My journey within the Charity sector: student volunteer to Patient Involvement Manager
Anne-Sophie Kleczewski grew up in France and moved to England to pursue a Bachelor in English Literature at the University of East Anglia (UEA), graduating in 2017.
Throughout her studies, she was a student blogger, student ambassador for the university and held different voluntary work position with Banana Link and the Wellbeing Service. After graduating, she started her career in the charity sector as Strategy Development Intern for Big C, Norfolk’s cancer charity. She currently lives and works in London as Patient Involvement Manager at Cancer Research UK.
How did I become a Patient Involvement Manager?
A few months before the end of my English Literature degree, I started looking for any job or internship I could do after graduation. As you can imagine, it was a very stressful time and there wasn’t much that came up or that interested me. That’s when, while looking at UEA’s Career Central job portal one day, I finally found something that sounded great and really resonated with me! I applied, got an interview, and was successful in getting a 9-month internship at the Norfolk cancer charity Big C as a Strategy Development Intern, creating a new arm of the charity to help educate the people of Norfolk about cancer.
When my internship at Big C was close to end in Summer 2018, I started to look for jobs again. As before, it was very stressful and I felt like I’d never find anything, lacked experience, and that nothing truly interested me. However, by that time I knew I really wanted to continue working for a charity which helped me focus my search and gave me confidence as I knew I had some experience. This is when I came across the role of Patient Involvement Officer at Cancer Research UK – a national cancer research charity which also does a lot in the information, prevention, and policy space amongst many other things. I just knew this role was the one for me. Whilst at university, I was lucky to have had several paid or volunteer roles which taught me a lot and put me in a really good position for this future role. I submitted my application, was called for an interview in London, and as soon as I was back to Norwich that same day, I got a call to offer me the job!
I did this role for about two years and a half and absolutely loved it. I can’t say how much I’ve learnt and how many incredible volunteers I met. I was very keen to progress within my team as I particularly enjoy this area of work and, finally, a maternity cover opportunity came up last Autumn. I have now been a Patient Involvement Manager for the last 6 months.
A typical day in the life:
As a Patient Involvement Manager, my job is all about making sure that everything the charity does and any decision made, no matter how big or small, is in the interest of cancer patients and their loved ones and that they help us shape our work. This ranges from helping decide what scientific research we fund to co-developing new marketing campaigns or strategies.
My role is very varied as I get to meet people from all across the charity in all departments to understand more about their work and find opportunities to involve people affected by cancer in their work. It could be a quick one-off survey, organising focus group session in the community, or recruiting patient representatives with specific skills and areas of expertise.
A typical day for me would involve having regular catch-ups with my contacts in different teams to find out more about their current and future projects or things they’d like to ask people affected by cancer about; presenting to other teams about what Patient Involvement is and how I can support them; developing surveys and session plans for consulting patients; creating case studies and reports showcasing the impact of our Patient Involvement work.
Which (perhaps unexpected) skills from my degree help me in my role?
One thing I wasn’t expecting from working in general and from my current job is how much information there is to absorb! I need to have a fairly good understanding of what all the different teams I work with do, their strategies, their challenges. Sometimes this includes areas of work outside of my expertise and that are tricky to understand, such as cancer biology or understanding how research is funded. Throughout my English Literature studies, my time was spent reading a lot, absorbing sometimes complex information and joining the dots. This is exactly what my job requires on a daily basis so I’m thankful for perfecting this skill at university.
Another one is writing and editing! It seems like an obvious one but I hadn’t realised quite how important it would be when you worked outside of writing and communications. However, my current and previous roles have involve a lot of writing for reports, case studies, webpages and web advertises and lay information for our volunteers. So don’t hesitate to show off your writing skills in a job application!
Tips for current students/recent graduates on working for a charity
My main tip to help you prepare to find a job in the charity sector or for job applications/interviews is to have experience of the not-for-profit sector, even if it’s only volunteering for a short amount of time or doing a fundraiser. It’s not necessary but it can help put you in a good position, with good and very relevant experiences to talk about! Focus on the challenges and how you overcame them and the ultimate benefits you’ve brought to the charity’s mission.
One thing I wish I’d known beforehand was the (obvious) focus there is on money when working for a charity – regardless of its size. Charities often entirely depend on public money and fundraising. It has always been a challenge and the COVID pandemic has really exacerbated difficulties. This is a good thing to think about and mention in application or interviews to show that you have a sound understanding of the sector and challenging you may face in your role.
Working for charities is wonderful! It is always extremely rewarding – no matter what job you do – because there is always that knowledge that you’re doing something to help other people ultimately. I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world.