Advice

Writer’s Block

For an English student, there are few things scarier than a blank page. This hasn’t happened to me for a while, but last week I was struck by the dreaded writer’s block. No matter how hard I tried, I didn’t know how to begin my assignment. My ideas didn’t feel original. I hated how I was expressing myself. I just wanted to screw up the piece of paper and throw it in the bin with a dramatic flair – except I couldn’t even do that because I was working on my laptop. Chucking that in the bin would have been a rather expensive way to vent my frustration!

I am happy to report that I managed to complete my essay… eventually. It was a far more stressful event than it should have been. However, this process did allow me to identify a number of effective ways to overcome the writer’s block:

1. Free Writing

This is a technique that’s often used in creative writing but I think it also works for essays. In free writing you write continuously for a certain period of time. You don’t need to worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation. Take a look at your essay question and start writing the first thing that comes to your mind. Don’t think about whether what you are writing makes any sense, let your mind wander, let it jump from one idea to the next. It’s a great way to warm up and to stretch your writing muscles, while keeping a log of your thoughts. Later, you can organise these ideas in a coherent fashion or you may feel that the ideas you have come up with are not useful to your question, but that doesn’t matter because the point of free writing is to get you started and get over the initial block.

2. Mind map

Get a massive piece of paper and lots of coloured pens (you don’t need to use coloured pens but I just think it’s fun to use them and your notes look pretty). Jot down everything that you think will be relevant for the essay: evidence from your primary texts, possible line of arguments, critical thoughts. Seeing everything together is a great way of spotting the connections that will show you the way forward.

3. Talk through your ideas with a friend

Find a friend who is disciplined and motivated and discuss your ideas with them. I find that through the process of explaining your idea to someone, you actually end up gasping a better understanding yourself. They can also give you constructive feedback which will help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your argument.

4. Change of scenery

If you are sick of your spot in the library where you have been sitting for what feels like hours, go for a walk and get some fresh air. Some light exercise often helps to clear your mind, and a change of scenery might give you a change in perspective.

A walk along Regent's Canal is always refreshing

A walk along Regent’s Canal is always refreshing

5. Get rid of distractions

I don’t know about you but I am easily distracted, especially by social media and the internet. I would sit down and promise myself that I will get my essay done by this afternoon but before you know it, 4 hours have passed and I’m on BuzzFeed figuring out which Harry Potter character I am (Hermione, if you must know). Force yourself to turn off your phone. I would also recommend installing apps such as ‘StayFocusd’ on your laptop which allows you to set a timer on time-wasting websites and once you have spent your allocated time, it blocks the sites for the rest of the day so you have no choice but to get on with your work. If the temptation to turn your phone back on is too much, try downloading ‘Freedom’ which can block your access to Internet for 8 hours at a time. As scary as it all sounds, it does increase your productivity!

I really hope you never have the misfortune to experience the writer’s block, but it is inevitable that you will at some stage of your academic career, whether it is during your GCSEs, A Levels or when you start your undergraduate degree. So when it happens, fear not, these simple steps will help you conquer it.

Delving Deeper Into Yourself

I reckon most of us have probably heard of the Myers-Briggs Indicator Type test. Well if you haven’t, you can check your ‘personality’ at https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test. According to this test, I am an ENFJ-T. However, I won’t elaborate too much about this –  there’s something else interesting about your personality.

 

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Do you know that every individual also has a risk personality? Psychological Consultancy Ltd created an assessment to evaluate one’s risk personality. These personalities are shown in the Risk Type Compass® below.

 

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Unfortunately, we would be unable to take the assessment as these are mainly created for businesses. This assessment has particular relevance to the banking and finance, insurance, energy, manufacturing and consulting sectors. Why do I have to say all these? Because as maths students, many of us are attracted to those industries.

 

Especially in the sectors mentioned above, an effective management of risk within the industry is vital to its growth. A study done by researchers over a 19-year period on over 1000 senior bankers from more than 150 were carried out. The study measures the riskiness of strategies of these bankers. It found that personalities were the integral factor in risk-taking.

 

Most organisational failures are typically caused by taking too much risk or taking insufficient risk, e.g. a group of predominantly risk-takers tend to amplify risk-taking, and a group with a great number of risk-averse members are less likely to take them. Hence, we need a more diverse range of personalities to balance this out to achieve an effective risk management! Of course, there are other factors that would make this work, such as establishing working relationships and concise communication with your colleagues in the firm. Other than winter, a number of us are in the season of applying for internships. Perhaps, if you are confident of your risk type or personality, could this probably be a point to mention to employers? (ehem, maybe.)

 

It is good for us to know ourselves deeper. Not just our risk personalities, but who we really are. More fully understanding yourself is a catalyst to personal growth – in studies, applying for jobs, decision-making and many more. Most significantly, always be genuine to yourself – no one is better than you at being you!

 

 

Living at University

New responsibilities

When I arrived on campus for my first year in student housing, I did not know what to expect from university life. I knew I was going to be living on the same site as my lecture buildings, which would come in handy. But this was the first time I was going to be fully responsible for myself,  previously I had only ever lived with my parents.

At first my new responsibilities, like cooking, cleaning and money management, seemed daunting, but with the passage of time these became part of my everyday routine; they were nothing to get too stressed over. I nervously anticipated the start of my time at university, wondering if my flatmates would be friendly, but most importantly how clean they were, as, after all, I would have to spend a year living with them.

 

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Image 1: The view from my flat window

My Flat:

My apartment was modern and came with all the essentials for student living. It was an en-suite, with a personal fridge in my room, eliminating the confusion caused by shared fridges. There was something going on most nights; the kitchen became the main social area of the flat. It came with the essential facilities, including multiple ovens, and was cleaned weekly as part of the cost of rent, but, as you can imagine with nine people sharing one communal area, it got messy quickly. As I am relatively low maintenance, a weekly shop of around £20 covered my shopping for essentials. It also had to budget for travel, because I was living away from my family, and I still wanted to go home and see them from time to time.

 

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Image 2: My kitchen, which, thankfully, was regularly cleaned by the university’s cleaning staff.

 

Fantastic Flatmates:

I lived in Pooley House with eight other people, four were exchange students from America and Australia and four were home students (from the UK). Thankfully, my initial anxieties were quickly extinguished by my new fantastic flatmates, who were all very kind and welcoming. With them I have made friends for life. Over the course of the year we bonded as a flat and had a lot of fun, making my time at Queen Mary particularly enjoyable. What’s more, the experiences I’ve had with them has enabled my social life to flourish, in a way that it had not done so previously. Indeed, the bustling university night life, in the heart of London, is something I wouldn’t have been able to fully experience, had I stayed relatively isolated from it all at home. Since moving out, I have enjoyed more freedom than I would have at home, I can now choose when to go to bed and what I want to eat.

My first year flew past. I am now in my second year and have moved into private accommodation, ready to do it all again with new flatmates.

 

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Image 3: A birthday surprise from my flatmates. One of the highlights of my year was the birthday party my flatmates threw for me, it was also lovely to receive the card signed by everyone and the presents they bought me.

 

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Image 4: Another great part of living in student accommodation were the themed nights we had, these included: burrito, curry and movie nights. This picture was taken on one of the burrito nights we had, and, as you can see, my flatmate approves.

Getting Used To Readjusting and Experiencing More to Life

I used to sit at the back row in lectures sipping on my long black from Ground Café, while I listen to the lecturer explain. I’d nod in agreement and understanding of the material, and write down vital key points. I usually hit the gym or get extra sleep after lectures like these.

Keywords: USED TO.

Second year is tough as you have to readjust some things again. I’d come early to be able to save my friends and I some seats closer to the front. That implies waking up earlier as I no longer stay in the convenient halls on campus. I still tend to daydream in classes of my summer back home in Indonesia with good friends – and although it sounds really depressing how the start of this year goes, it actually isn’t.

Keyword: READJUST.

I find that the materials in second year are mostly based on your first year. Without a strong fundamental knowledge in first year, this year will feel difficult. However, as I am studying Mathematics with Actuarial Science, I feel that the modules made compulsory for me included the technical skills and knowledge that I need to becoming an actuary, for instance, “actuarial mathematics”. It has been very busy this year, considering internship online applications were mostly opened at the same time as term started. So I definitely recommend making a timetable for yourself so that you can balance and have time for other things as well, may they be work or leisure.

For the first years reading this, I recommend you to get work experience that would be relevant to your CV for second year internships.

For the second years reading this, join me in applying for internships. I’ve been rejected by a few but I’m still going. Hold on tight and keep going – we’ll get there.

Now, I drink my coffee quicker and take my notes faster than my cognition. I put on my earphones and launch Spotify while I revise in the library during hours between lectures or tutorials. I come home and after getting dinner, I continue either my revision, coursework, or online applications. This repeats until the weekend wakes me up like the morning light that shines on my face as it slid through the gaps in the blinds. Trust me though, despite the stress, challenges, and difficulties, it’s all part of that missing word, that in real life has the potential to make you grow and learn over time.

Keyword: EXPERIENCE.

Being Vegan at University

We have all heard of the “freshers 15”- a testament to the absolute chaos some of us inflict upon our minds and bodies when we first leave home. Beginning university as a vegetarian, my diet during that year reverted to the unhealthy and lazy stereotype of carbs and cheese. However, after learning about the wide-ranging harms of the dairy and egg industries, I decided to make the step of becoming vegan. Since then, I’ve learnt a lot about maintaining a vegan and (mostly!) healthy diet while studying.

  • Preparation is key!

Lunch should be the best meal of the day…but it is difficult to find tasty vegan lunches in restaurants, cafes and shops. That’s why half an hour of evening cooking and a leak-proof Tupperware box can save you a lot of trouble! Even if you can’t manage to cook a whole lunch for the next day, quickly frying some tofu, seitan or pulses the night or morning before can take care of your protein source and save you going hungry! You can then supplement your meal by ordering a side; for example, a jacket potato or chips.

  • Eating out

Being a vegan in London provides so much variety in restaurants! A quick google search can provide a crazy amount of information; lists like the following one are all over the internet:

https://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/the-best-vegan-restaurants-in-london

Some of my personal favourites in the area include The Gallery Café (Bethnal Green), 90 Degree Melt (Stepney), Fed By Water (Kingsland) and Mildred’s (Soho).

There are so many amazing vegan restaurants to choose from, but don’t feel limited to these! Many popular restaurants are accommodating to vegans, so make sure to check menus online beforehand, or give them a quick call to enquire.

(Pro-tip: If you want to impress both your vegan and your “determined carnivore” friends, “Homeslice” in Old Street is a non-vegan pizza joint, but the vegan alternatives they make are OUT OF THIS WORLD.)

  • Try not to get drawn into arguments

We’ve all heard the cliché that we can’t go two minutes without mentioning that we’re vegan…I mean, that’s pretty accurate for me! Our diets and ethical choices do form a large part of our lives, so it’s easy to see why. On top of this, it’s difficult not to get drawn into provocative questionings when being in a new environment around new people, who are all trying to figure out their own identities. One thing I’ve learnt through first-hand experience is that when you’re happily being you and living the lifestyle that fulfils you, you become a positive role model; so you just keep doing your thang!

  • Join QM Vegetarian and Vegan Society

With pot-lucks, events and outings, this is a great way to meet new people who share your lifestyle, and eat great food! Here is the link to the facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/QM-Vegetarian-and-Vegan-Society-310873675763769/

I hope you enjoyed these tips! Happy vegan-ing!

Oh and did I mention…I’m vegan!

It’s OK to not be having fun

“It’s such a doss year!”

“Freshers is so epic!”

“Everyone is so nice!”

These are just some of the phrases I heard both before, and during my first year in medical school.

With freshers’ week fast approaching, I imagine prospective students are starting to feel the fear and excitement that comes with opening a new chapter in one’s life. It’s no wonder; the first year of university is often portrayed as the most instructive and adventurous time in our studies, even in our lives….perhaps that’s why it was so easy for me to feel alone in my unhappiness during this period. Between moving away from home, being dunked head-first into a flurry of confusing lectures, and navigating the foreign social landscape, I felt as if I were caught in the eye of a storm: directionless, isolated and hopeless. It’s hard to know who to listen to during freshers- the second-year who tells you it’s OK to miss lectures? Your friend who says you should start revising a month early? Your specialist lecturers who insist their teaching will be imperative for your future career? How did everyone else have it so together?

This is not meant to put prospective students off. In fact, that time of struggle taught me a lot about being a “grown-up”:

  • Never set your standards (professional and personal) by the apparent certainty of someone else.
  • Never think that the people around you aren’t as scared as you are.
  • Never think that bad times will last.
  • At some point, someone will gossip about you. Move past it and so will everyone else.
  • Friendships happen.

I hope that by writing this, or through my interactions with scared-looking freshers, that I’ve helped pay some of these lessons forward. As for me, the lesson I’ve learned is to always be helpful and gentle to the people around you…especially freshers going through the torture of FunMed!

Summer Internship

“So what are you planning to do after you graduate?” Ah, the dreaded question that makes undergraduates break into a cold sweat. There are many people who come to university knowing exactly what career field they want to pursue afterwards, however, there are also people who have no idea. If you do know, then great, good for you! However, if you belong to the latter category, fear not, because trust me when I say this, you don’t need to have your dream career figured out by your early 20s. In today’s world, the average person changes jobs around 12 times. Chances are that you will not spend all of your life at the same job and your dream career will constantly change. For me, that is an exciting prospect because it means that you would develop your career organically – continuously learning different skills from various working environments and applying them wherever you go.

It is nearly impossible to know if a job is perfect for you unless you get a feel of that particular field, and I think your time at university is the perfect opportunity to experiment with different job sectors. The summer holidays are incredibly long (too long!), so I would suggest you use some of this time to gain as much experience as possible. At Queen Mary, we have a fantastic Careers and Enterprise Centre, through which you can find part-time jobs, work experience and internships. This summer I took part in QProjects, which is an internship scheme that is organised by the Careers team every year. QProjects places QM students as Project Leaders on challenging projects within local charities.

I did my internship with the East End Community Foundation (EECF). EECF is a philanthropy advisor and grant maker. This means they fund grass-root organisations, issuing nearly £1 million annually to charities in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham. My job was to help EECF with their Vital Signs 2017 Report. A Vital Sign Report uses a combination of existing research and surveys with local residents to identify key issues affecting local communities across the UK. I collated data from the surveys, and then analysed the data to find trends and patterns. I also worked as a researcher to find out more about the problems that affect the East End of London. My internship was originally meant to be for six weeks but EECF invited me to stay with them longer to work on their social media strategy. Here, I got to write case studies to promote the brilliant job that EECF has been doing, as well as working on their Facebook, Twitter and their website to raise their profile.

The EECF team at Sky Gardens

The EECF team at Sky Gardens

I had the best time working there! This was my first proper office-based job, and I got so much out of it: I honed my research and evaluation skills, got to go and network at a business breakfast at the Sky Gardens in Canary Wharf, learned about collaborating in a team and working within deadlines. I also got a full experience of a professional working life: I attended meetings with CEOs, contributed to strategy meetings within my department, and enjoyed being treated to staff lunches after big events.

My colleagues were incredibly supportive and welcoming, and to be honest, they have set my expectations for future employers impeccably high. I got to have 1-2-1 meetings with each member of staff and learn about their roles, which provided me with an invaluable insight into the charity sector. In terms of making the most out of your internship, my advice would be to be enthusiastic and to really take a keen interest in the work that you company is involved in. For example, I wanted to find out more about the charities that EECF supported so they generously arranged for me to go and visit some of the projects.

This was my desk at work. Check out my QM water bottle - I'm all about the branding and the environment of course!

This was my desk at work. Check out my QM water bottle – I’m all about the branding and the environment of course!

The process of getting this internship was enlightening in itself. I had to write an application outlining why I was suitable for this role and then I had to attend a Graduate-style interview, which was very beneficial because now I know what to expect after I leave university.

This internship was eye-opening because I got to learn about a sector I hadn’t considered working in before, and now this will go on my list as one of my potential career pathways. On top of that, this term, I am doing QInsight, which is a programme designed to provide students with a better understanding of the civil service. I’ll let you know how it goes, and if you are interested in finding out more about career opportunities at QM, follow the link below:

QM Careers and Enterprise: http://careers.qmul.ac.uk/

Studying in Greece

Elliot Hamlin

LLM International Shipping Law


Having lived and studied all my life within the UK, I became accustomed to all types of rain based weather (drizzle, spitting, sleet, hail, mist, even a damp haze). I saw the opportunity to study in Piraeus, Athens as the chance to break a habit of a lifetime and not indulge in the daily English chat of how bleak is the weather. I moved to Piraeus in September of last year and spent two weeks getting to know the city. The city has much to offer and its large marina is home to some of the most magnificent private yachts in the Mediterranean. The public are free to walk along and it’s a great place to grab a coffee and enjoy the warm evenings. One issue to watch out for when moving to Greece as a foreigner is the issue of opening a bank account. Due to the capital control regulations placed on banks the banks have become reluctant to open new bank accounts. From personal experience, I would recommend Piraeus Bank as the easiest and involving the least paperwork.

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The course is situated at the Hellenic Management Centre which is very central and just off the main high-street. The centre has good facilities with a good-sized library and very friendly staff. It is where all the lectures and exams take place. The centre also organises several extra-curricular events throughout the year and organises a 5-aside football team. I was lucky enough to play for the 5-aside team which gave me the opportunity to get to know the other students studying at the centre. They were a very friendly bunch and were eager to ensure that my Greek improved, especially the words for penalty and foul.

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Piraeus is the fourth largest city in Greece, but due to its proximity to Athens it has the feel of a much larger city (it takes about 30 minutes to get from Piraeus to Athens using the Metro). This proximity also allows students the freedom to live and study in either Piraeus or Athens. Airbnb is a great website for this and there are hundreds of good value properties on the market. I chose to move to the neighbourhood of Ambelokipi which is about 15-minute walk from central Athens. The neighbourhood was fascinating and is fairly typical of most of Athens. The majority of the shops are locally owned and this means that they cater for eclectic tastes. For example, on my road there was an antiques shop, old book shop, two shops catering for toy models and a record shop. Another great thing about shopping in Athens is the local markets. Throughout the year there are daily markets offering really good value fruit and veg much fresher than that sold in the Supermarkets.

Greece, Athens, and Piraeus have a lot to offer and am pleased I took the opportunity to enjoy the Mediterranean pace of life.

 

Presenting in Vienna

Beata Sobkow (QMUL Student)

LLM Computer and Communications Law (2016-2017)


Hi everyone!

This little dot at the back with the microphone is me ‘Beata’ a QMUL postgraduate law student presenting at the Annual Privacy Forum an international conference in Vienna:

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How did I get there?

How did I manage to suddenly switch from listening to a lecture to actually giving one?

Well, this is all, really, thanks to the Centre for Commercial Law Studies (CCLS – QMUL’s  postgraduate law centre) and the amazing project they run for the postgraduate law students. Every year, CCLS hires students from each of the legal specialisms to act as a ‘Student Specialism Representative’.  The reps organise various academic, professional and social events such as parties (obviously!) but also interesting lectures and meetings with professionals working in the specialist legal industries. For my specialism (LLM Computer and Communications Law), our lovely rep set up a dedicated Facebook page sharing upcoming events and external opportunities.

One of these opportunities was from the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) who focus on raising the awareness of network and information security. They were looking for submission of papers for their upcoming Annual Privacy Forum in Vienna. A bit overly enthusiastic and optimistic as I am, I edited one of my LLM essays on EU Data Protection and sent it out to the ENISA for consideration.

I managed to completely forget about my submission as I was focused on my upcoming LLM exams. How surprised I was to suddenly receive an email from ENISA congratulating me and selecting my paper to be presented at the conference in Vienna! This was to be an exciting opportunity to share my work and knowledge with reputable industry professionals.

After experiencing a mix of joy, disbelief and a huge amount of utter panic as well as receiving lots of encouragement from my university friends and “support” from my dad (‘There’s no need to worry, Beata. In the worst case scenario you’ll faint in front of everyone which means you won’t have to present your paper anymore’). I accepted the invitation and started preparing for the ‘big day’.

Vienna arrival

The conference took place between 7-8 June and it turned out to be one of the best memories from my LLM year. None of my imagined 99 possible catastrophes (including passing out in front of the audience or being electrocuted by the presentation pointer) materialised and, instead, I had an amazing time presenting my paper and discussing my presentation and the other topics with the inspiring attendees.

I even got to take a selfie with the data protection legend Max Schrems (calling all my fellow law nerds!)..

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..attended a fancy dinner in a restaurant located in the Vienna city hall…

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..and, staying true to my hipster soul, found some time to visit one of the local hipster cafes:

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Overall, it was a truly unforgettable and fantastic experience. Currently, I am waiting for the publication of my paper and, encouraged by the recent experience, I am already looking for other conferences to attend ;).

This all would not be possible without our amazing specialism rep, QMUL and all the fantastic services, options and opportunities QMUL provides us with. As your LLM is really what you make out of it, make sure you make the most of QMUL’s services and thereby your year at QMUL!

 

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