Improving my Confidence at LUMS

Before I started at LUMS, my self-confidence was pretty much non-existent.

A combination of bullying whilst at school, a struggle with anorexia and one aborted attempt at a Midlands university left me timid and doubting in my abilities. During time spent in the workplace, I was barely able to converse with colleagues – let alone offer my opinions or ideas in meetings – convinced that I was dull, incapable and pretty much worthless.

One boss, however, saw some potential in me. Impressed by content I’d written for the workplace website, newsletter and social media, she suggested that I should consider a career in marketing. I tentatively picked up a textbook – and loved what I found there.

To this day, though, I’m still not sure what inspired me with the confidence to turn this blossoming interest into a UCAS application to study at one of the top management schools in the country… but I’m very glad I did.

Deciding to study at LUMS was one of the best decisions I have ever made – and right from the beginning, my confidence improved and has continued to grow daily.

To be honest, I was dreading my first seminar; my head full of visions of going through the usual agonising process of revealing an “interesting fact about myself” or justifying “what ice-cream flavour I’d be” in front of the entire class.
LUMS, however, took a different approach to icebreakers. Before the first session, we were given a business case study to read through and a set of questions to answer. Then, upon arrival, we were divided into small groups to discuss the pros and cons of M&S’s ethical approach to clothing. Although this might sound scary, for me, it was actually ideal. Having the case study and questions beforehand meant that I was able to plan what I could say in advance. Being in a small group, meanwhile, was much less daunting than divulging personal information about myself to the whole class or the pressure of chatting one-to-one. It also made it a darn sight easier to remember everyone’s names! As a result, I was able to get to know more about those I was talking to naturally over the course of the session, whilst the fact that everyone was starting at the same point and there were no right or wrong answers meant that I eventually felt comfortable – and brave enough! – to contribute. I left the first seminar not only feeling like I’d learnt a lot, but, for the first time in a long while, with a sense of achievement.

As the course has progressed, my passion for the subject and keen interest in what I’ve been learning, combined with the enthusiasm of lecturers and other students, has enabled me to gradually overcome my shyness and join in class discussions. After spending my school years being made to feel ashamed of my “nerdiness”, it’s been so lovely to be in an environment where intellectual curiosity and the sharing of ideas is not sneered at, but actively encouraged and celebrated. I’m not the only one who does the required homework or reading, or reads Marketing Week in their spare time! For me, this has been a revelation, and really helped with my self-acceptance.

LUMS has also improved my confidence by pushing me outside of my comfort zone, but in a supportive way.
In our seminars during the Lent term, we’ve been working in groups to deliver presentations each week about the topics we’ve covered in lectures. I’ll admit that during my first presentation, I was terrified. I shook like a leaf, I stuttered, my heart raced, my face was crimson. However, as the weeks have gone by, it’s slowly become much easier. Simply proving to myself that I can survive each one; that I won’t lose the ability to speak, that no one will laugh at me and the tutor won’t call me stupid if I get something wrong, has helped me to have greater faith in my abilities. Working consistently with the same people has been good for me too – I’ve been able to get to know my coursemates, to have a laugh, to make friends. When my group has eagerly seized upon an idea that I’ve suggested, or asked for my help in explaining a complicated concept from the reading, it’s helped me to finally be able to begin to let go of the notion that I am unintelligent and unlikeable.

I’m still not the world’s most confident person, nor the world’s greatest fan of presentations. I still have times when I feel out of my depth academically, or highly anxious in social situations. But when I look back at what I’ve achieved since September, I can see that I’ve come a long way. With the help of LUMS, I know that things can only get better.

You never know, by the end of the next two years at Lancaster, I could be chairing meetings in my workplace, or making public speeches about my favourite flavour of ice-cream. Somewhat anti-climactic I know, but I’d be vanilla, by the way. Not the bravest of choices, but dependable, sweet… and quietly confident.

College Life

If you’ve picked up a prospectus, browsed the website or visited on an open day, you’ll have discovered that Lancaster is one of the few universities in the country that is home to a collegiate system. If you’re anything like I was this time last year, you’ll likely have a few questions. Perhaps you want to know what the college system actually is, and how it differs from the accommodation offered at other universities. Alternatively, you may want to know how being part of a college will affect your university experience, or, as I know I was, you’ll be concerned with making sure that you pick the college that is right for you.

Hopefully, I can alleviate some of these anxieties in my blog post.

As an undergraduate, when you receive your offer of accommodation at Lancaster, you’ll automatically become a member of one of eight of our undergraduate colleges – Bowland, Lonsdale, Pendle, Furness, Fylde, Grizedale, County and Cartmel. This means that rather than just being placed into an accommodation block as is often the case at other universities, you become part of a community which, as well as housing, also has facilities such as a bar and study area. As part of your college, you have access to dedicated pastoral support services and can take part in a whole host of unique opportunities.

But enough of the prospectus spiel! Time for the reality.

I’ll admit that I when I first read that Lancaster was a collegiate university, two images sprung to mind. The first (and decidedly more sensible one!)  was that of Oxbridge. The second I’m ashamed – but also kind of nerdily proud – to admit was the concept of the Hogwarts house system.

However, the Lancaster college system isn’t like either of those things. Despite what you might be worried about, the colleges at Lancaster are not divided by interests, reputation or character à la Hogwarts. I can assure you that regardless of the college that you pick, you will not end up as the only musician amongst a group of sports stars – or as a hapless Hufflepuff living amongst a nest of Slytherins!  There is no sorting hat or personality quiz to fill in before you arrive at uni. Rather, the colleges are made up of a diverse range of students, with a whole host of different hobbies and passions.

Instead, the strength of Lancaster’s collegiate system lies in its ability to create a strong sense of community and belonging, linked to the accommodation in which you are housed.

One of the main ways that the colleges create this sense of community is through the events that they hold. This begins in Fresher’s Week, which is organised by each individual college, rather than the university as a whole. A personal highlight from my Fresher’s Week at Cartmel, for example, was attempting German folk dancing with my housemates during our college’s German Beer Festival, whilst a friend sampled Flamenco at a Spanish night and others channelled their inner Miss Marple during a murder mystery evening. Breaking down into smaller groups means that events are on offer which would simply be too difficult to execute on a university-wide basis. Similarly, attending smaller-scale college-based events during Fresher’s week makes the whole experience a lot less overwhelming. Plus, you’re more likely to win a prize in the quiz if you’re competing against forty teams rather than a couple of hundred!  And there’s no denying that attempting a bar crawl en-masse with members of your entire college is also tonnes of fun.

Colleges continue to host their own events well past Fresher’s Week, but now they are open to everyone. Regular events ranging from comedy nights, crafternoons, bake offs and quizzes, to bar crawls, battle of the bands, and big nights out mean that a wider range of tastes can be catered for – and can lead to a busy social calendar! For geeks like me, it means that there’s an opportunity to attend a different quiz every night of the week, if you so desire. Alternatively, if you’re feeling a little livelier, you have the option to experience the nightlife of Manchester, Leeds or Nottingham, with each college organising a trip to a different city.

As mentioned previously, each college also has its own bar, which means there’s always somewhere to go and socialise and make friends.  Tips from a native…Fylde’s the place to be if you enjoy live sports, while if it’s a good laugh you’re after, County’s comedy nights are always fab. For those who love Indie or live music, I’d recommend Pendle’s bar, whilst Lonsdale bar’s huge dance floor and DJ booth mean it’s a great place for chart fans. Hands down, the best place for drinks, meanwhile, is Grizedale’s bar; home to an amazing selection of cocktails and mocktails – as well as its legendary alcoholic milkshakes!  However, I must concede that Furness recently proved a worthy challenger with its Gin Festival. If you’re a more of a coffee connoisseur, on the other hand, Cartmel’s Barker House has its own Starbucks, whilst Grad Bar is the haunt of real ale lovers.  As well as regular events, at the end of every year, each college also hosts is own huge themed party, complete with live music and entertainment. What’s not to love?

Away from the entertainment, however, the college system also opens up access to a whole host of opportunities. Unlike with larger universities, with the college system, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to get involved in a sports team. Instead you can represent your college in the college league, competing to win the Carter Shield at the end of the year. This means that if you loved football or netball at school, you can continue to play competitively and recreationally whilst a uni. You can also try your hand at bar sports like pool, dominoes or darts. Having failed to even hit the board on my first few attempts, however, I think it’s safe to say that darts was not for me!

It doesn’t matter if you’re not sporty though. There are also plenty of opportunities to give back to society – and increase your employability at the same time. Every year, each college hosts their own charity challenge, where teams compete to see who can raise the most money for a nominated charity. This means you can try your hand at fundraising, events management and planning, promotion or finance – as well as having a whole lot of fun with your friends and making a difference to people’s lives!

Equally, instead of opportunities to take part in student politics being limited to the Students Union, you also have the chance to run for a role as part of your college’s Junior Common Room committee. This committee is the group of people responsible for representing the interests of college members – as well as planning and managing all of the amazing events and sports teams. You might choose to run for a role as a welfare officer, an events technician, a social secretary – or even take your chances at becoming college president!

The JCR also plays an important role in providing pastoral support, an area in which the college system excels. Each college’s system is set up slightly differently, but rather than having to try and navigate the larger university support system, a dedicated team means that there’s always someone to turn to if you need some help and advice. At Cartmel, the advisor team can liaise with your academic department if you’re having difficulties, help you sort out issues with flatmates or other personal problems, and even help you keep your finances in check. The wellbeing officer, meanwhile, provides 1:1 sessions on a regular basis for those who are particularly struggling – and can also ensure a speedy referral to the university counselling team. If there’s issues that you feel uncomfortable talking about with staff, you can also chat to the JCR wellbeing team, who hold regular drop-ins. This smaller scale system means that staff can get to know you personally, and also means that getting help with any issue, regardless of how trivial, is a lot less daunting. On one occasion when I was feeling particularly homesick, an impromptu visit to a college advisors’ office ensured I was provided with a milky cup of tea, a couple of Hobnobs and a shoulder to cry on – exactly what I needed to feel better.

But enough of the serious stuff! I know that what you really want to know is which college is the best one for you. Ultimately, there is no one answer to that question. Regardless of which college you pick, you are guaranteed to make friends and have a good time: the wealth of opportunities, events – and amazing students of course! will make sure of that.

 

“Major” and “Minor” Decisions

Okay, I’ll admit it… I’m a bit of a nerd. I’m also horribly indecisive. And a chronic worrier. That combination of traits meant that for me, personally, it was very difficult to decide what I wanted to study post A-level.  I enjoyed all of my subjects and simply wasn’t sure which one to choose.  I couldn’t imagine abandoning any of them. Equally, the thought of a future career seemed to loom large – how could I make sure that I gained all the necessary “employability” skills? What if I picked the wrong course and spent three years regretting it?

£9,250 a year sure feels like a lot of money if you don’t get it right.

Eventually, I decided to take some time out and worked for a while at a school, where my former boss noted my enthusiasm during the school’s academy re-branding, as well as my aptitude for updating the school’s social media and blog – and suggested I study Marketing. Nonetheless, even this decision still felt pretty terrifying. I hadn’t studied business at Sixth Form. What if I found it too challenging? What if it was too dry? Or exponentially worse… what if there was too much maths? It felt like such a gamble…

Luckily, Lancaster offers the perfect solution for those as risk-averse as me.

In your first year, in most degree programmes, you’re not restricted to studying just one subject, you can pick three! Yes, you heard right… three! But hang on, before you start panicking about having to re-write your entire personal statement – the process is really simple. Although you apply for your “major” subject during the UCAS process, once you arrive at Lancaster, you are then able to choose modules from two additional subjects – known as your “minors”.  This allows you to keep your options open. As well as studying your major subject, you can opt to try something new, to pick something that complements it… or merely to continue with a subject that you enjoyed at A Level. If you find that you prefer your minor subject, you then have the option to swap courses at the end of the year.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried about struggling with my Marketing course: I’m really enjoying it. However, I’ve found the topics that I’ve studied in my minor subjects – Sociology and Media and Cultural Studies – to have been incredibly relevant; really enhancing my understanding of Marketing.

For example, in MCS, we’ve recently been exploring the theme of power in the media; looking at the dominance of corporations such as Google and Facebook and Viacom, thinking about the influence that they have over the content that we see. For example, did you know Google is used for 95.3% of search on mobile in the UK, whilst Google and Facebook between them owned 9 of the top 10 most used Apps in the UK in 2015? Although not blindingly obvious at first, this has big implications for the world of marketing. When these organisations have such a wide potential-consumer reach and high revenue, it can perhaps make it more difficult for companies to demand change regarding issues such as brand safety and inappropriate content. Will Google really notice if M&S withdraw their adverts from YouTube?

Studying the representation of minority groups in a previous block also made me think about how well companies are representing and meeting the specific needs of those such as the disabled, those from a BME background or elderly people in their offerings.

In Sociology meanwhile, we’ve been looking at how human behaviour has changed and evolved over time. Observations such as an increased focus on individual responsibility for health in society, or a change towards a faster, more individualistic pace of lifestyle are definitely relevant to marketing – just look at how well McDonald’s has adapted to these developments. Marketers constantly need to consider how consumer needs and lifestyles may change in the future.

But it’s not just from an academic perspective that I feel studying minor subjects has enriched my university experience – it’s also allowed me to develop a brilliantly diverse range of friends. It means I can go from geeking-out about Nike’s latest communications campaign with one group of mates, to debating the effects of neo-liberalism with another. It means I’m in classes with people studying English and Economics and Computing and French and Politics. Luckily, it also means I’ve been able to make friends with some wonderfully kind people who study Maths as well as Marketing…

Ultimately, the minor system allows you to explore your options. You can pick a subject because you think it will enhance your employability skills, because you were strong at it at A Level or because you’ve always fancied trying it and never had the chance. Whatever you pick though, you can guarantee it will make your first year at Lancaster just that little bit more enjoyable. You can always change your mind next year…

Adjusting to degree-level study

As both a mature student and somebody who’d never studied business before, I was naturally more than just slightly apprehensive about starting a Marketing degree at a university as prestigious and well regarded as Lancaster.  What if I failed to understand any of the lecture content? What if I found the work too challenging? What if everyone else was 1000 times more knowledgeable than me?

I’m relieved to say – up to now at least! – that my fears have gone completely unfounded. Although the Marketing course is indeed challenging, it’s challenging in a good way. I’m really enjoying the fact that it gives me the opportunity to think critically and broaden my horizons.

Right from the very first assignment, we’re encouraged to challenge the formulaic approach to Marketing that is often presented at A Level – or in my case, in traditional Marketing textbooks. Instead, we’re encouraged to see Marketing as a continually evolving process, where creativity, flexibility and innovation are key. In my view, this is something that is becoming increasingly important in today’s corporate environment, where both consumer tastes and technology are changing rapidly.

As well as questioning traditional schools of thought, the degree is also allowing me to challenge my own beliefs. As part of a recent topic on marketing regulation, in our seminars, we’ve been preparing for a debate around the introduction of the sugar tax.

Now, as someone who identifies very much on the left side of the political spectrum, I’d expected to be very much in favour of the sugar tax – after all, anything that encourages people to live healthily can only be a good thing, right? However, after my group were assigned the role of Coca Cola in the debate, I’ve found my views continuously evolving. I’ve been able to appreciate not only the idea of consumer choice and the efforts made by corporations to increase the variety of sugar-free options available, but also to see the limitations of the policy in regards to consumer education.

The interactive nature of the Marketing seminars is something that I’m really enjoying too. Although the idea of sharing your thoughts with the group can be a daunting prospect at first, I’m finding that listening to the ideas of other students is really helping to consolidate my learning. Taking part in group projects – such as the Coca Cola debate – not only helps us to develop skills relevant to the workplace, but also allows us to get to better get to know our coursemates.   Sometimes, seminars can even be, dare I say it, fun!

I’m really looking forward to finding out what the next term has in store – and seeing which of my pre-conceived ideas will be challenged next!

Learning Opportunities at Lancaster University

Lancaster University Management School provides opportunities to learn outside of the conventional classroom based learning, creating a learning environment well suited to various styles of learner.

One such learning experience that I have taken part in during my second year of study is a management module, which involves working with a live client, to aid in resolving a real-world problem from the organisation.

The module is competitive from the beginning, with each group competing for their organisation of choice from a list of business (local and some further afield) who have partnered with the University to work with Management School students. This involves producing a ‘project bid’, in which the team must illustrate their understanding of their chosen client’s issues, as well as the team strengths to create an argument demonstrating why they should be allowed to work with the particular client. Once the bids have been evaluated, those who presented the strongest arguments are awarded the clients they requested to work with, and all other teams are allocated the remaining organisations.

Luckily for me, our project bid was strong enough to be awarded the client that we most wanted to work with. This was a small, local charity which meant our experience was very intensive and our involvement was perceived as being particularly important to the client.

Working with a charity was particularly rewarding, and a personal highlight was visiting the charity at the start of the module to learn more about the client. This was a great opportunity to speak to stakeholders and staff members to find out first hand important information about the problems faced. It was also great to be in a learning environment outside of University, in a real working environment and facing real organisational issues.

The project did not come without its challenges, though. An important part of the process for my group was to collect primary research, which involved approaching local people in the town centre. This proved to be more difficult than we had ever imagined, and encouraging people to speak to us wasn’t exactly easy!

The module runs over two terms, and is an intensive, hands on, real life experience. Working outside of the classroom acts as an opportunity to fully understand and experience the discrepancies between theory and practice, and understand the subject (in my case, management consultancy) in a much more in depth way compared to simply learning through lectures and seminars. Not only this, but this experience is a great CV booster – you can demonstrate real life skills working in a professional manner with genuine clients who have sought your help.

The assessment for this module involves an individual essay, which acts as an opportunity to reflect on the learning experience and how your understanding of the subject has changed with exposure to a real world consultancy issue. There is also a group report and presentation to the client, allowing you to showcase your hard work. The presentation is primarily for the client but moderated by the module tutors and lecturers, and therefore it really requires you to integrate your theoretical knowledge and practical experience in order to appeal to the different audiences.

I chose to study this module because I wanted to gain hands on experience whilst learning, and that is exactly what it provided. It truly is a one of a kind learning experience which inarguably throws you in at the deep end. Nevertheless, the experience is invaluable, providing real work experience and aiding in your academic study. It is an excellent opportunity to develop your interpersonal skills, and be able to show your understanding of a University subject in the real world.

Is an Industrial Placement for me?

I have known since the day I decided that I wanted to study a business related degree that I wanted to complete an industrial placement as part of my time at University. I knew that the experience this would offer me would be invaluable, not only for furthering my understanding of my subject, but also when it comes to applying for graduate jobs when I leave Lancaster. But the decision isn’t always so easy for everyone.

Applying for a placement year can be incredibly scary. Because it divides your degree into two segments (first and second year, the placement, and then returning for final year), this means that everyone else completing a three-year course will have graduated by the time you return. This is something I am absolutely not looking forward to – leaving my friends behind during what would have been my last year with them.

Not only that but during first year I felt completely unprepared for a real life, real responsibility, real workload job. As much as I was loving University life, I wasn’t ready to take the next leap on my career path. These are the fears that often prevent people from applying for a placement year as part of their degree.

I cannot stress enough how valuable a placement year is. This is especially true in industries like mine (Marketing) where not just graduate jobs but the job market in general is fiercely competitive. A placement gives you the upper hand over other candidates – you already have a whole year of work experience in your field, working on real projects with real people in a real company. That is something that makes you stand head and shoulders above your competitors when it comes to finding a job at the end of your degree.

Not only that, but the beauty of getting a job in-between your degree is that the support on offer to you is unlike any you will experience outside of University. The dedicated LUMS Careers Team is always on hand – during term time and holidays – to offer you support and guidance, look over your applications, and put you in touch with previous Lancaster students who can guide you through your application with first hand experience themselves.

I myself am already feeling the benefits of a placement year, and I am still only in the application stages. I know I am more confident and independent, and where last year just thinking about a placement year make my stomach churn, now I am excited by the prospects and the opportunities that lie just around the corner. Yes – I am still out of my comfort zone, and each application poses a new challenge, but that is exactly what an employer wants to see. The entire process improves your resilience, self-confidence and ambition.

So if you’re considering a placement year as part of your Lancaster degree, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Though there are sacrifices involved, and some of your friends won’t be here when you return for your final year, the benefits more than outweigh the costs.

Why I Chose Lancaster

Applying for University can be daunting – it presents what for many is the first major ‘fork in the road’ moment in life. Two years ago, I had concluded my nationwide University tour -the infamous hunt for the perfect degree programme and perfect University that my friends and I had become so familiar with – and settled on my decision.

I remember vividly two University open days – Leeds and Lancaster. Both excellent institutes. Both very high up the league tables for Marketing (first and second). Both fiercely competing for applicants, and I was torn. Leeds was everything the inner teenager in me wanted – the bright lights of the big city, far away from home, a reputable night out. Lancaster appealed to me rationally – a safer city, closer to home and most importantly, first in the country for my course.

I fought with myself for months, visited both applicant days and, eventually, firmed Lancaster after speaking to a student ambassador on the open day who assured me Lancaster met both needs – the very best teaching quality and the great student night out that my heart desired.

Not only this, but in my months of torment in deciding on which University to firm, I eventually weighed up the pros and cons of each University, and Lancaster came out on top by a country mile.

Firstly, the Lancaster University Management School rankings are incredibly high – consistently ranked within the top 10 Business Schools in the UK and within the top 1% globally. This gives makes me a student of one of the best Business Schools in the world, which is completely invaluable when it comes to applying for jobs, internships and placements.

Which leads nicely onto my next point – Lancaster has some seriously impressive links with companies who offer industrial placements for University students. As a placement year is something I have always wanted to complete as part of my degree, the way Lancaster approaches this was a hugely influential factor in my decision to come here. I found at other Universities, the general attitude towards industrial placements was ‘you can do one if you want, but you’re on your own in organising it’. Lancaster could not be more different. The Management School has a dedicated careers service specifically for placement students, runs drop-in sessions and lectures, mock assessment centres, interviews, psychometric tests and CV and cover letter workshops to ensure that every student is fully and completely prepared for both the application process and the actual work place. This is something I really value and having such a strong support network throughout the entire process made the idea of a placement year seem a lot less daunting.

The final major benefit of Lancaster which really swayed my decision was the campus. I come from a relatively small area and have never experienced living in a city (in fact, the only time I ever used a bus was when visiting family friends in Edinburgh – talk about country bumpkin!). As a result, I wasn’t convinced about how much I would really enjoy city life – I felt like I would embrace it for the first term but the novelty of not being within walking distance of everything (literally, everything) as I was at home would quickly wear off. Lancaster was the perfect in-between – just out of the city, I would have access to the city life with the comfort of a campus bubble to retreat to.

Here’s me visiting my accommodation just after A level results day when I knew I’d made it, not knowing how my University experience would unfold or where the next four years would take me.

becca-farish-outside-accommodation

Having been here for a year now, I am confident I made the right decision with Lancaster.