When Farhan Malik's was about to finish his doctoral studies, he found himself in a new situation. The man who had been encouraged to move directly on to doctoral education from his master's studies had never had to search for work in his field and did not know what he should look for and where he might find it.
'I had heard about Aalto University's mentoring pilot for doctoral students and requested to be included in the programme. I am writing my dissertation on electric power systems at the School of Electrical Engineering and hoped that my mentor would be an experienced representative of the industry in my field', Farhan Malik recalls.
Soon, an expected message arrived in Malik's e-mail: he had been matched with Tapio Keränen, who had a long career in energy business behind him.
'I was asked to be involved in Aalto's mentoring activities a few years ago', explains Keränen, who graduated from TKK in 1975.
'I have supervised numerous master's theses in my work, and naturally joined the activities. In the autumn, I was asked to become a mentor in this programme tailored for doctoral students.
The programme was initiated due to a need to improve and diversify the chances of those graduating with a doctoral degree in the competitive and international labour market.
'The pilot was planned in close cooperation with the coordinators of the doctoral programmes of the different schools', HRD expert Kaija Meriläinen explains.
'We have an extensive alumni network at our disposal, allowing us to seek mentors best responding to the wished and needs of the students, i.e. actors', tells expert Kaisa Hölttä from Partnership Services.
In the end, 16 mentor-actor pairs began in the pilot that commenced in November. At the beginning of the programme, the pairs prepared an agreement in which they recorded mutually agreed objectives.
'The programme includes six meetings and we decided to keep them as informal as possible', Tapio Keränen says.
The contents of the meetings were formed based on Farhan Malik's needs.
I know my strengths and weaknesses and where I should be heading.
'I particularly wished to receive help in the jobseeking process: what is a good CV like, which issues should be highlighted in a job application, who to contact, how to build networks and so on. Even though I have not found a job yet, my situation is completely different now than it was last autumn. I know my strengths and weaknesses and where I should be heading. My mentor has helped me find a direction for my career', he smiles.
Indeed, strengthening the actor's professional identity and working life skills are among the most important goals of the programme according to Kaisa Hölttä. The mentors' networks also offer useful contacts and even direct paths to a new job. In addition, the programme provides the mentors with an opportunity to develop their coaching skills and acquire new information.
'I have learned a lot of new things about Aalto thanks to our relationship.' The world and Otaniemi have changed profoundly since my times; back then, foreign students were rare, these days, there are gifted young people from all over the world, Tapio Keränen considers.
Doctors are needed
In recent months, there has been public discussion on the weakened employment of those with doctoral degrees. However, Tapio Keränen and Farhan Malik feel that there is no need to feel glum.
'Any large company whose operations are based on technology needs people who are capable of solving problems and searching for answers systematically – the very skills provided by doctoral education', Tapio Keränen emphasises.
'I also defended my doctoral thesis in 2010 and know that writing a doctoral dissertation also teaches other valuable things, such as being systematic and having a critical approach to information.'
Farhan Malik explains that, during the pilot, he noticed a constant search for employees with expertise in the labour market, regardless of redundancies. With the encouragement of his mentor, he has been studying Finnish at a fast pace in order to improve his possibilities for finding employment.
'Tapio has also helped me understand that working in the industry is better suited to my personality than the academic world. In five years' time, I see myself in managerial tasks related to energy systems for the new age. I am glad to also have Tapio's support in the future!'
The new mentoring programme for doctoral students begins in March.
Expert Kaisa Hölttä
Stakeholder Programmes, Partnership Services
Tel. +358 50 301 1608
HRD Expert Kaija Meriläinen
Tel. +358 50 562 8938