Undergraduate

University VS time

The past month has been especially busy! Aside from the usual 8 hours of lectures, I have had to split my time between lab practical (15 hours/week), dissertation writing, course work, job applications, and activities for my society (Cancer Research UK Society). So, I thought I’d write this blog on what I think is important to remember during busy times.

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I might not be the best person at time management, but I always try my best to be efficient and get my work done by planning ahead of time. Every week, I write down a to-do list with important deadlines and assignments, whether it’s turning in a uni project or tasks I overlook as part of being the secretary for CRUKSOC society. Having a set list of goals makes it clear in my mind what I have to do and helps me in dismantling big tasks into smaller ones.

As a student, my  main duty is to study but almost everyone I know (myself included) has additional commitments such as part-time jobs, sport and society activities – so there’s a lot of juggling going on most of the time!

I also know that I’m the kind of person who can’t say no to people and who also naively believes I can multi-task different assignments all at once. This has caused tricky situations where I found myself spending sleepless nights trying to finish my work or, even worse, missing deadlines. I hate that this can make me look unprofessional and/or leave me feeling guilty for not delivering on a promised deadline. I’ve found that it’s important to be honest with myself and know exactly how much work I can take on.

Sometimes (maybe always), I put my personal health and wellbeing in the last place. I would rather sleep less, skip gym and eat ready-made meals to finish my work. But, even if it appears to save time, it is actually counterproductive. Due to lack of good nutrients, exercise and sleep, our body becomes more tired, stressed and less efficient/fast in getting things done. Therefore, it is very important to look after your own health. After all, health is something that you can’t obtain with good grades or buy with money. So, don’t forget to listen to your body and treat it well!

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I hope this short post can remind you that is normal to feel overwhelmed and stressed at times. All you need to do is to learn (by your own mistakes and experience – or by mine!)] how to balance your work and wellbeing.

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What does employability mean to me and how the University is helping me become employable!

Employability – a word I heard a lot during my first few weeks at the University.

I was told that Manchester is among the best institutions worldwide for educating/training highly employable graduates (UoM has been ranked 35th in the QS Graduate Employability Rankings, this year). What does that mean?

Indeed, the University organises various Careers Fairs and other events throughout the year.

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Last year, even as a first-year student, I attended “The Big Careers Fair” at the Manchester Central Convention Centre. I met and networked with representatives from L’Oréal, AstraZeneca, P&G, Barclays, Jaguar Land Rover, Sky and many more. It was great – like a whole new world, because for the first time I understood the importance and relevance of adaptability and transferable skills. It didn’t matter (and even now, it doesn’t matter) that I was studying for a scientific degree; I was still a potential employee to most of the employers there at the fair, even though to those who were not science-related.

And that’s what I realised – that University teaches you transferable skills constantly, skills that can be applied to any situation and industry. If I needed further proof that employability is about more than my academic course, I got it  when I met former students at one of the “Meet the Professionals “run by the Alumni association. I encountered people who showed me that I could work in science policy and funding (still fascinated by this title) or as a scientific consultant in a bank, rather than the typical/stereotypical job as a lab technician. They all talked about using the transferable skills they gained during their university career.

What is also important is knowing how to present and talk about your experiences, and usually the first opportunity you get to do this, is on your CV. Curriculum Vitae is the first means to impress your potential employer: it takes 10 seconds to end up in the right pile and not in the trash bin. So, a good CV is essential to get that awesome job interview!

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The University runs CV surgeries appointments, where they can give you valuable advice about how to tailor your CV, from the font size to the content itself.

I have been actively searching for an industrial placement and so I’ve had recent experience of the whole application process – submitting my CV, going to assessment centres and attending interviews. I received great support from the Careers Services (located in The Atrium on the 1st floor of University Place).

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For the first stage of my application, I had to answer competency-related questions, as well as “why are you applying for X?” I received really helpful guidance about what employers were looking for in my answers. , I recently discovered from one of the employers that I ended up in the “right pile” because I demonstrated my eagerness and enthusiasm through my answers and beat at least 300 people who googled their answers. So, don’t slack and tailor your application, it will pay off!

I also booked a mock interview session with the Careers Services again and had the chance to practice my interview skills. It was a very insightful experience, where I was given loads of tips and tricks (for example, how to answer questions with the STAR model: Situation, Task, Action, Result). I also discovered online resources offered by the University, including videos on things like “what to do in an assessment centre”.

The University also offers different workshops (e.g. “how to boost your LinkedIn profile” and coding sessions at the Learning Commons) and resources like career-advice brochures and “Employability Passport”, to track your skills as well as to help you set a plan in increasing your employability.

After being in University for almost two years, I can definitely see all the effort, money and time that have been invested to help us become the most employable graduate employees possible. I can honestly say it’s not something I have seen before, especially where I come from in Italy. Support is definitely here, but you have to put in time and effort too. You can do so not only by developing transferable skills and experience but by learning how to show them off to employers.

Good luck everyone!

Communicating with academics

When I first started University, my idea of communicating with academics was very different from what it is now. Initially, I thought academics didn’t want to talk much with students outside of lectures and so I prepared myself for never having to meet my tutors or lecturers.  Well… I was definitely wrong. Communication is key, and while it does sometimes seem a little weird or scary to begin with, you have to make sure you develop a relationship with your academic as these are the people you go to for resources, advice and recommendations. So don’t be afraid, I’m here to give you a few tips on communicating with academics as well as my experiences to help you along the way!

After lectures

Take advantage of the time after lectures when academics are available to answer questions or clarify the content.  This is a good time to ask more general questions rather than in depth advice on your essay outline. Save the more specific questions for another occasion, such as…

Office hours

Office hours are times that academics dedicate for students to drop in and ask questions on a weekly basis. Personally, this is the type of communication I found most helpful. You can discuss the content of the course and clarify any problems you have. It’s easier to communicate with academics at this time as you’re not in a rush and there are no disruptions.

If you do visit an office hour, have your questions ready before hand and bring any lecture notes to clarify any confusion. If you can’t make the office hours, academics try to arrange a time suitable for you. If you want to arrange a separate meeting at another time, be sure to drop an email beforehand.

Tutorials & Seminars

Tutorials and seminars are classes where you communicate with academics regarding course content in a group setting. It is also the time you’ll work through tutorial/seminar sheets to supplement course learning. This is one of the most ideal places to communicate with academics on course content and bring up any issues you have. You can also discuss and bounce off ideas with your course mates, which might answer questions you had for your lecturer in the first place.   So if you do find things confusing or have questions, ask them during these sessions!

If you can’t make a face-to-face meeting, here are some ways to communicate with academics:

Discussion boards

On the Blackboard page for each of your course units, there is a discussion board where you can communicate with academics. This is a great way to get your questions answered or clarify things you find confusing.. You can also do this anonymously if you would like to do so.

Discussion boards are useful and can help you and others to receive answers to some of the more commonly asked questions. If you are finding something difficult, it’s likely someone else is a well.

Small note: Just like seminars and tutorials, discussion boards are more course unit orientated.

Emails

This is something I tend to use regularly when communicating with academics. I’d advise you to email your questions and problems with more details, so the academics can help you out easily.

I found that emails either get answered the same day or the next day if they are sent around late afternoon/evening (this excludes weekends!). Emails are also ideal to use during semester breaks, as it is often the only way you can communicate with academics.

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So there it is; my tips on how to communicate with academics! Please remember,  if you do have questions or need any kind of academic help, go to your academics!

Got any questions? Or any tips? Please leave a comment!

Tasnim x

5 Tips on how to keep up with extra reading!

Are you finding it hard keeping up with all the extra reading? Do your lecturers assign you with too much extra reading? Is it difficult to find time for assignments, online tests and writing notes? If you answered yes to all these questions, then you are in luck because I have 5 tips to help you keep up with extra reading. Extra reading is not everyone’s favourite task however sometimes it is required. It allows you to answer those unanswered questions from lectures and it prepares you more for exams.

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PLAN YOUR TIME

Personally, I find that planning your day ahead of time always works out best. Not having time to do something usually indicates that you are not using time efficiently or planning the time to do it.  Therefore, I propose writing out an entire days schedule out the night before onto a piece of paper. Make sure to plan a specific time for each activity and include breaks!

This way your day will be more ordered and you will feel more accomplished by the end of the day. When every task is assigned a specific time for completion, it eventually becomes easier to complete as each day passes by.

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LECTURE-READING-THEN NOTES

Another technique I usually find very helpful is to do all the extra reading right after the lecture and before you write up your notes. Reading after the lecture is a more efficient way of writing up your notes as the material is still fresh in your mind. It also makes it easier to understand the extra reading in order to incorporate it into your notes.

USE THE LIBRARY

I find it best to do my extra reading when I’m actually on campus. It saves you from lugging the books home for reading (and having to remember to return them too!). There are plenty of quiet areas to study on campus including:

  • The Main library
  • The learning commons
  • Stopford library
  • Precinct library

Most of them even have cafes for when you are craving a coffee boost or even a slice of cake!

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TO-DO LIST

If you’re finding it difficult to keep up with all that extra reading right after lectures thentumblr_odde9ed8DR1vqc713o1_500 I suggest making a to-do list. You can even purchase one of those nicely decorated pre-printed ones from WHSmiths, if that kind of thing helps you feel more inspired!.
List the pages of books you need to read for each lecture you have each week..
Try to do a weekly to-do list and make sure it doesn’t extend over to the next week. As otherwise you will end up with an even longer list by the end of the second week. Most importantly make sure to check each box as you go along –it’s a great feeling!

DISCUSS WITH OTHERS

Talking to course mates who are doing the same modules can be a great way to keep up with extra reading.. Maybe book a study room in either the main library, learning commons or Stopford library and discuss what you have all read. Having a date set for a discussion can motivate you to complete the extra reading before then Working through r the material together will also make it easier to understand.

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I hope these 5 tips can help you in keeping up with all the extra reading you have been assigned. Remember to plan and organise every task in order to complete everything more efficiently. Most importantly remember to take frequent breaks to give your brain a rest.

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The experience of a lifetime with Study Aboard

When the applications for study abroad opened in the autumn of my second year, I was at a loss about what to do.  One of the main reasons I chose to study at Manchester was its amazing study abroad opportunities and strong global links.  From past experiences, I knew that I loved international travel and I understood the many reasons why study abroad would be fantastic and hugely advantageous to me.

For a while, I couldn’t decide whether to apply, especially because I was loving life in Manchester and the thought of leaving that behind was heart-breaking.  I’d amassed lots of wonderful friends, was involved in some amazing student societies and part-time jobs, and was having the best time of my life.  To turn my back on all this seemed crazy –could I ever have it this good again?

After much torment, I finally concluded ‘just do it!’ and applied.  It’s wasn’t like Manchester was going to disappear anytime soon, and I knew that good friends would always be there for me, no matter how far away and no matter how long I wouldn’t see them for (I’m getting all soppy and sentimental now ❤ ).  My top study abroad destination was the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, as it ticked all my boxes: excellent University, amazing outdoors activities like skiing, canoeing and hiking, and a beautiful modern city surrounded by beaches and mountains.

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Me snowshoeing with new Canadian friend Cora in the Rockies

A few months later I was stood in the Atrium of University Place squinting at the list of student numbers who had been approved for study abroad.  I stood there for about a minute glancing between the list and my student card with my student number on it.  After about the tenth check all doubt had been stripped away and the mental meltdown commenced – I WAS GOING TO CANADA!!!

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Beware of bears!  Hiking with Canadian friend Nicole (now one of my best friends)

I arrived in Vancouver late at night in early September, and promptly fell asleep after travelling 7312 km.  I woke up at 5am (1pm UK time) and went for a stroll around the city centre.  Within an hour, I had observed sunrise over Coal Harbour, strolled through soaring pines in Stanley Park, watched seaplanes land, breakfasted on coffee and bagels, and dipped my toes in the Pacific Ocean.  I’d never fallen in love with a place so instantaneously in my life.

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Vancouver sunset

When term began two days later I put far less effort into attending the UBC welcome events than I did in Manchester.  Having already done welcome week once before, I knew that partying with a load of strangers wasn’t the best way of making new friends. Instead, I took my time and got involved with a couple of the student societies and got to know my course-mates.  Within a couple of months, I’d met dozens of great people from all sorts of backgrounds, cultures and nationalities, had many good friends and had comfortably settled in to UBC.

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Some friends at the Richmond Night Market

Over my 10 months living in Vancouver, I’d been lectured by world-leading academics, made amazing friends for life, and picked up my high school French by talking to French-Canadians.  I’d learnt to ski, sea kayak and ice climb, and had been on adventures across western Canada and the USA.  In short, it was the most incredible year of my life, and I feel silly for having so many doubts before I applied!

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Learning to ice climb

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Eating oysters with my canoe buddies – caught by us on the beach!

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One of my buddies on one of our canoe trips

In addition to having loads of fun, I’d developed my problem-solving skills and confidence by integrating into a new country, become far better at networking and getting to know new people, felt more competent as an independent individual, and also learnt lots about myself and many life lessons.

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Climbing in Squamish near Vancouver

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Mountaineering in the Valhallas with Nicole

When I returned to Manchester my old friendships were as strong as they ever were and I settled back in immediately, feeling invigorated from my year away and ready to enjoy Manchester again with a refreshed mind.  My boosted confidence helped me discover a love of meeting new people, and now have more friends and connections than ever.

Of course, some less lucky people have less of a good time as I had initially, and often settling into life in a new place takes different times for different people, but most universities have support services, lots of student activities and events to help you make friends and make the most of your year away.  Also, the Manchester Go Abroad office will always be there for you if you have any problems or would like advice.

My study abroad was the best thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve come back with bags of wonderful memories, great friendships and new skills.  My year away has truly improved me as person, and I couldn’t recommend study abroad any more.

So what are you waiting for? Apply and have the adventure of a lifetime!

Reflections of a final year Master’s student

Many of you who are about to enter their third year, will be faced with the decision whether to do a Bachelor’s degree or a Master’s.  There are many factors which will influence your decision and many questions you should ask yourself, such as am I interested in research?  Do I want to study for three or four years?  What do I have to gain from a Master’s?  Is an extra year worth the extra money?  Do I want to prolong the work-hard-play-hard student life of balancing exams and assignments with a busy social life and extracurricular activities?  Or do I want a proper salary and be able to buy avocados and fancy coffee without a shred of guilt?

These are all important questions that should be addressed.  I’m a fourth year Physics student doing a Master’s year, and by no means an expert on whether or not a Master’s is the right choice for you, but perhaps by explaining what my Master’s is like, what I’ve gained from my Master’s and why I chose to do it, it will help you make a more informed decision on whether or not this is the right path for you.

When I first applied to The University of Manchester as spotty 17 year old, I knew very little about what I wanted in terms of my career.  I didn’t even know that I liked Physics that much, but my A-level science grades were good, I knew that Physics degrees were very well respected and gave you a broad skillset, and at the time Brian Cox was making Physics cool with his BBC documentaries full of pretty computer-generated spiral galaxies.

So I applied for an MPhys Physics degree, without really even knowing what an MPhys was and whether it was a good idea, but I knew that it was easier to transfer from the 4 year MPhys to the 3 year BSc, so it seemed sensible.

Fast forward four years later and I’m now sat in the library of the Physics building (pretty much my second home), in the midst of my MPhys research, reflecting on my choice.  The biggest and brightest thing that comes to mind is that the past few years being a student have been the best of my life.  I’ve made the most out of the huge amount of amazing opportunities available to students in this city, such as the awesome student societies, charities, cultural activities and nights out.  I’ve met many marvellous people and have made fantastic friends for life.  I studied abroad in Canada, got a job blogging for the University, learnt loads of new skills, and had a great time along the way.

However, don’t think that time was fun only.  It addition to experiencing the most fun years of my life, my Master’s years have also been the most stressful, sometimes demanding 12 hour work days to stay on top of multiple deadlines, long spells sat in a lonely lab, and evenings spent pulling my hair out over a tricky assignment.  But despite all this, I feel that the huge amount I’ve gained from studying my degree and being a student at UoM has made the blood, sweat and tears all worth it.

Currently I spend two days a week on research, on top of four courses.  My MPhys in Biological Physics investigates how graphene affects bacteria, which contributes to other research efforts aiming to produce new antibacterial materials and ways to kill bacteria.  Most of my time is spent taking data in the lab and analysing this on a computer to try and draw meaningful conclusions.  I regularly talk to world-leaders in this field, have weekly meetings with my supervisor, and even had a terrifying assessment by Sir Novoselov (the graphene Nobel Prize winner guy!).

Despite the cool sounding name of my research (well, cool in my opinion) and amazing opportunities I have to pursue a career in Biological Physics, I’ve learnt that at this stage in my life research isn’t for me, as my passion does not lie in spending long hours alone taking measurements and trying to get various programs to work.  I’ve also started to reconsider my relationship with academia and other ways I could be using my degree, like science communication, enterprise or teaching.  Many of my contemporaries are now considering PhD’s, but 3 or 4 years is a long time for me to commit to something that I’ve learnt that my heart isn’t fully in.

This change of heart is by no means a reason for me to say that my Master’s was a mistake.  On the contrary, I’ve learnt an enormous amount about myself, my likes and dislikes, and some really cool stuff about science, and I can always return to academia in future.  I’ve also learnt that I love being surrounded by bright, enthusiastic and dynamic young people, and I love the flexibility of academia and student life in Manchester.  I’ve picked up loads of transferable skills, amazing friends, new hobbies (like blog writing and climbing), and fantastic memories, all of which I wouldn’t have gained without committing to my 4 year Master’s degree.  I now believe that my experiences, good and bad, have all been opportunities to learn and improve myself, and that sometimes it’s worth taking a risk and trying something new even if you’re not sure about the outcome.  If I’d never have taken the jump and done my MPhys, I never would have learnt these invaluable lessons.

To wrap up, for me, my Master’s has been a great choice and I have no regrets, but this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for everybody.  It depends hugely on your personality, how you like to live your life, how you like to work, and how you feel about dizzying fluctuations in workload.  But if you have the time and energy to spend another year experiencing the student life in this fun, youthful and exciting university, why not give it a shot and carry on making the most of student life and learn more about yourself?

Exam Survival Guide

It’s that time of year again and arguably, out of the two exam seasons we undergrads have, this is the hardest one. The truth is, the festive season is over and exams are upon us leaving us with two choices: sit and wallow or get ourselves together and show these exams who’s boss.

I know it’s not always as simple as flicking a switch and becoming a revision machine.  Over my years of studying, I’ve managed to come up with some simple yet effective ways to combat the exam time blues, in a way that makes me feel studious yet relaxed, and achieve the grades I deserve.

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  1. Positive Mental Attitude

‘My philosophy is if you worry, you suffer twice’ – Newt Scamander

Worry can be the devil in exam time. Whilst in small doses, a little can spur us on and actually improve our drive to do well, too much and we collapse under our pressure. So be positive! I start off by picking out the negative thoughts I’m having, which currently happen to be:

  • I can’t do this, I don’t know anything.
  • Maybe I should just drop out now and buy a load of cats.

I then turn these thoughts around, choosing to focus on the positives rather than the negatives:

  • Yes you can, you’ve done loads of exams just to get to this point.
  • Buying cats is not a viable life plan even if you want it to be. Stay in school kid.
  1. Take regular breaks

It’s all well and good planning a fifteen minute break and just using it to check Facebook but try to be more mindful! Remember that there are great services on and off campus to help us make the most of these breaks. Some of my personal favourites are:

  • meditation sessions at the Main Library
  • Workshops at the Counselling Service on managing stress and finding motivation
  • The Buddhist Centre based in Manchester’s coolest district, the Northern Quarter, has daily lunchtime meditation classes and is next door to a really tasty (and cheap!) café in northern quarter.  Win, win, right?
  1. Nourish Yourself

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Eating fruit and drinking water is obviously the goal, so make sure you have plenty of those to hand. I have this terrible habit of skipping meals in favour of revision but eventually my concentration wanes and my hangry, irritable side comes out. Taking time to eat a good hearty lunch is not a waste of precious revision time, but a way of improving the quality of the work you get done.

I’ve also found that cooking up something nutritious and fun is a good way to allow you to focus on something else. Try my favourite food blog Hot for Food.

  1. Get Outsidepic1

We all need a bit of fresh air and time away from our computer
screens If the sun is out (I know, funny joke) head to the park with a few friends for a stroll or if it’s a bit gross, take a trip to the supermarket to stock up on revision fuel. . Not only does it break up revision stints but it allows us to remember that the world exists outside of our busy minds.

  1. Make a Plan

Whatever your revision style, taking time to make a rough guide of what you are going to do is invaluable.

For those of us who struggle with the motivation to revise, this can also be a great way to split up revision into bitesize chunks and make the task more manageable. Remember, you don’t have to do everything at once and once you start, you’ll probably realise that you know more than you originally thought.

  1. Treat. Yo. Self.

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You’re working hard. Really hard. So instead of just working your butt off or wallowing in self-pity until that end-of-exams victory night out that we all look forward to, choose to reward yourself for the work you are doing as you go along. Using realistic goals from your revision plan make sure you have something to look forward to when you complete them. It can be a coffee with a friend, buying your favourite chocolate bar or going out for a cheeky Nando’s (or a cheeky Chiquito, which is way more fun to say). By celebrating the little things, you allow yourself to appreciate all the hard work that you do every day and it makes revising all the more rewarding.

(This is my ultimate tippy top tip and I’ve found it motivates me above everything else. Try it, I promise you’ll feel better for it)

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 Remember to trust in your own abilities this exam season. You’ve already achieved so much to get to this stage. Whether this is your first year of university or your last, you have got yourself this far and whilst it might seem daunting now, in a few weeks times you’ll be able to look back and know that you gave it the best shot you could. Just remember to look after yourself and use the resources available to get the most out of this challenging time of year.

Good luck!