3 May 2017

“There was a need for guidance and career advice”

Sascha Finger, who along with Corinne Karlaganis has responsibility for alumni within the WTI communications team, answers questions about the MILE mentorship programme that is now in its third year, in the first of two interviews about student mentoring at the WTI.

Why did the WTI decide to launch the mentoring programme in 2015?

The idea to launch a mentoring scheme is much older than the actual programme. We started to think about it in 2012, when students approached me and asked various questions about career opportunities and the MILE programme. These were often questions not specifically directed to the MILE team or a professor. So we felt there was a need for guidance and career advice. In the following years that request for guidance was repeated, so we started to plan the programme in 2014 and launched it in 2015.

Is it open to all students?

It used to be open to everyone. And it it’s not necessarily closed to anyone. We just observed that some students had already acquired a lot of work experience and would not benefit from the programme. As the mentors are our alumni, they would also back off mentoring someone who had wide experience. Therefore, we advise those students to contact faculty or other people in the WTI network, rather than participate in the mentoring programme.

How do you pair up students with mentors?

The students have to write a short application, mentioning their field of expertise, their interests, strengths and weaknesses. Once we know who they are, we look for the alumnus who is best able to meet their respective needs. Some students seek someone who has just finished the MILE, in order to get advice during the programme on exams or classes. Others look for advice in CV writing.

What kind of response have you had from alumni when you look for volunteers?

Out of around 500 alumni at the moment we have a small, but very supportive, pool of mentors. If we have more students participating than mentors from that pool, we contact other alumni. And they usually are happy to volunteer. In general, I find our alumni very helpful and polite – it’s nice working with them, even if I don’t know them all personally.

How many pairs are there this year, and how does that compare with previous years?

This year we have eight pairs, which is half of what we had in previous years. The number declined maybe because we pointed out at the very beginning of this year that mentees would also need to invest some time, not just the mentors. But we also have a smaller group in general this year.

What is your vision for the programme?

I would like to see its continuation for many years! Some of the mentees are very happy and remain in contact with their mentors even after the MILE – I want this to continue. I think we can still improve several things from the structural side, and I hope we can do this soon. I would be happy to see the mentoring scheme become a strong and attractive component of the MILE programme, a reason to come to Bern.