Universiteit Leiden

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‘As a tutor you’re the helpdesk to help them get off to a flying start’

All first-year bachelor’s students at Leiden University are assigned to a tutor group, with a student as mentor and a lecturer as tutor. This extra contact is essential during the corona pandemic. The first groups have now met up. We spoke to two mentors from Leiden Law School.

She has been looking forward to meeting ‘her’ groups for weeks, and now the moment has finally arrived. Third-year law student Amber Breugem (far right on the photo above) is mentoring two tutor groups this year, each with around 18 first-year law students. It’s her job to make sure the new students have a soft landing at the University, for instance by helping them find their way around their programme. This is an important job, especially during the corona pandemic because the number of contact hours will remain limited for the time being, and that makes it more difficult to ask another student a quick question.

Prevent social isolation

‘I had a mentor in my first year, and thought at the time it would be a fun thing to do,’ says Breugem. ‘I really enjoy teaching, and like the sound of being a key contact person for the new students. And this year is an extra challenge because so much has to be online. The tutor groups will play an important role in preventing social isolation. The first semester is most important.’

Years of experience

Leiden Law School has years of experience with the tutor system, but this academic year the system has been extended to the whole University. All first-year bachelor’s students will be assigned to a tutor group of around ten to twenty students with a student as mentor and a lecturer as tutor. ‘The mentor and tutor system offer students a small-scale, safe setting in which they feel seen and heard,’ said Vice-Rector Hester Bijl in a previous interview.

Student experiences:


Breugem has arranged to meet her mentor groups in a room in the Kamerlingh Onnes Building, the new base for the first-year law students, on 3 September. She has already had two training days on how best to approach the mentoring, learning such things as how she can help the first years get off to a flying start in their studies. How do you read a collection of legislation, for instance, and what is the role of case law? 

Forging friendships

More important – and more difficult – is the social side of the story. How do you help 18 strangers become a close group of friends so they don’t feel alone at the University, despite corona? This will have to be predominantly online. ‘But as soon as it is possible again, I want to go for lunch at the Hortus with my tutor group or meet up for 1.5m drinks,’ says mentor Sterre Bours (not on the photo), who is also studying law.

Ins and outs

Bours is also looking forward to being a helpdesk for the first years. She was a mentor last year too, and really enjoyed this. ‘First years have all sorts of questions about the ins and outs of university life, for instance the organisational culture. They want to know how they should address their professor or what they can contact their study advisor about and what the study advisor already knows about them. For many students we’re their first port of call for these kinds of question.’

Video guides for first years

Starting your degree during the corona pandemic is a real challenge. We have therefore created a series of videos with all the information you will need. 

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