Mini-series: Student leadership and professional development

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In this last Peer Learning and Support mini-series post, Dr Robyn Pritzker, Peer Learning Coordinator, draws on the Citizen Scholar framework to link peer learning and support with social change, which has impact beyond the walls of the University…

Across the last two months, the Peer Learning and Support team has brought together a range of perspectives on our Schemes and projects through this series. We’ve covered what our department does, some of the crucial issues we face, and some of our ongoing considerations. We have written about the balance between students’ academic and personal identities, the shifting priorities between undergraduates and postgraduates, and the international community of students we represent and for whom we advocate, among many other topics.

Our hope has been to highlight the breadth of our student initiatives, as well as the many competing motivations involved in developing and supporting peer-led groups. In this final piece, I will discuss the relevance of participating in a peer group, as a leader or an attendee, with regards to professional development and graduate attributes. That is to say, using the framework of the Citizen Scholar to link peer learning and support with social change, I’ll tie up this Peer Learning and Support series by explaining why what we do is relevant beyond the walls of the University.

As James Arvanitakis and David J Hornsby (2016) define them in Universities, the Citizen Scholar and the Future of Higher Education, Citizen Scholars are students who apply discipline-specific knowledge in order to develop and support their community and wider society. Emphasis on a Citizen Scholar model helps universities produce graduates who think innovatively, creatively, and unconventionally, who have decision-making and teamwork skills which are advantageous within professional environments. This framework for learning, teaching, and people development furthermore, and importantly, indicates the University’s role in shaping conscientious, responsive, and social-emotionally intelligent members of society, rather than only academically successful graduates.

The Citizen Scholar is a resource through which to investigate the beneficial outcomes of institutions acknowledging their role in civic life. In other words, when universities acknowledge that they are part of society, rather than removed from it, both University and society thrive more. Peer-focussed activities are a key concern of the well-defined Citizen Scholar: they allow students an opportunity to take responsibility over their own learning outcomes, but also to demonstrate the kind of services and support mechanisms they want to see within the institution. In this way, Peer Learning and Support participants, regardless of their role, help facilitate change within the university through a bottom-up effort rather than a top-down one. The experience of involvement with such cooperative and collaborative groups will benefit graduates as they move into (or back into) the workplace, and as they become community leaders.

Some of the skillsets favoured in professional candidates across many industries are common to Citizen Scholars, and in this case Student Leaders, as well. Such capabilities include both general and subject-specific experience in data and project management, communication, team facilitation, and event coordination, liaising with internal and external stakeholders, guiding conversations and speaking publicly, supporting or delivering professional services, and building digital resources.

Forward-thinking leaders of Peer Learning and Support Schemes are precisely the type of individual the Citizen Scholar is modelled upon, but peer learning and peer development takes place at every stage of a career. Our hope is to enable students to help each other enhance those skills, for their own benefit, and in order to build a more supportive community and society.


Arvanitakis, J., and D. Hornsby, editors. Universities, the Citizen Scholar and the Future of Higher Education. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2016.

Robyn Pritzker

Dr Robyn Pritzker is the Peer Learning Coordinator for the Edinburgh University Students’ Association, supporting the wider department of Student Opportunities. She holds a PhD in English Literature, also from Edinburgh University. Robyn is particularly interested in collaborative learning, open educational resources, and digital transformations, and has taught at the undergraduate, secondary, and primary level throughout her career. She has worked on several digital humanities research and training initiatives, and is keen to continue exploring the way new technologies can enhance teaching and learning in higher education. Robyn also writes about film and television, and reads ghost stories.

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