The Great Indian Breakfast

“What should I have for breakfast?” I don’t know about the last thoughts people have before going to bed, but this is fairly commonly the one that I tend to sleep on. You might think as a PhD student I would have far more serious thoughts whirling in my mind as I finally lay it to rest after a long day, but… no, this one overrides them all.

Breakfasts in India, where I come from, tend to be elaborate. I love the simplicity and lack of fuss demanded by bread, butter, jam, eggs—I can quite see why it’s so popular everywhere and I won’t deny that I fall back on this option time and again when I wake up not having made any clear decisions. But being away from home, there is nothing that offers the soothing comfort and smell and feel of home as a warm breakfast made as it would be made at home.

For many of you wondering what these breakfast options might look like, here is a sample:

  1. Idli Chutney/Sambar: This counts as a number 1 on my list and it also probably takes the most time and effort. Steamed rice cakes with a flavourful and spicy coconut chutney and something like a tangy lentil gravy to go along. (recipe: https://indianhealthyrecipes.com/idli-sambar-recipe-tiffin-sambar/)
  2. Poha: Beaten or flattened rice mixed with potatoes, peanuts, and some spices (recipe: http://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/kanda-poha-or-onion-poha/)
  3. Upma: Much simpler and quicker to make. Semolina cooked almost like porridge with or without vegetables such as peas, carrots, and so on. (recipe: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/05/sooji-upma-indian-semolina-breakfast-recipe.html)
  4. Aloo Paratha: May be enjoyed for lunch as well as dinner but it makes for a rather scrumptious breakfast option in my opinion. Spicy mashed potatoes stuffed inside a whole wheat flat bread best had with curd or pickle (recipe: http://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/aloo-paratha-indian-bread-stuffed-with-potato-filling/)

These are just the tip of the Indian breakfast menu iceberg, if I may use the expression. The one thing that is needed to make the effort of making these delicacies worth it would be some good company. I can’t say I have that on most days unless I count my articles and books in that category, but there is always the second best thing that never fails me: a hot cup of tea!

Volunteering in schools with Lancaster University Student Union

Lancaster University Student Union (LUSU) offers a wide range of volunteering opportunities and school volunteering is one of them. I chose to attend an introductory session on this project because, not only did I want to be engaged with the local community, but also I was interested in knowing more about the education system in the UK and in helping people achieve their potential. What unfolded during the session made this opportunity evermore compelling.

The session started with the reasons that inspired LUSU to develop the schools volunteering project. The project aims at bringing to pupils the opportunity to engage with university students and at helping them to consider going to university as a future option. The focus is on children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds or vulnerable pupils. Then the project’s development manager shared his experience with us on how children have different thoughts and impressions about going to university: while it could be a very possible option for some, for others, it was a path that they have never heard of.

The volunteering coordinator explained how LUSU will support us through this journey and how the different opportunities can be flexible, accessible and suitable to the volunteers’ passion and experience. The students who express an interest in school volunteering would be matched with a primary or secondary school, depending on the type of work they prefer. The aim is to get the best possible experience for both the volunteers and the pupils.

I am looking forward to starting my school volunteering placement in January. This opportunity will allow me to reinforce the positive impact that the project has on the community while engaging in a rewarding activity. I will have the chance to share with the pupils their classroom environment, as well as discuss with them my experience as a university student to increase their awareness of the option to continue their education in the future.

I am also looking forward to the impact that this experience will have on me. Through this project, I will have the chance to know more about the local culture as well as broaden my own future career aspirations. As an international student at LUMS, I am hoping to gain more international exposure and flexibility to discuss various issues with pupils, teachers and other students who are engaged in this project. Also, the activities will influence my communication and rapport-building skills, which have important and transferable aspects that I can use in a variety of situations. Last but not least, I am looking forward to this rewarding opportunity that will allow me to give back to the community and make a difference in other people’s lives.

PhD Life: Teaching Undergraduates and the Supporting Learning Programme teaching qualification

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One of the aspects of my PhD that I particularly enjoy is having the opportunity to teach undergraduates. Most PhD students have the chance to teach although it is dependent on your department and supervisors. Some people have to undertake some teaching and/or marking activities as part of their studentship. I have an ESRC studentship so I don’t actually have to teach. However, I have always wanted to gain teaching experience. Prior to teaching you have to attend a 1 day ‘Introduction to Teaching’ workshop run by the University. There is then the opportunity to continue with the training and complete the Supporting Learning Programme (SLP).

As you teach modules within your department, you tend to know the theory. I am fortunate that I teach on Supply Chain and Operations Management modules which compliment my research and vice versa. I find that there are numerous benefits of teaching. Firstly it is very rewarding to educate others- even after an hour you can see the difference! Plus it is really good for improving your own understanding of the theory! I also find that it improves your interpersonal skills and ability to think on your feet. This could be for example when students ask you questions or you may need to adapt the session to improve engagement- it is amazing how some coloured pens and flipchart paper can help to get everyone involved! I have seven years work experience, most recently as a Senior Merchandise Manager at global sourcing company Li & Fung, based in Istanbul so I find this influences my teaching style. I often give examples from my industry experience and I find that the students respond well to this as it makes the theory come to life.

I actually enjoy presenting but it is normal to find it daunting standing in front of a class of students. I think teaching is actually good preparation for presenting at academic conferences both in terms of speaking in front of an audience and answering questions. The students are usually given a case study with questions for the seminar so that we are able to build on the key principles that are introduced during the lectures and develop their analytical skills. I teach first year students through to fourth year. My class sizes vary from around 15 to 30-if there are over 15 students then there are two tutors. Normally one of you takes the lead and you then both help the students if they’re working on an activity. This is an interesting dynamic and you can learn from each other.

I completed the SLP programme in my second year which I think was perfect timing. I had already taught for one year which meant I was up to speed with the course content and could spend more time focussing and analysing the delivery. The SLP programme involves attending workshops, peer observations, reading, student feedback and writing a portfolio of teaching tasks and activities. It really is a learning process and enhances your teaching ability. It is also means that you meet other PhD students from across the University. Once successfully completed you are awarded the status of “Associate fellow” of The Higher Education Academy (HEA). Many institutions find teaching experience advantageous and are making accredited status a requirement when recruiting for lecturing posts.

Overall, I have found teaching a positive experience. It is also a nice change during my working week and this helps me focus more on my research. I would certainly recommend both teaching and the SLP!

Good luck!

Amy