About Us
The Department of Peer Learning and Support at the Students' Association develops and co-ordinates peer learning and support opportunities available at the University of Edinburgh.

We help staff and students set up projects, providing training and resources for them to use. We also offer ongoing support and training for project volunteers. Our goal is to help develop schemes that are relevant and useful for students, and to offer all volunteers opportunities to develop as creative, empathetic community leaders.
Our aims
Peer Learning and Support schemes aim to create peer-led, safe, confidential and informal spaces for students to get academic and social support from each other and the more experienced student volunteers. All schemes are driven by the needs of the students and run locally by staff and students with our support.
Schemes offer senior students the opportunity to develop skills and gain confidence through facilitating the learning and positive experience of junior year students. They encourage cross-year interaction and the formation of communities within Schools. 
Explore current schemes and find out about peer support opportunities in your school.
Contact us for further information.
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  • Fri 09 Dec 2016 12:19

    Three New Ideas for PALS Sessions | National Leader Conference 2016


    Do you need new ways of getting over that awkward silence at the beginning of a session? Do you want fresh ideas for encouraging students to get stuck into group work? Are you looking for an innovative approach to improve engagement and get people talking?

    Julia Manzo and Alba Priewe might be able to offer some good suggestions. They recently attended the annual National PAL Leader Conference at Bournemouth University. At our last Peer Learning & Support meet-up, they shared some of the tips and techniques they picked up from conference.

    For those of you that couldn’t make it on the night, here are some of the things they talked about:





    Thinking Pairs
    This can be used as an ice-breaker or even in the middle of a session before a brainstorming activity.
    The group is divided into pairs and one person speaks for three minutes straight whilst the other person just listens. After the first three minutes, the speaker and the listener would swap roles and continue for another three minutes.
    It can be difficult and awkward at times but is very useful for developing listening skills, whilst highlighting the importance of allowing others space and time to formulate thoughts during PALS and Peer Mentoring Sessions. It also demonstrates the importance of knowing when to allow people more time versus when to give more assistance.

    Quick Positivity
    This is a really quick and easy ice-breaker for larger sessions.
    Each person simply tells the whole group their name and briefly shares one positive thing that has happened to them recently. It helps if the leader starts this off in order to give the group an example to get them going. 
    This ice-breaker can be used to break the silence and give everyone a chance to get over any nervousness about speaking out early on, before starting on some group work.

    Text-To-Screen Surveys
    It is good for encouraging engagement within sessions, for group-work such as brainstorming, or for setting up anonymous feedback platforms.
    The leader sets up an online survey or poll via a website such as these:
    Students can then provide answers via text message during the session.

    It’s an attention-grabbing, innovative way of getting students involved in the work. It is also very good for helping people – who might otherwise be reluctant to speak within a group – to participate fully in sessions.

  • Thu 24 Nov 2016 14:04

    – Five Ways Peer Support Can Help Your Future Career –

    Do you want to know how getting involved in the Peer Learning & Support Network can directly benefit your future career?

    At our first Peer Learning & Support Network event on the 16th of November, our Alumni Panel shared how their time in Peer Support has had lasting benefits on their future careers. Here is a quick top-five list of the things they got out of their Peer Support experience:






    1) Help with the transition to further study and PhD research:
    Both Anna McKay and Muireann Crowley are on PhD programmes at the University of Edinburgh. They explained how Peer Support gave them a better understanding of the school structure. Getting used to the detail of the administrative and academic set-up within their schools was really helpful when adapting to life as a doctoral researchers.


    2) Confidence when applying for grad jobs:
    A confident approach is essential when trying to land your first grad role. Rebecca Michaelsen is now pursuing a professional career in multi-disciplinary engineering at Cundall. She explained how she went into her first interview with more confidence after successfully overcoming the challenges of setting up and running the first EngPALS schemes.


    3) Improved organisation skills:
    All the panel members told us how organising PALS sessions, attending meetings, co-ordinating schemes and setting up new workshops helped develop their organisation skills. Anna and Muireann both mentioned that this helped when faced with having to organise their time as independent researchers. Rebecca told us that this proved invaluable when entering the world of work as a young professional for the first time.


    4) Soft-skills such as communication and networking:
    Anna found that working in LitPALS helped to develop teaching skills, which will prove essential for her ambitions to develop a career in academia. This is also something that Muireann mentioned, when she explained that developing contact with undergrad students has really helped her with her role as a tutor during her PhD. Rebecca stressed how important communication skills, networking and team-work are even in a more technical role as a STEM graduate. These skills were particularly useful when first adapting to her new professional role. They have also helped her when getting involved with a support group aiming to tackle sexism in STEM jobs.


    5) Knowing never to give up and not to let challenges stop you achieving your goals:
    The panellists finished-up on a really positive note. They all stressed that getting involved with Peer Support had helped them learn not to be put off by adversity and to develop a really constructive attitude to challenges. Peer support can be difficult at times but, if you can learn to think positively and not be afraid to try things that haven’t been done before, then these difficulties can become great opportunities. 


    Anna finished with a brilliant message for anyone in Peer Support (or anyone thinking about getting involved):

    Make sure you enjoy yourselves. That’s what it is all about. It should be fun!

    The Peer Support alumni and current peer supporters get involved in some speed-networking

    The evening ended with giant Jenga - helped by some engineering advice from Rebecca.

  • Thu 20 Oct 2016 12:12

    – A Student-led Environmental Action Workshop for all – 

    Written by Julia Zaenker



    Printing festival flyers on plastic bags that can be sewed into ponchos afterwards or making plastic cube building blocks to set up furniture? These were some of the ideas that were assessed at the second “Engineers to the Rescue!” workshop on 28th September 2016, 2-4 pm in room 3217 of the James Clerk Maxwell Building (JCMB) in King’s Buildings.


    The workshop series run by the School of Engineering’s peer support group EngPALS is an initiative by fourth year Chemical Engineering students Brendon Ong, Daniel Wilhelm and Julia Zaenker, with the involvement of staff Dr Bill Buschle (IES) and Dr Dimitri Mignard (IES). The idea: Undergraduates, postgraduates and academic staff engage in group activities and discussion to share skills but on top of all communicate and inspire new thoughts.


    The topic of this second workshop was plastic waste and “what to do with 150 million plastic bags”attracted twenty students, mostly engineering across the years and disciplines as well as some  guests from social sciences. 8 tonnes of waste per year are produced in the JCMB alone where the workshop was taking place. This was one of the impressive figures presented by Sophie Rippinger MCIWM from the University’s Estates and Buildings department to give an expert opinion on the current standards and local issues in waste management. But what is the scale of that? How can engineers provide the context for complex solutions and problems? The group was presented with a four point strategy: 1) Break down the complex solution, 2) provide a concept of scale, 3) think of the challenges of scaling and 4) compare solutions on a similar basis. A master of this method was late Cambridge professor and advocate for sustainable engineering as chief advisor to the DECC David MacKay. He presented his thoughts, solutions and assessments in his popular book “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air”, which is available online for free.


    The workshop did not stop where most lectures do by simply presenting a method and concept. After all no one is born a master, the only solution is practice. Hence the group activity was based on the concepts presented in David Mac Kay’s book and the number 150 million. That is the amount of plastic bags still being sold in Scotland per year after the implementation of the bag charge in January 2014. The workshop participants estimated that the energy from burning them could heat 750 homes per year; alternatively, recruiting ca. 5% of the elderly Scottish population would be enough to crochet all of them into 250,000 sleeping mats. With 28,000 homeless living in Scotland, ten mats could be distributed per homeless person annually. These estimates helped put the problem to scale. All groups found that thinking of ways to deal with the remaining plastic bags is a manageable problem. The bigger issues: How do you prevent people from simply throwing their waste in the environment and hand in their plastics? How do you organise efficient collection? How do we get people to engage in activities? Can you get a business model or is all going to be not-for-profit and volunteers?


    The conclusion: Sustainable energy and lifestyle are complex problems. Coming up with realistic solutions and business models takes more than a two hour workshop. The core engineering numerical and design skills taught in lectures will form the basis of breakthrough innovation. On the other hand, preliminary scoping out decision making, communication and creativity to think out of the box will be as important to face the challenge. All participants agreed that the format of the workshop provides a platform to link both sides. There is enthusiasm to follow up on the event: How about developing an undergraduate research project or public engagement event in a similar workshop?