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“Help, I’ve almost graduated. What to do now?”

“Help, I’ve almost graduated. What to do now?”

Photographer:Fotograaf: pixabay/collage: Simone Golob

UM seminar on Advising towards Employability

What can I do with my qualification? What do I have to offer? Today’s students are under severe pressure and hardly have time to think about themselves and their future. It is the university’s job to help them, to ensure that no talent goes to waste and that future academics can enter the labour market with more self-insight and confidence, say Robert Pans and Oscar van den Wijngaard. On 2 June -for the second year running - they will organise a seminar on behalf of the Council for Academic Advising and Student Counselling of Maastricht University (SUMa) on the theme: Advising towards Employability ll.

“Yesterday, a bachelor’s student knocked on my door. She is studying Finance and has gained almost all of her credits. She will be doing exams in the last remaining subjects in a week’s time. After that, she has a writing assignment and then she will have graduated within the designated time.” She seems to be a model student, but appearances are deceiving. “She was in a panic; what should I do after that, she asked, I don’t know what I want.” This story is reported by Wim Bogaert, student adviser at the School of Business and Economics.

“It is such a pity that this student only came to us for help when she was almost finished,” say Bogaert and Robert Pans, head of SBE Student Advising and Academic Counselling Office. “There is nothing wrong with her academic knowledge, but when it comes down to her self-knowledge, insight into her competencies – things like leadership, dealing with uncertainty, analytical skills, intercultural communication, sense of responsibility – and self-confidence, she scores badly. She didn’t take part in any extracurricular activities, such as a student job, board or council membership, meeting alumni, service science factory projects, et cetera. That is when you learn a lot about yourself, discover where your interests lie and which competences you have. This student now has some homework to do and we have made a follow-up appointment to discuss these issues with her.”

How is this possible? In the first year, the SBE student advisers invite all students for a personal talk after the first block: on a voluntary basis. A mere 15 per cent takes up the offer. “I would like to make it compulsory. I am convinced that the number of drop-outs would decrease and the pleasure in studying would actually increase,” says Pans. In fact, he and Bogaert feel that these talks should continue throughout the study period at “key moments, such as the end of the first year, when the choice is made for a study abroad, a work placement, a master’s and at the time of graduation”. Not just by student advisers but also by members of the academic staff. The so-called “advising curriculum” should become more interwoven with the ‘regular’ curriculum; the ‘whole person learning’ principle that SBE has been promoting for some time. “These days, a university can no longer limit itself to just offering an academic curriculum. Academic knowledge is important, but (study) advice and guidance process, in which the students gain insight into themselves, is also important. Include moments to ask questions like: who am I? What can I do? What do I have to offer? What should I do after my bachelor’s? What would suit me?”

Sound bite

Two streets away, on the Zwingelput, where University College is housed, this kind of student guidance has been the standard for years, says Oscar van den Wijngaard, co-ordinator of Academic Advising UCM and together with Robert Pans one of the driving forces behind SUMa and the seminar. Every UCM student has an academic advisor. They don’t take the student by the hand, but teach them to take a better look at themselves and in doing so, make the right choices. “Advising is teaching and it is about the whole person - whole person learning - so it’s about academic knowledge and skills, about competences as well as experience and personal characteristics,” they say. These are two of SUMa’s mottos, which find more and more response throughout the UM, according to Pans and Van den Wijngaard. The latter adds “At UCM, this system is more self-evident because the curriculum is not fixed, but it would be good for every student.” Should the students not do this themselves? Pans: ”You shouldn’t assume that they can do this alone, certainly considering the present short duration of study programmes, the pressure, and the high expectations. It is not all about a sound bite layer so that students can sell themselves better. It is about insight, resulting in more self-confidence in taking the next step.”

Young

Reine Ramaekers, a UCM student who is hoping to graduate in four weeks’ time and who will perform during the seminar, knows all about it. “In my first year, during my very first meeting with my academic advisor, she asked: which master’s do you want to do after this? Something in Psychology, I said. I see that you haven’t chosen statistics, she continued, and psychology without statistics is impossible.” Ramaekers took her advice and chose statistics. In her second year, the UCM student was still convinced that she wanted to do a master’s immediately after her graduation. “I just thought it was easiest. I noticed during a UCM project like Think Tank [students carry out independent research on behalf of an organisation, in this case: how does PBL fit into the 21st century] and the Debate project [a short research project, in this case: how do work placements fit into the curriculum] that research, but also teaching, appeals to me.” A research master’s in something like Neuropsychology appealed to her. Until her graduation came closer: “I noticed in my third year that I didn’t feel ready yet. I want to gain more research skills before I start my research master’s. I am still only 20, I feel very young.” Talks with fellow students (“we are a close community, and we talk a lot about this kind of thing”), her academic advisor (“who knows me very well by now”) but also a workshop in decision-making constituted the basis for her decision. “I will take a gap year. I am going to be a tutor at UCM for 70 per cent of the time and hope that I can do some small research project at the Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences.”

Seminar Advising towards Employability ll

There are workshops, courses, personal counselling, presentations, meetings with alumni, et cetera. When it comes to student advice and guidance, Maastricht University has no fewer than 250 different ‘activities’ to choose from. The Council for Academic Advising and Student Counselling of Maastricht University (SUMa) has drawn up a list and is organising its second seminar on Thursday 2 June. It is first and foremost an exchange of best practices by faculties, but also by Student Services, the university library and the language centre. “We want to learn from each other, to see if something is missing in student advice and guidance, and whether it is possible to arrive at a shared vision,” say the organisers Pans and Van den Wijngaard, who will both talk about their own experiences. “Student guidance is more than offering help during a crisis. You want students to think about their studies, their skills, competences, experience and personal characteristics, so that they gain more insight and self-confidence and are better prepared for the future.”

Everyone is welcome; there are still places available. For more information: oscarvandenwijngaard@maastrichtuniversity or telephone 3885489 or https://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/about-um/faculties/humanities-and-sciences/advising-towards-employability-ii

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