Sharika Alam

Sharika Alam
2nd Year, BA English
I am a second year English Literature student at Queen Mary University of London. I enjoy studying postcolonial literature and medieval English literature. I am an ambassador for the School of English and Drama. I am also a Student Ambassador for the Widening Participation Department.

Summer Schools

Recently, I had the pleasure of working at the Experience University Week: Creating a Language summer school at Queen Mary. The absolutely brilliant David Adger and Coppe Van Urk from the Department of Linguistics invited a group of Year 10 students to learn all about the ‘science of language’. They learned about syntax (word order in a sentence, and its agreement), phonology (study of syllables), and phonetics (how speech sounds) – to name just a few things. They also got to study the construction of invented languages, such as Dothraki from Game of Thrones, Elvish from The Lord of the Rings, and had the very exciting opportunity to meet Francis Nolan – the maker of Parseltongue from Harry Potter! The aim of this week was for the students to create their own language and then write poems, spells or chants in it. It was a lot of fun for me to work at this summer school because, as you know, I study English Literature, and therefore know very few things about Linguistics, so like the Year 10 students, I also got to learn something new!

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The languages that the students created

The languages that the students created

I really hope all of you are entertaining the idea of pursuing further education, and I think summer schools are a great way to get a taste of university life. Most universities in the UK hold summer schools for secondary school students, and I would encourage you all to apply to them. When I was in Year 10 (not that long ago, I promise!), I went to a residential summer school at Durham University to study English. I got to experience what it was like to study at university level, to be away from home, met wonderful people from all over the country (just like you do at university) and the students and lecturers at Durham gave me valuable insight and great advice about academia and university life. It was also where I knew for certain that I wanted my degree to be in English Literature. In addition, going to summer schools are not only a great way of finding out about what you want out of university, but also it helps you figure out what isn’t your cup of tea.

If you haven’t thought about applying to summer schools already, I hope all the exciting events at the Linguistic Department’s summer school is tempting you. To find out more about the summer schools organised by Queen Mary, please visit this webpage: www.qmul.ac.uk/wp 

My fellow student ambassador and I translated a Haiku poem from English to the language we created

My fellow student ambassador and I translated a Haiku poem from English to the language we created

A Day in the life of an English Student

This week I thought I would blog about what I get up to on a typical day so you could gain an insight into the everyday life of an English student. My schedule varies day-to-day: my Tuesdays are hectic as I have two lectures, each of which are followed by a seminar. However, on Mondays and Thursdays, I only have one lectures and a seminar. I have eight contact-hours per week. This means I have four lectures and four seminars per week. This may not sound like a lot, but the nature of an English degree means that I have to spend a lot of time preparing for these lectures and seminars: doing the set reading, researching historical and political contexts, and exploring the critical framework of the texts. I also have to do assignments throughout the year for each of my modules, so I have to plan and write essays nearly every week. On top of this, I have to balance part-time work and other social commitments. So here is a summary of what I got up to last Tuesday:

6:30 -8:00 am:   I am afraid I am one of those incredibly annoying morning people! I woke up, had a shower, got ready for the day. Then I had breakfast as I caught up with the news. As a Humanities student, it’s always important to be up-to-date with current affairs – you may never know when you will need a topical reference!

8:00-11:00 am:  I read Oroonoko by Aphra Benn for Renaissance Literary Culture – my favourite module!

Oroonoko by Aphra Behn

Oroonoko by Aphra Behn

11:15-12:00 am: It takes me approximately 20 minutes on the tube to get to Mile End from my house. But I have to walk to the station from my house and then walk from the station at Mile End to my lecture theatre, so it actually ends up being a 45-minutes journey altogether.

12:00-1:00 pm: I had my lecture for Renaissance Literary Culture.

1:00-2:00 pm: My lecture was followed by a seminar

2:00-3:00 pm: Lunch!

3:00-4:00 pm: Romantics and Revolutionaries Lecture.

4:00-5:00 pm: Romantics and Revolutionaries Seminar

5:00-6:00 pm: A very quick catch up with my friends, Kendra and Xenia

6:00-7:00 pm: I met with my Romantics group to discuss our presentation. We brainstormed some ideas, and allocated tasks, and topics for each of us to research.

7:00-7:45 pm: Journey home

8:00- 8:30 pm: I had dinner and watched a bit of Made in Chelsea (I know it’s reality TV, but it was a very long day!)

8:30 – 11:30 pm: I started on my Postcolonial and Global Literatures reading.

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Incredible book. I would definitely recommend it!

11:30 – Bed time.

This is my typical Tuesday but some days are much more relaxed. But I just used Tuesday so you think I am super productive, and also to give you an insight into my most busy day!

 

Mile End Campus

 

This is ArtsOne. This is the home of the School of English and Drama. We are located all the way up in the third floor! It’s where my persona adviser, lecturers and tutors have their offices.

This is ArtsOne. This is the home of the School of English and Drama. We are located all the way up in the third floor! It’s where my personal adviser, lecturers and tutors have their offices.

As I have mentioned before in this blog, Queen Mary is a campus-based university. This means the teaching facilities and the student accommodation are very close to each other. Queen Mary has 5 campuses: Whitechapel, Charter House square, West Smithfield, Lincoln Inn Fields & Mile End. I am based on the Mile End campus. This week, I thought I would write all about the places on campus where I spend a lot of my time.

 

 This is Ground. It’s a café that’s run by our Student Union. It’s a great place to grab a coffee and hang out with friends between or after lectures. I would really recommend their Mediterranean veggie wrap!


This is Ground. It’s a café that’s run by our Student Union. It’s a great place to grab a coffee and hang out with friends between or after lectures. I would really recommend their Mediterranean veggie wrap!

 

library-square

Here is the Library Square, and you guessed it… it’s where the Library is. The Library Square is used for events, stalls, and socialising. It’s always busy and with lots of people milling around. The sculpture that you can see in the picture is called ‘knowledge’. The sphere is the globe, and the arms represent the open-handed sharing and communication of experience and knowledge. Behind the statue is the Bancroft Building. This is where I have most of my seminars.

This is People’s Palace. I have my Arthurian Literature and my Postcolonial and Global Literatures lectures here. The original People’s Palace was opened in 1887 by Queen Victoria. It provided a library, reading rooms, a swimming pool and winter gardens for the local people of East London.

This is People’s Palace. I have my Arthurian Literature and my Postcolonial and Global Literatures lectures here. The original People’s Palace was opened in 1887 by Queen Victoria. It provided a library, reading rooms, a swimming pool and winter gardens for the local people of East London

 

The Regent’s Canal is right next to our campus. It passes through Mile End, Bethnal Green, all the way to Camden, right through the middle of London Zoo. The area surrounding the canal is beautiful, especially during the summer. On the left hand side, you can see some of our student accommodation. I have shown you a few places in Mile End Campus, but there are so much more to see!! I would strongly encourage you to come and visit us and have a look for yourself. We run campus tours throughout the year. You can book your tour via this link: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/undergraduate/openday/cant-make-it/campustours/index.html 

 

 

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Lectures? Seminars?

Hello everyone! Hope you all have had a brilliant start to the new year. The new term has begun on a positive note, and I feel rested and rejuvenated after the Christmas break. It feels very surreal that I am already at my second term in my second year at university – how time flies!!

It’s been fun getting back into the swing of things: catching up with friends, and going to my lectures and seminars.  I have realised that I have talked about attending lectures and seminars in this blog before, but I have never gone into full details. So today, I thought we would discuss the teaching format at university.

The teaching style at university is very different from school and college. For a lot of degrees, the teaching format consists of a combination of lectures and seminars. For some degrees, there is also the additional lab hours and field work.

Modules

A module is a topic you will cover for either one or two terms. For both this terms and last term, I have been studying Arthurian Literature, which explores the representation of King Arthur and his knights throughout the ages; Postcolonial Literature; Romanticism, including poets such as Wordsworth and Keats; and Renaissance literature.

Lectures

A lecture is a like a presentation where your professor or your lecturer talks about a certain topic. For example, last year during my Shakespeare module, one lecture was about a particular interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s plays. A lecture takes place in a lecture theatre where you sit in seats like in a cinema. There could be up to 200 students in one lecture. Usually, in lectures, only the lecturer talks and you sit quietly and listen to them, and make notes (although this is not always the case). Sometimes, lectures are interactive with lots of Q&As. My lectures last for one hour and they are then followed by a seminar.

Example of my notes from Postcolonial Literatures

Example of my notes from Postcolonial Literatures

Seminars

A seminar is when the students from the lecture are split into smaller groups, and these groups go to seminar rooms to discuss what has been learnt from the lecture. Like my lectures, my seminar lasts an hour. Seminar rooms are very much like classrooms in school, but the number of students is smaller. However, seminars have a different structure to school lessons. In school, the teacher decides on what you learn. In seminars, it is very much about what you want to discuss, what you found interesting, what you agreed with or disagreed with in the lecture. Seminars are great because you get to find out a lot of different opinions on the same topic, which generates fascinating conversations. Sometimes, your peers can really challenge the way you think, and help you adapt your views and consider arguments from a different perspective – this is essentially what university is all about.

A typical seminar room

A typical seminar room

How to get the most out of your lectures and seminars

Preparation is key. Each week, in each of my four modules, I have a list of texts that I have to read. The lectures are based on these texts. It is vital that you do the reading because otherwise you will have no idea about what the lecturer is talking about. I like making notes as I do my reading, marking areas that I don’t understand, so I can bring them to my seminars, and discuss it further with my peers and my lecturer.

In your seminars, take part in all the discussions. Don’t be afraid to get things wrong – there would be no point in coming to university if you already knew all the answers! Sometimes, you will agree with other people in your seminar, and sometimes you will have a completely different stance to everyone else. And that’s ok because it’s the differences in opinions that generate the most interesting debates, and you never know, you might change someone else’s mind or they can end up changing the way you think.

I think it’s beneficial to regularly review the notes that you have made during your lectures and your seminars to consolidate what you have learnt. Moreover, I think it is crucial that you follow up on any ideas that you found interesting in your lecture or from your discussions in seminars. Be curious and proactive. If there is something that stimulates you academically, do further research; read an article about it, watch a documentary, listen to a podcast or hit the library to see what other academics think about your topic of interest.

I hope you found this useful, and if you have any further questions about the teaching format of your degree, go to university open days and speak to members of staff and students about it. Alternatively, most universities should provide details about their teaching formats on their websites.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

It’s Christmaaaaaaaaaaaaas! Judging by the excessive ‘a’s, I think you can tell I am a tiny bit excited.  I just love Christmas: spending time with family and friends, the presents, the decorations, and even the sickly sweet festive coffees that make you want to vomit after the third sip but you drink it anyway because, hey ho, it’s Christmas! I especially like how the streets of London have a happy and cheerful glow, it gets you in the Christmas mood.

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Oxford Street Christmas lights

Last few weeks have been extremely busy with deadlines and assignments, and so I am really looking forward to the holidays. Having said that, I still have to do three essays over Christmas! But I think it will be OK, because I plan on balancing my work with fun, festive activities. I have put together a list of things that I want to do. I thought I would share them with you so that, if you are in London, you can also check them out.

1)      Christmas Markets

There are so many of them around, and they all sound fabulous. I am finding it very hard to decide which ones to go to. The Christmas market at Tate Modern has wooden chalet-style stalls that sells all sorts of wonderful festive items. There is the Christmas market in Leicester Square, which also has a grotto, and Christmas shows. The Camden Christmas market, however, seems to be the most interesting and quirky. They have a different Christmas theme every week. For instance, ‘Stocking Fillers for kids and pets’ and ‘Deck the walls for art and design lovers’. There is live music, and a selfie tree!

2)      Christmas at Kew

This sounds absolutely amazing! Kew Gardens has a Christmas trail with over 60,000 lights! I can’t even begin to imagine how beautiful that would look. For more details, check out their website: http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/whats-on/christmas-at-kew-2016

3)      Ice Skating

I am awful at ice skating, and more often than not, I fall over but it’s still a lot of fun. I think one of the best places to skate is at the ice rink at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.      

4)      Christmas Carols

This year Trafalgar Square is hosting over 40 singing groups who will sing Christmas Carols near the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square. I think this would be a really fun thing to do with your family and friends: https://www.london.gov.uk/about-us/our-building-and-squares/christmas-trafalgar-square

Our Christmas Tree at the Student Union

Our Christmas Tree at the Student Union

I am really looking forward to visiting all these places on my list. I don’t know if I will be able to go to all of them but I will try my very best! I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a fabulous start to 2017. Till next year!

To move out, or not move out, that is the question

One question that I get asked frequently by prospective students is: ‘will I miss out on the “university experience” if I don’t live on campus?’ The short answer is, no. I decided against moving out for university, and I don’t feel like I have missed out at all.  I think your experience of university is what you make of it, and you will not miss out on anything if you choose to get involved generally in campus life.

For students who are from outside London and its suburbs, commuting to university every day will be quite a challenge to say the least!  For this reason, it makes sense to move to campus accommodations. Approximately, 2000 students live in Queen Mary’s Mile End campus, most of whom are first years. The majority of students decide to live in the on-site accommodations in their first year, and then move into private accommodations for the remaining duration of their course. Nevertheless, if like me, you live very close to the university, the decision to move out or to stay at home is a bit tricky.

On one hand, I too wanted the whole “university experience” (when I started university, I had no idea what that meant). I wanted to move away from home and be independent. But on the other hand, I had to consider what is a sensible financial decision. In the end, I chose not to move out, because I live only 25 minutes away from campus, and to me, it felt silly to pay rent just to be a bit closer to the university hub. As it stands, my travel cost each month is significantly lower than what my friends pay in rent per week.

There are both positive and negative sides to moving out and to living at home. For instance, if you decide to move out, I think you become more independent and less reliant on your parents or guardians. Also, if you live on campus, the proximity to university is a massive bonus. You can get up 10 minutes before lectures and can still make it in! Moreover, if you get on really well with your flatmates, then they become your friends and who doesn’t want to live with their friends? On the other hand, you will be living with 3 other or 8 other people, and that can be challenging sometimes. When you are constantly in the company of the same group of people, you can get on each other’s nerves, even if you are friends. I asked my friends who lived on campus last year about their thoughts on the worst aspects of living on campus, and they all agreed that it can be very difficult to get some peace and quiet because people tend to be very loud. Plus, they complained that their flat, especially the kitchen, was always very messy.

 I love spending time with my friends but I also like my own space, and so for me living at home makes sense. I get to see my friends whenever – this is especially easy now because of the night tubes – but at the same time I don’t get homesick because I get to see my family every day as well.  The most annoying thing about living at home is the commuting. Even though my journey is very short, taking the central line during rush hour can be a total nightmare!

If your home is outside London, Queen Mary prioritises your accommodation application above those who live within the closer London zones. Therefore, I probably would not have got on-site accommodation, even if I wanted to move out. Nonetheless, there are a number of universities that do not prioritise students whose home postcode is close by for providing university accommodation. If moving out is an absolute must for you, then I would recommend researching and finding out more about them. Moreover, sometimes finding the right course might mean moving out of London. If, like me, you are a Londoner through and through, this might seem like a scary prospect, but there are many positives to going to university outside London. For instance, the cost of living is significantly lower! Also, I think there is a stronger sense of community because the population is smaller. I imagine, you would feel less isolated because everyone you live with has moved away, and so you are  all in the same boat.

You have to weigh the pros and the cons against each other and decide what works best for you.  If you do decide to live at home, don’t feel like you are the only one. Lots of people at QM and other London universities decide to live at home during their studies. I believe that if you are committed to being fully involved in the student community, you can stay at home and still have a great university experience.

Part-time Work

Like a lot of university students, I work part-time. Not only is it great to have a bit of extra spending money on top of my maintenance loan, I think working part time is a really good way to gain professional experience. Also, since I started working, I believe I got better with organising my time. I have to fit work around my studies, and the only way to do this is to manage my time efficiently. Time management is a key skill and I believe it will come in handy in the future, after university.

Nevertheless, always remember: your degree comes first. I would recommend that you find work that’s quite flexible so your education is not compromised in any way. Whatever you do, don’t overcommit at work because then you wouldn’t have enough time for studying and assignments, and might feel overwhelmed. You need to look after yourself first and foremost. You may want to work less during term time and work more during the holidays. This summer I made the monumental mistake of not working. I told myself: ‘I have finished my first year at university so I deserve a break’. I was bored after a week. By the time this realisation hit me, all jobs were gone. I think the best thing to do is apply as early and as widely as possible.

My friend, Dina and I at Campus Tour Training. We run Campus Tours so prospective students can get a better idea about what a university campus looks like.

My friend, Dina and I at Campus Tour Training. We run Campus Tours so prospective students can get a better idea about what a university campus looks like.

I have to admit, I have heard some horror stories from my friends about horrible bosses and rude customers, but fortunately for me, I have never experienced such distressing things. I have had admin jobs before – I am not going to bore you by writing about the exciting world of photocopying! My favourite jobs, by far, are my current roles as an Ambassador for the School of English and Drama (SED), and a Widening Participation Student Ambassador. I have gained a lot of transferable skills from being an Ambassador. It has increased my confidence, improved my communications skills and helped to make me a better team player. I have talked about my job as a SED Ambassador before in this blog, so I will tell you a bit more about Widening Participation.

My fellow Student Ambassadors - Dina and Hanya

My fellow Student Ambassadors – Dina and Hanya

Most, in fact I think it is all, universities in the UK have a Widening Participation Department. Statistically, if you: are someone whose parents did not attend Higher Education; are eligible for free school meals; have parents who are from non-professional occupations; have a disability; are a young carer; are estranged from your family, or have lived, or are currently living, in local authority care, you are less likely to apply to university. The aim of Widening Participation is to address this, and encourage young people from these social backgrounds to consider attending university.

My job as a Student Ambassador is to engage and interact with school students, and to provide an insight into university life. For instance, this summer, I helped run the Year 9 Humanities Summer School at Queen Mary. This was one of my favourite projects! A group of students from our local schools got to spend a week as a university student, attending lectures, workshops, and a theatre trip. My task was to supervise them throughout the day, as well as to take part in Q&A sessions – answering questions about student life. We run lots of events throughout the year, I am going to include a link to the Widening Participation website below so you can check out what we are all about.

Widening Participation at Queen Mary: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/undergraduate/teachers/wp/index.html

 

 

 

Work, Work, Work, Work, Work, Work

University is a lot of fun, but of course, it is also a lot of work. It is very easy to let the work pile up and get to a point where there is so much to do, and you feel so overwhelmed, that you don’t know where to begin. But fear not. There are very simple steps that you can take to stop this from happening.

 

The first thing that I would recommend you do is go through all your modules and make a timetable of your assignments and exams. I started doing this in my second semester of my first year at QM. I found that making a timetable is really helpful because I was aware of everything that was coming up, and knew about any deadline clashes from the beginning of the term. It really helped me to plan my time and made it easier to fit my work and social commitments around it. If you manage your time efficiently, you will have so much more time to do things which are way more fun!

My assignment timetable for this academic year.

My assignment timetable for this academic year.

As you know, I study English Literature so a lot of my lecture preparations involve reading. This might be slightly different for other degrees. I would suggest making a timetable for your weekly reading or whatever other task you are required to do. A lot of the time, I read texts that are quite dense and I need time to analyse and unpick them. If you plan your lecture preparations, then it will be manageable and you would not feel like you’re drowning in it. Also you will know how much time you have to allocate to it. For example, I have to read Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children for one my modules soon. It’s nearly 500 pages long! Therefore, I have to start reading it well in advance of the lecture.

This is what I have to prepare for this week. Making a list allows me to see how much I have to read and how much time I would need to set aside to prepare for my lectures. My friend, Dina, suggested that I make this – cannot stress how helpful it is!

This is what I have to prepare for this week. Making a list allows me to see how much I have to read and how much time I would need to set aside to prepare for my lectures. My friend, Dina, suggested that I make this – I cannot stress how helpful it is!

I use a diary to plan my time. Whether it is an actual diary or on your phone, I think it is always a good idea to make ‘to do lists’. Plus, there is nothing more satisfying than ticking tasks off my list! Nevertheless, on a more serious note, if you do feel overwhelmed by your academic work, speak to someone as soon as possible. In my department, each student is assigned a Personal Adviser. They are a member of the Academic stuff who is there to provide pastoral support. If we have any problems, this is our first point of contact. They are there to support you. Most universities will also have student counselling services and other frameworks of support, so make sure you familiarise yourself with these facilities before and after starting university.

I hope I haven’t panicked you – the main thing to take away is that there are easy ways to help manage your timetables, and if you are ever in trouble, there are staff at the university specifically there to help you out. I am off to read Rushdie now  – till next time!

 

 

 

Open Day

A few weeks ago, I was working as a Student Ambassador for the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary’s Undergraduate Open Day. I really enjoy working at Open Days because it is great to meet so many prospective students and talk to them about university, student life, and about studying English. My job is especially easy because I genuinely love my course so I could talk about it for hours!

Prospective students at our Summer Open Day 2016

Prospective students at our Summer Open Day 2016

Open Days provide prospective students with the opportunity to find out more about the course that they want to study, visit the university campus, and meet current students and staff. I think going to Open Days are invaluable when deciding your university options. There are many great higher education institutions in the UK, but you need to make sure you pick the one which is right for you. Attending Open Days makes it so much easier to narrow down your choices. This was certainly the case for me. I went to a lot of Open Days across the country during Sixth Form, but it was only after I came to visit QM that I felt certain. I don’t really know how to describe it – it was a gut feeling. I think all universities have a certain set of preconceptions attached to them so it’s always best to go and investigate for yourself. Here are my top three reasons why I would recommend you go to Open Days:

1.       Location, Location, Location

You are going to spend three – for certain courses more than three – years of your life at university. It is vital that your university is located somewhere that you would actually like spending so much of your time. I wanted to go to a campus-based university. A campus-based university is where the teaching facilities and the student accommodation are very close to each other. I think this is great because it makes students really feel like part of the university and student community. But at the same time, I wanted to study in London because, for me, it is the best place to be a student. There are so many different opportunities and so much to do, you would never get bored! Queen Mary is the perfect blend of the two. You may have a completely different outlook and want to get away from London as soon as possible or never want to step in it in the first place! I would recommend that you have a look around not just the university campus but also explore the surrounding areas to make sure it’s the most suitable place for you.

2.       The Course

This is, possibly, the most important factor when choosing your university. If you hate your degree, it would be very difficult to enjoy university. You need a reason to get up for the 9am lectures – well for me, the earliest is 12 o’clock but still! Lots of universities will provide similar course content. For example, I highly doubt there are any undergraduate English courses in the UK which doesn’t teach Shakespeare at some point within the degree. However, each university will have a different approach to teaching similar content. This is why I think it’s very useful to attend subject talks to find out more about the structure and style of the course. Talk to the academic staff and the current students about the university’s approach to your subject and think if it’s something you would enjoy. Find out about the assessment outlines: is it exam-based? Or is it heavy on coursework? Or is it a mixture of both? I would suggest that you play to your strengths and pick a course where you can thrive academically. Also, most universities will run workshops and taster sessions. I would recommend going to these because they provide a flavour of what it is like to study at an undergraduate level.

Taster session

Taster session

 

3.       The students

I think the best way find out more about a university is to talk to its students. Find out about their experience of the course: what aspects do they enjoy? Is there anything they find particularly challenging? How do they find the workload? Ask them about the effectiveness of the pastoral and academic support system that the university has in place. What made them want to choose this university? You might also want to know about their opinion on the local area and student accommodations.  

I am including two links for the date and time of future open days below. I really hope you go to as many of them as possible to find the university that’s perfect for you!

Queen Mary University of London Undergraduate Open Days: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/undergraduate/openday/

Upcoming Open Days for other universities: https://www.ucas.com/events/exploring-university/find-open-day

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