Universiteit Leiden

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‘In these times you need all the help and connections you can get’

Because they could really have used it during their own time as students. For many alumni, that’s their reason for signing up for the mentors network at Leiden University. Around 2,200 alumni are ready and waiting to offer students help and answer questions about study, internships or careers. The Faculty of Humanities is working with a new module for mentor and tutor groups.

The first-year students are introduced by way of informative film clips and a few assignments to the options offered by those alumni in the mentor netwerk . For some of them, working life still seems a long way away, as third-year student Aislinn Hughes remarks. She recently went through the module with ‘her’ mentor group. ‘But they immediately see the usefulness of such an alumni network. And by introducing them to the option at the beginning of their study programme, you make it more accessible. Such a mentor network is particularly useful in these corona times, when everything is more complicated. The employment market is changing rapidly and the outlook is unclear. So you need all the help and connections you can get.’

Aislinn herself approached an alumnus with questions about master’s programmes. ‘I’m taking a Bachelor’s in English and thinking about going on to do a Master's in International Relations, specialising in Culture and Politics. It’s a subject that interests me. I’d really like to work in an international environment later. I think an embassy would be fantastic, for example.’ 

Advice on choosing a master’s

Aislinn searched in the mentor network for someone who could advise her on a good way of getting there. ‘You can search based on job, employer, education and the study programme taken. My search led to a woman who works in an international team at a multinational in Belgium. I sent her an email on the Friday evening and we were in touch two days later. I found it really worthwhile.’

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Aislinn didn’t only get concrete answers to her questions about choosing a master’s. Her alumna advised her to keep an open mind. ‘I’ll probably come across lots of interesting things along the way, other subjects or directions that also appeal to me and maybe even more so. It’s good to keep an open mind in such things.’

It’s not only study advice that students can get from alumni, says Sanderien de Jong, alumni coordinator at the Faculty of Humanities. ‘It’s also an excellent platform for career advice or help with job applications. Some students ask an alumnus to cast a critical eye over their CV. Others call on the professional expertise of an alumnus. For example, in the film clip we shot about the network, we follow a student who was looking for an internship. Thanks to an alumnus in the network, he was able to get a place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.’ 

The Faculty of Humanities actively draws the attention of students to the network. Currently through the new module, but in the past by way of organising speed dates with alumni. And it works. One quarter of those using the mentor network actually studies at this faculty.

International network

More than 3,000 students have now discovered the network, according to Stephanie Arens, who keeps track of the numbers. Around 100 students a month approach an alumnus for help. That number could be higher, says Stephanie encouragingly. ‘It’s quite unique that the University can offer such a great network. Not many universities do. And since any help is welcome in these uncertain times, I advise everyone to make use of it. Alumni really enjoy helping students on their way.’ So there’'s no need for hesitation. 

The international nature of the network offers additional possibilities, Stephanie points out. The rapid internationalisation of the University is reflected clearly in the network of which exchange students too can be members. So it’s worth consulting the platform also for internships in Singapore, Beijing or elsewhere.

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