Never say never

By Li Xinying (Student Blogger: MSc Project Management)

It took a lot of courage to return to school after a few years of work. I used to worry that my work experience would make me feel unfamiliar with the learning methodology on campus. In the workplace, I made decisions based on experience and solved problems in accordance with procedure. In contrast, full-time learning focuses on theoretical knowledge. But, after four weeks of adaptation, I found that the support from the school covers all aspects. For example, in addition to professional studies, I can also participate in academic writing courses, academic reading courses, German learning courses, and career development guidance. Coming to Lancaster University for postgraduate study will be my most precious life experience.

It is also challenging to break away from the familiar pace of work and enter a state of high-intensity learning. Before coming to Lancaster, I worked in the business department of an auto parts company. My daily work was full of intensive business trips, meetings and project management. But, even after adapting to high-intensity work, I still feel uncomfortable with the same high-intensity learning pace. For example, I often feel anxious because of the large amount of reading material and my low efficiency in comparison. I still need to improve my language understanding and expression skills. It is also urgent to master the correct reading and writing methods. However, plenty of reading and analysis tasks have allowed me to think more deeply, and the combination of theory and practice has made me more focused. Stressful academic pressure also brings motivation for progress.

At the same time, I also feel that my choice is not restricted by age, nationality and profession. It’s never too late to start.

The school’s open teaching environment and high-level teaching facilities give me the greatest support.

But to be honest, there are still many difficulties in studying in a foreign country.

The first is the adaptation of food culture, such as changes in diet structure. So I choose to cook by myself when time permits. I usually buy raw materials from local supermarkets or Chinese supermarkets. It can both save money and improve my cooking skills.

The second is the language barrier. For example, I sometimes find it difficult to fully understand the content of the lecture. So I have adopted a combination of preview and review to improve the interaction with the professors in class. I usually preview in advance and mark out the parts that I am confused about. In class, I listen to the lecture carefully with all the questions I have prepared before, and treat the professor’s explanation as a defence. The preparation work enabled me not only to grasp the key points of the class as soon as possible, but also to make myself more calm in the field of unfamiliar knowledge.

At the same time, I have participated in the language improvement discussion organized by the learning development team to enrich my vocabulary and improve my listening and comprehension skills.

I am fully aware that there will be greater challenges in the future, but I believe that things are man-made. I hope we can exchange more experience and grow together in the future.

I’ve finished my 24-hour online exams. Here’s the tea…

By Sean (Student blogger: MSci Hons Computer Science)

I am done with my degree.

It feels surreal to say that, and I’m only able to because the Computer Science exams were held earlier than seemingly the rest of the university’s! Nevertheless, I’ve been there – sat for all 6 of my final, 3rd year Computer Science papers in a 24-hour, online, open-book exam format over the course of 3 weeks, and I’m here to tell you the things that stood out from my experience.

  1. The change of setting is your best friend.

You know that sinking anxiety you get when everyone’s huddling around the door to the exam hall, waiting to be let in? Those 2 tense minutes when the papers have been handed out but it isn’t 11:00AM sharp so everyone has to keep quiet and wait until they say you can flip over your sheets? That intense panic you get when they say “30 minutes left” and you’re still on question 2?

From my experience, these anxieties are all either greatly reduced or completely absent when taking an online exam. You might get the nerves during the buildup, but after the first 30 minutes you realize… you’re in the comfort of your own room (or the library, if that’s your thing). You know this place, unlike the cold, cruel exam hall. You don’t have 8 equally anxious people spaced 2 meters away from you in every direction, and you certainly don’t have hawk-eyed invigilators watching your every move.

To me, the fact that I didn’t feel like I was being forced to do everything a certain way gave me a great deal of privacy, and I was able to focus all that worrying energy into my actual paper. I could get a yummy snack or put on some music any time I wanted, so I felt very much in control. The amount of freedom, flexibility and confidence that gives you works wonders for your mental health and as a result, helps you when you’re answering those mind-boggling exam questions.


  1. You can pace yourself!

When I’m in a normal exam, I find I always have to save a portion of my brain cells for monitoring the clock. “Drat, it’s already 30 minutes, I have to move on to question 4, but I still have like 40% of question 3 to go… I guess I’ll have to skip a few points and come back to this later” … sound familiar?

Having my time limit be a whole day really made me realize how much stress a 3-hour window puts on your mind, and how well you can pace yourself when you don’t have that clock breathing down your neck. You have time to answer the questions to the best of your ability, and make sure that you get those points across clearly. Oh, you’re not in the mood for doing the exam right now? Take a walk and come back in an hour or two! It also helps eliminate situations where you might miss a question or two (speaking from personal experience…) because you have time to double-check your work. Having such a long time period was, to me, truly a godsend.


  1. Surprisingly, they feel more realistic

This last point is a bit unexpected, and honestly might not apply to every course (especially the more practical ones). However, I personally found that online exams feel more like what I would expect in a real-world setting over the carefully orchestrated and contained in-person written exams. In real life, you’re going to have access to your books, your computer and the internet. Recall questions don’t really take that into account and rely on you regurgitating information instead of understanding it. However, because these exams are open-book, and you have your resources ready, the questions are able to focus on your understanding of the material instead and provide a more helpful and realistic experience.

Honestly? I liked the online exams. Gasp, yes, but I felt these were a more effective way to evaluate students’ abilities than traditional exams. I’m glad I got to finish off my academic studies like this, because I don’t think there will come another opportunity like this one for a long while. Best of luck with your exams if you have any papers soon! They might still seem terrifying, but remember that at the end of the day, exams don’t and will never define who you are, so just go with the flow and give them your best shot.

Quentin Tarantino? Tentin Quarantino.

by Safiya (Student blogger:BA English Literature)

One of the first puns to rise up as the world went into lockdown was of course immaculate wordplay on the name of the Oscar-winning director. While the façade of the internet and its many musings provide momentary laughter and escape for many people during difficult times, this time, it’s a little different. The whole world is breathing synchronously (albeit safely via masks, I hope) and for many of us, we really are in the same boat. This unprecedented time has brought about much confusion regarding our future, many anxieties regarding the present and great nostalgia regarding the past. But in which ways we can most productively use this time?


With events unfolding day by day, it is important to remain informed with trustworthy and reliable sources. Don’t overdo it, and steer clear of sensationalising tabloids and social media posts.


As bewildering and unreal as it may seem, we are living through a monumental period in history. Journaling about our lives during self-isolation, quarantine, lockdown, and taking note of the current world events will not only provide incredible evidence of our inner worlds for future generations, but diaries and correspondences are one of the best evidences, especially during times like this. Writing as a form of self-expression is also widely acknowledged to be deeply therapeutic.


Time is of the essence, and it is at our disposal. It couldn’t be a better time to try something new or engage in a longstanding interest. If academically engaging material is your forte, Harvard University (among others) are offering dozens of free online courses for people to engage with at their own pace that can also be verified with certificates. Learning a new language couldn’t be easier with apps such as Babbel and Rosetta Stone, and instead of spiralling on a random YouTube binge, why not engage with videos that can brush up your culinary skills?


If it’s a book that you’ve always been meaning to read, a hobby that you’ve lost engagement with over the years, or a subject that you’ve always wanted to be an expert in, now’s your time to finally engage at full power.


The idle mind is the devil’s workshop, and as many of us will have submitted our final assignments and exams, our time will be free of any academic work for the rest of summer. However, this unoccupied time may result in feeling anxious about past engagements. As important as it is to forgive others, it’s essentially as important to forgive yourself. Let it go. Move on. Never think about it again. Acknowledging how you feel is important and writing down what happened and how you feel about it, then ripping it up and throwing it away can actually work. Ed Sheeran has been known to do it, and if this method works for one of the most successful artists of all time, it can surely work for anyone.


For those at home, this may be the first time in many years that every member of your family is under the same roof, and it’s a blessing to be able to reconnect with everyone. For those away from home, stay in touch with family and friends on a regular basis, and know that you are not alone!

Everyone will be missing many aspects of their usual day-to-day lives. Friends. Football. Trains. Cinemas. Cafes. The list goes on, but so does our lives. ‘The world has slowed so you can rediscover yourself.’ Take it easy, and make good use of this time!


Failure is cool…

by Kofi (Student Blogger: BA Law (Lancaster University Ghana) 

The general perception of failure is negative. Why not? We are accustomed to attaching a negative connotation to it and it’s just not glamorous. When we think failure, we think of shame and humiliation. What will my friends think of me? Will anyone spot or make me out in the re-sit examination hall? These thoughts rush through our minds and leave us feeling low with defeat and hopelessness. I know this because I’ve faced it too and from time to time still experience it. Hey, I never said I was perfect.

We tend to focus more on the negative aspect of failure than the positive – but it doesn’t have to be that way! That’s why I thought I’d share my approach on how to deal with failure in school, be it coursework submission or an examination paper:

Breathe. The first step is to breathe. It’s not the end of the world, relax. Don’t beat yourself up. Take your mind off it by doing something that makes you happy and sane. My go-to in this case is my music. I have a playlist for every occasion and at this time my ‘YOU CAN DO IT’ playlist comes in handy. I listen to my music and it empowers and assures me that I’m more than a failure and sometimes you just have to lose to win again. This is not you trying to forget the failure but rather just a temporary escape to ease your mind. Again, as Jay Z puts it: ‘You learn more in failure than you ever do in success’.

Inquire and note what went wrong. Lecturers are not there to fail us purposely and the belief that they delight in dishing out F grades is inaccurate. However, if the quality of work submitted is not up to standard, they will have to give you what you deserve, which is better than they misleading you with a good grade. Once you talk to the lecturer about it and understand why you got a bad grade, you’ll never repeat the same mistakes again because you understand now. This is often the most difficult part of the post-failure process, because it requires you to look your failure in the face and note your mistakes.

Learn from the experience. Every experience is a learning curve whether pleasant or not. Reflection after failing is vital. Ask yourself critical questions like: Why did I fail? What went wrong? Did I start revising too late? Did I really understand what was taught in class? Answering these questions gives you insight to the way forward for you. Reflecting on the experience gives you the ins and outs of the situation. It also helps you take steps to avoid making the same mistakes. For instance, in the case of it being a bad grade in an examination, you just have to step up and change the prepping routine you used before; for example, you can start preparing for exams 6 weeks prior to it.

Above is how I normally deal with failure. The more I encounter failure, the more I learn, grow and improve. This doesn’t mean we should plan and settle for failure. Basically, all I’m trying to say is when you invest time and effort into assignments and the grade that follows is unexpected, it should be a learning experience. ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’!


Failure is NOT the end of the world

by Melissa (Student Blogger: MA English Literature)

Understanding One Another

Everyone constitutes failure differently. For one person, failure could be sleeping through an exam. For another, it could be missing their expected grade by a half a mark. We all recognise what failure means for ourselves, but it can be hard to stay focused on what matters to us as individuals, especially when working near others in an academically competitive environment.

If you are the type of person for whom missing your expected grade is a sign of an impending apocalypse, you might struggle to understand why your flatmate is shrugging off their own disappointment with a night on the town. Vice versa, if you are the optimistic type who is confident that you can right these wrongs in the next assessment (so why panic about missing the mark now, you got this!), you might be getting a little frustrated with your flatmate down the hall who is sobbing over their ‘Not-An-A’.

This post is about coming to understand how others define failure, and what we can do to help each other overcome our frustrations.

Firstly, we need to accept the past. It happened. You messed up and it hurts to think about it, we have all been there. But what happens next? We can take one of two options here, option one is to bury our memories of the experience and never think about it again. Option two (the preferred option) is to swallow the embarrassment and take a good hard look at what went wrong and revise those issues for next time, thus improving our chances at future success.

Sometimes, it might have been a case of ‘why’ did this go wrong rather than ‘what’. Everyone has bad days and distracting emotions can sneakily turn our hard work against us. I personally struggle with maintaining the correct levels of criticism towards my work if I am experiencing a bad day or week; It can be hard to quantify the importance of perfect academic formatting if I know my family are having problems back home. Our personal lives may occasionally obstruct the path to success and that is understandable, but it is not acceptable to account every failure to the goings on in the world around you. You have direct input in your work and it is important to work hard to minimise the effects of the unexpected (such as personal or family illness) affecting your studies. This includes being aware of the opportunities you have to seek help when lightning does strike, such as extensions on essays and counselling, and knowing when to use these tools.

My Story

It can be hard to get back up again following a bout of failure, trust me, I know. It has been no less than five years since I took my first (and only) driving test which I failed irreparably. Irrelevant of the expected shame that holds hands with any failure, the test turned into a rather harrowing experience when my examiner decided to turn part of his reasoning as to why he had failed me as explained by my ‘lack of wanting to drive’, amongst other comments, which was ridiculous. I wanted to succeed in my driving test so I could take a break from my lessons which had been going for a year. I would not have sunk my savings into all those lessons hand I not wanted to succeed in my test. I would not have aced my theory if I didn’t want to drive.

My examiner took my test as an opportunity to belittle someone who needed his approval, to make a personal attack on my feelings and aspirations as opposed to staying professional and factual in his position. Honestly? I have always had a fear of driving (or being driven) down hills following a recurring nightmare from when I was little. My attempt to learn to master that fear and take so many lessons had been difficult, but positive. I entered that car feeling determined, a year of practise behind me.

I left it knock-kneed and shaking, some older man sat in the passenger seat smirking.

And we have all had an experience such as this one, an experience which goes above and beyond your average failing. One which was originally a couple of mistakes you understand and can rectify (check wing mirrors more often, drive slower) turned personal nightmare. And no, this is not a case of sore loser syndrome. I’ve cried over Cs, swallowed those tears, moved on, got help and improved. Social tactics gone wrong when I’ve said the wrong thing and offended someone, it happens, we get over it together. I dropped a whole roast dinner on the floor last year and I am glad to say that my fiancé didn’t take the opportunity to tell me, ‘I don’t think you even wanted to eat roast dinner in the first place.’

I don’t appreciate when someone misuses their power to make themselves feel strong at the expense of others, it is unprofessional, childish, and only serves to hurt people, as opposed to giving them the best chance to improve.I haven’t driven since, and I see this itself as a failure because I have allowed that one experience to get the better of me. I am taking actions to rectify it this summer by taking new lessons, but I’ll always struggle to forgive those examiners who take their students failing personally and angrily, as it not conducive to our progression as a society.

Stay strong!

We can help each other to overcome failure by being supportive during times of hardship. This can be as little as offering to make your flatmate a brew if they’re working hard, or listening to their troubles if you know they are struggling. If you are in the same course, it can be useful to compare your work post-grading so you can learn not only from your own academic failures, but those of others too. By sharing our stories we can improve together.


Making the transition to university

by Hannah (Student Blogger: BSc Biological Sciences)

When you first arrive at University you’ll probably be bombarded by statements from older students like, “oh I wish I was still in first year” and “ah first year’s the best year at uni”, and it is, in so many ways. That doesn’t mean that second and third, or even fourth, if you’re staying longer, aren’t great. Going into my third year now feels both incredibly daunting as well as comforting and somewhat exciting. Although first year is the best year socially and in terms of your new surroundings, it can also be notoriously difficult if you have feelings of anxiety.

It’s completely natural to feel anxious about starting university and even to feel anxious whilst you’re here. There’s a variety of changes to go through and a lot of pressures you may never even have dealt with before. Finding the perfect balance when you’re thrust into this adult world whilst still feeling like a teenager can be very difficult. Only now going into my final year do I personally feel like I’ve settled into Lancaster and know how to tackle the challenges of the coming year. Truthfully, everyone is different – you may seamlessly transition into life here, or you may find it difficult to adjust to your new-found surroundings.

There’s one thing for certain though, there’s always help available. Looking back, I wish that someone had convinced me to get help sooner rather than later. Whether it’s confidentially talking to a freshers rep, your academic advisor or a counsellor at the Base, talking to someone can always brighten things up. It’s a challenge opening up about certain things, I know, but thankfully you’ll realise that you won’t be going through this alone. Part of the journey of going to university is discovering how you work and what’s best for you. It’s been a hard two years, but I can firmly say that I’ve finally cracked it, academically and socially. Sometimes it really does feel like a rollercoaster of emotions, but the satisfaction of pulling through the other end is great.

From finding ‘friends for life’ to getting that top degree, or even just managing to do your laundry and cook for yourself, there can be a lot of high expectations built on coming to university. My best advice to you would be to not have any when you first come here. Lancaster is a truly fantastic place, but with any university experience, it’s easy to feel the pressure. Take each day as it comes, and don’t get hung up on finding any of the things you thought you would. Lancaster is built on a fantastically eclectic group of people, from a variety of different backgrounds, interested in a multitude of activities. As cliché as it sounds, being yourself really is the best way to be. You’ll find a group of people just like you, who make you happy and have the same interests, helping to make your transition here as smooth as possible.

As soon as you can, head down to the freshers fair and sign up to as many things as possible. Even if you don’t join them officially, attend the taster sessions and meet new people. Get out there as much as you can. Remember to take some time for yourself and to not let everything pile up on top of you at once – you don’t want to feel like you’re drowning. Your Lancaster experience will be what you make it; don’t waste it.


Overcoming challenge

by Shentao (Student Blogger: BA English Language and Linguistics)

Last term I was nearly overwhelmed by my ‘mountainous’ academic workload. Anxiety was haunting me so much that I finally turned to our university’s mental health service and NHS health centre both at campus and in town. I also talked to teaching staff in my department. Thanks to the consultation and teaching staff’s efforts to comfort me, I started to calm down. I redesigned my learning strategies, went to the gym more frequently than before to release academic stress by building my body and I also joined a mock business negotiation society to make friends with my peers.

Redesigning learning strategies

I believe for most international students in the UK, the priority is that they have to adjust themselves to the English speaking environment with which they might possibly lack familiarity. Particularly, as a student in the Department of English Language and Linguistics, it is a necessity for me to master the language skills in academic communication (e.g. consultation with the teaching staff) and production (e.g. essay writing) given that I have to use a second language to carry out these tasks whose requirements on language skills are significantly higher than those of daily lives.

The onset of my learning experiences here has witnessed multiple problems related to the English language skills. For example, there are some sentences in my essay that do not look very ‘natural’ from the perspective of a native speaker of English, which was pointed out by one of my tutors in Year One. My old habit of referring to English dictionaries when I compose English articles has been meaningful in many occasions but it is not the ultimate solution because English (even academic English) is a ‘live’ language that has always been undergoing changes. It is not a bunch of words hidden in those huge heavy volumes. That is, the English language is always ahead of the dictionaries. Therefore, in order to master the most practical language that is employed in academics by native speakers of English, I contacted the native speakers of English around me and asked them for help when proof reading. They pointed out some sentences and/or phrases whose wording looked ‘unnatural’ or even ungrammatical to them and gave suggestions on how to improve or correct them. Modification would be added by me if, after consulting more professional people such as the teaching staff, I was confirmed that mistakes arose in those parts.

Doing more exercise

The benefits of doing physical exercises go beyond keeping myself physically healthy. It is also a great way to release one from academic pressure. As a member of the university sports centre I go to the gym as a matter of routine. I received professional training of badminton and used to play for the school badminton team when I was in China. Here in Lancaster University I prefer to run on the treadmill because I can start it anytime I want without inviting a partner. If my memory serves me correctly, I have run over a hundred kilometres on the treadmill since I gained the membership of the sports centre here. From my sporting experiences I can say that the speeding blood flow and modification of inspiration and expiration greatly relax both my body and mind. Besides, after doing such exercises I can have a nice sleep which is really an asset to academic tasks.

Joining a society

I chose to step out of my comfort zone and I decided to learn how to communicate with people in a more efficient way. To do this I joined a model business negotiation society in which communication skills do matter. In the society I made friends and learned how to express my feelings and ideas while absorbing others’. This has proven to be a great start for me to interact with others in order to exchange information. For now, my marks on coursework have been significantly improved and I am much more open to interact with people all around the world not only to learn from them but also present myself to them.

With all these efforts my anxiety was fading away and my brain started to function more efficiently than before. Ultimately, I successfully finished all the academic tasks of the last term.


A helping hand

by Catherine (Student Blogger: BSc Hons Computer Science)

I suffer from anxiety which means I worry about most parts of everyday life, from taking a bus to going to the shops; the example I frequently use is that anxiety is when you’re more nervous about travelling to an exam and being in a crowded room than the actual content of the exam, to the point where you feel knots in your stomach and may suffer a panic attack.


During my first year, I was studying a module which had workshops, which are essentially classroom environments structured around working through example questions provided by lecturers. These workshops were based on each week’s lecture material, with the lecturer or teaching assistant running the workshop providing appropriate answers at the end of the class. Despite the workshops being held at 1pm on a Friday just a 2-minute walk from my accommodation, I often felt too anxious to attend; this led to me working through the questions alone from home.


Overall this method was beneficial to me as it provided me the resources to study in a structured manner. I attended all my lectures and studied in my spare time so felt relatively confident however, as the answers to workshop questions were not posted to Moodle, I had no way to ensure I was understanding lecture content. My friends did not attend the workshops either, meaning I had no way of accessing the answers.


I decided to email my lecturer describing my situation, explaining honestly why I do not attend their workshops; they arranged a time for me to meet with them. When I arrived, I was nervous, as I felt awkward and embarrassed that I had to admit how poor my attendance was, however my lecturer was very understanding and supportive. She had prepared some materials for me to outline the answers that were provided in the workshops as well as some other important information to remember around the question topics. She also discussed my anxiety with me and reassured me that if I ever need to talk about anything or I need any additional help with the module to let her know. I thanked her for her help, and left feeling as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.


I spent the rest of the day reading through the materials she had offered me, comparing my answers to hers. This allowed me to not only review the content of my answers and highlight differences, but to also reflect on my sentence structure and writing style. I began to take more pleasure in the module and gained a much clearer understanding. This was represented in my end of year grades, as I finished the Module with 71.9%, which equates to a first.


I am glad that when I needed help I contacted my lecturer as I had a very positive experience. Even if you only need the answer to a couple of simple questions, I suggest meeting your lecturer rather than simply asking in an email, as they are likely to offer in-depth solutions which will solidify your understanding, and building good rapport is important.


It is also important to attend lectures and other classes wherever you can, catching up on any missed work in your spare time. Lecturers can offer support and clarification to those who need it, but you need to have spent time trying to understand the material beforehand. It is also best to contact your college’s welfare team if you need support outside of your course.