Mentoring Pathways – why do alumni become mentors?

The Mentoring Pathways programme, which offers final-year undergraduate and postgraduate students the opportunity to be matched with a mentor, has been running for close to ten years. In this time, mentors have supported over 1000 students with their career aspirations as they look to graduate from the College.

Mentors are drawn from Birkbeck graduates and corporate partners working in a diverse range of professions and industries. But why do former Birkbeck students decide to mentor current students every year? We hear from two alumni who currently participate on the programme.

Kristin Dockar (Graduate Certificate in Systemic Practice (Child Focused) 2011)

Pictured: Kristin Dockar

I enjoy mentoring Birkbeck students as I believe I am making a difference to somebody. I am enabling and supporting to achieve end goals, remaining impartial, empowering, being a ‘sounding board’, sometimes being a ‘reality check’, and most importantly, developing a relationship of trust.

My motivation to become a mentor increased as I realised I could use the experiences I had gained over a long period of time in my career.

On joining the Birkbeck Mentoring Pathways programme, I received initial training which taught me to be mindful of the rules of engagement. Practical aspects such as where meetings would take place and how often, and discussions on exchanging email addresses and telephone numbers set the tone of the relationship. Discussions also took place around the purpose of being mentored and what outcomes could be aimed for. An important question to ask a prospective mentee is: “What do you want from a mentor?”

As a mentor I have always kept notes on meetings with dates and timelines included. I have also kept notes on what has been achieved and what ‘next steps’ are. This helps the mentee to set targets and achieve and finish tasks.

There are many do’s and don’ts to becoming a mentor, not least trying to tell someone ‘how I’ve done it’, The most necessary skill is the ability to listen actively and hear the stories behind the reason why this individual has decided to take on the daunting task of studying.

Last year I mentored a student taking a Masters’ degree in Policy Making. This student was interested in investigating the ‘hostile environment’ and the effect it can have on migrants to this country.

Because I have an extensive network of different professionals, I was able to link this student with a person working in Border Control in the Civil Service. He was able to provide advice on career opportunities shown on the Civil Service jobs website and give advice on writing a CV and Personal Statement, as well as advice on interview techniques linked to this career path.

I have also just finished mentoring another Birkbeck student studying for his Masters’ degree in Policy Making. Normally the programme would take place from November until June, but due to current circumstances, it has continued until the end of September this year which has worked well.

I have now signed up to the 2020/21 Mentoring Pathways programme and I can’t wait to get started.

Ken Gardiner (MSc Stratigraphy, 1989)

Pictured: Ken Gardiner

I studied at Birkbeck because I wished to further my education in geology beyond the initial BSc degree which I had obtained from the University of Southampton. So I decided to undertake a MSc Stratigraphy degree at Birkbeck. I could continue working in my job full-time living in the suburbs whilst undertaking the Stratigraphy course. Studying at Birkbeck allowed me to progress in my career as a geologist at Chevron to become a more senior member of a UK based independent oil and gas company.

I take part in the mentoring programme as I wish to contribute something back to Birkbeck as it helped me to build my full-time career in the oil and gas industry.  I also enjoy supporting young students who are looking to start or advance their careers.

What advice would I give to current Birkbeck students at this current time? Make sure you keep an open mind when looking at where you may wish to progress with your career and always have a checklist of where you feel your expertise and main strengths lie. Build your CV taking into account your education and work experience background to date and do not over embellish it.  Tailor your CV for each job application based on company research, and once you have several templates you’ll find you have a work in progress for each job application you make.

Amanda Flanaghan (Qualifying Law Degree 2019)

I never felt I really fitted in my first time around as an undergraduate at university some years ago, and therefore did not have the best experience. At Birkbeck, it enabled me to study at the same time as working, at postgraduate level, and meet some really great people who, like myself, valued the opportunity of studying and still remain close to me over a year since completing my studies. I really enjoyed being a student at Birkbeck: the course content, lectures and teaching style and I am inspired to attempt to eventually hopefully study an MPhil/PhD at Birkbeck. 

I was able to experience and live in a brilliant city, hold down part time work alongside gaining the opportunity to study on the LLM Qualifying Law Degree. The evening lectures meant I could have a good balance to fit in time for work and study which I really valued. The many libraries around the city (especially the 24 hour ones!) were useful to study at with people who I met on the course. For me it was a second chance at engaging fully in academic university life.

I take part in the Mentoring Pathways programme as I know that when I was studying for the LLM QLD, I valued how approachable and friendly our part time group was, along with the really valuable help and guidance I was lucky enough to receive from some lecturers and seminar tutors. Everyone was very helpful, and the course was very interesting. It was brilliant to be surrounded by people who were as inspired to be at university. It can be difficult to balance life with working and also studying and/or volunteering. I wanted to be able to give something, some of the experience and advice I had received to someone else coming up.

If you would like to become a mentor on this year’s programme, please complete this application form by Sunday 25 October.

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Alumni & Student Ambassador Officer

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