"What can you do?" is the question asked at job interviews - but do students know how to answer it? 

Telling about one's expertise is talked about a lot, but what means could be offered to the students' to help them recognise their skills? The students' at the Faculty of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine came up with a way.

In the future, graduates from the Faculty of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine (FBMM) will receive a competence diploma in addition to their university diploma. The competence diploma is a practice created in the FBMM, which puts the skills acquired by the student into writing. The idea for competence diploma came from the students. 

"We make an effort to talk with the students as often as possible on a wide variety of topics related to study, even outside the classroom. In the discussions we had with them, they revealed their concerns regarding how difficult it is to tell prospective employers about their skills when applying for a job," explains Tuomo Glumoff, Dean of Education at the Faculty of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine.  

People in the faculty understood that the diploma received by students is not enough for marketing one's competence in today's world.

"Today, it's vital for people to know how to market their skills and qualifications to prospective employers. Just earning a degree is no longer enough. The courses you took are not the most important thing to put on your CV," says Glumoff. 

The faculty began looking for ways to help students answer the following question when applying for jobs: "What can you DO?" The answer to this question was the competence diploma. The competence diploma is essentially a one-page document, which lists various skills acquired by the student during their studies by category. The paper is designed to be as reader-friendly as possible so that a prospective employer can get an idea of the student's qualifications with just a quick look.

Students involved from the start 

"Members of the staff never would've come up with this idea. Student involvement was essential throughout the process," says Glumoff.

Puronurmi is one of the students involved in developing the competence diploma. She desires to find work in her biochemistry but has not yet found any such positions for this summer.  

A working group comprised of five students, representing different years of study, participated in the development process. One of the students involved in development is second-year student Anna Puronurmi. Puronurmi tells that she has gained an enormous amount of working life skills during her studies. In fact, she had gained so many skills that she had trouble organising them without some assistance.  

"I want to find work related to my field, and I hope I can use the skills I learned as much as possible. I believe that the competence diploma is a necessary part of any job search. It gives me an idea as to my abilities. It also encourages me when I can actually see how much I know how to do."

The culture of collaboration runs deep in the subject of biochemistry. The competence diploma was also a co-operative effort between staff and students. 

Aki Manninen, Coordinator of the Bachelor’s degree programme and Adjunct Professor of Cell Biology, listens to Puronurmi, nodding.  

"Students don't necessarily notice everything they learn in courses. For example, presentation skills, which are vital in working life, are practiced in many courses, but this isn't underscored anywhere. There are no 'presentation skills' mentioned in the course title, and students aren't graded on them. A competence diploma helps the student showcase their skills," explains Manninen.

Added value, not added work

Even though the competence diploma provides students with a great deal of added value, it should not make more work for the staff. This has been a focus of development right from the start.

"When students come up with an idea like this, it is important that we don't just reject it out of hand. But, naturally we have to think about whether the idea is feasible given the resources we have," says Glumoff. 

Glumoff is proud of the fact that the Faculty of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine was the most active faculty at the University of Oulu in giving course feedback during the 2017–18 school year. Part of the prize money was used to develop the competence diploma, which is a near and dear project to the students.

There is still much work to be done in the development of the diploma, but the aim is to make it as easily available as a transcript of studies. The competence targets for all courses are constantly collected, and the student's skills automatically enter on the competence diploma. This means that drafting a diploma will not load the staff with more work, and the students can get a transcript of their skills at any point in time during their studies.

"In the subject of biochemistry, we've always made an effort to plan things together with the students. Students have numerous opportunities to influence things, something we consider very important," says Glumoff. 

In addition to the yearly teaching feedback days, students are active participants on the Faculty education committee. Glumoff also maintains contact with biochemistry student guild Histoni by visiting the guild room and having lunch with guild representatives. Manninen believes that the threshold for giving feedback is low for students. This is a good thing, as student satisfaction increases when students feel they have a say. 

"We certainly wouldn't get suggestions like this if we only held a single official feedback day, where the threshold for making proposals is quite high.  The lunches and visits have definitely helped in getting students involved," says Manninen. 

Manninen feels that the competence diploma is an integral part of developing the education strategy. "Many strategy papers talk about the recognition of competence, but the competence diploma makes it real," he says.

Strategy morning co-operation ideas:

The competence diploma has sparked interest all over the university. The competence diploma was brought up at the strategy morning on 27 March, which was attended by Glumoff. 

"That's where the idea to put all the skills acquired in courses into a single database came up - it would make it possible for each student to get their competence diploma as an automatic printout. The whole university might adopt the competence diploma," says Glumoff. 

Glumoff also suggests the possibility for cross-disciplinary co-operation in developing the diploma. 

"The expertise in different fields could help in its development. For example, expertise in information technology would be needed for the technical execution of the competence diploma. For the time being, however, our priority is to get the diploma ready for our own students graduating this spring," explains Glumoff. 

According to the 2016 FSHS Finnish Student Health Survey, an increasing number of higher education students experience feelings of anxiety regarding unemployment and their livelihood after graduation. The competence diploma is a vital tool in helping to prevent this kind of post-graduation anxiety. A number of students will graduate from the Faculty of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine this spiring. In addition to the university diploma, the faculty will stamp the students' competence diploma with its seal. The seal is proof of the graduates' competence, for employers and, even more importantly, for the graduates themselves. 

Text & photos: Tiina Strand

Last updated: 3.6.2019