Insights Programme: Connecting with Alumni to support Widening Participation students’ career trajectories

Photo credit: unsplash,Alejandro Escamilla, CC0

In this post, Eilidh Steele, Internships Manager at the Careers Service, highlights the Insights Programme, which exemplifies the fourth and final strand of the Widening Participation Strategy: ‘Support to Progress”. This strand ensures that “targeted information, advice and guidance should be easily available to WP students so they build the skills, expertise, experience and networks to make their next step” (WP Strategy 2018 -2021 Guiding Principles). Edinburgh’s Insights programmes is an example of a project directly set up to tackle this issue of ‘social capital’ and support students who do not have the connections or resources to access work experience…

The Careers Service aims to open students’ eyes to the wealth of possibilities ahead of them, while at university and after graduation, helping them to explore new avenues, tap into their talents and build upon their employability with confidence and enthusiasm. To support the Widening Participation strategy, and working in partnership with Development and Alumni, the Widening Participation Team and Edinburgh Global, the Careers Service piloted the Insights programme last summer to provide funded opportunities to help 50 Widening Participation students achieve this.

Gaining professional work experience and building your network can significantly increase your chances of career success. The Insights programme brings together Alumni and students in cities around the world and in Central Scotland. Though a combination of meetings, work-shadowing and short projects, students learn about the career path of the Alumni and their sector or work.  The experience helps to increase students’ aspirations, as many who take part have not considered these areas of work open to them, and enables them to access a network that could support them in the future.

Following the pilot of the Insights programme last year, we discovered that the programme delivered on this and more. It supported students to build confidence in their skills and future careers. To put a framework around this, we have introduced an Edinburgh Award and held workshops on professional behaviours, networking and resilience to support students to make the most of their experiences.

The programme provides an opportunity for Alumni to give back to the University by hosting students at their place of work and continuing their relationship with the University. The programme built a sense of community and learning for students and Alumni by bringing together cross discipline groups to have a common experience. Meeting new people and networking can be a daunting business, but if you already have a shared story the obstacle can seem a little easier to overcome. Development and Alumni have engaged the Alumni community to provide these opportunities.

In just three weeks’ time, the 2019 Insights programme students will be setting out on their Insights adventures, meeting with Alumni, learning about themselves and discovering new career paths. This year, we have 64 students travelling to meet Alumni in London, Brussels, New York, Washington DC, Boston, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Singapore on the Global strand of the programme, and 40 students are going to organisations around central Scotland. Over 100 Alumni will be hosting students at their place of work over the week of activity.

Last year, Ellen Harper, a second year Biological Sciences student, had a three-day Local Insight at Re:markable, a leadership and organisational development organisation. Ellen tells us about her experience:

[The Alumni] …talked us through their inspiring careers and were extremely insightful in what they had to say; tailoring their responses to our questions to each of our individual situations. Cate, in particular, talked about how she has been a volunteer member of a number of boards throughout her career. This especially interested me as, though my degree is in Biological Sciences and I currently intend to pursue a career in scientific research (at least as my first career), doing as Cate does and volunteering on boards outside of work could be a way for me to also explore an interest in the more business-oriented side of the world of work. It was also eye-opening to hear how autonomous both Cate and Karen’s work is. Initially, I have always been put off by the thought of working in an office as I had imagined to have a to-do list set by your boss on your desk every day. However, talking to the team at Re:markable I found that each member was responsible for their own work, that what they did day-to-day was up to them, and their only real assigned task was to do all they could to attain the company-wide goals they had set for the financial year.

Follow the #UoEInsights to find out what this years’ students and alumni get up to during the Insights week 3rd – 9th June.

Eilidh Steele

Eilidh is passionate about the importance of supporting students to realise their potential and develop their skills through work experience and work related learning.  Eilidh leads the Internships and Work Experience team at the Careers Service. She is responsible for the Insights Programme and the Employ.ed Internship programmes that provide supported internships for students On Campus and with Small and Medium sized organisations. Eilidh is also a member of the AGCAS Placement and Work Related Learning Task Group.

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