PREMIUM: Vulnerable is good

“As a PhD student I’ve benefited from coaching, and I wanted to return the favour,” says Nadine Kiratli, a competence coach in the PREMIUM programme. She and her fellow coach Gonny Willems are busy bees. Kiratli, who will soon complete her PhD dissertation, tutors and supervises master’s students at the School of Business and Economics. Willems is head of the Student Affairs Office at the Faculty of Humanities and Sciences. She, too, is working on her PhD at the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience. Where could you find more inspiring models for ambitious PREMIUM students?

NaamloosAs a study adviser, Willems gives lectures on competence building: “Science students often see the development of these soft skills as a less important part of their education; just a way of tweaking their CVs. Their main focus is on content: hard-core mathematics, computer science and artificial intelligence. When I started coaching the PREMIUM students, I noticed a similar attitude.

Some recognise the benefits of competence coaching. Others feel they have everything under control, and they form the biggest challenge for a competence coach. You have to show them how important competence development is for their studies, but especially for their future careers. At first, students often want to develop more obvious competences, such as leadership or creativity. But talking to them individually gives you the opportunity to dig deeper, and you can start to work on other roles and personality aspects as well.”

Kiratli agrees: “They have to realise it’s not only about professional competence coaching, but also about personal development. Your private profile extends into your professional arena, and has an impact on how you engage in a professional environment. I usually see two extremes: there are the students who come to the obligatory meetings and you’re lucky if you get them to understand the importance and concept. And then there’s the other extreme: students who are already self-reflective, who have critical attitudes towards themselves. You click with them from the first minute on. Those sessions are almost like open heart surgery. Everything you do with them has an immediate consequence. With the reluctant people, you have to be more careful.

You don’t want to distance them even further from the idea of coaching. I’m convinced it’s just a shield they put up. They’re very good at hiding their insecurities; it’s a defence mechanism. They have no interest in showing weakness. What they have to realise is that being vulnerable is a strength. People who are highly self-assured have no problem revealing and reflecting on their weaknesses.”

PREMIUM logo rood“For some of these excellent students, it’s the first time in their studies that they’ve received individual attention”, explains Willems. “Students who do well usually only hear ‘carry on, good job’. In fact, most of the personal guidance the university offers is focused on getting our struggling students on track. The focus on high achievers in PREMIUM offers a whole new perspective. Talented students deserve personal guidance too. While they often seem to have everything under control, they can gain so much from competence coaching. For example, their professional profile has to match their personality. Introverts are more likely to flourish in a more autonomous setting or a small team, where they can serve as experts; this will be preferable for

them than being, say, the CEO of a large company. It’s important to open their eyes: being happy in life means finding what suits you, not what you think should suit you.” For Kiratli, education is not a balanced split of 50% knowledge and 50% social skills: “It should tip towards social skills. They provide the basis for acquiring additional knowledge in collaboration with others. This type of education is the only way to prepare us for the problems we face today.”

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