Ways to make the most of summer

Last week I completed the final exam of my degree and so for me that means that my summer break is finally here! At Lancaster University we get around three months off for summer and whilst this provides the perfect chance to take a break and recharge I have also found that the summer break is a time which can also be utilised for personal development and growth. There are a variety of ways that you could use your summer so I hope I can inspire you all by sharing how I have utilised past summers.

Travel: One way to use your summer is to travel to new countries to gain global perspectives and gain exposure to new languages and cultures. Last summer I used my summer break to travel to Hong Kong, Japan and Australia for the first time. Travelling to new countries enabled me to learn more about the world and learn about different cultures and experience some of the business practices of countries. In addition, travelling enabled me to develop a variety of soft skills including planning skills, time management and adaptability. This is because when travelling to a number of countries it required the time to be effectively utilised and agility to deal with any issues which may occur.

Volunteer: Another way to use your summer is to get involved with volunteering opportunities. In the summer break after my first year I volunteered at a Foodies Festival which was being held in my local area. By volunteering at the event it enabled me to expand my work experience and understand more about the events industry. In addition, I was able to gain employability skills including teamwork, communication and confidence working in a varied work environment. Particularly, this is because the event required me to take on different roles across the event days and liaise effectively with other volunteers.

Learn something new: I have also found that summer can be the perfect time to focus on learning something new, such as a new hobby or skill. During my summer last year I took on the challenge of self-teaching myself Cantonese and then I attempted to apply my new language skills when I travelled to Hong Kong. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to learn everything during the summer break but it definitely felt rewarding to be able to gain basic Cantonese language skills and to be understood by Hong Kong locals.

Work Placements and Internships: I have also previously used my summer break to gain work experience by completing a work placement at a marketing agency. Although my work placement was only one week, I found that completing a work placement was a great way to gain industry relevant experience and learn more about possible career routes and opportunities. In addition, the work placement allowed me to recognise the skills that I need to develop and the experience I need to gain to improve my employability when I enter the graduate market.

Whether it be learning a new skill or gaining work experience, there are lots of ways that you can make the most of your summer! I hope that by sharing with you how I have used my previous summer breaks I have inspired you with ways that you could use your summer. For everyone that has started their summer, enjoy the break and good luck for results day!

Why become an exam invigilator?

As a PhD student, I usually take up non-demanding temporary or part-time jobs to augment my income and to keep financial stress at bay. My favourite place to look for these jobs is Lancaster University’s Employment and Recruitment Service page. One of the work roles that I personally find appealing is that of an ‘exam invigilator’. What better time to share some of the things I enjoy about this role than the exam season…which is well and truly underway.

  • To start with, an exam invigilator role is only available to postgraduate research students. As a large pool of invigilators is required to support the huge number of exams being administered at the university, you are almost always guaranteed a spot.
  • You have complete flexibility over what days of the week and hours (morning/evening) you would like to invigilate. This means that you can schedule the work when you’re least expecting to be busy and not have to worry about juggling tasks.
  • I personally find it relaxing to be mentally unoccupied for some periods of time which is usually what one is while invigilating. Sure, you’re vigilant to your surroundings and to any irregular goings-on (hopefully not) but for the most part you’re also free to think your own thoughts. I notice that it is when my mind is thus free that I am struck with ideas. In fact, the thought of writing about invigilating for my next blog struck me in one of these mental meanderings!
  • As a PhD student, it is easy to get stuck in your own hole for days and weeks on end without meeting a single soul. Invigilation presents an opportunity to meet new people and hear new stories—almost climb out of your everyday life for a brief while and see the world from a different perspective. In the past few weeks alone, I have met a girl from the Physics department doing a PhD for the second time…we got talking about what made her venture onto this path a second time when many can’t handle it the first time around, and she said she must have forgotten what it was like! We got chatting a bit more and I felt like we were kindred spirits. Then I met this person who was into theatre, then into academia, now again into theatre…and he spoke of how Manchester was turning into a mini London, and how theatre people and actors were finding it unaffordable now just like London. In his view, when a place becomes too sanitised, it leaves no room for people who are a bit ‘rough around the edges’ and for their art. Apparently that was his research topic back in the day. I argued that such cities might actually draw the kind of audience that appreciate art and have the money to spend toward art. It was an interesting discussion that got cut short too soon in my opinion.
  • Being amongst eager fresh-faced students all nervous and anxious but also hoping to give their best might make for something refreshing in your otherwise routine day. I am usually reminded of a younger version of me and for a moment I am transported in time. Today I happened to notice that a student had kept a small transparent pouch full of sea shells on his exam table. Apparently it was for ‘good luck’. I remembered how I used to have a blue coloured ‘lucky top’ that I reserved for maths exams. I don’t know if there was anything to it but I did manage to get good marks.
  • If none of these reasons have convinced you, this last one just might. As an invigilator, you are encouraged to patrol and move around the room to keep tabs on what’s happening and to check if a student needs anything…walking around a room while not the same as a walk or run in the park is still a bit of exercise, which, if you happen to be too lazy to get out of the house like me may be counted as a not-so-bad side-effect (all in all, you gain a few pounds in your wallet and lose some in not so desirable places…).

Well, so next time, when you look up the recruitment page, I would recommend hitting apply on ‘Invigilation’. And if our paths happen to cross in some or the other invigilation session, don’t forget to thank me…and tell me how you’re getting on!

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.