Responding to criticism

by Melissa (Student Blogger: MA English Literature)

You’re at university because you’ve excelled in your studies. You’re used to receiving praise and awards and achievements for your work, and the occasional piece of criticism. At university level learning, criticism is the one of the most valuable pieces of knowledge you can hope to receive from your tutors because it is personalised and geared towards helping you achieve greater success in the future, as opposed to looking back on your past.

At university level, you can be proud enough to acknowledge how far your work has taken you in life, but as students, we also need to respect that the journey to academic excellence is never finished, and that the only real way to improve a piece of work is to eke out its flaws.

Yes, this can be a painful process. Perhaps you have spent weeks lamenting over your latest essay, and that you were proud of all the work you put in when you finally submitted it. You might be feeling utterly heartbroken with the mark you got back, stapled next to a heavy feedback sheet illuminating all the things you could have done better.

But chin up! Your tutor has taken the time to thoroughly read through your work and has dedicated themselves to helping you. The step-up to university is hard, and every stair is made from the help and criticism given to you by peers and tutors, so let’s think about how we can reach the top together!

Step 1

Read through your criticism, twice. Read through each point carefully and apply it to your essay, make sure you understand what your tutor is asking you to do differently. This could be something as easy as reference errors, but when it comes to problems in theory you may have to consult your books for the context in which your error has been made.

Step 2

If you’re still unsure about any of the feedback, or have any new ideas that you would like to suggest as a way of improvement, it can be a good idea to clarify these with your tutor during office hour.

Step 3

Different methods of teaching suit different students, so you may find it helpful to consult a different tutor in your department if you are still experiencing difficulties. If you are part of the FASS department for example, you could sign up for a slot at the FASS writing space. If you feel your feedback has been inadequate you can receive more information on how to improve here. [FASS WRITING SPACE –]

Step 4

It can be helpful to go through your old essays and their feedback before starting a new essay. This will remind you what to change next time you start the essay process, so keep your work safe and filed. This is why it’s important to collect your essays from the department, especially if you receive a grade that you are unhappy with. Leaving the material copy with your department won’t make it go away!

Step 5

In case I haven’t been clear enough, do not blame your tutors for finding errors in your work, and don’t blame yourself either. Try your best to keep a positive attitude towards making your work the best it can be and eventually you will improve.


Lessons learned…

by Nevena (Student Blogger: BSc Hons Business Studies (Industry))

Dear student,

Second term is slowly but steadily coming to an end. You have attended so many lectures for the past 18 weeks, you have heard so many new definitions, struggled with new concepts and juggled with multiple deadlines. But what will you take away? What would you do differently in your year if you had the chance to? I will share some of the key lessons I managed to learn from my two years of university experience.

Lesson #1

Ask questions and be curious! Whether you’re sitting in a lecture or a seminar, don’t be afraid to raise your hand and say your query out loud. Leave shyness outside of the room. In this way you will show you are paying attention, demonstrate your willingness to understand a topic on a deeper level and you will be able to clarify a question for other students as well. Lecturers LOVE interaction. In my first year, I only had the courage to share my thoughts in seminars. This year, however, I don’t mind interrupting a lecturer in the middle and posing my question. I have had extremely positive experiences with lecturers who want to support you and expand your understanding. So ASK, ASK, ASK!

Lesson #2

The second lesson I learned was to ask for feedback. Not only at the end of an assignment, but also prior to it. This is one of the mistakes I made personally as I didn’t use all the available opportunities to discuss the ideas I had on an essay or project. It’s extremely helpful, for instance, if you visit your tutor’s office hours and kindly ask for some feedback on the plan of your essay. Sometimes even a very short conversation of 5 minutes can help you understand how to better tailor your approach towards the assignment you are given. Furthermore, it will give you an insight of how to go the extra mile and achieve higher results. Receiving guidance is an essential part of using initial feedback as a way to improve. However, you won’t receive it unless you ask for it.

Lesson #3

There is so much support available in the Management School that can help you immensely. I can specifically relate to this when it comes to statistics modules or anything linked with data analysis. Do you know what MASH is? Well, if you haven’t heard (or been) and if you are struggling with numbers, it is located in B38a in the Management School. MASH is not the only support provided by the university. The Academic Writing Zone which is part of the Learning Development commitment can enhance your writing style and have a positive impact on your results. For more information check out the LUMS Learning Development Moodle Site.

If you are not a Management School student, check out the Learning and Skills Development website for more information about what support is available in your faculty.

Lesson #4

Balance is hard. Especially when you are trying to find the equilibrium between academic and social life. Oh, and we should add professional life to the list as well. Gaining work experience is extremely important for your future job prospects. Finding an internship/placement can be often stressful, but there are ways to cope with the negative feeling of the unknown which is building up inside of you. Careers Office are a wonderful way to talk to a professional about your CV and how to improve it. There are multiple workshops on How to Write a Successful CV, How to Pass Interviews, and How to Pass Assessment Centers. Just go to the Base or to their website and learn more about what they have to offer. LUMS students have a separate Careers Zone dedicated to their job seeking endeavors. LUMS Careers is in LUMS where you can drop-in on Tuesdays and Fridays and discuss any of the questions you might have. This is an incredible way to learn more about how things happen in reality and what employers are searching for.

Lesson #5

Final one! When you feel like you have reached your boundaries, when it has been too much for you…get a quick escape. Go somewhere unfamiliar for a day. Manchester and Liverpool are extremely close to Lancaster and offer wonderful opportunities that have to be explored. The Lake District impresses with its nature while Blackpool makes you go back to when you were a kid with all its rollercoasters and entertainment games. Even if you have a few hours to spend somewhere, RECHARGE. “It is not about resistance, but about resilience,” a friend once told me. Visit Ashton Memorial (hint: check out the House of Butterflies) or go for a quick walk at the Woodland Walk at the periphery of County. There is so much around us and often we don’t appreciate it. Take the chance to try something different and get some energy.

All of the above are based on personal experience. There are many more to go on the list, but these are some of the starting points that can make a real difference to YOU.

Wishing you all the best,



Homesickness and how to deal with it

by Anna (Student Blogger: BA Hons French and Linguistics)

Homesickness is a real thing, and it is in fact completely natural. Although it’s most associated with first term and freshers, second term is when it hits the hardest; those post-Christmas blues rolled together with upcoming deadlines can leave you craving not only your bed at home, but time with your loved ones. The important thing is to not get too bogged down by it, so how can we all deal with it without letting it affect our studies too much?

  1. Keep in contact with home, but not too often. A weekly or fortnightly call (whether via video or not) is reasonable but every day could be just a little too much. You could end up missing out on crucial bonding time with your flatmates, or the chance at making new friends at a society. The difficulty with how often you keep in contact can be down to certain family members, and wanting to please them. But politely, and kindly, remind them that you’re never going to have this experience again. And, you won’t have any stories to tell them if you’re spending all your time in your room on the phone.
  2. Tell people about it. Sometimes we think how we’re feeling is super-obvious to others, and other times we hide our emotions. But it’s as simple as saying “I miss home” to someone you’re close to at university. A problem shared, a problem halved. More than likely, you’re not the only one. If missing home is getting to you enough to affect your studies, seek some advice from your college’s Wellbeing Team. And, don’t forget to let your tutors know.
  3. Societies. Joining in with campus life through societies, whether academic or not, will fill up the time you spend missing home. It’s also a great way to make new friends across university.
  4. Create a comforting personal space. Your bedroom, whether on campus or in town, is entirely your space. Personalising it to your taste will make it feel homely, and perhaps have a few items from home that are nice reminders for when you’re feeling rubbish.
  5. Accept it. Homesickness is part and parcel of moving away from home. It’s simply a side-effect. Accepting this fact is a sure-fire way to start dealing with it better. And remember, everyone experiences homesickness at some time in their life, don’t add to the issue by giving yourself a hard time.
  6. Visit home. Perhaps take a weekend to visit home as this can remind you that everyone is still there for you, and loves you. Sometimes we just need a gentle reminder. If this would make you miss home even more, you could ask for your family or friends from back home to visit you for a weekend, then you’ll still have contact with them but in your new environment.


Taking on board these recommendations will help you better deal with your homesickness, and soon enough you’ll be right as rain and feel settled in Lancaster. University seems to fly by, so make the most of it every day!

Getting the most out of your term

by Ruth (Student Blogger: BA Hons History)

If you’re anything like me you’re looking at the next term, still wondering about where did the first term go?

Those short ten weeks seemed to fly by, with nothing more to show afterwards than a handful of paper, potentially a few grades and enough Sugar stories and hangovers to last a lifetime.

As a result, you might be left asking the question, what did I do with my first term?

But don’t panic, this happens to everybody. Feeling as if life at university has gone by so fast there’s nothing really to show or tell anyone if they ask you what you did that term. So, even if it’s your 1st year or in your final year there’s always time to try and branch out to experience new things in order to feel like you’re making the most out of your time at uni.

  1. Find Societies

Being at university is a perfect time to try experimenting with different interests, meeting new people and experiencing a variety of cultures. And this can all be done with societies. Freshers and Refreshers fair at the beginning of the first and second terms are a great way to see the wide-range of societies there are at university. But also, if that is completely overwhelming or if there’s no freshers fair on, you can have a look yourself, either through posters or adverts on Facebook. In fact, the society I’m now running, I found from a post on Facebook and just went along to the meetings from there. Joining societies is a perfect way to feel like you’ve got something out of the term, looking back on experiences and changes you made by being part of that community filled with like-minded individuals.

  1. Taking breaks from work!

Many people feel like they didn’t get the most out of their terms because they were focused so much on work. Now although this can be good and beneficial, there’s a chance that by being so focused, you miss out on the other key parts of university life. (And working non-stop potentially has the risk of burning yourself out). Therefore, life is all about balance, especially with work and relaxing. So, start to factor in breaks when you are doing work, so you don’t feel like you’re working constantly. Use those breaks as a time to branch out. Or even, use them to explore your surroundings. Many of us are new or don’t live in Lancaster so go out and explore more of the city and surroundings.

I hope this helps you to have a few ideas of where to make any changes if you feel you aren’t getting the most out of your term. Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone is a great skill to gain and practice while at university. Especially as taking breaks from work will give you a fresh perspective and crucial time to relax.

How to take feedback like a pro

by Sara (Student Blogger: BA Hons Linguistics)

It is sadly true that the jump from A-level to university is a considerable one but it is also true, thankfully, that you don’t have to be an Olympian to land successfully on the other side. In my opinion, some jumps from GCSE to A-level have been bigger than this, for example when studying languages, and at the end of the day if you’ve got this far you can go a little further am I right? Getting back your first essays can be daunting because you’ve been well informed of this increase in expectations but fear not for I have compiled some top tips for keeping calm as you walk down that dimly lit corridor to pick up an assignment.

  1. Put it in perspective. Obviously, you should always try your best but there is also no point stressing about a grade that is only a small fraction of the overall mark at the end of the year. If you must worry, worry in proportion. If you smashed a module you really enjoyed but didn’t do amazingly on one you hated, things will balance out. No one is amazing at everything and no one is interested by everything. Go easy on yourself; someone may have really struggled with an essay you succeeded with.
  2. Don’t throw it away. When you get an essay back with a whole page of feedback on the front, you may not realise it but you are more fortunate than others. Some departments aren’t great at giving feedback that is helpful enough or enough full stop. If your tutor has taken the time to look at your work and has done a thorough evaluation, you shouldn’t waste that effort. Have an allocated place for noting down the things you did well and the things you’ve been told to improve on. This will be incredibly useful when settling down to start your next essay if it requires similar skills to the first.
  3. Some things are an easy fix. If you receive several paragraphs of feedback and a lot of it is negative, think about how much time it would take to correct those mistakes. Marks can go down for obvious structural points like page numbers, labelling tables and charts and your headings being correctly numbered as well as forgetting the date for that reference that you were going to ‘just put in later’. We all know that when later actually comes, you’re sat in front of Netflix with a Pot Noodle, sending the essay off without a proper proof read, hoping it’ll be okay. Spend an extra five minutes at the end of your next essay with a checklist in hand, featuring those little things, and skim the essay checking one feature at a time on each read through. The marks are in the details.
  4. And finally, there’s more to life than assignments…. because you also have exams! Just kidding. Don’t let your academic work become the sole purpose of your existence. University is not just about the grades you get. A poor grade won’t seem quite so bad after a night in with a pot of chocolate fondue and good friends.

To conclude, in conclusion and overall, try your best but you’re at your best when grades, essays and deadlines are put into perspective. Always be looking to improve on the next assessment based on the feedback you’ve been given and the time you take acknowledging the feedback will be worth it.


5 ways to boost your productivity

by Catherine (Student Blogger: BSc Computer Science)

Energy drinks didn’t make the cut. We are well into second term and you may have found that motivating yourself to work is difficult. Don’t panic. This is normal. At University, we can often feel torn between studies, leisure, developing skills, and socialising. Here are my tips for boosting your productivity.

Go Exploring

Going for a walk may seem like a waste of time when you have things to do, but it can help you to recollect your thoughts and focus on the task.

If you live on campus, try walking to an area of campus you’ve never visited before, or around the field at the front of university. If you have the time, take a relaxing walk along the nature trail.

If you live in town, you could walk along the canal and try to spot the swans. Another possibility is to grab a coffee at the train station. Relaxing in an environment focused on schedules, surrounded by a rush of people, can offer motivation in a unique manner.

Use a Daily Planner

Buy a planner and write a list of tasks to complete each day.

Ticking off each task will feel like an achievement, and you won’t forget any important meetings or deadlines. You don’t need to plan each day down to the hour, and you can leave one day a week free to relax and catch up on any tasks you didn’t get the chance to complete.

Don’t Base Your Social Life on Alcohol

Whether you’re heading to the pub or on a night out, drinking alcohol can help you to relax after a stressful week. However, it can leave us with nasty hangovers, which will make getting any work done a problem. It is important to have a good balance of social activities, especially when you have many deadlines and can’t afford to take a morning off to recover.

You and your friends could take turns each night for a week to cook a meal for the group and vote for the best dish, or if you have different interests you could try out each other’s favourite hobby. If you have similar hobbies, you could try out a society together.

Research Careers

Some people may already know what career they would like to pursue, whereas others may not be so sure. Spend some time researching what you may like to do, and which path can take you there.

Are there graduate schemes available in your field? Would you like to work for a small company or a worldwide brand? Researching where you are going and how you will get there can help you to focus on your studies and hone in on the skills essential for what you want to do.

The Lancaster Award

The Lancaster Award rewards students who take part in extra-curricular activities. You will be developing career-focused skills, and reflecting on this process. It involves becoming more involved in University activities as well as possibly starting volunteer work or getting a part-time job. The Careers service also offer numerous skill workshops, which you can browse and book on TargetConnect.

The Lancaster Award can motivate you to seek new opportunities and use your free time effectively.

Futhermore, as with researching careers, looking towards your prospects and working towards your career goals can help you to feel more productive and strive for the best in all that you do.


Study on the go

by Sara (Student Blogger: BA Hons Linguistics)

It’s getting to that time in the term when some of us are planning to venture home to visit parents, nans, boyfriends and cats. You’ve been at university for 5 weeks and you’re starting to feel homesick or maybe you’re planning a trip to visit a friend for a weekend in a different city (I just hope it’s not York you’re betraying us with). If the idea of a couple of days away from studying worries you then have a look at these tips for making the most of your available study time even when you’re away from Lancaster.

  1. Trains and coaches – depending on your destination, you could be facing several hours on a train or coach. If the idea of that makes you groan, look at it instead as a golden opportunity to catch up on some reading or lectures. Requesting a seat in the quiet carriage of a train can mean you get hours of quiet study time and if you opt for a seat by a table and a charging socket, the possibilities are endless! You’ll come back from your trip feeling ahead instead of behind and you won’t feel guilty for spending some time away from the library (as lovely as it is).
  2. Snacks – study snacks in general are always a good idea. Take some little things with you on a long journey to keep you awake and focused if you’re planning on some hard-core uni work. Food and drinks on trains can be super expensive so opt for healthy and filling snacks from home. My personal favourites are dried mango and Eat Natural bars.
  3. Split up your time – it’s still important to take breaks. If you’re changing trains, allocate one train to things like listening to music or catching up on Stranger Things so that you don’t feel you have to keep working during every second of your weekend off.
  4. Audiobooks – if you are travelling via some mode of transportation that doesn’t allow you to lay all your colour-coded folders out, opt for listening instead of reading. There are some brilliant books out there that could help prop up your knowledge of what you’ve been working on in a more relaxing way. These usually belong to the pop-science genre, so they are aimed at a general audience and you won’t have to concentrate too hard. Hearing a difficult concept explained to a layman may help to clarify things you’re struggling with.
  5. If you are driving home and can’t make use of the journey, try to get ahead in the week before your trip so you aren’t stressed at the weekend.

Remember, life is about balance. You can keep on top of your work on the way to and from fun distractions even if the prospect doesn’t seem very appealing because you would rather just sleep on the train instead. If you’re on the 5:38 to London Euston, this is understandable, but trying to utilise this time can really help you out with regards to your state of mind, stress and enjoying your time away. Come Monday morning you won’t feel like you’re going off the rails. You’ll feel right on track.

Tips and Tricks for Essay Writing

by Ruth (Student Blogger: BA Hons History)

Writing essays are never easy. And unfortunately it’s not something you can just master overnight.

Writing essays takes time, practice and a lot of persistence. (Plus, caffeine administered in large dosages). Essays are a scary mix of references, structure and technique, which often changes from department to subject to lecturer.

In the first term, especially, essays can seem like this mystical skill only a few chosen ones seem to possess. It does take a while, as even in my second year I’m still figuring the whole treacherous path of essays out.

But my aim here is to break down some murky areas of essays writing that confused me when I first started.

  1. There is no such thing as starting too early.

Many problems start because of one simple thing. A lack of time. Although I’m aware I am repeating the advice given to me countless times through school and now uni. I now get it. The biggest favour you could do yourself and your essay is starting early. It gives you enough time to plan and figure out not just your essay but the paragraphs and its structure. Planning is key to giving all your different ideas a chance to formulate and specifically order them, so your essay doesn’t just become a stream of consciousness. Try a mind map or brain dump to get your first ideas flowing. Then move on to a more structured plan of what will be in your introduction, main body and conclusion. Starting early lets deadlines and sources not overwhelm you, in turn making your essay better.

2. Referencing

Now this word might not strike fear into you now, but give it a few months and referencing could become the bane of your life. BUT, it shouldn’t be. Getting over that fear of referencing and what it means when using source material in your essay is something that can be learned. Also, check with your department on what specific referencing system they use such as Harvard systems. After this, you can then move on to creating examples of how books, journals and sources need to be structured in the referencing list. Also as I’m writing an essay I have my list of references and then when I cite them in my writing I can refer to the information that I need to include, for example the surname and the year. It means you are reducing the mistakes you could make, as you know the first one is accurate.

3. Technique

Technique is often mostly found in structure. Getting the key structure in your paragraph is key. Look at the question, and answer it. Make your point, then provide the evidence, often through paraphrasing source ideas or including the occasional quote and offer some explanation or comments. It’s the classic point, evidence, explanation. However, I have to point out here that there are times when this doesn’t work, and there are many exceptions to this rule. But if you are really stuck at where to begin this a good basic structure to start with. You can then move on to make sure you are analysing the sources in a critical way, using it to support and push your point on further.

This blog post could go on a lot further exploring different essays structures and the key, crucial tips for each department. But that would be an endless post, especially as there are books written by experts tackling the specific issues. They can be found all over the library, so if you need more help head there, as well as your learning developers who are there to support you. Also, keep your eyes peeled for writing workshops that are aimed towards ironing out any problems you have with your essay!


Making notes [with style]

by Melissa (Student Blogger: MA English Literature)

Now, I am sure that any student practising university level study will be fully aware of the importance of approaching texts critically, and that memory is an imperfect accomplice when it comes to recording valuable thoughts, so for this post I have spoken to students about how they like to accessorize their reading with notes.


[pretty post-it notes, coloured biros, bookmarks, highlighter pens]

If you’re style-sensitive and looking to make an impact, you might want to use your motivation as an opportunity to colour co-ordinate your thoughts.

Pretty post-it notes will add colour to boring black-white pages, but also look neat, scholarly, and catch your attention when flicking for the correct page mid-seminar. Post-it notes will also prevent you from damaging your book if you plan to resell when your course is finished, or if you’ve been borrowing from the library.

If you’re not planning to resell/ return your book, you may want to invest in some coloured biros or highlighters. I use red, green, blue and black biros to help me categorize my thoughts. For example, black underline reminds me of impending doom, red reminds me of war and harm, blue is an emotional colour, and green is for nature and happiness. I’m a literature student, but students from any subject can adapt colour coding to their advantage; one colour for quotes you find interesting, and another for quotes you want to use in an upcoming essay.


[dog ears, biros, accompanying note book]

Perhaps you’re a student who is too busy for bits of paper and multi-coloured pens. The ‘student on the go’ can emulate the eye-grabbing quirks of post-it notes by folding the corners of pages to point to particular lines or passages, and scribble their thoughts on said corners or margins. Folding corners makes a clear indent in the book to remind you there is something interesting there, and is much quicker than post-its. The student on the go may want to carry around an accompanying note book in case their thoughts exceed the margins.


[digital notes, ctrl+F alternative to page numbers]

If you’re using digital texts such as kindles or online pdfs, you will have a slightly harder time annotating your texts directly unless you sink money into a printer. On the other hand, setting up a word document for making digital notes will make them harder to lose, and you’ll never worry about failing to read your own handwriting. For searching through digital texts, it is imperative that you locate the ‘find’ function on whatever device you’re using (‘ctrl+F’ for Windows PCs) so that you can find the context of any quotes you’ve recorded at a moment’s notice.


[single sided A4, working on condensing, highlighter pens]

If you’ve got exams coming up, you might want to adopt an alternative method of note making, such as writing your notes out on single sided paper with the intention of sticking them on your walls. If you struggle condensing your notes into a reasonable amount, highlighter pens are an essential tool for marking out what you need to focus on. Don’t forget the underline and highlighter tools on Microsoft Word if your typing your notes.


I use a variety of these methods to help streamline my own learning process, so don’t be afraid to try out new things to find what works best for you! If you’re not sure what exactly you should be making notes on, you might find what you’re looking for here –


Close reading

by Melissa (Student Blogger: MA English Literature)

Reading as a student, or as a scholar, is not necessarily as obvious a skill as we might first think. It certainly doesn’t mean reading lots of difficult texts, or peppering said texts with highlighters and post-it notes (though these are often involved in the process). Scholarly reading is about making sure that you are getting the most out of your learning.


Firstly, I’m going to look at how we read the text.

This often starts with creating an environment that is right for you. Different students will tackle this in different ways; I like to stay at home where I have quick access to a tea pot and kettle, however, some people will find the temptation to slack off a little too intensely when working alone. If this sounds like you, you may benefit from studying in the library. Working at the library has the benefits of providing you with a work friendly atmosphere as well as significant resources. If, like me, you worry about spending money on snacks while studying away from home, you may want to pack a banana or energy bar to keep you going.

Being able to concentrate on your work is fairly important if you want to connect with your text. One good way to check you have understood is to try to summarise what each paragraph has tried to communicate to you, and maybe make a note in the margins to remind you later.

Your tutor may have set you some focused questions. These questions are a good way of helping you to engage with the text, and it’s a technique you can apply to yourself. You can question a text based on its themes, or even your own expectations.

The next step is to see whether the text agrees with or challenges you. You don’t need to write a formal response, running these questions through your mind will be enough to form good habits.

One good question to ask yourself is where does this text exist in lieu of other discourses. This can be relating to texts on your course, the past decade, or just in relation to anything you have read that you think has relevance.

This exercise is all about considering the text as more than just a standalone thought, but as a response, and part of a greater whole in literature.

Another good question; how reliable is this text. What is the context of it, and how will this have affected the author? Could the author be biased, and how will this affect your ability to use this source? For example, when in need of a word definition, the Oxford English Dictionary is far more reliable than a quick Google search, but as a scholar, you should also be asking yourself what version of the OED you are using, and whether it is up to date.

Sticking to the topic of bias, you will also have your own biases. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, we all have them, but they are things we should be aware of. Keeping check of your own biases will help you to maintain an open mind when encountering a theory you are unfamiliar with, and help you to avoid forcing a theoretical perspective that may not lend itself to the text you are currently studying. This gives you the opportunity to consider other (potentially better) alternatives.


Understanding methodology, or knowing how to read as a student, will be extremely useful to your university studies. It is not something that comes easily and is unlikely to score you A’s immediately. What it will do, however, is help you employ good working habits to gradually achieve a stronger connection with your course than you might have otherwise.Good luck, and comment your own experiences below!