“You leave university, but university doesn’t leave you”: alumni stay connected with the University of Helsinki through mentoring

Juha Jokela, University of Helsinki alumnus, is a Programme Director of the European Union Research Programme at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA). In 2021, Juha Jokela, together with FIIA, took part in the HITP programme for the second time.

Studies in Bristol, career in Helsinki

Juha Jokela started his BA studies in political science and international relations at Birmingham University in 1997. In the second year of his studies, he learned about an opportunity to continue directly to a PhD programme, which he decided to follow and later completed his PhD in the Department of Politics at Bristol University.

During his studies abroad, Jokela stayed in touch with the Finnish academic environment, as Finland was his case study for his PhD research. This led Jokela to do interviews with Finnish scholars, as well as do some research and teaching at the University of Helsinki and other Finnish universities. That not only helped him to create a research network, but also to stay in touch with career prospects in Helsinki, which he benefited from after relocating back.

Later, a vacancy in the Network for European Studies opened (currently the Centre for European Studies) which Jokela successfully applied for.

– Being active during my PhD studies helped me to grow networks and find information about career prospects and the research community; both in terms of knowing students, but also the people working in different departments in the university, Jokela says.

“As a student, I received a lot of help from and so it’s nice to now provide the same to international students”

Having a study experience from abroad himself and receiving help in the beginning of his career from the university community, Jokela realises the importance of welcoming international talents at universities and the importance of providing guidance and help at the start.

International students coming to Finland might face some difficulties when entering the professional life. That was one of the reasons why Jokela decided to share his experience as a mentor and help students at the University of Helsinki.

– When I relocated back to Finland, I got a lot of help from the Finnish academics, teachers, and PhD students. The help from our academic community was something I benefited from when I was younger, and so now it's nice to share the experiences with other young people.

“The mentor is in some way a bit of a scary word, but I enjoyed the role quite a lot”

As Jokela mentioned, the role of a mentor might imply quite a lot of responsibility of the position and obligation to provide good advice and teaching for your mentees. However, most importantly, mentoring is an opportunity to be yourself and share your professional experience.

– The mentor is in some way a scary word and there might be a lot of expectations towards that. However, mentors are just ordinary people and I believe that it is a nice opportunity to be yourself and listen to what the students want to know and then provide comments and answers the best you can.

How to approach the role without pressure? Juha Jokela used his teaching experience, which was similar when it came to planning the schedule and topics to be talked about.  In the end, he enjoyed the openness and dialogue with the students.

– I truly enjoyed the discussions and the openness of the group of students. We could discuss matters related to their studies, career aspirations, but also topics on a more personal note such as how it is being a master student at the Helsinki University and a person coming to Finland from abroad.

– There was a good dynamic, and my experience was very positive.

“The HITP was a possibility for FIIA to open up to the university world and the current student community”

Despite the complications of the pandemic, participation in the programme was a nice opportunity and experience for FIIA. Open dialogue and sharing experiences from different parts of the world or research areas allowed FIIA to be exposed to new ideas and to connect with the university students. Therefore, the institute decided to participate again in this year’s round.

– This was a possibility for FIIA to open up to the university world and the current student community. It was important to get an overall understanding of the current master programs, meet students from there, and identify potential areas of collaboration. What can we learn and how could the students benefit from our activities? We acquired quite a nice overview of people working on themes relevant to our research.

Universities are open to students and young talents from abroad, and the HITP program aims to strengthen that. Jokela believes that opening to people from abroad was not only beneficial for FIIA, but helped the students overcome some barriers and integrate into the system – both the university and more broadly the country.

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