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My experience volunteering at UCL, with the help of the Volunteering Services Unit, was transformational.”

Tom graduated from UCL in 2011 after studying for a Masters in Economic Policy, and helped set up Foodcyle Bloomsbury during that time. We caught up with him recently to ask about how his time as a volunteer at UCL has helped shape his subsequent career.

Where are you currently working and/or volunteering?

After I left UCL, I worked for two years at the same economic consultancy I came from (Charles River Associates, or CRA). I left that two and a half years ago and started an ODI Fellowship, for which I worked in the Ministry of Health in Zanzibar. When that finished, I came to Harvard to the Kennedy School of Government to start a Master of Public Administration on a Public Service Fellowship. I am currently completing that, while also campaigning for Bernie Sanders to become the next President of the USA and volunteering with a homeless shelter trying to promote nutrition understanding among homeless youths.Tom Traill

What volunteering were you involved with whilst you were at UCL?

While I was at UCL I was part of a team that set up FoodCycle Bloomsbury, which I continued to organise for the next two years that I was in London. We set up initially working in a community centre in Bromley-by-Bow, later moving to the Somers Town Community Centre, where we cooked (and continue to cook) meals every Sunday lunch for members of the community, using food which would otherwise have been wasted.

What useful skills and experiences did you gain as a volunteer when you were at UCL?

My experience volunteering at UCL, with the help of the Volunteering Services Unit, was transformational. Although my course was very useful for my career subsequently, the experience of volunteering - taking me out of the bubble of academia - was far more informative in terms of how we can live in a big city, with so many injustices, and play our role. It taught me about the responsibilities the privileges of studying at a place like UCL bring, but also gave me numerous skills I have used in every job since. It helped me lead a team, think strategically about how we wanted to make a difference, to whom, and what we should do to achieve that, it helped me to work with others from both UCL and other education establishments and with communities with very different life experiences.

How has volunteering helped you in your career so far?

Absolutely it has. On top of the skills it gave me the chance to work on, it also has shaped in very large ways where I want my career to go, and increased my understanding of the skills which I bring to the table. I learnt some of the things I am good at, but also many of the things I’m not so good at, and so what I need a team to help with.

What would you say to UCL students considering whether or not to volunteer?

I would say absolutely volunteer. The experience of volunteering at UCL is something you should do for yourself, in terms of the career benefits, and you may find that it changes the way you view the world in many other ways too.

But it should also be seen as an obligation. All of us at UCL are so unbelievably fortunate in a world that increasingly concentrates the benefits of society among the very few lucky to be able to have such an education. It is upon us to try to understand that fortune and how it has shaped our lives, and to work to provide elements of it to others that our society has not given it to.

And lastly, it’s one of the best things about UCL and its location in the heart of London that there are so many opportunities. Real life is all around, unlike for some other institutions. People of all walks of life, and so many with needs which are not met by our government, who don’t necessarily have families and friends to back them up.

So make the most of UCL, do your moral duty, and it will likely help you too in both the short and long run.

Interested in volunteering? Here’s how you can get started.

Read more stories from our alumni