School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

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Double Duty

Volunteering offers graduate students real-world experience

Article by Karl Hardy

“It’s a real challenge that today’s job market demands experience in your field from the very start,” says Tabitha Renaud, a PhD candidate in the department of History here at Queen’s.

Alongside her graduate studies, Tabitha has been a longtime volunteer with the Kingston Association of Museums, Art Galleries and Historic Sites (KAM), where she has sat on the Board of Directors for three years and served as President of this association for 2015-6. Through KAM she works with Kingston’s 30 museums, galleries and historic sites on all sorts of exciting collaborative projects that benefit cultural heritage for the people of Kingston and the wider world.Tabitha Renaud

“Volunteering can provide valuable experience in your field, great references and networking possibilities,” said Tabitha. “In the non-profit sector, in particular, volunteers are invaluable and so you are doing a service to your community and helping your own career goals simultaneously.”

She recognizes The Museum of Health Care for giving her first entry into Kingston’s heritage community in 2011. “It is a wonderful museum that is always looking for volunteers to deliver programming to children and families,” she says. “I would also love to thank the staff and member sites of the Kingston Association of Museums, Galleries and Historic Sites for giving me so many wonderful opportunities over the last few years. I would like to thank all my mentors on the Board of Directors for their guidance in the field of cultural heritage. I am grateful to all the fantastic people in this heritage community as it is an absolute blast to collaborate with them all!”

Tabitha also volunteers as one of the organizers of the annual Kingston Regional Heritage Fair, which functions like a “science fair” but for history projects for grade school children. She has also supported Beyond Classrooms Kingston, in which teachers take their grade school classes into an alternative learning space such as a museum or gallery for a full week with expert guest speakers, programming and journaling with artifacts.

These experiences augment her current graduate research and teaching, which centers on the earliest encounters of the Americas between aboriginal communities and European explorers. Her PhD dissertation, supervised by Dr. Jane Errington, focuses on how individuals communicated without words at first contact. In addition to her off-campus volunteer commitments, Tabitha has learned to balance involvement at Queen’s in both departmental service and wider service to the SGPS. She was President of the Graduate History Student’s Association in 2014-5 and was an SGPS Councillor for several years representing history students.

“It is really important not to overextend yourself. When you genuinely love your volunteer work and visibly recognize the difference your contributions make it is very easy to take on all sorts of exciting projects all at once,” she says. “I have learned to be realistic about what extra commitments I can handle while still maintaining my academic standing and mental health. It is very important to be honest with yourself and to manage your time carefully. Volunteer opportunities are always available and you can stagger them throughout your life as you have time.”

Tabitha would like to let everyone know about several ongoing volunteer opportunities, including:

Also, the Kingston Regional Heritage Fair will take place this year on May 12th at Queen’s West Campus. The fair is always looking for as many volunteers as possible to help judge projects and to assist with interactive booths and workshops for the children. The volunteer form is available online.