The Careers Extra buddy scheme

Conference abstract

This peer-to-peer buddying scheme with associated social and careers events was proposed, developed and delivered in partnership with students belonging to Careers Extra, our programme of enhanced careers support for UK undergraduate students from backgrounds under-represented at UCL.

The scheme’s aims:

  • Help students experience UCL as a place where they belong and are confident in participating in different settings and spaces.
  • Build skills and confidence in providing peer-to-peer support, translating into skills that will support students in future activities, including their future career.
  • Support students’ career exploration and decision-making through engagement with Careers Extra and UCL Careers as a whole, contributing to progression into graduate roles in line with their individual interests and aspirations.

In this presentation by staff and student leads we will:

  • Explore the student perspectives which prompted the scheme.
  • Discuss successes, and challenges faced.
  • Outline the benefits and importance of our student/staff partnership approach.
  • Identify next steps.

2023 Education Conference slides final

Why the buddy scheme?

From the start we have listened hard to student perspectives to shape Careers Extra, initially with focus groups, surveys and one-to-one conversations.  For the last two years we have taken that up a level by recruiting student Careers Extra Champions.  As well as forming a steering group which meets five times a year they propose and work on projects and a buddy scheme for Careers Extra students was one of the first Champions’ proposals.  Following a pilot in 2021-22 we successfully applying for ChangeMakers funding for 2022-23, which allowed us to recruit two student leads, Nadia Ahmed and Aqil Rashid.

The aims of the scheme are given in the abstract above – in a nutshell to promote inclusion and build skills and confidence, but with a careers angle.

Aqil explains why the buddy scheme appealed to him: “Coming into UCL from under-represented backgrounds can leave people feeling isolated. I, for one, struggled to make the friendships I needed to get through university. Through the buddy scheme, there’s an opportunity for people to meet others that are having similar experiences, and exercise mentorship between themselves. I knew this would help manage university life for me and many other like myself, helping those careers extra students to settle into their new environments and make the most out of these three or four years.”

In the pilot year we ran a launch event and students were put into buddy ‘triplets’ (two first years to one second or third year), using a short survey to match by interests.  We know some students found it a valuable scheme – they told us so.  But our biggest challenge was getting feedback from them, making it hard to tell how many of the buddy relationships really got off the ground, let alone endured.  We felt making the scheme more structured, with more events, would help with this, so this year we planned a mixture of social and careers events.

Working as a student/staff partnership has been crucial – both to put on social events that would appeal to students and also to build and maintain connections across the buddy group.  We also wanted from the start to build into the scheme maximum opportunities for students to build skills in return for the time they put into it.  Aqil and Nadia have articulated a number of benefits from working with staff in this way:

“Opening up this circle allows students to not just be another number, reflecting the integrity of this programme. Allowing our inputs and involving us in decisions, gave me the push to make this successful just as much as the staff. This co-operation also gave me valuable experience and skills by working and communicating with UCL staff.” (Aqil)

“The partnership gave us an easier point of contact, this helped us develop our confidence to create good relationships with the staff, where we can both learn from each other. The opportunity also gave insight into how to organise events in such a big institution. Having guidance on how to set up catering and managing a budget are just some of the examples of the different activities we were able to undertake due the student/staff partnership.” (Nadia)

Successes and Challenges

Individual students have told me how much they appreciated not only the actual opportunity to meet others but also the fact that UCL cares enough to provide this scheme.  Plus the buddy scheme is a tangible offer that forms part of the Careers Extra package and gives a focus to encouraging students to sign up to Careers Extra and building engagement with UCL Careers right from the start of year one.

Nadia has been heavily involved in running this year’s scheme from the start of the planning process and highlights both success and challanges:

“We were able to make connections, with employers, students and different members of staff. This included matching pairs that would not otherwise meet, who could support each other during their time at UCL. We also had the opportunity to set up different types of events such as, the launch event, careers events and panels.

However, not everything has been successful. Our first problem was low contact. Although we had formed a group chat where people engaged with us, we still had a low response rate to feedback forms. This followed on to the events, where we had many sign ups, but very few individuals actually turned up to the events.”

I agree that the biggest challenge, again, has been getting feedback and responses from students – our only way of knowing whether relationships are flourishing and whether the scheme has had any impact.  As Nadia says, attendance at events has been really disappointing, and yet in the feedback we did have, more than one student suggested more events would be an improvement!  We also didn’t have enough students in the upper years expressing interest, compared to first years, so we overcame that by pairing some first years with each other, rather than with someone further on through their degree.  Although that wasn’t our original vision, some of those pairings were the most successful and engaged.

Next steps

In spite of the challenges we believe this scheme is important.  We want to run it again next year but with some changes.  At Nadia’s suggestion, we plan to focus on pairing first year buddy pairs but still involving some students in upper years to support and lead the scheme.

We’re keen to see if we can build the social events side more by collaborating with some of the student societies which attract high numbers of Careers Extra students, for example the 93% Club Society (students who attended state schools), UCL First Gen Society, African Caribbean Society and I-Soc.  We also plan to see whether there is any scope for collaboration with the Student Success team and initiatives it may be planning.

One thing I’m certain about is that I wouldn’t run this scheme without student involvement – this is about peer-to-peer relationships and support, so to my mind, student leadership is essential.

Penny Longman, staff project lead

The team, clockwise from top left: Nadia Ahmed, Aqil Rashid, Glyn Jones, Penny Longman:

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