The value of working for nothing

A lot of people struggle to find the time or motivation for volunteer work, simply because financial gain is something we require to survive in today’s societies. It is, however, in my opinion really important to gain some experience of volunteering your time and skills for no financial gain whenever you’re able, simply because of the different benefits it provides both for you and others. Personally, I have been involved in a couple of volunteering roles, both of which I have found massively rewarding – albeit challenging at times.volunteering-1

The role I’ve decided to write about is one that people may not instantly think of where volunteering is concerned. When thinking about a volunteering role, we often think of fundraising, DIY projects, conservation and the like; whereas some of the more unusual roles are often forgotten.

As part of work experience for my potential career in Clinical Psychology, last summer I underwent a volunteer placement in a local psychiatric hospital, which involved working with some really vulnerable and risky patient groups. Due to the risks involved in this role, it wasn’t something I took lightly and would probably not be considered your typical ‘fun’ volunteering project that we often see portrayed in the media. But I think it’s really important to look for the more unusual roles if you’re interested in volunteering and not just staying in your comfort zone.

Volunteering can provide you with some really amazing opportunities. There is a self-centered culture within jobs in our society of pushing yourself to the limit and working as hard as you possibly can, even under great levels of stress. Whereas in the volunteering sector, there’s less emphasis on slogging your guts out and more on personal learning and growth, as well as providing for those who are less fortunate than you.

From working with a variety of patients, to women with long criminal histories and complex mental health needs, to men with learning difficulties, I learnt a huge amount about myself and how I cope in stressful situations. In addition, I also helped some really poorly people, without the pressure of being paid.volunteering-2

I felt myself more willing to just sit and talk to these people – which is what they ultimately needed – simply because I didn’t have the constant financial pressure to perform. You’re also provided with a sense of pride that you’re giving your time for free to those who really need it, and there’s no greater feeling in my opinion.

Even though volunteering is a more altruistic path to take compared to paid work, there will always be certain aspects of personal gain. Through volunteering, I was able to improve my CV and gain some key clinical experience towards my career progression. But there’s just something about volunteering that people admire and appreciate, regardless of the role you’ve taken.

Whether it’s doing your next door neighbour’s gardening, volunteering for a charity or working in a psychiatric hospital, there will be so many personal lessons you will learn simply by being there. Sometimes we need to get away from the financial pressures of the rat race and realise that to help people, we don’t need to be paid in money, or any other currency for that matter!

I think it’s important that we experience human kindness – both giving and receiving – at some point in our lives so we can remember that we are not working machines. As much as being paid in today’s world is important, so is personal growth, kindness and providing – simply because we can.

Melissa Kirwan is a full-time postgraduate student currently studying for a MSc in Clinical Psychology and Mental Health.


A letter to my first year self


Now I’m one term away from finishing uni, and there are a few things I think you should know, to help you along the way….



Take every opportunity

Being so close to the end,  I’m more aware now that the real world is close and something I am going to have to join, whether I like it or not. University is such a unique time in your life, something so extra-ordinary and unusual. Cherish it. Take every opportunity you can get. There are so many. Sussex societies are varied and there is something for everyone, pick one and go learn a new skill and make new friends, (you’ll end up living with one of these friends in final year). There’s also plenty more events on campus than you realise, more than just those in East Slope Bar, check out Room 76. Look up Sussex Choice, consider a placement or year abroad. Find out more about the various trips the uni societies organize. Try and get tickets to a Brighton and Hove Albion FC game.



Explore Brighton and surrounding areas

You think there is just  Brighton town. But make the most of your spare time in first year to explore further afield. Check out Lewes, Hove, Kemptown. All of these places are gems, and not to be missed when you live down here.  Walk out of campus onto the Downs, make the most of the beautiful countryside quite literally being on your doorstep! Do not forget about Stanmer Park and Stanmer House. Cross over the A27 and visit the farm shop, you’ll realise there is a walk that way over the Downs to Kingston Near Lewes. Take it, you’ll come across a great pub called The Juggs for a roast and then you can get the train back from Lewes.



Don’t stress about work

You’ve earnt your place at Sussex, so enjoy it. Try to attend all your lecturers and seminars, but don’t avoid a night out if you’ve got a 9am the next day, (after all it’s your first year!) Don’t be scared about the tutors, if you’re stuck about an essay, go to their office hour and ask for help, they’re only human! Remember, first year does not count towards your end grade but it’s a chance for you to learn  and develop your skills ready for second year.


You’ve got so many great moments to come, so enjoy it all. Take photos, cherish the times because it goes quick – trust me!

Oh, and eat fruit and vegetables,



Joanna Clark is a History and Sociology student with a Professional Placement Year