

Service to the community for PhD students offers a wide variety of options for students to engage in their local areas. Serving on a local community committee, organizing student engagement with service activities in the community, and being active in local organizations are all options that meet criteria to report as service to the community. Students may also have the chance to collaborate with local nonprofits, government, or business organizations on potential research projects to help their local community at the same time. Public presentations, attending, and participating in community outreach events are great ways to engage with people who live in the area who may not be students or directly associated with the university.

Of course students are not limited to only reaching out to communities in their local areas. Many PhD students have the opportunity to engage with online communities through social media, blogging, creating videos, podcasting, etc. There are many ways to engage and convey ideas regarding research, work, hobbies, and other things that are of interest to you. 

Things to Consider

While there are many opportunities for PhD students to volunteer and offer service for different groups in many ways, they do have a few things in common. Service does require time and effort on the part of the student and have varying levels of commitment. Service to the Profession requires a lot of searching and networking starting out, but eventually the more you volunteer the more others will seek you out requesting your service. Service to the University often requires longer commitments, such as a whole semester or two semesters, but might only meet infrequently. At the same time service to the university can be very beneficial for networking within the university for students. Service to the Community offers the chance to engage with people outside of the university and academia, but be mindful that people and organizations outside of the university may work on different timetables and have different goals and agendas. It is best to be open and up front when discussing your intentions for volunteering.