Supporting students transitions into, through and out university
Biomedical Sciences discuss new schemes designed to help students transition into University life
For any young person starting university, potentially moving away from home into an unfamiliar setting, with new friends and new educational expectations, it is vital that the transition is as smooth as possible. In the Deanery of Biomedical Sciences we have a package of quality, award winning support designed to help any new undergraduate feel a welcomed and valued addition to our community.
Our pre-arrival initiative, started in 2013, is now being offered across the university as part of the student induction package.
So what do we do?
Our pre-arrival questionnaire asks our students a small number of questions based on their goals, concerns and expectations prior to arrival on campus. The answers provide a snapshot of each student as a unique person with individual opinions and views and thus begins the process of getting to know, to de-anonymise, our students. By providing these answers to the student’s Personal Tutor, the very first staff-student meeting during Welcome Week should be a more fruitful experience thus enriching and strengthening this vital staff-student relationship. For example, by discussing the student's goals the Personal Tutor can provide tailored advice (info on relevant societies/ volunteering/ lab placements), provide help with concerns to reduce anxieties and importantly, discuss expectations about the degree and university teaching in general. Therefore, from the outset the Personal Tutor should be well-informed about the student and responsive to their needs.
Of course to fully-provide high quality student support we should also seek to understand whether these expectations have been matched to the actual experience. Thus, we also ask students after their first year of study about the ‘matching’ of expectations versus experience and again in year 4 to follow the issues and needs that develop longitudinally. By listening to our students we can develop even better support – in fact that’s partly how our peer support scheme got started!
Our peer support scheme won the 2016 EUSA Impact Award for Best Peer Support Scheme.
So what do we do?
In the Deanery of Biomedical Sciences, peer support takes the form of ‘Academic Families’. All new entrants are automatically allocated into an Academic Family, for the entire first year of study, with each family led by two or three trained senior students.
Each family aims to encourage the forming of friendships, to develop a sense of belonging and to ensure that any new student quickly feels part of our wider community. By providing a safe, student-led, welcoming environment, new students can feel comfortable in seeking advice from fellow students on any issue. With meeting times and themes based on student feedback and adaptable to each family, this is a scheme that truly is “support for students by students”. Meetings can cover a variety of issues from ‘dealing with stress’ to ‘making the most of your time at university’. Pizza parties and other whole-group social events allow all our students to network, share experience and make new friendships within an informal environment.
A student led-committee runs the scheme, with staff input to ensure consistency and provide additional support, but it is our 40+ volunteers and 20+ groups that have made this scheme a ‘beacon of good practice’.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the last 3 years on the Medical Sciences programme here at Edinburgh University. My degree has allowed me to experience world-class teaching and a variety of subjects within the medical domain. With graduation fast approaching, I am excited (and daunted) by the possibilities of life after university.
Alongside my studies, I have been involved with peer support with both the Biomedical Society and Academic Family scheme. I am passionate about helping and supporting others and my role within the Academic Family scheme allows me to do this. Makis and I, work with Dr Debbie Shaw, our lovely committee, and brilliant team of leaders to run academic family workshops for all current first year students. Over the course of the semester there are 5 sessions each with a theme specific to that point in the semester from: settling in, to course choices, discussing exam results and looking forward. There are also many social gatherings throughout the year to celebrate the work of our team and to welcome everyone back after first semester.
I believe that the work that all the leaders and families do is a vital part of building community within our deanery. I was very proud to be part of the team which one the best peer support group award last year and see this achievement as acknowledgment for all the hard work and dedication everyone involved with the programme has contributed.
Starting university, particularly in a new country, can be daunting and overwhelming. Back in my first year, we didn’t have a scheme to bring us all together, nor give us advice academically. The Academic Family Peer Support Scheme is a great way to meet people from the same course and create a circle of friends from day one. Each group will have students who come from different cultural backgrounds and with different Honours selections, embracing diversity.
Each family consists of approximately 15 new students and is led by 2-3 junior and senior Honours students, known as the academic family leaders. The leaders have already recently experienced all the excitement and questions one has on their first year and can therefore give advice on certain topics better than a personal tutor or a professor. Moreover, the family aspect of this scheme aims to make the new students feel comfortable enough to address any issues they may have with their leaders, so that they know they have someone to talk to and listen to them. During the year, leaders will have a minimum of 5 meetings with their families, each of them having a theme to help easing the transition from school to university, for example settling in, exam preparation and selecting courses for the following year. Overall, the Academic Family scheme aims to ensure the students feel supported during their first year and, that they have someone to guide them and give them advice
Employability and Development Workshops
Our students are supported throughout their studies and one example of this continuing support is via a series of workshops, designed to enhance student’s employability and well-being. These mixed year, interactive workshops offer students the chance to enhance their interview techniques, develop resilience, deal with stress and enhance presentation skills, amongst other workshop themes. Each theme is developed based on student feedback, with attendance and usefulness rated consistently highly. Initially developed for our Medical Sciences students these workshops are now also offered to our new Biomedical Sciences students.