Despite the COVID pandemic, the University of Helsinki currently has almost 2 000 international degree students, with that number expected to rise every year. Whilst the university is attracting the brightest young international minds to Finland, international students face challenges after graduation when trying to enter the Finnish job market. One of the many reasons for this, is that international students often lack professional networks in Finland that can help give them an edge in finding a job.
To combat this challenge, the University of Helsinki launched in 2019 the HelsinkiUNI International Talent Programme (HITP), a group mentoring programme that connects international students with local companies and organisations. Through the framework of mentoring, the programme enables unique cooperation and knowledge sharing between companies/organisations and international students.
Over the course of the 6 month programme, participating organisations and their group of international students meet 3-5 times to discuss Finnish working life and the students’ experiences in Finland.
One University of Helsinki alumna, Ada MacKeith (TRANSMED 2019) decided she wanted to help international students at the university, and with her employer Crown CRO, she took part in HITP as a mentor for students on the TRANSMED programme.
“I wanted to give back to my degree programme because it had given so much to me.”
After completing her undergraduate studies in Global Health and Psychology in the US, Ada returned to her hometown of Helsinki to complete a Master’s degree in Translational Medicine at the university.
– I wasn't really sure what aspect of health research I wanted to pursue in my master's studies, but TransMed sounded like it could cater to a lot of different interests at the same time.
Thankfully for Ada, the degree programme turned out to be a great choice for her.
In her job in Crown CRO, a private clinical trials company, Ada found her degree had given her a great foundation for career and she was therefore happy when the University reached out to offer her the opportunity to participate in HITP as a mentor.
– I did feel very strongly that I wanted to give back to the TRANSMED programme because it has given so much to me: during my first year at Crown, I noticed that in every single clinical trial I worked on, I benefited from something that I had learned in the TRANSMED courses. So we entered into the discussion about what it could mean for Crown CRO to take part in HITP.
“I have been where you are” – Alumni can offer valuable advice to current students
However, Ada’s decision to support HITP was not just due to her positive experience studying at the university. As a Finnish-American, Ada understood some of the struggles that international students might face in Finland.
– When I came back from the US, I did feel a bit isolated from the Finnish community for a while and certainly the Finnish working life wasn’t very familiar to me.
Partly understanding the uneasiness that international students feel when trying to enter Finnish society, Ada wanted to give back to the international students and in particular the students from her own degree programme.
Ada and Crown CRO therefore agreed to mentor a group of international students studying the Translational Medicine as part of HITP. Over the course of the 6 month programme they met 5 times with students to discuss not only Crown CRO’s work, but also to learn more about the experience of the participating international students.
As part of the mentoring sessions, Ada was keen to discuss the students’ career ambitions and future plans. As a recent graduate herself, Ada explained how she felt an immediate connection to students when discussing this topic.
– I could identify with the feeling when you’re not quite sure what you want to do, how to proceed or what career path you want to take.
Ada was therefore keen to tackle the disconnection between academia and industry, which she had also felt during her studies.
– I was really excited about bridging the gap between industry and academia by giving the students exposure to the industry side, and explaining how their skills are also highly applicable there.
Mentors and companies also benefit from supporting HITP
However, supporting HITP not only benefits the student mentees taking part. As Ada explained, she personally found the experience of being a mentor highly valuable and her employer Crown CRO agreed.
– It was really enlightening to hear from students with foreign backgrounds, how they see the Finnish working life and society, and also the barriers that they see between them entering the Finnish working life. It was a learning process for me.
Being a mentor and participating company provides an opportunity not only to share your knowledge, but also reflect on your own work, gain fresh international perspectives and build a network with international student talent at the university. For Crown CRO, one of the additional benefits of taking part in the HITP programme was staying connected with the university community and knowing how to reach future talent.
By taking part in HITP, you can help international students to succeed in Finland
As alumni, you can have a significant impact on the future success of international students currently studying at the University of Helsinki. By taking part in HITP you and your organisation can help international students on their journey towards finding employment in Finland, but also benefit yourself from new international perspectives and connections for your work.
Ada´s and Crown CRO’s positive experience on HITP is an encouraging example of how international students and companies in Finland can help each other and benefit from getting connected. In closing, Ada encouraged more companies to take part in HITP, saying:
- We would recommend participating to any company that wishes to demonstrate that they’re committed to the values of international collaboration and diversity in the workplace, and who also want to give back to the next generation of high performance professionals.
Since 2019 over 110 students and 12 organisations have taken part in HITP, and we are now looking for more organisations who can help our international students to succeed in Finland in 2022. Previous experience of mentoring is not required and mentors receive clear guidelines and are supported by the University throughout the whole programme.
Join the international students at the University of Helsinki, share your experience and gain valuable insights for you and your organisation.