UBC has switched to a new student system called Workday for courses starting in September 2024. Please check your email for setup instructions. Summer Session students should continue using SSC.

A student studying a specimen on a microscope
March 17, 2023
4 mins read

Gain volunteer experience as you study on campus

Sambina Islam Aninta is a 4th year international student in the Combined Computer Science and Biology Honours program. She uses her free time on campus to explore different career options and develop transferable skills through volunteering.

What activities have you been involved in on campus so far?

I’ve always loved helping people—so coming to UBC, I knew I wanted to get involved in the community on campus. I started by applying to postings I saw while sleuthing around UBC Facebook groups, which led me to volunteering for the UBC STEM Fellowship as the VP Events Executive during my second year.

Around the same time, I also reached out to professors about volunteer opportunities at labs. Finding lab opportunities without any prior experience was difficult, but being persistent paid off. I cold emailed as many professors as I could and mentioned my specific scientific interests. That's how I landed my first lab volunteering role as a research assistant for Dr. James Johnson.

In what ways has being involved on campus impacted your career?

My involvement has been very fulfilling because I feel like I’ve made a difference while developing a unique skill set that I can bring to my future workplace. 

For example, as part of the UBC STEM Fellowship, I helped organize an event where high school students from underrepresented communities worked in research labs at UBC. The project-planning and communication skills I gained from organizing this event are crucial in the scientific field, where you’re often required to take charge of experiments and supervise others. The students who participated in the event also found their experience very useful—so this outcome has motivated me to work harder to support more students in our community, and also be a more empathetic and giving person.

What are some other ways students can get involved on campus?

There are plenty of Work Learn positions where students can gain professional skills and experience through paid, part-time work. If you want to apply what you learned in class to solving real-life problems, consider applying for the Work Learn International Undergraduate Research Awards.

Besides Work Learn opportunities, consider working for Residence Life or as a Student Ambassador on campus, especially if you like being a student voice for your community and organizing events. These opportunities are amazing for developing student morale, leadership experience, and a network with fellow students.

Sambina Islam Aninta

Do you think employers value volunteer experience?

Definitely! The skills and mentorship you gain from volunteering can be just as meaningful as any paid work. In the workforce, it’s all about what you learn and take away from each of your experiences. In my job interviews and coffee chats, employers and professionals have always been excited to learn about my leadership experiences and what I have done for the community. It shows them that you’re already thinking about your future and aiming to make a change in the world.

Also, volunteering can fine-tune your career interests and reveal what you realistically would love doing. Even though I was interested in research, I wasn't sure which area I wanted to pursue. I enjoyed programming and learning about the applications of technology in life sciences, but I still needed to narrow down what I could see myself doing for the rest of my career.

Through volunteering at the research lab, I realized I did not like working with liquids, live animals, and biological matter. But I loved the research and computational side of bioinformatics. It made me realize I would like to pursue a graduate degree related to computation in life sciences, where I can work in science without dealing with animals and biological matter. So if you’re stuck on what to do career-wise, try volunteering! It’s a low-commitment way to explore your options.

Why is it important to maintain relationships with people you’ve met during your involvement experiences?

Graduate school and certain job applications require recommendation letters, so it’s helpful to have a good relationship with your professors and supervisors. In my case, I needed recommendation letters for my application to the UBC Science Co-op program, and luckily, a previous supervisor knew me well enough to write a very personalized letter. 

Networking with colleagues can also be helpful since you may share similar career paths, or simply become friends with them! Even today, I am still in touch with colleagues from my previous Co-op placements—and I have learned a lot from them beyond utilizing our connection to possibly find work.

Which UBC career resources have been most helpful to your career?

It’s hard to rank them as they all tie together! 

I often use UBC Careers Online to search for jobs and volunteer work, because employers who post there are specifically looking to hire UBC students. I can’t say the same for other job search platforms.

I have also found the UBC Career Centre’s employer information sessions very helpful as they were amazing networking experiences where I learned about what to expect in my industry of interest, and discovered new opportunities I previously thought I didn’t qualify for. These sessions were also great for exposure to companies and startups I never see on LinkedIn, and have given me priceless access to the hidden job market in Canada.

If Sambina’s tale has inspired you to start volunteering, check out AMS CampusBase for opportunities—or apply to Summer 2023 Work Learn postings on Careers Online if you’re looking for paid experiences.

Also, don’t miss your chance to connect with alumni who were once international students at Launch Your Career in Canada—happening March 6-17.