Steps to success: Connecting careers to student support

Image credit: Pixabay, pexels, CC0

In this post, Susan Bird, the Link Careers Consultant for the School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Edinburgh, explores a recent opportunity to strengthen ties between the Careers Service and evolving student support systems. Susan highlights some of the tools used (and lessons learned) from this time-sensitive project, aimed at smoothening academic and professional transitions for students. This post is part of the Learning & Teaching Enhancement Series: Careers and Employability.

The Careers Service works with partners across the University to progress the careers and employability agenda. There has been significant progress over the last few years, with both students and staff recognising the importance of this element of the university experience. But progress is variable and it is only fair to acknowledge that reach and impact can depend much on individual relationships, rather than a wholesale culture shift in schools. With this in mind, we wanted to see if we could contribute to the broader vision of curriculum reform, ensuring all students have a genuinely transformative experience at University that translates into career and personal success… defined by the student, not us.

The advent of the new student support model offered an opportunity to draw a clear link between the Careers Service and student support, making the implicit, explicit. In summer 2022, a small project team conceived a plan to design and develop a suite of resources with the following benefits in mind:

  • Students engage with career and professional development at an earlier stage in university life, making the process more manageable and less pressured, minimising anxiety in later years when academic pressures amplify
  • Cohort Leads and Student Advisers are supported by the Careers Service in their roles and they can see the connection between careers and employability and other key agendas, e.g., wellbeing, resilience, and reflective practice
  • Both students and staff recognise the value and wider applicability of engaging in careers and employability thinking and activity at each of the key transition stages, and can start to build a coherent personal narrative
  • A more informed understanding of the Careers Service remit and a chance to shift the dial – with less focus on outputs (e.g. CVs!) and more on inputs (instilling confidence, understanding risk and resilience, and becoming more self-aware)

Stepping up to the task…

The team worked to a rather punishing timeframe, with just four weeks to iterate – reiterate and deliver! Understanding the power of a pithy name and clear message, we decided to adopt the ‘step’ motif, not least to denote the movement across the main stages. The final version became:

  • Stepping into University -> for early years
  • Stepping up to Honours -> for penultimates
  • Stepping out of University -> for finalists

All resources, materials, and content were created with each particular stage in mind but also with a clear thread connecting the series. The idea was to build stepping stones, making the journey of self-discovery, career exploration, and future planning feel more seamless.

Everything was complete by the start of semester, and there is now a full suite of off-the-shelf material for academic staff to incorporate into group sessions. The content assumes no prior knowledge of career development and provides a framework for open exploration, discussion, action, and reflection in an engaging and accessible way.

Making a meal of it!

Our approach to positive collaboration and partnership building is ‘work with the grain’ and trying to understand pressure points – notably, time, or the absence thereof. As such we adopted – and adapted – the  “Bite, Snack, and Meal” concept, popularised by O’Flavahan, developing sessions plans with in-built flexibility, enabling colleagues to choose between a 10, 20, or 50 minute session.  And there is another consideration too: many of us have experienced some degree of cognitive stress (and diminished concentration) during the pandemic and post-pandemic environment, and we’ve certainly observed this in our students – trying to cover too much, too soon, will see them reaching for the off switch.

How does it work in practice?

  • Each suite of resources includes a 10, 20, and 50-minute session, complemented by self-guided materials for students to access at leisure.
  • Meal: 3 x 50-min sessions, one for each of the three key transition points for school staff to deliver, covering the major topics.
  • Bite and Snack: 1-2 template session plans for staff who have less time but still want to cover one or more of the topics from the self-led students’ resources, e.g., ‘If you have 10 minutes available, take one topic from the modular student resources, introduce it…, prompt individual reflection by…, facilitate group discussion by…, and encourage next steps by…’.​
  • Briefing material produced that introduces school staff to the developed materials and how to use them.

You can access the resources here (The University of Edinburgh log-in required).

What now – and what next?

The Transitions materials provide an invaluable opportunity for our academic colleagues to support students in their academic, professional, and personal development in a way that finds common links and shared concepts. With minimal preparation for significant gain, we hope this model will find favour. Initial feedback from academic colleagues has been very positive but there is still a way to go. Please get in touch and share your insights, ideas, and inputs.

Our next challenge was developing a version supporting PGT transitions.  This is now available for staff and can typically be used in Semester 1: Step Forwards (for Masters students)


O, Flavahan. “The Bite, Snack and the Meal.” Inc. Magazine. 29 June 2001.

photograph of the authorSusan Bird

Susan Bird is a Careers & Employability Manager, leading a team of Careers Consultants covering Chemistry, Geosciences, Informatics, Maths, and Engineering. She is the link consultant for the School of Physics and Astronomy, based at the Nucleus, Kings Buildings. Susan has over 13 years’ experience in careers guidance working with students of all disciplines. A graduate from Aberdeen and Edinburgh Napier universities, her background includes medical underwriting, product development within an SME, and Careers Information Manager.

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