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Queen Mary Academy

How students are using social media to help their peers prepare for the world of work

Dr Usman Naeem, photography by Jonathan Cole
Dr Usman Naeem

Dr Usman Naeem

Senior Lecturer and Queen Mary Academy Fellow

The mySkills programme aims to help students in electronic engineering and computer science reflect on their skills and boost their employability. Student ambassadors are using social media to ensure all their fellow students take part and reap the rewards.

“I’ve got a very special relationship with Queen Mary,” says Dr Usman Naeem. “I completed my bachelor's degree and my PhD here. When I was in the final year of my PhD, I had the opportunity to do some teaching. I discovered that I really enjoyed engaging with students, giving back to the students and hopefully having a positive impact on the future generations.”

Dr Naeem took the first opportunity to return to Queen Mary in an academic role in the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science. Now he is a senior lecturer, a Queen Mary Academy Fellow in learning engagement analytics, and his research interests are within areas of mobile sensing, machine learning and context awareness.

He continues: “My main job satisfaction comes from the teaching side because of the impact it has on our students, not only when they’re with us but also when it comes to their employability prospects.”

Dr Naeem has been working on an initiative called mySkills that aims to boost students’ employability by encouraging them to reflect on what they are learning and how it might apply to the world of work. mySkills begins with simple steps, like creating a profile on LinkedIn and a professional email address, and builds through to virtual experiences, internships and industrial placements.

Dr Naeem explains: “A lot of the time when students are studying modules, they don’t understand what the bigger picture is. For example, how something they’re learning might link to a certain job area that they might be interested in. We developed mySkills to help students see this link, to enhance engagement and improve employability. One of the reasons why this works is because mySkills is integrated into the curriculum through a number of mySkills tasks that students have to complete each semester.”

Dr Naeem secured Westfield funding to appoint two student ambassadors, Rhea Ramtohul and Rana Zaki, to spearhead a social media campaign and create interest in mySkills among their peers. “I chose students who were already improving their job prospects with things like internships and placements. They were on board with the benefits, but they could also communicate with other students in a way that I couldn’t.”

The pair designed an eye-catching logo and series of Instagram posts with themes such as ‘how to build your personal brand from scratch’ and ‘what is mySkills?’.

“The Westfield fund allowed us to help create awareness in a way we wouldn’t normally do it. We’d be relying on something like an email to students, whereas we wanted to create content and use a platform that students are familiar with and really capture their attention. It’s helping us to get the message out to students to start building their personal brands straight away.”


During its first year, mySkills was completed by 289 students, around half of the cohort. With the student-led promotion and an extra incentive of a small proportion of students’ grades coming from the mySkills tasks, Dr Naeem has seen an increase in participation, with engagement from 445 first year students. The proportion of students completing the first mySkills task has increased from 50% to 82%.

He is also seeing other positive signs: “When students set up LinkedIn profiles, we encourage them to connect with academics so that when they get to their final year, they are part of a larger network and are more visible to lots of people. And we can see that more and more students are doing this.”

The first cohort who took part in mySkills are now in their second year. Dr Naeem plans to evaluate the impact of the initiative by analysing student  employment statistics around six months after graduation, and he hopes to see an improvement compared to previous cohorts.

He adds: “mySkills is all about students’ awareness – awareness of their skills, awareness of their opportunities – and sprinkling this regularly throughout the degree programme is important. I will be surprised if we don’t see an improvement in employability.”

“Often students with higher average grades tend to be more proactive in applying for internships, placements and jobs. I’m particularly interested in facilitating an environment where all students become proactive and secure a graduate role after they have completed their studies with us. If we see that, I will know that this project has succeeded.”

The best people to help out students are students. We're more in touch, and we relate to the kinds of thoughts and concerns that students have. Especially when you are currently applying for internships and graduate jobs yourself, you get a more accurate insight into the kind of skills and expectations that employers have of you.
— Rana Zaki, Student Ambassador
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