Day Trips in the Surrounding Area

At the moment, exam season is underway at Lancaster University so my days are currently filled with studying and preparing for my exams. Therefore, trying to maintain focus and motivation, this week I decided to book a day trip to Edinburgh to look forward to after my exams. One of my interests when I have spare time at university is to travel and explore the local and surrounding area. Studying in Lancaster for the past three years has meant that I have had a chance to visit a variety of places and therefore I thought that I would share with you all some places that are ideal for a day trip when at Lancaster University.

Blackpool: In my first year I discovered that Lancaster is on the doorstep to one of the North’s favourite seaside towns – Blackpool! With direct buses that can be taken from the university or town, I have found that Blackpool makes for the perfect day trip during the summer months. That so, it has become one of my annual day trip destinations to visit at the end of Summer term. As a beach town, I love to visit the sandy beach front for a perfect summer walk and to enjoy fresh fish and chips from the restaurants along the promenade. I have also learnt that Blackpool is a great place to visit in winter to see the famous illumination event which sees the night town lit up with a light show.

Manchester: Manchester has become a city that I am always keen to return to and is perfect for a day of retail therapy and city exploring. You can take the train from Lancaster Station and when you arrive you are welcomed by the city bustle and a large shopping high street. Whilst in Manchester, I always try to make a visit to one or two of the many attractions that are spread throughout the city. Having taken several trips to Manchester now I have enjoyed visiting the Hogwarts-like John Rylands Library, Manchester Science Museum and Manchester’s China Town.

Liverpool: Another city favourite of mine is the city of Liverpool. As a city that is famous for being the birthplace of The Beatles, there are many museums and monuments to visit throughout the city which celebrate the band. As well as doing some shopping, I also enjoy making a visit to the docks and the maritime museum.

Tatton Park: For an escape from city life, I enjoy a visit to the Cheshire town of Knutsford to visit Tatton Park. Tatton Park is a National Trust estate and I am always excited to make a visit to see the deer and sheep that roam freely across the acres of grounds that the public have access to. If you are looking for a quiet place to visit then I would recommend Tatton Park because it is always a calming escape to sit and watch the wildlife and sailors around the lake and moorland.

If you have a love for travelling or exploring new places like me, then I hope I have captured your interest to visit some of the places that I have had a chance to visit whilst studying at Lancaster University.

Why procrastination is good for me

This time when I was back home in Mumbai, I decided to bring with me my art painting paraphernalia (which I have never used) including acrylic paint, paint brushes, palette and the like gathering dust in a corner. I could never find the time to get around to using them before.

The idea to get the painting tools struck me when I came across this store called The Works in Lancaster city centre. I am fascinated with all the variety of art and craft material they have there and enjoy looking through their stuff. Now that I had my materials with me, the next question was what I should create with them. At first I thought of making something like an art poster that I could hang near the dining table to create a homely feel. But then I realised that making something that only I and hardly anybody else would ever see would probably not add to my motivation. While browsing through canvases and art paper in The Works, I chanced upon blank greeting card packs. It struck me that greeting cards might be the perfect object upon which to conduct my art experiments because I could employ my creativity as on anything else, have a bit of purpose to it (how can a researcher forget the purpose), and I was guaranteed at least one person who would be smitten with my work.

Here is the first card that I made for my cousin in Mangalore, India. The fact that he actually asked me if I made it was flattering, though I won’t put it past him to pull my leg.

birthday card

 

The truth is that I wasn’t really bothered about having a fantastic output because I am not even an amateur artist (only one who loves to have fun with colours and loves seeing the beauty in art), but the process was an absolute joy. Sitting alone at my desk with the sun blazing through the window (yes, it’s been pretty sunny lately!), visualising and finding inspiration for a theme, concentrating intently on choosing harmonious colours, mixing them and seeing them come alive on the card…sometimes beautifully and sometimes rather jarringly… scratching my head to make the imperfections less imperfect…the whole event offered a heavenly sort of relaxation. I would probably compare it to meditation though a bit better than that for me because I can never quite still my thoughts and focus on nothing when I’m meditating…whereas in this process it was as if the real world had melted away and it was just myself lost in a sea of colours splashing on the card.

I loved doing the first card so much that I was already looking forward to my second. I have done this one for my sister-in-law’s birthday in early June. She doesn’t know about my blogs so I can take the risk of sharing it with you.

Birthday card

 

I would never have imagined that I would take up a long romanticised hobby while doing my PhD. I felt like getting my art tools to have something interesting to do when I had the itch to procrastinate, which as other PhD students may corroborate, is fairly often! I believe in this instance though that the tendency to procrastinate has helped rather than hindered me… come to think of it, maybe procrastination tends to be a blessing in devil’s disguise because while you are doing something you enjoy such as baking or fishing or painting, your brain is silently working in the background weighing in on your ideas and coming up with solutions. If your mental focus wasn’t diverted into a completely different direction every now and then, a part of your brain would probably be overworked or stressed out and not exactly operating at full steam… at least I tend to be more productive because of my procrastinations rather than for lack of them. What is your experience? Would be great to hear your thoughts.

Deciding the next step after your degree

Some of you will come to university knowing exactly what it is you would like to do after you graduate. I suspect however that the majority of you will either have some vague ideas but are still unsure, or you may be someone who hasn’t a clue. I can safely say that I am somebody who fell into the latter category. Almost two years down the road however, I have a much clearer picture on the route I want to take after I graduate.

It really is common for students to begin university not knowing what they want to do after they complete their studies. After all, you probably found it hard enough picking what A-levels to study, and what university to firm, so picking something that you may do for a large chunk of your life is very difficult. I feel that it’s hard to expect students to be certain of what job they want, especially just after starting university life. Fortunately, no one at the university is expecting this from you, so do not feel rushed into making your career choice, something that is frankly a big decision.

What I have learnt is to not spend too much time thinking about what it is you want to do after your degree. Rather, focus on your studies and achieving the best degree classification possible. Even though it’s perhaps not wise to contemplate too heavily on your aspirations, this is not to say that you shouldn’t immerse yourself to gain as many valuable experiences as you can whilst at university. As I have mentioned, I did not know what I wanted to do after university, so I made a strong effort to attend a variety of careers-based events and talks which give me insights into different industries, and opportunities to ask questions to those in the world of work.

I would also recommend trying to gain some work experience in fields that you are even partially interested in working in as this will help you to learn more about what industries you may enjoy working in. I feel that the way that I have gained most knowledge regarding my future goals after university is through a combination of work experience and attending events at Lancaster University. I hope you recognise the importance of gaining these experiences in helping you decide what you would like to do after you graduate, as I think that my experiences over the last two years have in a way made my mind up for me, or at least have heavily contributed to my decisions.

I have learnt that employers are less concerned with your degree title, and more about what you can bring to the company. This has implications in two regards. Firstly, do not see your degree as a limitation or barrier. By this I mean, just because you have chosen a Marketing degree does not mean you can only go into marketing. Of course, some roles will require particular degrees such as Medicine to become a Doctor, but on the whole, you will have the opportunity to work in almost any sector. So, when you do come around to thinking about what you do after you graduate, be sure to consider opportunities beyond your degree scheme.

The second implication is use your time to build yourself up the best you can over the course of your degree, rather than using your time worrying about not knowing what to do. Your ambitions will come naturally to you, don’t feel obliged to go out of your way looking for them.

Do’s and Don’ts of Getting the Most Out of Lectures

Lectures are an entirely different format of learning than what you will be used to in college/sixth form and, with upwards of 10 hours of lectures a week, you will want to make sure you are getting the most out of this contact time.

DON’T try writing down everything the lecturer says. Not only is this pretty much impossible and exhausting – it’s also pretty useless. Instead jot down key points of the lecture and make notes about any information you want to follow up in your own time that might have interested you. That way you will actually engage with the lecture.

DO use a notepad instead of a laptop. Now I know this is a very personal opinion, but I truly believe that the physical act of handwriting lecture notes allows you to absorb more as you go along. Of course, for some people, using a laptop is necessary but I recommend at least giving handwritten notes a go.

DON’T get into the habit of skipping lectures. University culture is fundamentally different from school in that you are very much given a great amount of autonomy in how you want to approach your education. Unfortunately, this also means that it is very easy to “get away” with skipping lectures and once you’ve missed a couple of 9am’s it becomes very difficult to get back into the routine.

DO use colour in your notes. Whether you’re using a laptop or a notepad, it’s always a good idea to use colour in your notes – you could highlight key words, for example. This will make it a lot easier to find topics when you have to look back over your notes from months ago during exam revision.

DON’T worry if you feel like the lecturer went over a topic too quickly or if you got distracted. The majority of lectures at Lancaster University are video recorded so you can watch them again when you get home and add to your notes.

DO sit closer to the front of the lecture theatre. It has been scientifically proven that those who sit in the front and middle rows of lecture halls are more likely to achieve higher grades.

DON’T be afraid to ask questions. Lecturers will usually pause during the session and allow the audience to ask questions – if you didn’t understand something, there is a very high likelihood that there are at least 20 other people feeling the same way!

Walking on Sunshine

The sun has finally come to Lancaster and you can’t help but feel the newfound energy on campus.  Walking through Alexandra Square I noticed the air abuzz with laughter, excitement, and procrastination. But before you judge, it was rather a “fruitful” type of procrastination. One that ends in the sweet sweet taste of victory in our mouths. That’s right. Lancaster has another Roses trophy under its belt and after this spectacular weekend I feel like I can conquer the world (at least I hope so. Especially for exams…).

For those of you who don’t know, Roses is an annual sports tournament between the University of York and Lancaster University that started in the 1960s. The host university alternates every year and this year the tournament took place right at our doorstep. It’s the highlight of the year with all the university teams’ hard work accumulating towards this weekend-long event. It’s an event you can’t miss and undoubtedly an integral and memorable part of the Lancaster experience. Every moment spent cheering for my friends and other athletes of the university was worth it; and filled me with an ineffable sense of pride in being part of this university. And of course, besides the trophy, the sun had our back the whole way through and with sunny days ahead, we’ll all definitely be spending more time outside.

Besides watching and playing sports, now may also be the perfect time to take your studies outside! Around campus, you can see more and more students studying by the steps in Alexandra Square or even by the luscious green spaces by the Bonington Steps. If you’re lucky, there are also the occasional streams of ducklings that waddle behind their mother enjoying the carefree days of their youth (Ahhh how I miss those days. Not when I was a duck, but the days of my childhood devoid of deadlines, exams, job applications and more deadlines…). And in case you prefer studying in a shadier area, there are study pods right outside the LICA centre- a rather ideal spot if you’re keen to study among towering trees. I’d say that being there definitely helps you keep in touch with nature. All in all, the university’s large campus and vibrant green-fields offer plenty of space for you to study outside and enjoy bright sunny days.

And of course, besides study areas, the University has a lot of outdoor courts and fields for you to play sports with friends. The other week, my friends and I hit the courts for a quick game of basketball. We ended up playing against some students in sixth form who were more than happy to show us how “real” basketball looks like. Whether we played like basketball “pros” or (most likely) not, we ended up having a blast. As always, there’s no better feeling than getting a cold smoothie in Juicafe or some ice cream also in Alexandra Square. With the sun out from its hiding place, there’s no excuse to stay inside.

Here’s to more sunshine! Good luck with exams!!

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.

Reflections on Doing First-Year Exams – for the Second Time

My first LUMS blog post, written in January, was about the somewhat unusual experience of what it’s like to be a first-year at university – for a second time. It’s now April, and another familiar experience is rearing its head for a second time: exam season. Exam season was a stressful period for me as a first-time first-year. I’d like to think, however, having a crack at it again as a second-time first-year, that my experiences in 2016 equipped me with some valuable lessons to make it a smoother ride this time round. I won’t be so bold as to say ‘take my advice’ – you’ll have to check back in a few months to see what grades I get to know whether that’s a wise idea or not! Nonetheless, here are my reflections.

I suppose the first thing to mention is that, although I am a second-time first-year (those don’t sound like real words any more, do they?) I did pass the first year of my previous course, BBA Management, and my decision to switch to Management, Politics, and International Relations was made before taking my exams. I say this not as a matter of defending my own honour – well, not entirely, anyway – but to address the oft-touted notion of ‘first year exams don’t count!’. While it’s true that at British universities, your first-year exam grades do not contribute towards your final degree classification, they absolutely do count, and thinking otherwise does one no favours. Many LUMS students, myself included, take the opportunity of going on a year-long work placement as part of their degree. As the application process for placements takes place during your second year, your first-year exam results will be just about all your potential employers have to go off regarding your academic performance at university. Insisting that you’re intelligent and hardworking, but got middling grades because ‘it was only first year’ will surely not be an appealing notion to a FTSE 100 company looking for the best and brightest, and this thought has certainly kicked me from any lingering complacency I had regarding exams.

Furthermore, it is undoubtedly the case that you get as much out of university as you put in – and as stressful as exams can be, they are ultimately there to help you, not to punish you. I’m not going to pretend that I was experiencing meditative feelings of self-improvement and development whilst trying to memorise every last accounting formula over a third cup of coffee last year; but that I still remember many of those formulas today, despite doing a different degree and not being a natural ‘numbers man’, is testament to how valuable exams are as learning tools. The takeaway for me is to go into exam season with a positive mindset. If you’ve attended lectures and put your all into your course over the year, and you have the will to put in the necessary time and effort into revision, there’s nothing to fear, and everything to gain. A university education would be worthless if it was not challenging. Knowing you’ll come out on the other side of exams with much-improved knowledge and skills in your subject area is surely a motivating thought.

One big mistake I made last year in my exam revision was attempting to substitute sleep for caffeine. Sleep is often seen as an enemy in exam season. We try to ‘game the system’ – seeing each extra hour of sleep as a lost hour of revision in those crucial few days just before an exam. This is a totally flawed way of thinking. Four hours of revision on a good night’s sleep is infinitely more valuable than eight hours of revision on a short kip broken by fifteen alarms and gallons of energy drinks. Practice doing timed papers is essential, and it takes a lot of revision to get to the point where doing this kind of practice is feasible. I’ve found this year that spreading my workload in small, manageable chunks across a long time period is not only far less stressful but much more effective. To paraphrase Will from ‘The Inbetweeners’, on a tired brain, nothing goes in. What’s more, I found that doing some of my exams last year on very little sleep made for a much more anxious and nerve-wracking experience. Confidence in exams comes not just from knowing your stuff, but from being well-rested and able to approach the exam room with calmness rather than underslept agitation. After one particularly poor night of sleep, I ended up forgetting to bring both my pen and my student card to an exam, and then sitting in the wrong seat. The thought of ‘one day I’ll look back on this and laugh’ provided little consolation at the time, and the debacle added some much-unneeded extra stress to proceedings. Had I had a clear, well-rested head, I doubt I would have made the blunder, and I’m sure I would have done better had that stressful situation not occurred.

Of course, you can only treat yourself to those few hours of extra sleep if you actually start revising early enough that you don’t have to cram half of the course content on the night before the exam. And that’s really the key to everything: starting early. Revision, in my experience, always takes longer than anticipated. There will always be parts of the course you’re not so familiar with, or find particularly challenging, that will take you unawares. Discovered early on, you can tackle these bumps in the road. But discovered three hours before you need to be in the exam hall and they can deliver a wounding blow.

Although my exams are still a fair way away, my experiences last year have kicked me into gear and I am some way into my revision already. First year exams come quite a bit later and are ultimately less important than second-year exams – but they are important nonetheless and provide a key opportunity to develop good revision practice. I go into this year’s exam period viewing exams as friend rather than foe; and aiming to have more hours of sleep and fewer trips to Costa Coffee.