My First Exam in the UK

As I entered the registration hall in the first week, my heart pounded heavily. I did not know what to do, where to go. Was it too late to go back? Of course, it was. I was not only in a different country but also in a different continent. At that point in time, I was just following everyone because they seemed to know what they were doing and where they were going. We ultimately reached the final destination of the day, the Management School: The place that LUMS postgraduates absolutely worship. The Hub, the Lecture Theatres, the meeting rooms – I had never seen a place like that. I was sitting with a few of my classmates and they all were talking about Lancaster and the University as if they had known it for ages. As it turned out…they did. They had all done their undergraduates at Lancaster University and I had no idea what was happening around me anymore. I felt overwhelmed and anxious and I kept quiet, taking it all in.

As days passed by, we got busier with lectures and assignments but at the same time, we grew closer to each other. The journey had begun, and we spent the days learning and the nights exploring the University. Soon, the first module was over and so was the second and before we realised, it was exam time. With just a week left for the exam, the late-night excursions had taken a halt and the late-night coffees had replaced them to ensure that we were burning the midnight oil. There was chaos and confusion everywhere. This was a big thing. It was the first module and we all wanted to leave a mark. Being from different educational backgrounds, we all were facing challenges. Most of us had never studied business modules before and jumping right into Marketing and thinking like a Marketing Manager was difficult. The exam was case based. We were provided with a case and had to scrutinise it well before the exam. In the exam, we were asked questions based on the case and had to answer them in an essay style. This was very new, especially for someone like me. My last essay-based exam was in primary school and being from CBSE board (Central Board for Secondary Education, India), I was cut out for point to point answers. Luckily my lecturer was a sweetheart. She gave us precise directions of what she needed and also made us practice with a mini case in the class. On top of that, we were also provided with past paper questions. All these resources ensured that we were fully equipped to face the exam.

On the final day of the examination, I prayed to all the Gods and reminded myself that I would be fine because of all the group studying sessions I had with my classmates and the resources that were provided by my professor. I went for the exam and “answered the questions”, precisely as mentioned by my lecturer and as it turned out, I managed to get a distinction!

 

 

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.

When the going gets tough…

Most people seem to think that if you are pursuing a PhD you must be super intelligent. Which they also assume means you must have ample confidence in yourself. It is no use telling them that you suffer from as many insecurities about your talents and capabilities as the next person, because in their opinion if you have set yourself such a huge mountain to climb, you must know you have it in you.

The truth is that I find myself low on self-confidence a lot of the time. And I have come to realise that this feeling is fairly common among PhD students. Apparently we tend to suffer from what is called the ‘impostor syndrome’: The feeling that you are inadequate or incapable despite evidence to the contrary.

My confidence level also has a way of yo-yoing so that at one point I am on top of a mountain, soaring high and marvelling how I have at long last found my true calling, and another time I am down in the dumps, wondering what got into me to take on such a herculean project. I start questioning everything from the validity of my research topic to my thoroughness in doing the literature review to my experience in the academic jungle to the possibility of ever seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It can be a pretty quick downward tumble from there, luckily for me stopping short of actually calling it quits, but I have heard stories of people who take the exit route.

Over time, I have learnt a few ways to deal with these blows to my confidence:

  • Remember why you started a PhD. Chances are that if you are on this very tough journey, you have thought long and hard about it. You may have also made certain difficult choices in life or career because you wanted this so badly. Had you not put all of yourself into making this happen, you wouldn’t have earned a place at such a prestigious university. If you could get yourself this far, it is only up to you to take yourself further.
  • Think of the last time you felt a rush of confidence. It may have been a small accomplishment or a big one, but if you had reason to feel great about how you were doing then, the reasons are most likely still valid and solid. This low phase will pass soon enough if you focus on doing what you have been doing.
  • Think about how far you have come. You probably remember how daunting everything seemed when you first started, and how you never really expected to make it at almost every step. Not only did you make it, you did remarkably well too, be it acclimatising yourself to the new environment or developing a good relationship with your supervisors or taking all those difficult training modules or digging through tons of literature.
  • Stop comparing yourself with others. You might be tempted to compare yourself with others who started at the same time as you. Very often it will seem like they have a far better hold on what they’re doing while you haven’t the faintest clue. They may have started collecting data or completed writing a conference paper while you’re still putting together a proposal for your upgrade panel. Remember that this is your PhD and your journey… and you are its sole architect. How you approach it and how much time you take to build it depends entirely on what you’re fashioning.
  • Talk to family and friends. Talk to people who believe in you. Knowing that they believe in you more than you do can be motivating (though a bit annoying too because your feelings of inadequacy and incompetency are invalidated). It would also help to have someone with whom you can share your research and progress. Many a time I have found solutions to problems simply by talking to a friend who merely listened to me go on about it.
  • Take mini breaks. When you are really feeling like it, take a few days off all thoughts of research and writing and deadlines and do whatever it is you feel like doing or do nothing if that’s what you feel like. Think of it as some sort of reward for working so hard. I don’t know about you but at the end of that period, I bounce back with more energy and feeling a lot more positive. Quite strangely, I also tend to come up with better ideas almost out of the blue. You know what they say about the subconscious mind being at work…
  • Visualise a wonderful future. The PhD may be your stepping stone to a fulfilling career or it may be an end in itself. Try visualising what it would be like to be at the end of that road, having fulfilled your dream or goal. Imagine how you would feel, how the people in your life would feel, and how much you would like to be there. These bumps along the way are speed breakers but they can’t stop you from getting where you want to be.

Well, these are a few techniques that seem to help me bounce back. What about you? What do you do when the going gets tough?

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.

Going Frugal- It’s not just about managing finances, it is about managing yourself…

Frugality- the quality of being economical with money.

For all those who are living on their own for the first time, this too shall pass and when it does, you will emerge as a different person. I came to Lancaster University with the dream of becoming a Manager and landing a good job. Little did I know that the first step of the process would be to be a manager of myself. From studying to cooking to managing a budget, you are on your own. The degree teaches you far more than just the modules. This was the first time I was in-charge of myself. I’ve lived on my own during my undergraduate but there things are different, pocket-money was just a phone call away and moreover, there weren’t any currency conversions to be kept in mind. I came to the UK with 500 Pounds, thinking that it’ll last at least 4 months, after all, they were 40,000 Indian Rupees and how much could I spend?

After the first month and an expense of almost half the money that I possessed it became very clear to me that I’d have two options, either I can cut down on my expenses (which was usually spent on buying food and, being a Punjabi, that’s something you cannot compromise on) or I could earn more money by doing part-time job. I wasn’t thinking too much and I chose to go with the first option as with classes from 9-5, I wanted some time to explore as well, so getting a  job was postponed till the next semester. It was time to strategise my frugality plan and more or less it was simple for me.  I had to focus on where I spent the money most (except food, of course) and cut down those expenses to a minimum. However, I wasn’t as simple as I  thought. The pattern wasn’t consistent. With a month of struggle and just 90 pounds left, the third month began and that’s when I came across the Master Plan as I like to call it. I still follow it and it is an amazing way where you don’t even realise you are saving money. All you need to do is save 10 pence on day one and keep adding 10 pence to it the next day. It follows the laws of Arithmetic Progression (flaunting Mathematics-my dad will be so proud of me!!! ). By the end of the first month, I had already saved 15.5 pounds. It isn’t a large sum of money but considering I had 90 when I started and I managed to save 15 pounds, I went straight to Greggs and ate a cookie. After all, I deserved it! Treat yourself and be frugal!

Life at university

New environment

Coming from a big city like London, adjusting to Lancaster was definitely a challenge. Being from London, it’s easy to think everywhere else in the United Kingdom is just like London, but this is not at all the case. A word a lot of people associate with London is diversity. Around 300 different languages are spoken in London and there are at least 14 different faiths practised there. Lancaster is not quite like London, although the university itself is quite diverse with almost 3000 international students.

London being the capital of England and the United Kingdom, it is expected that it would have certain features that other cities in the UK don’t. Apart from the obvious differences between London and Lancaster (population size etc.) there are subtle things I find myself noticing. Small things like the different transport system, for example all the main roads through Central Lancaster are one way. In London public transport is operated by Transport for London (TFL) and uses the oyster system.  However in Lancaster the cash system is still being used on buses, but there definitely is easy access to cash machines on campus with various ATM machines around Alexandra Square.

However, there are also good points to living in Lancaster, one being the beautiful scenery. For instance, living in Furness college I am able to enjoy amazing views and take great snapchat pictures through my window of the sunset and sunrise. In first year, around freshers week I had the opportunity to go on a trip to the world-famous Lake District National Park. Part of the trip was a boat ride on the actual lake, I really enjoyed this trip because it was a great way to bond more with my flatmates and discover the beauty of Nature from the boat. Unlike London, Lancaster provides the opportunity to enjoy the magnificence of the countryside.

Friendships

I think most people form friendship groups with people they gel with during fresher’s week, their flatmates in first year or people on their course. Once these friendship groups are formed, they basically stick together for the remaining duration of their degrees.

One of the common things people say about university is that you will make lifelong friends and make useful connections for your future career.  However,  at university people are still developing and finding out who they are so are. Also, most people only do a 3 year degree and 3 years go by so quickly, especially because it’s 3 academic years rather than 3 actual years.

I have met a lot of interesting people, studying a variety of degrees. I was surprised to find so many people from London as well, but I have also met people from all over the world which has been very educational for me. I met most of my friends through my course and joining societies like the African Caribbean society and the Pentecostal Gospel Choir.

In first year my flatmates and I would usual gather in the communal kitchen and use this time to learn about each others cultures and backgrounds.  I really appreciated that everyone I came across were very welcoming, especially the Freshers Representatives that we were had who were very helpful. Each flat were assigned student representatives, (who were usually 2nd year students) to help freshers settle in well.

Social life

There are so many events happening all over campus. Make the most of these even if it means going by yourself. A good way to improve your social life at university is by joining societies. Joining clubs and societies will give you lots of chances to meet other like-minded people, make friends and have fun. Social media is also a great way to keep in touch with what’s going on, for instance, Facebook is still used to invite people to events.

Last but not least, as simple as it may sound, just talk to people. Get to know your flatmates, people in your lectures, tutorials, seminars etc. because you never know what you could have in common. You could be in the same tutorial as someone and not know anything about them, this is why I like it when we have group or pair work during tutorials.

The simple fact that you study the same degree or study at the same university already creates so many things for you to talk about. I recently had an enlightening conversation with an international student in one of my tutorials, I learnt that we both share similar views and opinions on our modules. Also, these people can be very useful in terms of if you need help with assignments or revision.

Things To Do in Lancaster

Have you ever felt tired of all routines, assignments, never ending classes or group work? You feel like you need fresh air, yet you’re too lazy to go outside the city or do not want to spend too much money going out? Then… why don’t you explore our own city, Lancaster! Some of you might not realise that there are so many beautiful places that you can visit only 15 minutes from campus in 1 day!

Before you visit places around Lancaster, it might be good for you to know few facts about Lancaster. Some of you might probably know that Lancaster is the county town of Lancashire, England surrounding the River Lune. Lancaster, is a historic city in England with numerous buildings in Georgian architecture. You might realise when you’re going to the city center that there are many old buildings that you’ll never get tired of seeing!

Now, I will try to give you some ideas on what to do in Lancaster over the weekend. All you need to do is just to take a bus from campus and you’re good to go! 🙂

Lune Millennium Bridge

The first place that I would recommend is Lune Millennium Bridge. It is located near the Bus Station right behind Sainsbury’s. It spans the River Lune, Lancaster. The history of this bridge is that it was built to commemorate the millennium of 2000. It forms a “Y” shape and it is suitable for cyclists and pedestrians. Be ready for a surprise from this bridge as sometimes it will shake a bit when you’re walking on it 😀

Lancaster Castle

After you spend some time on Lune Millennium Bridge, you can take a walk to a hill right next to the bridge. 5-minutes-walk will bring you to one of the icons of our city, Lancaster Castle. You can see the stunning views of Lancaster from above. This castle may have been founded around the 11th century and it used to be a prison! Owned by The Duchy of Lancaster (Her Majesty the Queen is the Duke of Lancaster), the castle has witnessed significant historical and political impact in the thousand years of its existence. Until 2001 it was still functioning as prison, but now it is open for public and tourist activity. If you want to learn more about its history, you can join the guided tour that is available inside the castle. You can also enjoy a cup of tea in the café inside the castle.

Lancaster Canal

Another attraction that you can visit in Lancaster is the peaceful Lancaster Canal. You can walk 10 minutes from Lancaster Castle to this place. You can also grab your lunch in at the White Cross Restaurant by the river. You can enjoy a nice lunch with river and bridge view as well as seeing some cute ducks along the river 🙂

Ashton Memorial Park

This place might be my favorite place in Lancaster! It is reaaaalllllyyyyyyyy beautiful especially on a sunny day. You can take a walk here but it’s quite a distance from the canal or you can just take a bus whereas you still need to climb a bit to reach this place. Many people called Ashton Memorial Park “England’s grandest folly” and the “Taj Mahal of the North” because this iconic building was commissioned by Lord Ashton as a tribute to his late wife.

You will first be welcomed by Williamson Park, a pretty park with some small ponds and various kind of plants. After that, you will get this view.

When you are walking up to the building, you can see the city of Lancaster from above. It is breathtaking! This spot is also the highest point in Lancaster where you can see the whole city. There is a pretty dome that is also open to the public. Please note that the interior will be on renovation from November 21 2016 to April 2017 so you might not be able to go inside. But do not worry because the outdoor view of Ashton Memorial is already amazing!

So yeah, there are many things that we can do in Lancaster right? An important thing that you should note before going around the city is: CHECK THE WEATHER FORECAST! It won’t be as fun if the rain is pouring hard. In my case, I tend to go out when the sun is up with a clear and bright sky.

Now… Are you ready to go? 🙂

P.S photos are from writer’s personal collection