Graduate trainee programmes in HE: A conversation | AUA Blog

 Lydia Crow, MBChB Manager, University of Edinburgh

Neale Summers, Student Experience Officer, University of Edinburgh

Zoë Tupling, Ambitious Futures Graduate, University of Edinburgh

Zoë says: As an Ambitious Futures Graduate (Management Trainee / Project Officer), I’m in a Higher Education leadership development program with three work contracts across two institutions over fifteen months. The Edinburgh Medical School Medical Teaching Organisation offered my second contract: the opportunity to evaluate the undergraduate medical programme’s approach to communications while embedded in the Student Experience Team. What I hadn’t expected was two lines of mentorship, between my direct supervisor, Neale, and my project manager, Lydia. This split meant support was available in the day-to-day nitty gritty as well as at the strategic level, which ultimately allowed for specialised mentorship in managing change and human resources.

Neale says: As Student Experience Officer for undergraduate medical teaching at Edinburgh Medical School part of my role is facilitating student facing communications on behalf of the Medical Teaching Organisation.

Zoë joined the team during a period of great change. As well as new staff structural changes within the Medical School, we were in the midst of revamping the Medical Teaching Organisation communications strategy. Fresh eyes were required in this development and Zoë’s role was key.

When Zoë started, we found her to be highly enthusiastic and inquisitive, the exact combination we were hoping for. Zoë was able to embed herself fully within the team, but the time-limited nature of her contract meant there was freedom to observe the culture of the team as an outsider. This was extraordinarily useful. Zoë’s perspective on internal and external communications broadened the parameters of the developing communications strategy.

The supervisory role was new to me at this point. We had routine discussion about our respective roles, practically and philosophically which established a strong mentor/mentee relationship.

Lydia says: It’s a tricky balance with graduate trainee programmes: on the one hand, there is the core project work to be delivered. On the other hand, a key aspect is to equip the graduate with an awareness of current and ongoing issues affecting the wider sector.

So many of us in Higher Education are working in resource-limited environments, and management of placements requires significant support: there is a responsibility to ensure that such placements not only deliver the intended outcomes, but (wherever possible!) leave the trainee enthused about the possibility of a career in Higher Education.

With Neale leading on the day-to-day supervisory oversight of Zoë’s workload, this allowed me to focus upon a more strategic view. As well as regular catch-ups about various ongoing projects, we scheduled several longer meetings for Zoë to feedback her reflections on the Higher Education environment. A key part of these meetings was for Zoë to be able to discuss her observations confidentially, to facilitate frank and practical conversations about management, leadership, and the wider sector.

Concluding Thoughts

Zoë: The experience was personally and professionally rewarding, with a challenging project that developed my skills within a safe environment where the support I was provided gave me the confidence I needed to take risks (e.g. running a communications workshop and focus group for the team). Like the mighty gold fish, which shrinks in a small tank, employees will expand their fins and capacities when given the space and trust to grow.

Lydia: You never know how placements are going to turn out. We landed on our feet with Zoë, who exceeded our hopes and expectations and was a much-valued member of the Medical Teaching Organisation.


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