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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

 

 

Where are they now?

From the very beginning of the course, I have always enjoyed Employability weeks. These are special events designed by the Careers team in order to prepare us for life ahead. Over the two terms, there have been many events, such as Networking day, Team Building away days, and one-on-one sessions with Martine and Peter (Career Mentors). In such a demanding course as ours, these weeks have been a source of relief, when we don’t have to think about the theories of HRM or the concepts and mathematics of Economics.

One event that stood out to me the most was “Where are they now?” It was basically an event where MSc Management alumni came and told us about their experience while pursuing the course and journey after they had finished and had gone on to pursue jobs. Some of them had over 10 years of experience now, and some of them had graduated just last year. They all had the different opinions and yet in many ways, they were all the same. One alumna, who had graduated in 2002 and had a work experience of over 10 years under her belt, told us to persevere while applying for jobs. She suggested websites which she found relevant when she was applying for placements. Listening to her story rejuvenated us and filled us with hope. After all, failure is not the end and success is not all. She was an international student and I could relate to her story as in many ways, I am going through a similar phase, the confusion of whether to go back to India to work or to keep applying to get a job here in the UK. She chose to go back to China and returned after a few years of experience.

Another alum from the 2012-13 batch, who is currently working in Rapid7, described his learning from the course as a stepping stone to the future. He mentioned that the course taught him the essentials but working life had much more in store. He mentioned that he did not have a technical background, but the knack for learning. He also mentioned that it is essential for us to figure out our strengths and be honest while applying for jobs.

Another alum from the same batch, who is currently working in DHL, mentioned his struggles while applying for jobs. He mentioned that he applied for 27 jobs and got rejected at some stage or the other before landing the job in DHL as a consultant. His will to not take no for an answer made me wonder. I am going through the rejection phase myself, where most of the companies do not provide VISA sponsorship. When they do, they don’t like my application form. If I clear that round, I get rejected in the situational judgment test and if all goes well, there is absolutely no way I’m clearing the video interview round. So far, zero success rate. But what is life without struggle? To have a good story, we need failures and the will to fight back. (Luckily, I am not scared of failure so bring it on, Life!!!)

The session was not just inspirational but informative too. All the alumni gave us insights, not just into the struggles they faced, but how we can apply to the companies they are currently working in. I connected with most of them on Linkedin and asked for their advice on my CV and on whether their companies provide VISA sponsorships. I feel that this event was a good opportunity for people like me who felt they were lost. Getting rejections is not easy but knowing that others have faced the exact same thing and have still made it work somehow, makes it a lot easier.

Shifting spaces

I have been in Mumbai for the past two months collecting data for my research. I am living with my family and, knowing I must leave soon once my work is done, I am soaking in every moment of it. All the stuff I took for granted earlier, even the mundane little facts of everyday life, strike me as something worthy of note… such as how do we dispose of the garbage? I find myself reflecting on things that I never gave much thought to before. And I owe that to my life at Lancaster.

One such thing struck me the first time I arrived at Lancaster. The number of choices I had for a place to study. I have a computer-equipped PhD office where I could study and do my research or I could study in my own campus accommodation which was fairly quiet or I could find a spot in the very spacious library or I could go to the Storey building in the city centre where PhD students have a space of their own or I could study in the post graduate space in Graduate College… I might have even missed a few options here. The point is that I could decide where I wanted to study depending on my mood or depending on where I felt most productive. I remember thinking then that I had never given any thought to my choices for a ‘study space’ or lack thereof before Lancaster happened to me.

My home was the only place available to me for study at an undergrad as well as Masters level even though it was frequently noisy, full of interruptions and temptations, and a thousand distractions such as something interesting going on on the television. I never thought about it as a ‘study space’ because I didn’t really have any other. It was only upon arriving at Lancaster and being exposed to the world of university in the UK that I realised the difference the space made to the quality of learning and output. At first I wondered why there was so much emphasis on the varieties of study spaces but then it occurred to me that by providing the right space the university was simply showing me a commitment to my learning, intellectual development, and growth. It wasn’t investing in space so much as investing in me and investing in wherever my potential may be best realised.

Now that I am at home in Mumbai, I am missing the ‘space’ I have at Lancaster that both physically and mentally puts me in the mood for study. I almost catch myself thinking that I need to ‘go somewhere’ to reflect on my observations on the research interviews but then recall that I don’t have anywhere to go to to get my mental juices flowing. For now, I am resigning myself to playing with my niece when she pops into the room. I smile at her fondly when she pushes down my laptop cover announcing ‘Over’ in that cute little voice of hers. Of course, I would like to finish whatever train of thought I am pursuing at that moment while typing out notes from the day’s field work but it will have to wait a bit. Till I am back at Lancaster…my makeshift spaces will have to do. I am not complaining as they sure have joys of their own!

Is Being Catered Worth It? Or Am I Just Lazy?

I hope your week has been as exciting as mine! Although it feels as if we, freshers, have been thrown into a whirlwind of work, at the end of the day, it’s comforting to know that you can head back to your flat, relax and share a laugh with your flatmates. Or, for those who consistently apply their studies to every aspect of their life, argue about whether some corporations’ treatment of workers is justifiable, or if catered accommodation is a sunk cost… (Maybe? Maybe not? I wish I knew).

Speaking of catered accommodation, it’s awesome! No one can cook as well as my mother (shout out to the best mother!!), however being catered gives you the liberty to forget about planning meals, shopping for groceries, and if you’re like me, avoid sulking over the fact that the only food you can cook (properly) are eggs and pasta. Nevertheless, if you’re a true “Masterchef” or simply feeling adventurous, living in non-catered accommodation will improve your culinary skills while consolidating your time-management and organisational skills and prepare you to be a versatile, adept human being (which is why we’re at university- am I right?).

Which brings me to my next point about being a student, which is having the ability to choose. I know that sounds rather simple and obvious, but university makes you conscious of this power to decide for yourself and take control of most, if not all, aspects of your life. It may seem like a daunting task, but with the support of your friends and the University it isn’t difficult at all. And of course, this capability or power can only be of good use if you take every opportunity available that will help you grow and enrich your life immensely. And Lancaster University offers you plenty of such opportunities. From fostering your passions within your academic field to helping you venture into new areas and develop skills from there. Remember, university is the ideal place for growth, so don’t hesitate to keep learning; because one day, after all your enriching experiences, you’ll realize how far you’ve come and feel like you’re flying high above the clouds -equipped with the wings of knowledge and experiences that will carry you throughout the rest of your life.

And during this journey, you’ll never be alone. I am very grateful for the people I’ve met here-especially my wonderful friends (I might change my mind after I spend a year living with them, but hopefully not. Just kidding, friends). But don’t worry. Even if you don’t find the right friends in the first few weeks, there will come a time when you come across someone who is just as into music, film or chocolate cake as you are (feel free to send me a message and we can talk about the sublimity of chocolate!!) and then feel more connected to the wonderful community in the University. If you ask for my opinion, I would say that I couldn’t ask for more.

10 New Words I Learnt at LUMS

As an international student, learning about new words stimulates my linguistic inclination. By learning I also mean experiencing words that I already know in a different way. New words mixed with experiences are synergic; I find them fascinating and sometimes amusing. In this blog post I will write about my top 10 new words that I learnt at LUMS, starting with those that any international student could come across and followed by those that a LUMS or a graduate student in particular would be very likely experience. I choose these words because my experience of them has been either exciting, practical or pleasantly homely. A small story for each word tells why I found it particularly fascinating.

  • Flatmate: Flatmate is the commonly used word for housemate in the UK. My flatmates are the students who I have met since my first day at Lancaster Uni. We shared not only the flat, but also food, nights out, pictures, laughs, hobbies and life contemplations. We looked out for each other. My flatmates made me feel like I belong.
  • The weather: This is one of the most common topics you’ll hear a British person talk about. It is often unexpected and sometimes rainy, cold, lovely, sunny or snowy. And sometimes it’s all of them in one day! As someone who likes hiking, my outdoors motto is that “there is no bad weather but there are only bad clothes.” That’s why my big puffer coat is an essential item of clothing and part of my outfit on most days. Even though it’s cold in the north west of England, people have their warmth in their hearts.
  • The steam train: During the summer term, I travelled by regular train to go to Carlisle where I was doing some training. The steam train runs during the spring and summer between Lancaster and Carlisle, and the other passengers and I would see it majestically arriving in the morning at the train station. A peak inside allowed me to see the impressive décor and was enough to take me a century back in time.
  • Marmite: Commonly known by its brand name, this product is also found under the yeast extract category. I heard people say that you either love it or hate it, and I happened to quite like it. I often venture with food combinations and I accidentally found out that it goes well with certain types of jam.
  • Quorn: I discovered Quorn in the UK while looking for vegetarian meat alternatives. It offers a wide variety of products and is a good source of proteins. I found it to be a practical food and it goes well in a curry.
  • Reflexivity: As a LUMS student, being reflexive not only got me high marks, but also made me aware of the way my learning affected my professional and personal development and my view of the world. I try to apply this process to both important events and daily incidents that became a part of my routine.
  • Critical thinking: Critical thinking is an expression that I frequently hear in my lessons at LUMS. It’s an essential yet challenging skill and we practice it when reading, writing and reflecting. I even use it outside of academic coursework, for example when choosing to watch a film.
  • Dispersed leadership: Even though it’s not the most common type of leadership that is found in academic and personal development books, it’s one that sparked my curiosity. This is because it made me realise the different aspects, people and places in which leadership exists, and so it helps me put myself in other people’s shoes and try to understand them, a skill that I find quite important when interacting with people at university and work.
  • Graduate social hub: The graduate social hub is another place that makes me feel at home. It is situated near the graduate students’ dorms. It contains a quiet room for studying and a social room that has games, books, a ping pong and a foosball table. It also has a kitchenette with an endless supply of tea and coffee. I would metaphorise it as the graduates’ living room.
  • Grad bar: The Grad bar is our meeting place in the evening. Pubs are an important part of community life in the UK, and Grad bar is our communal one. It’s a place where I made new friends and enjoyed live student bands and drinks.

Whether they relate to a place, food or thought, my experience of these words continues to be absorbing. Learning new words and experiences still happens to me now as much as it did when I first moved to Lancaster, and as I got more and more involved with the campus life, the studying, the shopping and meeting new people.