A coach for every student

A coach for every student

"What am I good at? What suits me? How can I distinguish myself from others?”

27-09-2023 · Background

Coaching students is on the up and up, also at UM. Several faculties are looking into this. Two PhD students from the School of Business and Economics wrote an accessible booklet on the subject, which was published on Tuesday.

A search in the Chamber of Commerce register yields hundreds of student coaches, of all shapes and sizes. Most of these are one-man businesses, but also agencies that help students find accommodation, to study more effectively, to graduate, to develop socially-emotionally, to become mentally stronger. Others help students set up their own businesses or in finding the right job. Sometimes exclusively for ‘high potentials’, or only for foreign students.

In higher education, coaching is also becoming more popular. For years, students have been able to get help from the Student Services Centre with talks or workshops, but faculties are now also becoming more serious about it. Together with the law faculty, SBE is investigating how they can offer faculty-wide coaching. At the moment, there are mainly separate initiatives, for example at Biomedical Sciences and the master’s of Learning & Development in Organisations at SBE.

Students have a greater need for it, says Wendy Nuis, researcher at SBE. “More so than before, they are looking for ways to develop themselves, as students but also as first-time employees. What am I good at? What suits me? How can I distinguish myself from others?”

Together with colleague Niels van der Baan, she carried out research for a PhD thesis on this subject. Nuis focused on coaching during the study period, Van der Baan on looking for a job. Their efforts are about to result in two PhD theses, but their more easily accessible booklet Coaching op de grens van opleiding en werk, was published on Tuesday. They wrote it together with their PhD supervisor Simon Beausaert and Belgian expert Johan De Wilde.

For what kind of student is coaching suitable? For those who have no idea what they want to do?

Van der Baan: “Coaching is useful for all students. It is about employability, usability, competences. It is good to become aware of such things as a student. What can I do? Employers are finding it more and more important too.”

Nuis: “They want to know if you can be a leader and how you then resolve conflicts. Whether you can work well with others and how you do that. In coaching sessions, you can think about those aspects. That is good for every student, also for those who do know what they want. Students may have a blind spot, always thought that consultancy wasn’t for them, but then change their mind.”

Is a coach really necessary? Plenty of employment opportunities these days.

Van der Baan: “Students easily find jobs these days, but that doesn’t mean that they are prepared for them. Sometimes, they already leave their first employer after a couple of months, because that is not the place for them. We are both coaches and help students discover what suits them. We see them six times a year.”

How do you recognise a good coach?

Nuis: “A good coach will not steer a student in a specific direction and will not force their ideas on the student. You primarily listen and ask critical questions. Sometimes, you challenge your ‘coachee’. If students find it difficult to approach an HR manager at a reception, I will give them a little push.”

Van der Baan: “Empathy is important too. If students give the impression that they are stressed, I will ask them about it. What is causing it? Which emotions are they feeling? But we are not psychologists. If something in their private lives is bothering them, I will refer the students to a social worker.”

Lecturers are already at the end of their tether. Not everyone will want to embrace the idea of coaching students.

Nuis: “At the same time, coaching is often seen as one of the core tasks of a lecturer, both in the literature and in practice.”

Van der Baan: “Not everybody may feel comfortable coaching, but that is exactly why we have written this book, to provide them with firm handles.”

What did your PhD research show?

Nuis: “In one of my studies, in which I followed 160 students for a whole year, it appeared that coaching actually contributes towards critical self-reflection and the development of certain competences, including flexibility and oral and written communication.”

Van der Baan: “My research shows that coaching is effective in preparing students for the labour market. Autonomy is important in this, having the freedom to set out lines yourself. I also looked at whether they found a job they wanted. That was the case for twelve students whom I interviewed. Coaching had helped the majority of them in this field, they said, especially the self-reflection.”

The book Coaching op de grens van opleiding en werk can be ordered at Uitgeverij Lannoo Campus; Cost 29.99 euro