Student Daniel Simpson admits he was struggling at university, until he met Dr Sandra Neoh
Sandra Neoh had little experience in mentoring when the University paired her with third-year undergraduate Daniel Simpson, a sciences student struggling to find his career path.
She just knew she wanted to give back.
“I thought that would be a nice way to stay involved in the University community, because I had really enjoyed my time there,” says the endocrinologist, who now works in Melbourne’s Alfred and Northern hospitals.
She made a big difference. Daniel says Dr Neoh had a profound impact on his education.
He signed up for the mentorship program in a last-ditch effort to avoid dropping out of university. “I really struggled in first and second year,” he says. As one of only four people from his high school to attend the University of Melbourne, Daniel felt isolated on campus. He was also overwhelmed by the workload of his studies and a part-time job.
Dr Neoh became Daniel’s mentor as part of the University’s Access Connections program, which matches alumni with underrepresented students. Together, they set up meetings to address his specific concerns, from rewriting his CV to choosing a career path. She admits to not knowing what to expect from mentoring, but immediately connected with her “sincere” and “open-minded” mentee.
“We got along from the beginning,” she says. “Daniel is a very friendly, genuine guy. He just didn’t really have peers who could help him with big career decisions.”
Daniel says he was nervous about working with Dr Neoh, who recently returned from postgraduate work at Cambridge University. “But when I met her, she was so funny and easy to talk to,” he says.
Dr Neoh helped Daniel reorganise his CV and pushed him to apply for internships that related to his interests. She inspired him to apply for a research internship, and he spent six months working at the renowned Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
I think it’s very important to have these sorts of programs because they do help bridge the gap between disadvantaged students and professionals in the field.Mentee, Daniel Simpson
Daniel was later accepted into an Honours program at the University, and Dr Neoh says he has come a long way since their first meeting last year.
“He is so positive about his future and the lab he is working in,” she says. “It is really very different to what he was like at the start.”