Stop. Learn. Reflect: Figuring out what comes next with the Students’ Association and the Edinburgh Award


Elwira Danak, Learning and Development Advisor at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association shares her experiences working with student staff on the Edinburgh Award.

Do you remember the moment you chose to study your particular subject? For some, it was the calling and sheer passion for the subject in question, for others, wanting to move away from home to forge new friendships and gain new life experience. For most, it probably was a bit of both. Whatever the reasons, one thing that all students have in common now, as the graduation date looms, is the burning question: What next?

In the search for answers, you may have come across such buzzwords as ‘employability’ and ‘transferable skills’, and wonder what they mean. These skills are normally defined as:

  • team working
  • problem-solving
  • time management
  • interpersonal and communication skills
  • initiative and motivation
  • project management
  • leadership

Students may have honed a lot of these skills in settings outside courses while working, volunteering or taking part in other extracurricular activities. However, having great experience attached to your name is often not enough, and being able to put acquired skills and knowledge into context is often the biggest hurdle for a lot of graduates.

This is where the Edinburgh Award for Edinburgh University Students’ Association student staff comes in. Not only does it offer the opportunity for our student staff to step back and identify the skills they would like to improve, but it also allows them to choose from several workshops, such as communication and influencing skills, prioritising and time management, leadership styles and public speaking. Additionally, they gain access to professional support and encouragement so they can reflect continuously on what they have learned and use their newly gained skills in their roles.

Our student staff, similar to the other Edinburgh Award participants, practise articulating their experience, whatever their role, and identifying gaps in their skill sets. They review their peers’ reflections and provide constructive feedback. We guide them through this process and actively encourage reflective practice. It is important that our student staff understand that regardless of the type of activities they engage in, they are all part of meaningful life and work experience.

Being able to tell someone else about one’s lessons learned and to display high self-awareness, alongside a mature approach to work, is crucial to achieving professional success and something that will make any recruitment candidate stand out. Also, regular reflective practice is a skill for life that our student staff can take with them wherever they go and apply to their work and studies.

I am writing this as someone who often works with student staff and supports a wide range of development and recruitment activities. This means that I know both worlds well, those of the recruiter and candidates, and witness regularly that successful candidates are often the ones who can reflect on their experience in a constructive way and explain their work and relevant skills to others.

I hope this is going to help you encourage your students to take part in the Edinburgh Award, especially in the Edinburgh University Students’ Association student staff member strand. Please visit the Students’ Association website for more information and get in touch with any questions.

Next steps:

Read more about the Edinburgh Award in Kirsty Stewart’s Teaching Matters post

Find out what constitutes graduate attributes in Gavin McCabe’s Teaching Matters post

Elwira Danak

Elwira Danak works at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association as the Learning and Development Advisor. She is also the leader for the Edinburgh Award for the Edinburgh University Students’ Association student staff members.

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