THE TRANSITION FROM university to the working world is a big step. No longer carefree, graduates suddenly have to face up to the realities of modern life, from starting a career to managing their lives. It is an exciting prospect, but also a challenge. After years of studying, nobody really knows what to expect out in the real world. This is where mentorship programmes fit in. Like the 'Big Brother, Big Sister' concept offered in some schools, the programmes match undergraduates with mentors who have the experience to advise them about a multitude of real-life issues which the education system fails to address. These include choosing a career, selecting the right courses, and organising their studies. The programme at Shaw College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), sees mentors paired with students in the same field so they can explain what it is actually like to work in their chosen field. 'The primary objective is widening a student's horizons and putting them in touch with people they would not normally get the chance to meet,' said Patricia P.H. Chow, who chairs the programme. Mentors are three to five years older than the students, and have various roles, from adviser and role model to friend, coach and teacher, advising on career planning and helping students' self-esteem, confidence and human relationship skills - sometimes even romantic relationships. 'A range of businesses are represented by our mentors. Some run their own businesses, others are fairly senior in middle management, and many work in China. It is a general window to the outside world,' Professor Chow said. Most communication between mentor and student is by e-mail, telephone or ICQ, although visits to the mentor's workplace are encouraged. 'But it's not just a one-way street,' Professor Chow said. The interaction keeps mentors involved with their college and alumni network, as well as providing useful insights into new developments being taught in their line of work. University mentorships are a relatively new concept. Shaw College only introduced its programme two years ago, on a voluntary basis. But it is slowly taking off, with the number of students enrolling rising from 71 at its inception to 85 during the last academic year. While each mentorship officially runs for one year, mentors and students are encouraged to continue their relationships beyond that. Indeed, next year Shaw College plans to extend the relationship with postgraduate mentorships. 'The transition to the working world and society is quite big, and students inevitably encounter a lot of small problems, so this is a helping hand over issues they can't find out about from friends or family.' While the Shaw College programme is still in its infancy, a fascinating aspect has already emerged: 90 per cent of students enrolling in the programme are female. 'We have no idea why, but it's fascinating,' Professor Chow said. 'We didn't even realise it ourselves until we reviewed the statistics.' Equally intriguing is the fact that most of the mentor volunteers are men. MENTORSHIP PROGRAMME The programme matches undergraduates with Shaw College mentors who can give career and life advice. Mentors are usually paired with a student in the same field so they can explain what it is actually like to work in their field. Mentors perform various roles, from adviser and role model to friend, coach and teacher, advising on career planning and helping students develop self-esteem, confidence and relationship skills. The number of students enrolling in the programme has risen from 71 at its inception to 85 during the last academic year.