15 May 2017

Helping students reach their potential

Since 2015 the WTI has offered a mentoring project for MILE students. Students taking up the offer are matched up with a specially selected member of the MILE alumni who takes them under their wing and helps them to establish themselves professionally.

We spoke to two current pairs in the mentorship scheme about their experiences: Maxine Kennett who mentors Stuti Toshi, and Marta Soprana, mentor to Anvar Rahmetov.

Maxine and Marta, you have both mentored MILE students before. Why did you decide to sign up?

M.K.: Because I like to support junior lawyers and trade specialists. I benefited greatly from mentoring when I was starting my career and I believe I should give others the same opportunity. I feel I ought to give something back.

M.S.: I was approached by the WTI in 2015 and decided from the get-go that I would love to be a part of it, because MILE opened up so many opportunities for me, career-wise, that I wanted to find a way to give back and help other students take full advantage of their time in Bern. Offering advice on how to navigate MILE itself, and especially professional life post-MILE, allows me to do just that. Since I have greatly benefited from all the pieces of advice I have received from professors, former MILE students and colleagues at work in the past six years, I feel it is important to continue this 'tradition' and put my experience and knowledge at the disposal of MILE students.

Maxine, what do you find rewarding about it?

M.K.: I like to see young lawyers and trade specialists do well and reach their potential. It has been a pleasure to mentor Stuti. She hasn’t needed much support.

Marta, do you also benefit from the contact with Anvar?

M.S.: Yes, I do. Anvar has offered me very valuable advice about writing research proposals and shared information about events and conferences that could be of interest to me.

Stuti and Anvar, why is it important for you to have a mentor?

S.T.: It is very important for me to have a mentor, as the realistic and practical picture of the world is sometimes not visible to a student with minimal experience. My focus post-MILE will be to start working, and that required the perspective of someone who is in the field. Thankfully, I've been very lucky to have Maxine as my mentor. 

A.R.: For me, it was important to have a senior colleague who had been through the challenges I thought I would face after graduating from the MILE. The professional world of international trade is complicated, confusing and very network-focused. I wanted to rely on friendly advice from someone in taking key decisions throughout the MILE year ­– regarding topics to concentrate on, internships to seek, challenges to be aware of and pitfalls to avoid. I also wanted to rely on that person's professional network to gain access to the necessary people. Given that the WTI does not have a dedicated career office, having a mentor was crucial.

How regular is your contact?

S.T.: We are in contact once to twice a month, and we've made significant progress in terms of improving the structure of my CV. Now the focus is to prepare my applications for the relevant places. I’ve learnt a lot from Maxine’s guidance in terms of what my approach should be.

A.R.: It is not very regular – it depends on her availability and my needs. We contact each other on an ad-hoc basis, to share a vacancy, discuss a question or ask for a quick favour.  I remember three or four key engagements since I started the MILE.

How helpful has it been so far?

S.T.: The mentorship programme has been extremely helpful. I think I am well equipped, under Maxine’s guidance, to further my future prospects. 

A.R.: Very helpful. A mentor is a confidant – you can frankly discuss things that you would be hesitant to take to a professor or a member of the administration. My mentor has been through some of the hard times I (will) face, so I benefit from her retrospective. And it helps that mentors are alumni – they are more senior than you are professionally, but still fall within more or less the same age group – so there is peer-to-peer feeling to it.

Do you think you will stay in touch after the MILE?

S.T.: Yes, definitely. My intentions are to stay in touch with Maxine. Not only is she an excellent mentor, she's an amazing person as well and I've learnt a lot from her in the process.

A.R.: Definitely. I hope we might even work together on a project sometime. And I would be willing to serve as a mentor myself!