Lessons and inspiration from mentorship

Mentors and mentees share their stories.
Yhteiskuvassa Khanh Vu ja Junhui Wang seisomassa rinnakkain, taustalla valkoinen seinä. Junhui Wang nojaa kevyesti Khan Vuta vasten kädet tämän hartioilla.
Khanh Vu and Junhui Wang. Photo: Aleksi Poutanen.

For many students, university is a time to explore their potential and figure out their future. At Aalto, students can connect with an experienced mentor to guide them through the possibilities and challenges in this journey. The Aalto Mentoring Program offers one-on-one mentoring, while the newer Aalto International Talent Program (AITP) provides mentoring in groups for international students. We asked a mentor and mentee from each about their experience and how it helped them.

Finding a path 

Khanh Vu, recent MA graduate, School of Business, mentee in Aalto Mentoring Program: 

‘When I started, I didn’t know what career I wanted, so I needed a person to discuss my career path with. I looked for a mentor with a similar background to me, somebody with an international background coming to Finland and working in the same field. I wanted to hear their story and how they made decisions, not just on the professional side but also in their personal path as well.

The discussions and meetings with my mentor made me feel that I had a companion who I could share things with. Of course, you can share with your friends, but in terms of career, my friends are at the same stage as me. So there were more things to discuss with the mentor, at least at that point.

When we talked about what’s important in life, both of us mentioned time with friends and family. We realised that we need to always remind ourselves what we want to achieve but also compare that with what we consider important in life in the longer term.

I used to think a lot before doing things and maybe consider too many different options. But after the mentoring, I feel I have more courage and can do the things I actually want to.’

Being a co-pilot

Junhui Wang, Head of Integrations, Outokumpu, third time Aalto Mentoring Program mentor:  

‘I joined the mentoring programme because I was a mentee many years ago. I had a very inspiring mentor who helped me a lot, and we still keep in touch and meet up sometimes. I wanted to pass that spirit of helpfulness forward and try my best to share my experience.

My way of mentoring is to tell the mentee that I’m their co-pilot and they’re in the driver’s seat. In the beginning, I just listen to find out what they want and what their interest area is. Or if they don’t know yet, then I ask what things they don’t like. I always remind them that how I work comes from my history. It’s not the only way, and it might not be right for them.

I try to ask the right questions and let them talk about whatever they need to, whether professional development or something more personal. One of my mentees had some personal life challenges and was feeling quite down. At some point during the mentoring, I noticed a difference in her. I could really see a spark in her eyes. She told me that my way of mentoring and the language I used really helped her and gave her support. I was so relieved, and I felt really happy that I was able to help her and see the changes. That was a moment that really touched me. It felt like I did something right.’

Matti Aksela kuvattuna siten, että suorakaiteen muotoinen valkoinen valo osuu hänen kasvoihinsa, tausta on tumma, sinisävyinen.
Matti Aksela. Photo: Aleksi Poutanen.

A chance to learn

Matti Aksela, D.Sc (Tech), VP, Services, WithSecure, third time Aalto International Talent Program mentor: 

‘Back when I was studying at the Helsinki University of Technology, one of the things I thought was really interesting was getting a glimpse of what life could be after your studies. It wasn’t very common to have interactions with people from industry, but I really valued them when they happened. 

I wasn’t specifically looking for an international program, but of course, in Finland we need to have the smartest minds working in the right places, and I’m a big supporter of diversity and happy to do my best to help people who don’t have a Finnish background or know Finnish working culture and hopefully make their transition a little easier. It also gives me the opportunity to speak with students from many different backgrounds and understand things from their perspective.

I’m glad that I’m able to help the students and give them what I honestly would have liked to have even more during my studies, which is exposure to experienced people and a chance to ask questions. And for me, trying to explain something allows me to understand it better. To share something, you need to structure it in your head and convey it in a way that others understand. It’s good practice for communication in general – so I see the program as a continuous learning opportunity for myself, as well as a chance to give back a little to the Aalto community and get to know many talented students.’

Ulviyya Quliyeva kuvattuna sinivihreää taustaa vasten siten, että hänen kasvoilleen osuu kirkas suorakaiteen muotoinen valkoinen valokeila.
Ulviyya Quliyeva. Photo: Aleksi Poutanen.

Real life applications

Ulviyya Quliyeva, Doctoral researcher, School of Electrical Engineering, mentee in Aalto International Talent Program: 

‘I was thinking of switching to industry after I finish my PhD, so the International Talent Program was a great opportunity to talk with engineers and HR people from a company. I knew I want to work on products that make it into real life applications, but I didn’t know what kind of skills I should have. 

Doing a PhD is a bit different from industrial work because you focus on one specific area of research. I realised that to work in industry I should improve my skills in certain areas to be competitive for the types of positions I want to apply to. Now I’m taking specific courses in addition to what I was already doing so my skills will match the requirements of the companies which interest me.

The environment was very relaxed and stress-free. You could ask as many questions as you wanted, and we asked a lot.

As an international student, the mentoring helped me because I realised that in Finland networking is very important. That was kind of a turning point for me. After that, I started going to different events and trying to get to know people in different companies instead of being isolated without professional connections in Finland.

I haven’t really had very much exposure to industry, so taking part in the mentoring program was really important. Now I’m sure I want to switch to industry.’

  • The Aalto Mentoring Programme started in 2012, though there were predecessing programmes at the Helsinki School of Economics and the Helsinki University of Technology. The programme connects working-life experts with master’s students at Aalto. The programme is also multicultural and international, with people of 54 nationalities taking part. So far, 1556 mentoring pairs have gone through the programme. 

    ‘Mentoring can promote employability, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to help the students develop their working life competencies and broaden their horizons. It’s also a very natural way for alumni to connect with the university and give something back, and it’s a good learning experience for them, too,’ says Kaisa Hölttä, who managed the programme until this March.

  • The Aalto International Talent Programme began more recently, launching in 2020. Now in its fourth year, the programme has connected over 550 master’s and doctoral students with mentors at 26 companies. Many companies have taken part year after year, a testament to the programme’s value. 

    ‘We aim to help students learn about Finnish working life and culture and get to know the companies and of course build their networks. Our goal is to encourage students to stay in Finland by enabling them to build a career here over the long term,’ explains programme manager Kaisa Paasivirta.

This article has been published in the Aalto University Magazine issue 32, April 2023.

Read more about the mentoring programs

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