Five common myths about being a first year student

It’s one of those situations you can never imagine yourself actually being in before you are stood outside the accommodation entrance, wondering what crazy part of your brain told you that university was a good idea.

For me, it didn’t really sink in that I was at university until I was lying in my bed on the first night with my brain screaming at me: you are now fully responsible for yourself! You have to go food shopping! You have to wash your own underwear!

I think that’s how it is for a lot of people. At school, everyone makes such a big deal of university, that once you’ve actually made it, the whole scenario seems unreal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying university is not a big deal – it’s probably one of the most exhilarating and life-changing experiences you will have in your life, but when people build something up in their minds, it leads to a lot of misconceptions being formed.

University is wrapped up in a lot of myths -everything from what lectures will be like, to what friends you will make. So I’m writing this post to address some of these myths and to reassure you that, if you’re panicking right now, things really aren’t as scary as they seem.

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You have to drink to have fun

This is probably one of the most common misconceptions about univer1sity and one that is the least true. First of all, the events that the halls put on during Fresher’s Week are a good mix of drinking and non-drinking events. Sure, there are club nights and bar crawls, but we also have movie and pizza nights, bowling trips, quiz nights and treasure hunts! The JCRs are well-aware that there is a good proportion of students who don’t drink alcohol and therefore make it their aim to have all-inclusive icebreaker events that everyone can get involved with. Manchester is such a diverse city with so much going on, that you won’t be stuck for choice of what to do!

I’m going to be too homesick to enjoy Fresher’s Week

This is another worry that a lot of Freshers have, but there is so much support at hand that it should not worry you at all. I thought I was going to be really homesick, but I was so busy during Fresher’s Week that there really wasn’t time to think about what’s going on at home! A few of my friends were homesick, but we all had each other to talk to about it, so it didn’t last for long.

You will be surprised how quickly first term goes – before you know it, you will be back home for Christmas!

IMG_0252 I have to change who I am to fit in

No! There are thousands of students in Manchester, all as unique and different as you can imagine! With all the different subjects, societies and communities within the University, you will find your people. What makes us different is why we make such a great University!

 

I will find my best friends in Fresher’s week

Apart from those I met in halls, who are still my best friends today, it’s highly unlikely you will complete your circle of friends by the end of day one. Fresher’s is a great opportunity to meet as many people as possible and try things you’ve never done before – like joining crazy societies and taking impromptu trips! However, don’t panic if you don’t find your ‘best friends’ during Freshers. A large majority of the friends I have now are a mix from my subject and halls, but a lot of them I didn’t even meet during Freshers.

I don’t need to work hard in first year, it doesn’t count!
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I wish this one was true, but alas, it is not. Although my first year didn’t count, I still felt it was important to work as hard as you can.  It is important to build up a good reputation among tutors and try to improve as much as possible to set yourself

in good stead for second year.

Your first year is a really good opportunity to get to grips with university level of study and you’re not going to get any better if you don’t put any effort in. Also, it feels good when you get grades back and you can see how much you’ve improved from the start of the year! However, it’s also a good idea to keep a balance between working hard and having fun – first year is about making great friends and trying out lots of new things to start your university career off with a bang!

Welcome to The University of Manchester’s official student blogs!

Here, our current students will tell you everything you need to know about studying and living in Manchester, from the study facilities to the best pubs and clubs.

You’ve probably heard the facts and figures… Manchester is home to 25 Nobel Prize winners, 92% of our graduates go straight into employment or further study…

It’s true – you can even visit the very same building where Ernest Rutherford first spilt the atom or bump into the man who discovered graphene on Oxford Road.

These facts are pretty impressive. But what’s it like to actually be a student here?

Take a look below and meet our student bloggers. We hope you enjoy the read!

Volunteering in Rwanda

By James Waterfield

Volunteering is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in other cultures, meet people, make new friends and most importantly- change lives. Last summer I spent a month in Rwanda teaching with the Debate Mate charity and I couldn’t recommend it more! Below you’ll find out what my typical week of volunteering looked like.

Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday

The first three days of the week were dedicated to teaching kids debating skills to prepare them for an upcoming competition.  Each volunteer was in charge of a specific school,
James Rwanda1.jpgwhich gave us an amazing opportunity to build relationships with the
students. Teaching brought many new challenges, for instance, in each class there was a range of both age and ability, and in most schools, the limited English left a sea of smiling and nodding heads. This was however a fantastic opportunity to learn some Kinyarwandan phrases, such as ‘Do you understand?’ and ‘Are you listening to me?’ As the days went by, I seemed to adjust well and I was very proud of the progress that my students made.

We taught every day from 7:30 am until 13:00 pm. Having the second half of the day off gave us an opportunity to explore Rwanda. We used this time to visit the local farming villages, art galleries, women centres and memorials. One of the most memorable visits was to the Niyo Art gallery, where we learned a traditional Rwandan dance and drumming from local kids. In return, we taught them some of our Debate Mate games which received a very positive reaction.

Thursday

Competition day! This was the day we put on our tailored suits that we bought earlier in James Rwanda2.jpgthe week. We were excited to give the students the day that they deserved. The day was full
of emotions; while there was an overall sense of competitiveness, the kids were laughing
and cheering on their teammates. The schools debated on issues such as education, transport, exams and voting rights. It was amazing to see how passionate the students were, even though for some, English was their  second or third language. It was incredible to observe the students I’ve worked with in the past weeks and see their excitement and determination to learn.

Friday & The Weekend

The weekend was a time for exploring Rwanda. Activities included: a safari in Akagera National Park and a trip to Lake Gisenyi.  For locals, Saturday was when everyone would take a pause on their daily life and engage in Umuganda – community service. This involved cleaning the streets, forests, and fields. With the friends we made at the Niyo Art Gallery, we came together  to clean out the drainage systems. A tiring few hours of work was finished off by an invitation to the village meeting. This was a very special moment for all of us as this meant we were accepted into the local community and recognized for our help.

As I now look back on my time in Rwanda, I think back to my students,  the people we met  and the multitude of friendships that I formed. Volunteering in Rwanda truly influenced my worldview and made me appreciate the work similar charities do for local communities. This is an incredible opportunity to help others while also discovering the world for myself. I will always be proud of the work my colleagues and I accomplished in Rwanda and I encourage others to do the same.

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Life Outside the Oxford Road

By Joe Pusey

If I had a penny for every time I heard “the busiest bus route in Europe”, I might be able to pay off my student loan early but trust me, if you go out onto Oxford Road on a typical Monday morning it’s not hard to see why. It runs from the very centre of Manchester southwards through Fallowfield, Withington and Didsbury, and encompasses both the UoM and MMU campuses. It can’t be denied,  Oxford Road is the hub of student life at the University of Manchester, and it’s easy for students to end up spending almost every waking hour of their degree there, myself included!

As well known as it is, Oxford Road isn’t all there is to Manchester.

So, here’s a quick roundup of the top five places in Manchester that a Magic Bus won’t take you.

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1. Manchester Museum of Science and Industry

This fantastic- and more importantly, free museum is only a short walk away from2 Deansgate and Oxford Road stations.It is well worth a visit for anyone with even a passing interest in science, technology, or the history of Manchester – with a separate building dedicated to a vast collection of industrial machines!

Manchester City Council has also announced  development of St Johns Quarter and the surrounding area into a new creative and cultural hub, so there’s never been a better time to spend an afternoon surrounded by science and tech.

2. Castlefield

An area of Manchester just beyond the MoSI that’s a great place for the culture vultures,
with the HOME cinema complex, the Gallery and more coffee shops and bars than you can shake a stick at. Castlefield is made for  the cold January afternoons – perhaps after exams, or just for an escape  from the hustle and stress of the inner city. A pumpkin spiced latte and a walk on the cobbles could be just what the doctor ordered after weeks of fun-free revision!3

3. People’s History Museum

Possibly more relevant than ever in these troubling times, the People’s History Museum in Spinningfields hosts one of Britain’s largest collections of political materials, dating back to the beginning of the 18th century. There are permanent exhibitions on the fight for democracy and life after WWII, temporary fixtures on the history of the LGBT+ rights and civil disobedience. I found the new installation on the history of civil disobedience in Syria to be the most engaging; an exploration of one of the most complex proxy wars in human history with a real relevance to the increasingly troubled atmosphere in the West.4

4. Chinatown

Back towards the city centre, Chinatown is an ideal area for students who want to see a slightly different side to Manchester. Centred around the traditional Chinese arch on Faulkner Street, the neighbourhood- the third largest Chinatown in Europe- plays host to a wide variety of Asian and Far Eastern eateries and shops, with my personal recommendation being the Oreo Milk Tea at the Happy Lemon.

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5. Affleck’s

Originally a department store, this building in the Northern Quarter was converted to an indoor market in the early 1980s and has grown into a mecca for alternative culture- ideal for perfecting that authentic Fallowfield look. We’re talking  costume shops, tattoo parlours, cereal cafes and boutiques  catering to almost every imaginable interest. Maybe plan your visit once you’ve budgeted out your food and rent money for the semester – it is easy to get carried away here!

Manchester Vegan and Wellbeing Centre, is worth an honourable mention, a new vegan wellness hubinside the Three Minute Theatre opened on February 1st. There are cheap and healthy eats along with cooking workshops – perfect for anyone with a New Year’s resolution to eat well

There you have it, my top five picks of where to go outside of Oxford Road. None of these places are more than a short walk away and all of them will add an extra dimension to your time in Manchester. So while you’ve got the opportunity, why not go explore? What are your favourite spots in the city?

Making the most of Manchester… on a budget

By Mary Johnson

There have been times when I feel like I’ve single-handedly cured England of any hint of a recession from just one lone shopping spree. I won’t lie, I love to shop but what satisfies the itch of retail-therapy more than anything is a well found bargain.

Naturally as a student, I always have an eye out for discounts and I’m happy to share some of my golden rules and tips for life at the University right here…

  1. ‘It’s not a bargain if you don’t need it,’ is probably one of the most relevant phrases to keep in mind when you’ve got your hunting goggles on. It’s so easy to be blinded by a ‘great deal’! Do the odd catch-and-release exercise and you’ll realise you never really needed a multi-pack of low quality USB leads or that personalised cotton tote in the first place! If worse comes to worst, you can always return after the heat of that initial sighting and purchase on further reflection. I repeat, IF YOU DON’T NEED IT, PUT IT DOWN.
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  1. Don’t be fooled by the array of £1 shops, 3-for-2 or BOGOF (Buy-One-Get-One-Free) deals that Manchester has to offer. Admittedly, I have be known to get carried away in Poundland and later that day found the very same item at the likes of Lidl or Aldi for a considerably better price!
    Be wary of these places friends…

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When realisation hits

3. Try online! A word of warning, do some research before splashing your cash – or your bank card –  as you can often find what you need for much less on sites like Amazon and eBay. *Mini tip: Unless you absolutely need a completely clean copy to annotate, go for a second-hand version of the book! Those declared ‘Used – Like New’ often are ‘like new’ and a fraction of the price! Personally, I also really like the worn-in feel of an older copy!

Here are a few of my favourite deals and tips on and off campus:

On campus

As student loans land and the initial adrenaline and unattainable dreams of booking first-class trains everywhere take over, *adopts motherly tone* try and look ahead in the semester to budget your money rather than blowing your cash on an unnecessary luxury expense. Work out your monthly expenses to calculate what you’ll have left over to live on and you can plan ahead on treats like cinema trips, going out and holidays abroad!

Meat Free Mondays at the Students’ Union: all dishes without meat are half price at Union Bar every Monday! Such a fantastic deal – for both you and the environment! Give yourself plenty of time as it can get pretty busy… I really recommend the goat’s cheese pizza.

Brodericks £1 drinks in the Library and Learning Commons (and possibly dotted around elsewhere). A sweet dessert to compliment your veggie lunch earlier on in the week, go on you can afford it. #treatyoself

Prepare a packed lunch! Try and plan your shopping; buy in bulk and save yourself a fortune instead of eating out. I can’t stress how much a good lunch-making habit will save you in the long run. – A lot!

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When you’re allergic to seafood but really want in on the sushi trend.

Speaking of running…

Sporticipate! These are literally free exercise classes organised for students by the University. The Sugden Sports Centre also offers a great 9-month student membership for only £120! This may sound like a lot of money to part with in one go, but I’ve done the math and if you go regularly it really works out (pun intended)!

Off campus

Get a part-time job! (This is a bit of a joint one as there are some great jobs going on campus too!) Aside from the obvious financial benefits, balancing a job alongside your studies is a great demonstration of independence, personal time management and teamwork skills. A job can mean meeting a whole new circle of friends outside your academic discipline and a healthy change of scene every so often. Not to mention, it’s one form of procrastination you won’t feel guilty about because you’ll be earning.

Loyalty cards – if you don’t have a Boots card, get one! You can thank me later! Paperchase have also started a fantastic deal for their members, which I’m very excited about – FREE coffee every week from their cafe on the top floor. (This is not a drill people!)

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Caffeine dependency level: Lorelai Gilmore

Charity shops! I don’t mean the ‘cool’ overpriced ones, we’re talking Oxfam, Red Cross and Cancer Research (the Holy Trinity)… It is so worth inhaling those funky steam-cleaned ‘thrift store’ odours to find genuinely high quality clothes at ridiculously low prices!

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Me when I first laid eyes on the 100% wool coat I snagged from Red Cross for £12

Happy hunting friends!

Top 5 coffee shops to write your PhD literature review in…

If you’re just starting out on your PhD course this September chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time between now and Christmas learning your subject and writing the literature review. While it’s good to spend time in the office, learn the ropes and get to know your colleagues, it is also useful to change the scenery once in a while and work away from your desk.

A good coffee shop is the perfect escape and Manchester has plenty for you to choose from! And no, I’m not talking about the 10,000 branches of Starbucks you find across the city. Let’s face it, you’re not going to be motivated to get any work done when you’re drinking overpriced coffee from a paper cup surrounded by swathes of undergraduates Instagramming their skinny-soy-caramel-cappuccinos. If independent tea and coffee shops are more your thing, here are my favourites that I think you should try…

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Ezra and Gil

20 Hilton Street M1 1FR

Situated in the Northern Quarter, Ezra and Gil is 100% hipster. Offering teas, coffees and ‘provisions’, it is a peaceful space resembling a Victorian warehouse with exposed brick walls and wooden tables. There are chairs set out by the window sills so you can watch the world go by as you write. There are also plenty of plug points for laptops!

 

Pot Kettle Black

Barton Arcade, M3 2WB

PKB is a specialty coffee shop located in the Victorian, glass-roofed Barton Arcade just off Deansgate. It is the perfect spot for people who really appreciate good coffee and an ideal destination on a rainy, autumnal day. You can get cosy and stay protected from weather outside while you crack on writing with no distractions.

 

North Tea Power

34 Tib Street, M4 1LANTP

If, like me, you love a loose leaf tea or a choice of coffee beans, then North Tea Power is the place for you. It has a huge selection to choose from; so much more than just a simple tea or coffee! The large tables mean you’ll probably be sharing space with other tea-lov
ers who are writing their literature reviews too which I always find motivating!

 

Grindsmith

Greengate Square, M3 5AS

This one is definitely for coffee lovers. Situated on Deansgate, Grindsmith is a trendy coffee stop which aims to be ‘a modern oasis in the heart of a busy city, with an aim to engage, reconnect and refuel the people of Manchester’. The space itself is often used for events and the huge windows look out onto the busy street. So, if you like people-watching while you ponder, then Grindsmith is your spot!

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Propertea

Manchester Cathedral visitors centre, 10 Cateaton Street, M3 1SQ

If Grindsmith is for the coffee drinkers then this one is for the tea lovers. Propertea is just across from Manchester Cathedral and offers a huge selection of, you guessed it, tea served loose leaf in a pot as it should be. It is a peaceful and bright café which always looks lovely, especially on a sunny day. They also serve great sandwiches and cakes to keep you going. A definite must if you’re after a calm, distraction-free zone!

 

So there you have it! Manchester’s best hidden coffee gems! Good luck with the literature review and if you see me in there writing my thesis, come say hi! 😉

10 Essential Items Every Fresher Needs to Pack

I know it is still the middle of summer but no doubt your mind is already drifting towards September and the exciting experience of starting university. It seems ages away, but those summer months zoom by extremely quickly and before you know it, you’ll be packing for the biggest adventure of your life!

For me, packing was definitely one of the most stressful aspects of preparing to move to Manchester. What should I pack? What do I actually need? The only way to find out the honest answer was to try it out for myself.

So… I have compiled a list of ten things that I consider to be essential, making your Fresher’s experience just a little easier.

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  1. Playing Cards

Whether you drink or not, cards are essential throughout your time at university. They are a great icebreaker in those first few days in Freshers when you’re meeting new people!

  1. Casual clothes

Although you may have taken up all the space in your suitcase with the going-out clothes that you’re planning on wearing in Freshers, it’s important to remember the essentials too. I underestimated how much time I would spend just chilling in my room with my friends or working late in the library. It’s important to have plenty of clothes you can feel comfortable in.

  1. Pens and paper

With all the excitement of Fresher’s it can be easy to forget that you’re actually at university to… study. Even in Welcome Week you will have welcome lectures and seminars, so it’s important to be prepared. You don’t want to be rushing to the Students’ Union shop for stationery instead of figuring out how to get to your lecture hall.

  1. Mugs

Other people probably had a much more exciting and wild first year than I had, but amongst my group of friegiphy-2nds we liked to have communal TV nights in my room such as ‘Downton and Chill’, ‘Great British Bake Off and Chill’ and, probably the most exciting night: ‘Casualtea’. I know, it’s tragic. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that it’s nice to be able to enjoy a cup of tea in your room with friends, even when in catered halls.

  1. Vitamins

This is no doubt one of the most essential items on this list. Before I started 1st year, I thought Fresher’s Flu was a myth. It really, really isn’t. I got ill a number of times and so did many of my friends. The truth is, you’re staying up late, exposing yourself to a new environment, and let’s be honest – definitely eating more cheesy chips than apples and bananas 😉 As soon as I started to take daily vitamins, my immune system improved greatly. Don’t forget though, that the best way to stay healthy is eating well!

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  1. Earplugs

There’s no point in lying about it – living in Halls is noisy. Be prepared for someone having a late night even if you’re planning on getting some rest. For this reason, earplugs are a great essential for every Fresher – trust me, you’ll be glad you brought them!

  1. Doorstop

When I was packing, this was the one item everyone who had been to university told me was absolutely essential. On that first day, the doorstop will be your saviour. Believe me, it’s so much easier for people to approach you and say hi when your door is wide open, it says ‘hey, I’m a friendly and approachable person!’

  1. Blue-tack

A sure-fire way to ward off that homesickness is to make your room feel like your own, I’m not talking literally (put that hammer down, please!). If you have photos, gig tickets and posters stuck to your wall at home, bring them with you to uni! Not only does this make your room feel more like your own, but it also makes for some great conversation starters.

  1. A cookbook

If you’re in self-catered halls, a cookbook will be your lifesaver especially those written for students moving away for the first time. Don’t forget you can also find quick, easy to follow recipes online on websites like BBC Good Food.

  1. Photo frames

Just like bringing things to stick on your walls, photos are a really great addition to a student room as they’ll make you feel more at home. Bring your favourite photos with a few empty frames for pictures of your new friends and the memories that you are sure to make in your first year at university.

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Tips for your MSc Dissertation – Do’s and Don’ts while you work

All postgrads sigh a breath of relief once exams are over. No more classes. No more setting up an alarm and you may sleep as much as you can until you wake up naturally. Although that might sound quite ideal, but the dissertation is not a piece of cake.

Planning Trips

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The idea of travelling around the UK, going back home, or visiting a friend somewhere in the EU might look very ideal at this time while there are no lectures or assignments to worry about. However, those on a close target of a 12-weeks submission should err on the side of caution. It is wise to let your supervisor know if you already have any such plans before he schedules a meeting with you on a date when you wouldn’t be able to see them. This puts an overall negative impact on the quality of work and your professionalism. Don’t even think that your supervisor won’t know if you could escape for a week without him noticing.  Your lack of progress will reflect your absence or poor time management.

Plan any travels on weekends and work like a full 9 to 5 job during the weekdays so you stay ahead of your proposed project plan. Inform your supervisor when you are away and if possible arrange a Skype call or a telephone meeting to show that your care about your work.

 

Choosing a Study Space

Trust me, your home is probably the worst place to work for your dissertation if your task is desk based. Laziness creeps in like the mouse that sneaks into your kitchen cabinets at night and you never know when it takes away the piece of cheese you had been keeping all locked and tight. Your time is as valuable as that cheese block and procrastinating is so likely for someone like me who gets easily distracted, especially when it is time to work.

The problem could be that you are on your own, with minimum support from your supervisor and you need to work efficiently. Find a study space in the library. The Learning Commons are quite free these days with the undergrads gone, so make the most of it and your time. An hour of focused study is better than spending 5 hours pretending you are studying.

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Keeping track of progress

It’s very simple to lose track of where your dissertation is going if you have not built a Gantt chart or other similar project plan. Starting out late, being stuck in the middle of the work could easily build up a bottleneck of work pressure at the end when you sit down to write your report. You must leave at least 3 weeks for the final write-up and spend time wisely on each stage of your plan, noting down which phase would take the most time and is most important for your thesis.

It would be best to keep a weekly meeting (or email) to update your supervisor so that he could guide you if you are slacking off. For engineering projects or lab work, this is often measurable in terms of the results obtained.

It could also be helpful to see how far other people have progressed in their projects, so you could set a benchmark if you are going too slow or have the right pace.