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"I wish I had talked to someone like me when I was at university”

My job — One messed-up exam will not be your downfall. This is according to Karen Riskær Jørgensen, who helps pressured law students on to their next exam - and from university on to a job.

“My job is a bit like Lucy van Pelt from the comic strip Peanuts, who has a sign advertising for 25 cents therapy. You never know who will come through the door for the next 20-minute confidential, anonymous conversation. It can be about anything – and this is one of the great things about this,” says Karen Riskær Jørgensen, one of three study and career guidance counsellors at the Faculty of Law.

Confused, uncertain, frustrated and anxious students turn up at the counselling office. They need to – and they have good reason to – loosen up:

Some find it hard to believe that they have a chance even though they got a bad grade in one course.

Karen Riskær Jørgensen

“Many people feel a lot of pressure. This performance culture is probably a general phenomenon with the Facebook generation, and the Faculty of Law is somewhere near the top. Here the focus is on grades. And this means a lot to them when they, as lawyers, need to apply for a job. But I can tell them that there is very low unemployment for graduates. And the grade average at the Faculty of Law is not the highest grade 12. So there is something that does not make sense. And it is a huge task to spread this message. Some find it hard to believe that they have a chance even though they got a bad grade in one course.

Karen Riskær Jørgensen

45 years-old. Employed as a student and career guidance counsellor at the Faculty of Law since 2012. Holds a Master of Arts (MA) in English at UCPH. Previous work included being HR consultant in a pharma company, where she followed a coaching programme of study. This was the jumping-off point towards her current position – her first job in the public sector.

Law is a subject with many traditions. No students complain so loudly about the study programme administration as the law students in their own Facebook group. And their annual student satisfaction assessments are worse than all the other faculties. But the counsellor understands that the students need to let off some steam:

“For the last few years, the political turmoil has been difficult for the administration – and we have a constant focus on making it better. If I was a student, and had to go through the reforms and changes in recent years, I would have been really confused. Good grief.”

Karen Riskær Jørgensen’s confused expression splits into a broad smile, before she adds:

“And we have a rich complaint culture at the Faculty of Law. The students require access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act. They appeal their exemption rejections. They do, in fact, all the things we train them to do.”

The supervisor’s own bumpy road to a permanent job

Another point, as Karen Riskær Jørgensen often repeats in her career guidance, is that the choices the students make do not necessarily define the rest of their working lives:

“I am a good example of this,” she says. She studied English, because she loved Shakespeare:

“To my horror I discovered that the rest of the world was not particularly impressed with my good MA title. It was a long haul to get a permanent job: I was hired for a project, I was unemployed, and I had temporary positions in all possible directions.”

It need not be as difficult for others to get a foothold in the labour market as it was for me

Karen Riskær Jørgsensen

Karen Riskær Jørgensen finally got a permanent job in a medium-sized private company that recognised her talent in Human Resources. They put her through a coaching programme of study. When she could, she returned to the University of Copenhagen (UCPH):

“One of the reasons I applied for the job as a student counsellor was that I thought that my experience, also in recruitment and HR – could be used for something. It need not be as difficult for others to gain a foothold in the labour market, as it was for me.”

If the counsellor were to give one piece of advice to students, it is, however, not about the academic side of things:

“If you want a living study environment, you need to invest in it. And a diverse range of student associations are popping up at the Faculty of Law,” she says:

“Six years ago there were 4-5 student organisations. Today, there are 17! I meet so many committed students that have the desire and the energy to do a little bit extra. And the co-operation with the student associations is probably the best job that I have ever had. Nothing is quite as charming as young, happy, people.”

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