Voices of experience

Alumni Insights is the University’s new programme that is connecting students with graduates who have progressed to interesting and successful careers.

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Events, including careers panels and online advice clinics, are exposing students to valuable guidance, whilst networking opportunities are enabling career-boosting contacts to be made.

Catherine Thomas, a Masters graduate who also earned a PhD in 2009 is an Alumni Insights mentor.

Lucy Hughes, who graduated with an MA, History and Politics in 2017, is one student Catherine mentored.

We spoke with both Catherine and Lucy, and discovered more about their experiences of the scheme.

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Lucy Hughes and Catherine Thomas
Lucy Hughes and Catherine Thomas

Q&A Catherine Thomas

Tell us about your time at the University of Edinburgh.

I began studying in 1995 and graduated in 1999. I went on to do a Masters in History. Later, I studied for a PhD, which I was awarded in 2009 when I was also working full-time. Challenging, but enjoyable.

What careers advice did you receive as a student?

I received support from the Careers Service, although I don’t remember much help tailored to students of different disciplines. I think the Alumni Insights scheme is brilliant and I wish it had been available when I was studying.

Why did you get involved in Alumni Insights mentoring?

Today’s job climate is very difficult, so when I was approached it sounded like a great way to give something back. It was an opportunity to build on my own skills too.

How did you support Lucy?

We discussed what Lucy wanted from the experience, then agreed goals and actions. Lucy’s interested in the third sector so I shared my experience of how voluntary organisations operate. We also talked about balancing final-year study with career preparation.

Are you proud of what Lucy has gone on to achieve?

Lucy is enormously talented and capable both academically and across her work and voluntary experiences. I’m delighted she has achieved a first-class degree, but not at all surprised! Even so, Lucy knows I’m always here to bounce ideas off and offer any advice I can.

Would you encourage others to become mentors?

Definitely. It was rewarding to spend time with Lucy. It was also an experience that will benefit me in my professional life.

Tell us about other ways you have supported the University.

I’ve taken part in Careers Service panels, sharing with students my career journey and how I have used my degree. I also make a small regular donation.

Tell us one thing you love about Edinburgh.

The people. We aren’t always the most outgoing, but a typical Edinburger is kind, warm and funny. The architecture and the culture are amazing, but the people make it what it is.

Alumni Insights provides a great way to give something back. It was an opportunity to build on my own skills too.

Catherine Thomas

Q&A Lucy Hughes

Tell us about your time at the University of Edinburgh. What were the highlights?

I loved studying at Edinburgh, and getting involved in lots of amazing societies and volunteering opportunities. I even enjoyed writing my dissertation!

I love how the city is intertwined with green spaces too. There are forests to run in, a sea to swim in, giant hills to climb and adventures to be had outdoors. But my absolute highlight is the friends I made. They will be in my life for the long haul.

Why did you join Alumni Insights?

I promised myself I would seek out as many career-boosting opportunities as possible. Alumni Insights offered a chance for structured one-on-one guidance and support. I had a lot of unanswered questions about graduate life. I also wanted to connect with someone based within the third sector. That someone turned out to be Catherine.

So, Catherine was a good match for you?

She was ideal. We went through skills like planning, self-development and self-awareness. Working on those with Catherine really benefited me, as did practical exercises like time-management and interview practice.

Catherine also helped me identify career goals and her third sector experience gave me invaluable insights. But the best advice Catherine offered was to set aside ‘me time’ across my final year. Making time for running, seeing friends and thinking about the future were all as important as the late library sessions.

Would you recommend Alumni Insights to current students?

Absolutely. Having time with an experienced graduate is an amazing resource to tap into. The structure helps too; meetings are spread out over a year, so there are specific points when a student can touch base for advice and support.

What has been a career highlight so far?

I’m hoping my career highlight will emerge this year when I begin the role of Policy Officer for ‘Who Cares? Scotland’. It’s an incredible organisation working with care-experienced young people and care-leavers. Check out the ‘1000 Voices’ project which will feed into the upcoming independent Care Review.

I had a lot of unanswered questions about graduate life. Alumni Insights offers structured one-on-one guidance and support.

Lucy Hughes

The perspectives of History

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Catherine and Lucy were part of the History Mentoring project in 2016/17 that saw third year history students paired with and supported by alumni mentors over a six month period during the academic year.

With mentoring becoming increasingly important to student life, the University’s Careers Service worked with the History department and the Alumni Team to trial a mentoring programme. Motivating, inspiring and encouraging our students is at the heart of what the Careers Service endeavours to do. We felt our alumni could play a key role in achieving this aim by sharing their careers insights, outlooks and experience with our current students.

The University was extremely impressed with the enthusiasm and commitment of the alumni who volunteered their time to support our students, and their positive attitude was strongly refl ected in the feedback of our students. But the benefits fl owed both ways – our alumni mentors valued this experience as a development opportunity, and a chance to strengthen their relationship with the University. The project was so successful that senior management within the School of History, Classics and Archaeology have committed to expanding the programme in 2017/18.

The University acknowledges the huge contribution of our mentors: without their skill, time and effort, the project would not have been possible. Equally, the very generous financial support of History alumnus, Simon Fennell, enabled us to really enhance the quality and scale of our project. Observing the mentoring relationships develop and flourish has been very rewarding.

Could you join our Alumni Insights programme?

Alumni Insight activities are proving popular with students and graduates alike – with both parties gaining from the experience.

Opportunities include mentoring current students, speaking at careers events, and offering online advice.

If you are an Edinburgh alumnus and could offer your skills and experience to our students, please contact CJ Cochran on cj.cochran@ed.ac.uk