Guest Blog: Anjani Sarin – Career Support at Lancaster University

All my friends and acquaintances who wish to study abroad, keep asking me about the job prospects in the UK. I tell them that getting in the job in the UK is as challenging, as it would be in any part of the world. The job markets in the world are becoming more challenging day-by-day and I understand this but, I am no quitter and made the decision to try my best to get some experience from the UK. With this spirit, I decided not to leave any stone unturned. I contacted the employers who had rejected me due to the Visa issue and asked them if I could sponsor myself, I studied about the Visa requirements, applied only to the employers who had the license, but nothing worked. At this point in time, I was on the verge of exhausting my loan and had no job offers. I turned to the careers department of the university and asked them to help me out. They recommended me to apply for part-time jobs. To be honest, I hadn’t given internship and other part-time roles much thought, but an opportunity appeared, and I grabbed it.

I now work for an organisation which was established by an Alumni of the University, what’s more, is that I help them with social media marketing and research (my dream role) and it’s in the food sector (absolutely loving it!!). Another question that I frequently get is about the career support from the University. Well, my tale is one of the many support stories. I have graduated but I still get support even to find part-time job. So, the support is never-ending. You just need to ask the right people.

Another story could be my boss’s, Supawadee Pongwisaitat (Jing). She loved cooking as a hobby and after pursuing her master’s at Lancaster University in Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Practice, she felt empowered to pitch her idea of establishing a Thai street food business (TwoThai– follow her story on the Lancaster University Enterprise centre page) to the Enterprise Team at the University. The rest is a history. She is the owner of two companies in the UK and has a separate brand of condiments and sauces. I work for the sauce brand Styles of Siam through which she aims to bring the flavours of the Kingdom of Siam (South East Asia) to the UK. She is working here on Tier 1- Entrepreneur Visa and recently won the Duke of York Young Entrepreneur Award with the support of the Enterprise Team. She describes her journey as a rollercoaster ride and the support of the Enterprise Team and LUSU (Lancaster University Student Union) as the safety net which she knew would guide and protect her through everything.

The support from the University is innumerable. I still meet my career counsellor for support with job applications. I am hopeful that things will work out just the way they did with the part-time job. In the meantime, I am just enjoying every bit of my work as it gives me the opportunity to be creative with social media and analytical with the research bit. So, all you people out there, the support at Lancaster University never ends but you do have to be willing to try your level best as well.

 

Guest Post: Annie Thompson – I Discovered These Incredible Hidden Gems in Lancaster

Hey there, I’m Annie and I’m a Marketing with Psychology Final Year student who likes good food and visiting unique and nostalgic places. Lancaster is a smallish city with its small-town charms, and I absolutely love finding new places and cool things to do here!

Now, if you love puzzles and challenging yourself then you need call up some friends and family and head down to Lancaster Escape Room… It’s an awesome activity that will entertain everyone and is ideal for teambuilding activities. One themed room, one hour, up to 8 ‘comrades’. It is up to you to hunt down clues and piece together the puzzles and break out. Pretty much Prison Break IRL, if you ask me. Get that sweet 10% student discount while you’re at it too. #GoTeam!

Oh, what’s that? You’d like some brain food after all that detective work? The KF Oriental Supermarket is right across from the Common Garden bus stop. It will provide you with all the ingredients you need to whip up a DIY delicious yet budget-friendly curry yaki udon or spicy ribs with fried rice and so much more! A lot of local students have no idea that they can stock up on interesting snacks, sauces, spices and even ingredients for a good ol’ fashioned hot pot. Or you know, there are instant ramen as well… (For those of you that aren’t too adept in the culinary field yet.)

And… Since there is always room for dessert, ice cream would definitely rank at the top of my cravings. The Walling’s Dairy Farm is such a cute little café/take away place on Garstang Road, a bit of a journey but is it worth it? Definitely! A must-try on a day out with your mates or on your cheat day! If you simply want some ice cream, look no further than the Walling’s store in Alex Square. A double-scoop cookie dough ice cream cone on a hot summer day will be something that I will truly miss after I graduate this year…

If you were wondering what landmarks or attraction that are of historical importance to the establishment of Lancaster city, then Lancaster Castle is a monumental trademark of the city. You can purchase guided tour tickets on the University Web Store. Discover the dark past of the Castle and how it was first served as a prison in 1196, as well as how it witnessed some of the most notorious trials in history such as the Pendle Witches. For you history buffs that are interested in more landmarks, I also paid a visit to the Lancaster Maritime Museum and learnt a lot about Lancaster’s maritime trade past, and its involvement in the fishing industry of the Lune Estuary. The upstairs exhibitions were pretty cool, really well put together and a delight to your audiovisuals.

Did you know that every Wednesday and Saturday, there are market stalls in Lancaster city centre selling fresh produce, accessories and trinkets, authentic street cuisine from all over the world, and many second-hand sale items etc. A chance for you to pick up some food that’s not from the local supermarkets… And get this, there are even freshly made crepes! I always go for my savoury ham and cheese fix, it never fails to perk up my day!

Besides good food, the other ‘love of my life’ would be gaming. We are inseparable. I happened to wander into the retro gaming store Game Over one day and was instantly intrigued by the selection of games and other knick-knacks they had in there. I must have said “Oh my God, I used to play that when I was younger!” a dozen times. I even picked up some collectibles to gift my ‘geeky’ friends, in case they also needed a nostalgic trip down the memory lane and rediscover some oldies but goodies.

Last but not least! Williamson Park with the spectacular Ashton Memorial – overlooking over 50 acres of woodlands and with views across Morecambe Bay to the Lake District Fells. On a gloriously sunny day, you could admire the glistening lake water under the sun, and the park coming to life with children, dogs and happy folks and the exquisite architectural design of the Ashton Memorial. I also popped into the Butterfly House and the Mini Zoo and honestly, I felt so giddy! Through the looking glass, I witnessed some of the most beautiful species of butterflies as well as some of the most gruesome ‘mini beasts’. Warning: not for the faint of hearts. But the park itself is a perfect way to take a much-needed break from the studying and reconnect with nature.

Don’t forget, if you’ve got any cool places that you love or came across, connect and share it with us on the LUMS Social Media.

Food Shopping in Lancaster

As a student, food shopping can be an event much like laundry: an annoying but necessary task that we often try do as quickly and with as little thought as possible. However, by taking stock of the various shopping options available in Lancaster, planning ahead a bit, and being a savvy consumer, you can save a considerable amount of money and improve the quality of the food you eat.

In this piece I’ll lay out the main food shopping options you’ll have as a Lancaster student, and their respective pros and cons. Hopefully, having read it, you will avoid the fate of living solely off Pot Noodles and Greggs pasties.

Campus Convenience Stores

As a first-year student, you’re likely staying in accommodation on campus, so your first ports of call will be Spar and Central. Spar is centrally located nearby to Alexandra Square, whilst Central is on the other side of campus near Pendle and Grizedale colleges. These are relatively small stores that provide convenient access to basic cooking ingredients, drinks, and lunch foods. Though they are useful for bits and pieces, you’re probably best off not making these shops your go-to for a weekly shop: prices are higher than supermarkets and the selection is limited.

The Farmers Market

Every Thursday, in Alexandra Square on campus, there’s a farmers market which sells all manner of local produce, handmade and homegrown foods, and lunches ranging from sushi to hot dogs. It’s a good way of getting hold of local ingredients as well as local delicacies – such as ‘lemon cheese’. Yes, really (its less weird than it sounds).

Sainsbury’s

Going to Lancaster’s largest supermarket on a Wednesday became something of a ritual for me during my first year at the university. Why, you ask? Well, like a more wholesome version of the free bus trips to the Sugarhouse on a Friday night, on Wednesday there are free buses from the university to Sainsbury’s – and back. Sainsbury’s has by far the largest selection of food on offer of Lancaster’s food shops. There are all the staples you’d expect: meat, vegetables, ready meals, alcohol, frozen foods, world foods; as well as a butcher’s counter, delicatessen, and bakery. Sainsbury’s strikes a good balance between value and quality – their own-brand goods are generally of a high quality compared to other major supermarkets. Furthermore, much of their food is ethically sourced or locally grown – for example, all of their own-brand fresh meat is British. There’s also a selection of non-food items, such as homeware and toiletries. The bus takes you to and from the carpark, meaning its easy to buy and transport large quantities of food. This is your best bet if you want to do a week’s worth of shopping at once and save on money.

Lancaster City Centre

Beyond Sainsbury’s – but, handily, only a short walk away – are the shops of Lancaster’s city centre. There’s Marks & Spencer if you’re looking for something more upmarket, but on a student budget there are some cheaper stores that will probably be of more use to you. Home Bargains and Poundland can be very useful for toiletries, tinned foods, and essentials like tea and coffee. There’s also Iceland, which specialises in frozen foods, has some nicely priced fresh fruit and vegetables, and is also handy for those summer barbecues you’ll no doubt be having. Lancaster is a fairly compact place, so its easy to drop into all of these stores in one trip – or have a quick look through before you do a big shop at Sainsbury’s.

Morecambe

Just outside of Lancaster is Morecambe, which has some great budget options for food shopping. There’s Asda, which is a similar size to Sainsbury’s and has a huge selection of food at low prices; and Aldi, one of the ‘German discounters’, with very cheap prices but a comparatively limited selection. Although both of these options are cheaper than anything available in Lancaster, they’re also further away, so you’ll need to take some time and money out to reach them on the bus. Fortunately, buses to Morecambe can be taken straight from the university underpass.

Online Shopping

Of course, if you don’t fancy venturing out on the bus for your shopping, there’s always the option of home delivery. Both Asda and Sainsbury’s offer this service, and it has been extremely useful to me in saving both time and money. I often find that being able to sort products by price, and being able to see all of the special offers together in one place, leads to me spending much less money on food than I otherwise would have. Additionally, once you’ve done a few online shops, the websites will remember which products you buy frequently and suggest them to you, making shopping even more convenient. The downside of this option is that there is a minimum spend of £25, and you’ll also have to pay a small fee for the delivery. This can be alleviated by ordering a few days ahead of the delivery date, or by spreading the cost amongst a few people by ordering a shop with a few of your flatmates or friends. The latter option is especially useful as you can buy products in bulk amounts, saving even more money.

That just about covers all of the main options for food shopping in Lancaster. With a bit of knowledge of the choices available, its easy to find the sort of food that you’re after. Plan ahead, save money where possible, and use all of the resources at your fingertips.

Travel List

I remember finally booking my flight tickets, after reviewing every travel website in existence this time last year, and immediately thought of a million things I wanted to take to university (my new home :D). But the flight tickets came with baggage regulations and thus of those million things, I could only get the most essential ones. I am an international student who was travelling abroad for the first time. I know many of you can relate to me. Thus, I am making a list of the most essential things to bring to Lancaster University.

Waterproof Jacket

Lancaster is a small town in the North of England and, it rains here quite often. So I would suggest everyone carry a warm waterproof jacket. Also, I would not suggest carrying an umbrella as it gets very windy and most of the umbrellas break within the first few weeks (personal experience!!!!).

Woollens and Thermals

By mid-September, the weather will be ambient. However, you should carry a few warm clothes as it can get chilly at times. Although, do not buy loads of woollen clothes because it will not be sufficient for the winters here and most importantly you will miss the opportunity to buy amazing coats and jackets from the UK.

Regional Spices

Nobody can recreate the taste of the traditional regional food without the regional spices. I brought dozens of packets of Indian spices because I am a big foodie and I cook daily. Finally, I am on the verge of finishing the spices after an entire year. The nearest place to get Indian spices would be Preston. Although Oriental spices are available easily in Lancaster. However, I would still suggest getting at least a few month’s quotas.

Travel adaptor

Travel adapters are very essential and I would suggest carrying at least two adapters to charge laptops and mobile phones.

Photographs

The accommodation room will be your own personal space for the next year. It will be an empty canvas, and you will have the opportunity to create a beautiful room.  I did not bring photographs with me. However, I pasted colourful sticky notes on my wall with encouraging quotes and lyrics to my favourite songs to motivate myself. So think of something that would make you feel at home and bring it to decorate your room. You can also get beautiful posters from the University, during the welcome week.

Lastly, do not forget to get xerox copies of important documents and a list of all the items in your travel bag. ( these are helpful in case the luggage gets misplaced. This, usually doesn’t happen but it’s better to be safe!!)

5 Reasons why I chose Lancaster University

My journey of making the decision to pursue Management from Lancaster University has been very unique. It was a bright sunny day early in February when I decided to attend the college fair organised by a counselling agency in Delhi. I chose it because, with a full-time job, I knew I would not be able to do thorough research on my own. It was a good decision because they gave me an opportunity to meet 100s of Universities under one roof. On the day of the fair, I was given a list of all the participating Universities and Colleges and was asked to approach the ones I was interested in. Seeing all the Universities and students being so specific in their approach, I got scared for a moment. It was finally happening. I had a few universities in mind that I definitely wanted to speak to, and so it all began. I went round and round in circles, crossing out the names of the ones I’d spoken to and making notes of whether or not I wanted to consider them and finally I came to the desk by Lancaster University. The programme appealed to me right away. I went home and started my research. I shortlisted 10 colleges from the long list and decided to further shortlist just 5 colleges where I wanted to apply.

My criteria of shortlisting those 5 colleges were the programme structure and modules, rankings of the University, FT ranking of the programme, fees and other living expenses and career support.

These were also the 5 reasons I chose Lancaster University:

  • Programme Structure and Modules: The programme had very interesting modules and a few modules that drew my attention were Digital Innovation in Businesses and Entrepreneurship. Most of the other universities were not offering these modules and I really wanted to learn them. Also, I was unaware of the block-taught structure of the programme while applying, but the structure closely resembles the industry environment and it prepares you for the future challenges. The 9-5 classes and different modules in different weeks made me a better manager of my time.
  • Rankings of the University: I made it a point to thoroughly check the rankings of all the universities and their programmes as well. Lancaster University is very highly recognised by institutes such as Quacquarelli Symonds World University rankings, Financial Times rankings, etc. 
  • FT ranking of the Programme: It is extremely difficult to find out the world rankings of the particular Programme, however, it was important to me. So, I took the challenge and researched and found that the programme was amongst the top 100 programmes in the world.
  • Fees and other Living Expenses: I would not say that fees and living expenses were my top priority but I understood the reality and I was definitely influenced by the amount of money I would be spending.
  • Career Support: It was an important criterion for me. I wanted to choose a University that not only provided the career support during the year of education but also after it. The careers support at Lancaster University has been exceptional. The team is amazing and I go to them with everything. If I have to prepare my CV or for an interview, they have the solution to all my problems. Also, it is just nice to have a chat with Martine whenever I am disheartened by the result of my job application, which has been the case so far. She seems to always know the right words to boost my morale!

I would just say that I applied to 5 universities and got offers from them all. I spoke to my counsellor, my friends as well as my family but in the end, I decided to go with my gut instinct and I could not be prouder. It was the right decision. I have grown more as a person and professional in this one year. It has been a difficult year, for people who say that it will be a cakewalk are probably being dishonest. But, at the same time, you are successful only when you challenge yourself. So trust your instinct and take the road not taken!

 

Privacy in the world of Big Data

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my Business Ethics class for a guest lecture, wondering about what I had just heard. The slide was titled, “ I am an Advertiser, you can trust me!” It got me thinking about the ways in which consumers are being manipulated. But then it got me thinking if the advertisers or companies who collect data on their consumers are to be blamed or are the consumers who blindly agree to share their data without understanding the consequences are to be blamed? I decided to further explore this topic and do my assignment on it. I decided to explore Big Data and Privacy.

 

Big Data is a buzzword these days and there is no denying that the technology has helped industries cater to the basic needs of their consumers through customisation. I came across the word Big Data years ago in some news article. But I did not completely understand it until my Digital Transformation of Businesses class. It was only then, did I actually understand what Big Data is. The size or type of data collected is not the only distinguishable feature, it is the insight that this data provides that makes it special. These insights can be used for any commercial purpose, for example, the business model of Uber is based on Big Data, Uber does not own the cars that are rented but it owns the network of those car owners and drivers and thousands of customers who are willing to rent those cars. Big Data became a buzzword because it gave businesses the power to make valuable strategic decisions based on it. It has introduced new horizons for businesses, some organisations choose to be data users, some become data facilitators and yet others choose to be data suppliers.

 

But going back to the initial question, what about the consumers’ privacy? Is that the priority of organisations? There are laws and then there are ethics. Following laws does not imply that organisations are being ethical. Facebook complies with all the regulations yet Cambridge Analytica happened but it is not just Facebook’s fault, it is also the responsibility of consumers to be equally vigilant, to read the consent forms before blindly agreeing to the terms, to have different passwords for different accounts and to have strong passwords. I know it is difficult to have different passwords but there are so many applications these days which remember those passwords for their users. There is always a solution if we are willing to find it. It is also the fault of the lawmakers to not have kept up with the fast-paced technological advancements. The privacy laws and regulations are still archaic in most non-EU countries. Finally, I would just like to say that no regulation can prevent invasion of privacy in this hyper-connected world unless we are careful. So be vigilant and protect your privacy, because no one else can!

Guest Post: Job offers by November!

MSc Management student, Keira, started receiving job offers in November 2017, and has already secured a management position in a fast-expanding UK-based company, with months to go before graduation. She tells us her job-hunting story here…

First things first, start early. There is no such thing as ‘starting too early’ for career seeking. My first job application was submitted on 4th September 2017, the same day my course commenced, for a job that starts in September 2018. Nonetheless, I started my research on the FTSE100 companies (about their openings, recruitment processes, their values and desired competencies) in early June 2017. Because I acted early, I was able to attract the attention of HRs from top companies and proceed to the next stages, before their inboxes got absolutely flooded with applications. 

Secondly, take advantage of the support from LUMS Careers Team. In the first two months of my course, I met with Martine (Career Advancement & Internships Officer) and Peter (Postgraduate Careers Advisor) at least once a week to perfect my CV, get advice on tailoring my cover letters, discuss interview technique and connect with alumni through their networks. The career coaches are very well trained and experienced. They are there to help you kick off your career at your dream company. I can not possibly express how much help I received from them for my job-hunting. 

Last but not least, practice, practice, practice. LUMS organises many career related workshops, such as mock interviews, assessment centre practice, online tests mentoring and industry networking events. Make sure you participate in these events as much as possible because, as much as I hate to say it, you rarely fail the application process due to being incompetent, but because you are too nervous to perform the best under significant pressure. Once you join Lancaster University, you will be given access to Targetconnect, where you can book your place for such workshops. You learn the techniques to stand out from the crowd in highly stressful and competitive environments, and that’s how you get job offers. 

I handed out over 50 applications by the end of 2017 and another 20 in 2018. I received my first job offer in November 2017, when most of my colleagues have yet to start their first application. Start early, use the career help and practice your techniques. I am confident that you will find a brilliant job to kick off your career. 

What I will bring back home with me?

After a long academic year, it’s time to start planning for a visit back home and there are many stories, ideas, experiences, and souvenirs that I am eager to share with my family and friends. As a PhD student I will be returning to Lancaster University after my short summer holiday, yet I know many postgraduate students who will be finishing their degrees and going back home to start a new phase of their lives. Around this time of the year, I am busy either submitting assignments or marking exams, or both. But I am also excited to plan for my summer trips, such as how to get there, things to do, who to meet up with, etc. I will probably plan more things to do than actually do them, but the inevitable plan is my trip back home.
Over the years, and trips, I became a rather light traveller, taking only the necessities which I would not be able to find at my destination, but this is usually different for my trips back home. Not only do I take back a few presents and souvenirs, but also clothes and personal items, some of which I have never used and will probably not use in the future. Part traveller, part student and part homesick, these are some of the items that I am planning to take back home with me and share with my family and friends.

New foods:
Not only new foods, but new recipes too. There is an exceptional diversity of local and ethnic foods at Lancaster, and they’re not only found in shops and restaurants, but also in meals that I shared with friends and at various events. For example, last month, the Lancaster University Culture Society organised a Global Village event where for a couple of hours students enjoyed performances and traditional food from various parts of the world. There are a few items that I will be able to take with me on the plane and those will mainly be different kinds of cheeses and chocolates.

Souvenirs:
These are the obvious type of items which people usually get when they travel. The souvenirs that I got were mainly magnets and postcards of the different places that I visited. I try to get at least one magnet from each new place to remind me of what the place is like. My collection includes magnets from the Yorkshire Dales, Edinburgh, Whitby, various places in the Lake District, and various places in continental Europe. For example, I got a magnet in the form of a witch from Whitby which is a town in Yorkshire, where people are big on Halloween costumes.

Memories and experiences:
Memories and experiences are a natural shaping experience. I have to admit that I was not prepared to embrace the amount of new experiences and memories that was awaiting me at Lancaster, especially at the beginning. Some of them were difficult, such as adjusting to the fast pace of learning, to the new places and faces, and to the different habits and lifestyles of my flatmates, these were overwhelming sometimes. For the same reasons, some experiences were ecstatic too, such as achievements, working with classmates, having good conversations, going out to new places and getting to know new people and cultures. These have their own kind of emotions and connections which are both cherishable and memorable.

Clothes and miscellaneous items:
When I first came to Lancaster I had one suitcase full of clothes, by the end of the year, I could easily fill two suitcases. A friend of mine came to visit me for a few weeks and had brought with her only one backpack; she explained to me that she travelled to Rio de Janeiro where she stayed for a month and managed to bring with her a bigger backpack only, but that before her trip, she attended a training course on travelling light, packing compactly and managing to spend long periods of time with a minimum amount of clothes and personal items.
I probably didn’t need to get this many items and wasn’t thinking of what I would be doing with them in the future. I also probably didn’t even use most of them. The Green Lancaster initiative “Don’t Ditch It, Donate It” was helpful in letting me figure out how to manage the items that I would like to keep, and those that I would give away. This would not only reduce waste, but also contribute to a good cause.

New ideas:
One of the topics that is seeping into my daily routine and gradually affecting my choices is zero-waste living. There are several initiatives at Lancaster University that have inspired me too. For example, recycling and donating items are easily available, as well as buying recycled materials, going paperless, talks about various sustainability applications, and growing your own crops with the EcoHub. More and more options are becoming available in shops as well, such as items with reduced plastic packaging and eco-friendly and reusable bags. I am becoming more and more aware of my use of plastic bags, all kinds of bottles and plastic packaging, unrecyclable items, palm-oil-containing foods … the list is endless, yet I’m trying to apply one small change at a time. This will be one of the new ideas that I will try to keep on practising when I go back home.

Visiting my family and friends and sharing these memories with them will certainly make me reflect on these things and experiences. I have certainly changed because of them, and I haven’t at the same time. Change comes in small packages. When it doesn’t, my mind seeks it, and when it is fast, my mind protests and slows down. From the new photo album of my trip to the Yorkshire Dales to my newly-realised environmentalism, and from making new friends to reading new books, I learned that leaving my comfort zone could lead me to new experiences, some of which I consider now to be the highlights of this period of time. Yet sometimes unpleasant encounters disheartened me, until I figured them out. All of this combined led me to a newfound confidence and independence to recognise those things that I want to remember and share.

 

MSc Management- Block Taught Structure

When I was deciding to join MSc Management at Lancaster University, I had absolutely no idea that the course was block taught. Most of you will not even know what it is.. I’ve been there.

Block taught quite literally means being taught in blocks, where each block was a week’s period and each module was taught in that time period. It is a very interesting concept. Throughout the week just one module was taught from 9am-5pm. We did case studies and group work and everything else related to that module in just that week. However, the final assessments are usually scheduled two weeks after finishing the module, be it exams or individual essays. To summarise, my month, on the whole, looked something like the first two weeks of intense classes and group work and then the next two weeks chasing deadlines for the modules that I had just finished.

I had never experienced such structure before and thus for the first few months, I struggled to cope with the deadlines and to keep up with whatever was being taught in the class, but as the year progressed I noticed that my ability to understand things and to manage my time improved exponentially. I no longer needed to go through the slides as I understood almost everything in class and also made concise notes while being taught. Also, in order to keep up with the deadlines, I followed strict schedules and began working on the assignments or preparing for the exams while the lectures were going on, rather than leaving things to the last moment.

I prefer this structure over being taught multiple modules at the same time because I could focus on just one module and, moreover, it helps reduce stress. It’s far less stressful to have exams and assessments spread over the entire year than to have all the exams at the end of the term or year for that matter. The month of May is dreaded by everyone as this is usually the month when everyone has exams. However, it’s not the same for me. Having finished all my exams, I have had the opportunity to enjoy the weather. Summer in the UK is a rare occurrence and I am enjoying every bit of sunshine.

In the middle of the student life whirlwind: taking care of your mental health

Student life is an exceptional experience, but it can be stressful at times, especially towards the end of the academic year when students are snowed under with assignments, deadlines and exams. A student can feel under pressure because of many other reasons too, and, fortunately, there has been an increasing awareness about the topic of mental healthcare in higher education. At the same time, various organisations, charities, staff and student societies organise mental healthcare and well-being activities to facilitate it for students to know how to deal with such issues.

During my undergraduate studies, my strategy to fight deadlines and exam-related stress was to escape them by watching comedy series and doing all those house chores that I had been putting off, and I would only start working on my assignments as I got nearer to the deadline. As a PhD student now, this strategy unfortunately doesn’t work any more because of the nature of the assignments, and I find myself having to come to terms with them sooner.

Whether it’s long-term periods of pressure or short-term but frequent bursts of stress, one way in which Lancaster University has helped to prepare students to deal with well-being issues is through their related events. In this blogpost, I write about two events that I attended earlier in the year: a training session on how to take care of your own and other students’ well-being, and a well-being fair which included a few organisations and short activities to let students and staff know of the available mental health services.

The first event that I attended was the Mental Health First Aid training. It took place early in the academic year and was a light-weight session to help students understand what well-being is and how they can spot if they, or anyone else, are struggling with any related issues. We were divided into two groups, and the session leader guided our discussions. The session quickly turned into a safe space as we started sharing our own experience in our own groups and the session leader gave us a few real-life examples from his experience.
When asked to define well-being and mental health problems, both groups compared them to physical pain. While mental health problems usually require professional or medical assistance, well-being is a state of being comfortable, and both types of issues can influence each other. For example, if a student is in an uncomfortable situation, this might trigger a mental health problem. These issues are subtle in nature and can be much harder to spot than physical pain both in oneself and in others, as one of my friends once told me, “Don’t forget to check on your ‘strong friend.’”

Even though some of the information can be readily found on the internet, it is only when I discussed it in my group that I started to become aware of how someone’s behaviour can indicate that “something is not quite right with a person” or that “this person needs help.” This shows how delicate mental healthcare can be and how interpersonal skills can be useful in setting a helpful environment for someone to express what is affecting their well-being, and, as a result, their academic progress. The session gave me a starting “toolkit” to deal with stressful situations, which might be affecting me or other people.

The second event was the well-being fair. It was on the 1st of March, the University Mental Health Day, and it was held at the Chaplaincy centre. This day was also a very cold, rainy and windy day, so I found my way quickly to the centre. A well-timed hot chocolate was being served. It was the first time for me to be inside the Chaplaincy centre, and I found it to be a peaceful place with spacious rooms, a good place for this type of event. A lady from the Alternative Health Practitioners approached me and we started chatting. We talked about the different ways that could help you relax, such as massages and talking/listening. We even talked about history and the organisation’s involvement with the community. Then I spoke to somebody from the sports centre who organises weekly walks and runs, some of which are to raise funds for various causes. Vegan soup was also being served and in the opposite room a mindfulness session took place. The fair allowed students to see what organisations, people and techniques were available to them, on campus and in the city, which can make them enjoy well-being-related activities.

Even though I am a PhD student, which means that, fortunately, I do not have to take any exams, I still have deadlines for assignments where I have to write long and elaborate essays for my supervisors (some for a few modules that I’m currently taking, and some to apply for funding for my research). I am also a tutor to undergraduate students, which means that, on top of my deadlines, I have to mark the exams and assignments of my students. Sometimes I find a healthy balance by being able to manage my time well and motivate myself, and, although I consider myself someone who works well under pressure, sometimes things can be overwhelming. Part of the PhD journey, as many would agree, is to face puzzling situations and ambiguous readings and modes of reasoning. When I started my research, I wanted to know more about how different individuals can perform better in certain organisations than in others. I was interested in this topic because, in my previous job as a recruiter, hiring managers often discussed it with me. I find this topic ever more complex and perplexing after starting my PhD research. There is no straightforward answer to it, or, rather, the most straightforward answer would be that “it depends.” On what? On whom? Or does it depend on wider societal and economic circumstances, or on how one wants to think about it? The list of questions is never-ending. As I get close to an answer to one of them, ten other questions emerge. In summary, this is what I think about daily, or try not to think about sometimes too when it gets overwhelming, especially with the presence of other personal and work-related commitments, and, for an international student, with the mental overload that comes with adjusting to living in a new environment. But back to our initial topic, the mental healthcare awareness and activities are helpful in different ways: they have helped me to take my mind off studying, and sometimes just by taking a break, I come back more energised than before.

The presence of the mental healthcare services and well-being organisations and activities has been noticeable on campus. Alongside the increased awareness of these issues, there is an increasing number of services and initiatives to ensure that students find a suitable solution for them when they face such problems or simply when they want to have a good well-being experience. These range from professional counselling services to activities to engage with the community.