Dr Thanos Verousis is a Reader in Finance at Essex Business School, specialising in the study of financial markets and behavioural finance.

In this blog, he talks about why inviting guest speakers makes a positive contribution to student motivation and employability skills. 

Show me the experts!

There is a very strong belief amongst university students that exposing them to the “real world” during their degree eventually enhances their employability and transferable skills. In my experience though, there are also some risk averse students who may view the gap between academia and the industry as too wide to cross. It is, therefore, vital to not only try to bridge this gap but also be mindful of the potential risks associated in exposing students too early in their learning journey. 

I teach two modules that are really close to my heart, Behavioural Finance and Big Data in Finance, to postgraduate students. Students attending these two modules are extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic individuals who specialise in niche subjects in finance. As they reach the end of their postgraduate degree, their focus is on making a smooth transition from academia to the industry. In order to facilitate this, over the last two years, I have organised a number of talks and roundtable events from industry experts. 

In particular, one of the few positive externalities of the pandemic is that we have embraced online interactions in a way that we are no longer restricted by geographical proximity. Besides, the academic evidence shows that guest speakers offer a valuable contribution to lectures by sharing their experiences, their career paths and in general talking about their day-to-day work experiences. Guest speakers often cover aspects of a topic that is overlooked by the lecturer and, more often than we think, they tend to share the same views as the lecturer. During a guest lecture, I can definitely sense the feeling of reassurance from students as the gap between academia and the industry gets narrower. 

This year, I held four online guest talks by industry experts and one roundtable event. Students had the opportunity to listen and interact with speakers working in Standard & Poor, Deloitte, the European Central Bank, and SOHO Pharma. These guest talks lasted for approximately 20 minutes each and they were in the form of “online brown bag” events in the sense that they were informal and were held during the lecture break of a two-hour lecture. The online roundtable event was on the timely topic of behavioural finance and cryptocurrencies. During that event, the students had the opportunity to listen to speakers from CyberCurb, an American cybersecurity company, the London Stock Exchange Group and Kiiton (a Finish R&D and DeFi company). 


In a previous blog, I demonstrated that 100% of the students attending the guest speaker events found the events very useful and motivating. However, this year, as an additional developmental opportunity, I asked students to write a short reflective essay on how these events have impacted them as students and future professionals. Reflective writing in an integral part of someone’s personal progression and helps them make connections between what they have been taught in class with their overall personal and career objectives. Receiving feedback on a reflective essay is equally important and each essay received personal feedback. 

Overall, the student response to the guest talks was quite enthusiastic. In their reflective essays students commented that the talks motivated them to “keep learning”, provided them with a “perspective of what I can expect from my professional life in the future” and “to be happy for the future looking forward”

Students felt that the guest talks make them feel “more prepared for the coming challenge in the future”, had “huge change both in my mind and action”, “motivated” them to apply for jobs in the City of London and gave them “a lot of confidence”

Others focused on more practical aspects of the talks, commenting that the talks “provided clarity into what software tools and some of the contexts of application of these tools” they will be working on and that knowing the training opportunities firms have for their junior employees gave filled them with “confidence”.

Next year?

What to expect next year? Teaching at the highest standards requires commitment and dedication and there are two ideas that I have been working on that will challenge both the students and myself. The first one is to ask students to work on group essays prior to a guest speaker’s talk. The second one is to drop PowerPoint and give the presentations entirely using a statistical software. 

See you in class!