TWO + TWO

The perks of doing a general Masters course is that you get to participate in the events organised for other specialised courses as well and that you still have the time to decide what you want to do in the future. I developed a knack for Marketing modules and I wanted to test my understanding. So as soon as I came across the opportunity to participate in the event organised by Creative Resources where I could put all the theories into practice, I seized it.

The event was held in Manchester on 16th February. It was a platform for students of various institutes and courses to come together and tackle youth-loneliness. We were provided with a brief explaining the issue at length and were then put into teams of 5-6 members. Each group was assigned a mentor who was an industry professional. There were other mentors who we could approach at any time with questions. The aim of the event was to come up with unique solutions which could be undertaken by organisations to tackle the issue at hand. The solutions could be anything ranging from mobile applications to websites or even campaigns.

Loneliness is becoming a major problem amongst youths. This event was an opportunity to not only talk about it openly but also to tackle the issue head-on. All the groups came up with unique ideas. For example, one team suggested that people who feel lonely should wear yellow colour t-shirts on a particular day of the week. They also wanted to spread awareness about this day and encourage everyone to communicate with people who were feeling lonely (wearing yellow). It was a very simple idea and yet it could be put into effect.

Having stayed back for the Christmas vacation, I understood that it can be particularly difficult for people from other cultures, who may feel a little alienated at times, feeling a little left out and most importantly missing what you have left behind. Amidst all this, we often tend to forget the opportunity we get to explore new things and to embrace new cultures. All we need is a little positive nudge. I shared my experience with my team and they all understood my perspective and we decided to focus specifically on the loneliness issues faced by the international students. However, our target audience comprised of all University students. After a lot of discussion and guidance from many mentors, we came up with an App, which would allow the international students to connect with the local students according to their hobbies. We wanted to create value for all the students utilising our services by creating cultural exchanges.

It was a very well-organised event and I learned a lot about the real world. Coming up with ideas under pressure and working better in teams were my biggest learnings from the day. In just a day, I had met total strangers, discussed the issues, and most importantly understood their perspective. It was the first time that I was working directly with the creative side of Marketing.  Coming up with taglines and logos was a thrilling experience in itself. Overall, it was a unique experience and I look forward to utilising the skills I acquired that day.

The Strategy Simulation Challenge

The final term is finally upon us at Lancaster University and I thought this would be the perfect chance to share with you all a module that I enjoyed last term – The Strategy Simulation Challenge, which enables you to manage your very own virtual airline company!

My career ambition is to have a role which involves strategy planning, so I chose the module because I felt that it would be the perfect platform to gain insight into a strategy role. So, after signing up to the module at the end of my second year, I had been particularly excited when last term finally came around so that I could start the challenge.

For me, an appealing element of the module was the module design because it is very different to others I have studied. This is because it comprises of practical activities in a simulated environment which include making weekly strategic decisions for the airline, producing a company shareholder report and delivering a company presentation. The varied activities involved with the challenge made the module interesting and enabled me to learn about the different ways in which a company develops and communicates their strategy to various stakeholders.

At the start of the challenge, participants are split into teams and you can really get into role by allocating team members a management role. For example, within my team we allocated roles including marketing manager, human resource manager and financial manager. Then, one of the first activities to complete is to come up with a company name and catchphrase and design a logo. This was a particularly fun part of the module because it enabled us to apply our creativity whilst also allowing us to consider a brand strategy, such as the brand image we would like to portray.

A key element of the challenge was to choose a positioning for the airline and develop a strategy which would support the company to successfully achieve the chosen positioning. For example, you could choose to enter the market as a low cost airline carrier or a luxury airline carrier. Then throughout the challenge you have to identify the business activities and investments which will support you to achieve the strategy. For my company, we chose to position as a low cost, quality carrier airline and therefore we developed a strategy which would enable us to keep costs down and deliver to customers a good quality service.

The key decisions we had to make each week included expenditure decisions for business activities, including marketing, Corporate Social Responsibility and employee training. This meant that the challenge enabled us to visualise in practice the effect of increasing or decreasing the expenditure on business activities each week. However, the simulation programme also prompted me to consider other factors, such as lower customer demand in winter and the activity of competing teams. Therefore, the challenge also enabled me to learn about responding to competitors and dealing with elements which can influence an airline company.

My team were successfully able to develop a business strategy which led us to achieve a profit. After completing the module I feel more confident making strategic decisions and I have learnt how to create and implement a strategy for a business. I really enjoyed taking part in the module and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about business management or strategy management.

Keeping healthy at university

Pizza for tea, lunch and even for breakfast. The daily intake of a student. Ok, maybe not for breakfast, but the point is that students are notorious for loving cheap and cheerful meals, regardless of their nutritional value. It’s hard not to love tucking into a good kebab from time to time but eat out every day and you may find your student loan diminishing quite quickly, and perhaps gaining pounds elsewhere. Fortunately, it is in fact possible to maintain a well-balanced diet on a low budget, without opting for the fast-food and ready meal options! I’m going to share with you some of my tips on how you can maintain a healthy and enjoyable diet whilst at university.

My first piece of advice, which has already been touched upon, is to limit take outs to once or twice a week. Right from your first week, Dominoes will try to hook you in through free pizza and some attractive exclusive student offers. It’s very easy to make it a habit of getting a delivery order a few times a week, and not only is this not the healthiest approach but it is also far from the most cost effective either. This is not to say never eat out however, Lancaster has a range of fantastic restaurants and takeaways that are definitely worth trying out.

There are a tonne of low cost and healthy meals that you can make yourself whilst at university. The best thing is that you don’t have to be a fantastic cook to do so either. I know some students who are put off from cooking and trying new dishes at university as they doubt their own skills in the kitchen. However, the truth of the matter is that even if you have done very little cooking prior to university, there are some things that are still very simple to make.

I’d recommend a well-balanced range of food, so make sure you aren’t just piling on the carbs, but you have a mix of protein, fats, and vitamins. Pasta is a very straightforward, enjoyable, cheap, and potentially nutritious meal that many students opt for. Make sure to throw in some veg (onions, garlic and pepper tend to go quite well together). You will most likely be using a ready-made sauce from the jar, but maybe even try making the sauce yourself after a few goes. Using chopped tomatoes can often be a much healthier alternative to ready-made sauce.

Other healthy and uncomplicated options include stir-fries, Caesar salads, and sweet potato wedges. For you vegetarians and vegans, lentil soup and chickpea curry are two very easy dishes that have a load of health benefits, and they provide a good source of protein. If you don’t fancy cooking, instead of heading straight for the fast-food outlets, give some of the University’s healthier outlets a go. You will find that they will tend to use locally-sourced ingredients, and offer plenty of vegan choices.

Teaching a man to fish…

People are supposed to be good at a few things and relatively decent at others (I can’t bring myself to say ‘bad’ even though that’s how I would characterise myself at, say, dancing). If you’re doing a PhD, it may not be farfetched to assume that you might be a specialist sort of person—someone who knows what you are good at and who keeps chipping away at the same block. At least, that’s how I am.

When I started on my PhD journey, I was looking forward to the prospect of doing research, of discovering patterns and insights, of uncovering something new, of maybe making a difference in the realm of ideas. I didn’t really take into account that in reality there are many other things that an academic, and by that logic a doctoral student, is expected to do. One of the important things happens to be teaching. Something I had never done in a formal capacity so far and certainly not within the higher education context. I had delivered one-off presentations and training sessions in my previous work roles, but those were a miniscule percentage of my portfolio. The real issue for me, however, was the suspicion that teaching might be one of the things I would be decent at rather than great or excellent. It’s not the being able to do it that I was worried about so much as to be able to do it to a very high standard.

Luckily for me, I was introduced to SLP (Lancaster University’s Supporting Learning Programme, now ATP). All new doctoral students who are also going to work as Graduate Teaching Assistants are asked to undergo this programme. I must say that it is through this programme that I was able to more deeply explore the meaning and practice of teaching essentially as a means to support learning rather than as an ability to ‘perform’ teaching. The self-reflection that I did … who would have thought my own journey as a learner shaped how I approached teaching? …and the knowledge that I gained from the pedagogical material and discussions with fellow researchers transformed the way I thought about teaching as well as learning. It also opened my eyes to the complexities inherent in both. Take, for example, learning approaches. Students may have a ‘deep’ learning style or a ‘surface’ learning style or a ‘strategic’ style that is a bit of both. I wondered how students come to have a style (which might be a topic for a separate blog!).

The questions that I found relevant to think about from this newly informed perspective were of a very different variety: how could I create the right kind of environment for learning, how could I support students with different learning needs better, what did I need to do to develop students’ learning style, how could I connect with different students with different learning backgrounds and levels of knowledge in the same class, what strategies could I use to motivate students in the class, and so on. I noticed that the emphasis in my mind had shifted to learners and helping them with their challenges, away from teaching and blowing my own challenges out of proportion. It seemed to me that to be a great teacher, all I needed was a genuine concern for the intellectual development of my student learners… and if I had that the rest would eventually fall in place.

From reflecting on my own successes as a learner, and indeed as an individual, I have come to realise that as a teacher the best I can do is to help my students cultivate intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and openness to ideas so that their learning is secured for a lifetime. To put it another way, to teach them to fish rather than to give them a fish. In this sense, I feel teaching is far more challenging than research because it is arguably more challenging to transfer ideas to person than to paper. The paper simply absorbs my ideas but the receptivity of the ideas and their assimilation depends to a large extent on the person’s pre-existing knowledge and beliefs, without even considering the cultural complexity.

But that should not deter one, should it? The future of the world would seem to rest as much on the shoulders of eager teachers as researchers…

Living in Halls

Students with offers from Lancaster University for next year will inevitably be wondering what living in halls is going to be like when most of them move onto campus in October. Here are some things I have learnt from living in university-managed accommodation for the past six months:

  1. Fire drills will happen at the most inconvenient time. Just as you’ve gotten into the shower or at 9 am on a Saturday. But fire safety is an important part of living in halls and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Plus, if you’ve ever wondered what your housemate looks like with no make-up – now is your chance to find out.
  2. You will eventually have a cleaning-related flat argument over the fact that the bins haven’t been taken out in weeks and you’re about to get a fine. Or about the fact that one person has been buying the washing up liquid these past few months and no one has bothered to replace it. The best way to deal with this is to have a calm flat meeting in the kitchen and come up with a cleaning rota, where everyone is involved (probably should have done that during Freshers Week, but better late than never).
  3. You will have a flat WhatsApp group which is both a blessing and a curse. Everyone will get a weird nickname and spam the chat at 3am, when they have forgotten their keys. Embrace it (and maybe mute the chat when you go to bed).
  4. You won’t be best friends with every member of the flat (unless you’re extremely lucky) – and that is okay. When 7-10 strangers suddenly move in together, it’s very probable that there will be some personality clash. Deal with this situation in the same way as you should deal with conflicts over cleaning – have a civil conversation. A lot of the time people won’t know they are upsetting you and won’t be doing it on purpose. Holding passive-aggressive grudges will only make the atmosphere in the flat uncomfortable and part of going to university is learning to deal with problems in an adult way.
  5. Weekends can be a bit quiet on campus. Use this time to catch up on some work, that has definitely piled up during the week. Or binge watch Netflix. Either is fine.

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.

On Campus Living and Off Campus Living

One of the distinctive qualities of Lancaster University is its campus. Located in Bailrigg, just outside of the city of Lancaster, it sits clustered atop a hill, the spire of its iconic Chaplaincy Centre peering down from above. Being located slightly outside of the city, the university ostensibly operates as its own little ecosystem – attached to Lancaster, yet distinct and separate: with shops, banks, eateries, parks and other facilities all of its own. This makes living on campus a very different experience to living off campus. I am in my second year of studying at Lancaster, and have experienced both – here I’ll go through the ups and downs of each and compare my experiences. Although most first-years choose to live on campus, as a student at Lancaster you’ll likely experience both in your time, and the choice to live off campus during the first year is there for those who wish.

Perhaps the most important thing to discuss is the accommodation. One of the great things to be offered by Lancaster’s campus accommodation is a huge degree of choice. There are a large range of accommodation types to select from, for all needs and budgets – some unique to certain colleges. These range from a standard room with a shared kitchen and bathroom, to en suite rooms, and even to townhouses – which operate more like a shared house than traditional university accommodation, with many people sharing the same large building and communal areas. When I lived on campus during my first year, I chose the Basic En Suite style accommodation – for me, this was what best balanced comfort and value for money. I lived at Bowland College, and had a room that was extremely spacious – especially compared to rooms of friends that I had seen at other universities – and shared a kitchen with three others.

Now I live in town, and my accommodation is very different. I share a four-storey house with seven other people. This is something I have greatly enjoyed. We are all friends, and having a house to yourself where you’re free to throw social events and do things together is very good. There’s always someone to chat to in the kitchen, people to study with, or someone to do something fun. However, the living situation in a such a large house working so well rests on us all knowing each other and getting along. This is one of the advantages of living on campus during your first year: you can get to know new people, and then, if you choose to live off campus in a much more communal environment, you can do so with people who you know and and get along with.

There are some parts of living off campus that take some getting used to, though: visits from cleaners are far less frequent, so its up to you and your housemates to keep communal areas in a liveable condition – and to remember when the bi-weekly bin collections are (trust me: this is easier said than done). Also, given that the university is located just outside of the city, you’ll need to get the bus to lectures. This isn’t difficult – with plenty of bus routes making their way to campus and running at very regular times, but it does mean you’ll have to leave slightly ahead of time for classes. This can be a challenge if, like myself, you’re not a morning person – no more dragging yourself out of bed at 8:59 for that 9:00am lecture.

The next thing to talk about is facilities. Living on campus, you have constant easy access to all of the university’s educational facilities. The library – which is open 24/7 – is just a short walk away. This was massively helpful for me when I needed to print something out in a hurry, get some last-minute work in for an essay in one of the study spaces, or meet with fellow students from my course for a group project. Getting to class is also easy – campus is quite contained and compact, and the Spine system means you’re never more than a short walk from where you need to be. There are also plenty of other, non-educational facilities on campus: college bars at every corner, grocery shops, banks and ATM’s, regular buses into town, and, most importantly, a Greggs for that pre-lecture pasty and coffee combo.

Living off campus, you lose some of that easy access to facilities. Buses mean its never too hard to get to where you need to be, but losing the ability to walk to the library or the Learning Zone in a matter of minutes was a bit of a loss. However, you do gain easy access to all that Lancaster has to offer: from shops and the city centre, to pubs and clubs, to cultural highlights like the castle, and transport hubs like the bus and train stations. Like campus, Lancaster itself is a rather compact place. Living near the centre, I’m never more than fifteen minutes from wherever I want to go. Being able to simply walk to the shops for food, or walk back from the Sugarhouse after a night out rather than wait for a bus was quite revolutionary for me. So, its about weighing up your priorities and what’s more important to you: a bigger house off campus, or more accommodation choice on campus? Living in a busy town, or living amongst other students and academics? Working in the many on-campus study spaces, or working in your own room? Round-the-clock access to the library, or round-the-clock access to kebab shops?

Both choices have their upsides and downsides, but for me, campus was certainly the right place to start. Lancaster’s campus was a warm, friendly, vibrant, and safe place to live; and being around so many other students and facilities was good for finding my feet and getting settled in. Saying that, now I have settled in, living off campus is great. The choice is yours, and I would recommend trying both to see which you prefer. Either way, you’ll have lots to do, be around lots of good people, and you’ll never be far from places to go and things to see.

Managing time on and off campus

There truly is no place like home. We’ve all come across this phrase at some point and depending on how we view it we’ve all accepted or rejected it to varying degrees. Personally, I’ve embraced this sentiment (especially my mom’s food and my sibling’s banter!) more so after going to university, but I’ve learned that the concept of being home during the holidays is quite different when you’re a university student. Don’t get me wrong- I revel in all the joys and luxuries that come with being with my family, but obviously the phrase “There’s no place like home” wasn’t penned by someone with multiple deadlines looming large on the horizon.  So, this brings us to the question: is being well-balanced possible in university? And if so, what exactly does it mean?

After completing my final coursework of the term, I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. But just like outdated fashion, deadlines keep coming back. And as I keep learning, one of the only ways to stay on top of them is by planning ahead. Being well-balanced isn’t an impossible feat- it just takes a bit of effort on your part to allot specific times for work and leisure.  To do this, I usually make a well-thought-out plan outlining my tasks for the week ahead.  And what’s great about this is that you can clearly see how missing work impacts subsequent tasks, therefore giving you the incentive to stick to your plans. Also, making a study schedule consolidates study techniques such as spaced repetition – reviewing course material over increasing intervals –  which has consistently worked for me this year. And if making a schedule for the week seems a bit tedious, you can always just jot a to-do-list before starting each day which I like to do with smaller tasks. Either way, by incorporating a schedule to guide you through your work, you’re able to clearly lay out your priorities and establish a more efficient and productive study routine. And don’t worry if you feel this doesn’t work for you! There’s no one-size-fits-all and once you come to university, just like everyone, you’ll take time to find your bearings and eventually discover what’s best for you.

The other (and/or the best) part that comes with being well-balanced is leisure. There’s nothing better than finding yourself with some extra time on your hands during the day. Whether you’re into sports, arts, or music there are always opportunities for you to engage in your passions on campus. Recently, I’ve started taking walks in the morning. The fields by the sports center boasts scenic views throughout the year and offers quiet spaces to relax and ruminate on what TV shows you should watch next. Jokes aside, you can always find solace in nature and if you prefer taking walks in groups, the university offers “well-being walks” once a week to those interested.  Whether it’s incorporated in your schedule or not, don’t forget to take time off for yourself! Learning a new skill or spending time with your friends are some ways to make your day and university experience as a whole infinitely better.

A Happy Easter Holidays to you all!