We had the opportunity to speak to Maisie Keogh, a Biomedical Engineering researcher, and the Winner of 2021 Volunteer of the Year Award at the Union’s STAR Awards. Maisie is a student volunteer, also 1 of 5 Student Trustees at the Union, who is the President of Strathclyde Speakers Society, Treasurer of Strathclyde University Hot Air Balloon Society and Co-Organizer of TEDxUniversityofStrathclyde. We spoke about volunteering at the Union as a Postgrad researcher, finding balance and advice on volunteering during university.
How did your volunteer journey start at the Union?
As a PGR, it can be really challenging to break out of your 'research bubble' and when I started my PhD at the end of 2019, I threw myself into my work. However, I quickly realised that my PhD alone wasn't going to give me all the skills I needed to be successful in my future career, and I also really wanted to meet other people at the university beyond those in my department. In 2020, I met fellow doctoral researcher Sheik Abdul Malik who was also Lead Organiser of TEDxUniversityofStrathclyde and he encouraged me to join the society as Co-organiser to help lead the group's activities. This was a real turning point for me as it introduced me to the Strathclyde Students' Union, lots of fantastic students and staff as well as starting me off on the path to developing so many crucial personal and professional skills.
How do you balance your research and volunteer work?
It can be difficult at times to strike a balance between managing my research as well as my volunteering activities as I am so invested in both. However, I would say that it comes down to effective time management and being realistic about the number of projects you can take on at once. My focus is my research as this is my passion and is what will allow me to deliver my PhD on time. Yet, I also plan for all my volunteering roles and side projects so that in a typical week, I can achieve what I need to keep everything moving forward. In some weeks, this is more challenging to achieve than in others, but I am very enthusiastic about the work that I do and am fortunate to be supported by brilliant colleagues, so I feel very fortunate.
What’s one thing about the Union that PG researchers may not know about?
I think it is important to distinguish between the physical space of the Strathclyde Students' Union and the sense of community that belonging to the union can instil. If I were to highlight just one thing about the building that PGRs should know about, it would be the enormous number of rooms that is available to book, whether this is for a quiet place to study, or if you are looking to host a meeting with your research group and you are looking for somewhere outside of your department. I think that especially over the summer when the union is perhaps more quiet than usual, this is the perfect time to explore the space on offer and speak to the fantastic union staff who can help you find the right room(s) for you. I recently had to practice for a presentation which I was a bit nervous about and I was able to use the AV equipment and an auditorium to help me become familiar with delivering in-person presentations again - it was so helpful!
Being part of the union and some of the societies that are affiliated with it has also helped me to feel a greater sense of belonging to both the union and the university. I have met so many fantastic people and it has made my time so far at Strathclyde so much richer.
Pictured: Maisie at the recent STAR Awards
Why would you recommend PG students use the Union?
PGRs are doing such amazing work at the University of Strathclyde and conducting research that is world changing. However, for me, it was recognising that I could develop so much more as a person and learn new skills that would be beneficial for my research by exploring what is happening at Strathclyde beyond my department. There are several ways you can get involved with union activities from joining societies which resonate with your interests or ambitions, to getting more involved in activism or advocacy by joining action groups. The union advertises jobs, volunteering opportunities as well as offering courses such as 'Consent & Bystander Training'. They have an advice hub as well as a participation fund that can help you get more involved in activities you perhaps might not have been able to due to financial barriers. They also simply offer a welcoming space to visit after a long day in the office where you can relax with friends. I really believe that the union has something to offer all PGRs.
How has your volunteer journey impacted your Strathclyde experience?
I don't think I would have had the same experience at Strathclyde if I had not been involved with the union. I have developed so much as a person over the past three years and much of these experiences have come from my involvement in societies and in my role as a student trustee. I am motivated to develop myself professionally and the union is highly supportive of this, helping to facilitate many of the opportunities for I have had for growth. I would also add that I have also been able to get involved in a lot of outreach and charity work through the union, so if contributing to causes and giving back to your community are important to you, then the union is a great place to start.
What advice do you have for students interested in volunteering while at university?
I would say that don't be put off from volunteering because you feel like you must be focusing on your PhD 24/7. To help me prioritise my wellbeing, I looked for volunteering opportunities away from what I do within my research as I needed that break - and I found it improved my research ability, as I return to it with new skills and with a fresh perspective after spending a short amount of time on other projects. Every PhD journey is different, and we all have various commitments but if you are keen to volunteer and you do feel you have even just 1 hour per week to dedicate to it, then I would highly recommend exploring the Strathclyde Students' Union, it has been so rewarding for me and I hope it will be for you too.
If you’re keen to get involved as a postgraduate researcher with some volunteering at the Union, we share current volunteering opportunities regularly. Are you a current volunteer and want to share your story? Or do you know a volunteer and want to highlight the work they do? Get in touch with us