Studies

Women and Space

“Science” is the term encompassing the study of our natural and physical world; its structures and behaviours.  A “scientist” is an intellectual with expert knowledge of a particular branch of science.  From the intense study of the human body we gain knowledge of disease and are then able to construct medicines.  By observing the nature of the stars in the sky we are able to assemble a broader perception of the universe in which we live.   Science is the foundation of our society; the knowledge, health, sources of entertainment and standard of living we have today has been built upon centuries of scientific study and discovery.  It is for this reason, I find it incredibly perplexing that science and scientists have not been immune to discrimination.   

In school, we discuss Newton, Einstein and Pythagoras.  At university, I have considered Fermat, Euler and Euclid.  With this education, it wouldn’t be outrageous to believe that female scientists accomplished very little.  However, this is definitely not the case.  The list of influential women within science is, actually, a rather extensive one; but I would like to focus on one in particular. 

Katherine Johnson, an African American physicist and mathematician, made substantial contributions to the US’ aeronautics and space programmes at NASA in the 1950s and 60s.  From a young age, Katherine was a gifted mathematician with a passion to succeed.  Her early career consisted of teaching jobs; as work within mathematics for an African American woman were few and far between.  In 1953, Katherine was offered a job at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, which she accepted and so started her career within the early NASA team. 

For five years, Katherine worked in an office labelled “Coloured Computers”.   The women who worked within that office were required to do all of their daily activities completely segregated from the white men.  Regardless of how important their work was, these women were unable to put their names on reports they had contributed to.  Katherine herself said that women needed to be “assertive and aggressive” in order to be recognised; which, she was.

When NASA disbanded the “computing pool” in 1958, Katherine worked as an Aerospace Technologist until her retirement.  A women, who was once unable to use the same bathroom as her scientist colleagues, was now a vital part of an important team.  She calculated the trajectory for the first American man in space, she calculated the launch window for the 1961 Mercury Mission, she plotted back up navigational charts and was asked personally to verify the numbers for John Glen’s orbit around the Earth.  Katherine helped calculate trajectories for the 1969 Apollo mission; as well as helping to establish confidence in new technologies with her work with digital computers.

Katherine Johnson is just one example of many under-appreciated women working in NASA at the time; and is just one of thousands of under-appreciated women contributors to science.  Despite increasing rates of women studying mathematics and science at universities; the percentage of women within STEM careers is still extremely low.  It is vital to celebrate and learn about women who were not only major contributors to science; but had to overcome all kinds of social barriers to do so.  

A Personal View of Mathematics

Mathematics is a scientific language whose nature is theorised by people like us to produce a system made from mathematical elements that act as useful items that describe everyday objects that bring the idea of this language to reality. Many of its components are correlated to the universe and can explain its constituents, such as the idea of finite quantities, and some that cannot be fully understood, such as the idea of infinity. It is, I believe, independent of human logic and intuition, but through them it is defined and further developed into enterprises that may be beneficial in helping us to understand the universe.

Findings that arise from mathematical elements may sometimes be judged as invalid if proof is absent (as one of my lecturers said!), but majority of them have in fact displayed validity and illustrate more thoroughly the universe, such as transverse waves having similar shape as the sine or cosine graph, potential wells of planets similar to the function of x2, and even projectile motions. Equations created as a consequence of mathematical notations and numbers have even made researches easier, for example, the equation found in chi-square tests and the equation of the normal distribution graph in order to find to find approximate probabilities of large-sized populations. Some other simpler instances include Fibonacci’s rabbits, parabolic movement of a basketball shoot, snowflakes having six-fold radial symmetry, and numerous more. Imagine what else we can find if we continue to immerse ourselves in the world of maths and further develop it – who knows you might be the Nobel Prize winner one day!

Mathematics grants us access to universal truth despite its man-made essence because of its theories being backed by powerful evidence that is so persuading that minor contradictions may be abandoned. Mathematics is indeed a scientific language that plays a significant role not only in sciences and businesses and other developing areas of study, but also in other aspects of our lives.

The Ultimate Goal

After two years of decision making, months of revising, weeks of planning, hours of driving and lugging the far too many suitcases I brought up five flights of stairs; I had finally made it.  For me, university always felt like the ultimate goal; a route out of a small town; a way to learn things that genuinely interest me rather than being dictated an enforced curriculum.   However, within a week this euphoric independence already began to wear off.  I was not as prepared for University as I initially thought.

 

Before attending university, I was a little unsure of how exactly I would be taught.  I was so used to my school timetable; I had a good relationship with all my teachers, knew all my classmates well and was completely comfortable with the course.   However, with a little time I got used to the new university system I found myself in.  I use lectures to soak up as much information as possible; each one of my lecturers offers invaluable insight into Mathematics and, even if I don’t understand all of it yet, I write as much down as I can.  During my tutorials, which usually only contain 20 to 30 students, I ask any questions I need to and discuss any topic I feel necessary in order to get myself as comfortable with the material as possible.

 

Despite all of the academic support available, a substantial amount of independent learning and self-discipline is often required in order to do well.  Surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoy this part of university.  As well as attending everything that is required, there are often extra lectures and events put on by the university that explore different aspects of the subject and offer an insight you won’t obtain anywhere else.   In addition, even though there isn’t usually specific ‘required reading’ for a first-year mathematician, there are so many resources available to deepen your knowledge in general.  If a particular theorem, idea or field of mathematics sparks an interest during a lecture or whilst completing a piece of work I can research that specific item at the library and possibly use it to further my studies.  Mathematics can be a rather intense degree, but I personally find that the more engaged with it I become, the easier the work load is to manage.

 

When deciding what course to apply for I read a brief overview of module options and a snippet of their content.  In reality, the courses are much more in depth and detailed than I could ever imagine.  In the first semester, we pushed our A Level knowledge further in Calculus 1, we tackled Mathematical Structures where number systems and proofs were discussed, we were introduced to the world of Probability where we built on our knowledge of expected values and random variables, and we were exposed to procedures and plots in Computing.   Within the first week I found myself researching Fermat’s Last Theorem for an assignment and getting far too carried away with what was supposed to be a “small summary.”   After five months at QMUL, I can positively say that I have not “made it.”  Being here isn’t in fact the ultimate goal, but it is assisting me in discovering what my “ultimate goal” actually is; whether its working in finance or scientific research or something completely different and unexpected; I am excited to keep studying and find out.

 

Why my second year is better than the first

You usually hear people tell you how much harder second year of university is compared to first. Your first year “practically doesn’t count” so “don’t take it too seriously”. There’s no lie; workload is heavier this year and counts for more towards your final grade. But overall, my second year is going way better than my first. Why?

 

Firstly, I’ve familiarised myself with workload. I know how much to expect, when to expect it, and how to deal with it. Though my work is harder this year, I know not to neglect it too long and how to get it all done. This way, I do well in school and also have time to enjoy my life.

 

Secondly, I love my degree subject more. Maybe because I’m living in the era of Brexit and Trump-onomics where Economics is in the heart of every hot topic right now, I’ve really learned to appreciate my studies and everything that it will have to offer me in the future. My goals are more clear, I know what I love and don’t enjoy as much, and I get more involved in Economics events.
Lastly and most importantly, I’m settled. When you first move to a new place, especially as one as daunting as London, every day can be nerve-wracking and you can even find yourself quite lonely for a while. Don’t worry – this is completely normal and you WILL find your place. You will find who your friends are, your favourite hangout spots, places to eat, a good balance between work and social life, etc. It’s a natural way the universe works. You can’t force it and you can’t resist it – you will eventually become a citizen of London.

Second year – a devil in disguise ?

Yes, yes it is. I am not sure exactly how it happened or what it even is that happened, but my uni life is not as together as it seemed to be. One month ago everything was a bright pink, with some shades of red from my lipstick. Lectures were worthwhile, classes did the trick and the coursework went smooth – it didn’t exist. Now- a completely different story. With midterm season at its peak, opening the actual textbooks made me realize I didn’t know why Marx thought that there is a tendency of the profit to fall, I couldn’t figure out what makes a random sample random and I most certainly couldn’t tell you the relationship between Phillips Curve and the Aggregate Supply (the dark side of economics). Oh, did I mention the utter madness caused by desperately seeking an internship for the summer ?
What had happened to my inner peace being…well, so peaceful ? I jumped from red on my lips to grey on my soul, without even a warning. We are expected to know everything and we are questioned on everything; this everything I’m talking about is about 4 times bigger than it was last year. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot more interesting, but I miss the days when reading the slides and going to classes were an almost guaranteed first. They tell you first year is to adjust, they don’t tell you that second year is to survive.

It may be that I am overreacting, since I am writing this at a high point on my stress scale, but I think you could do with a warning: don’t underestimate the workload and don’t assume you can cram 3 months worth of lectures in one night- you will be proven very wrong. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

With Christmas break just around the corner and 2 more midterms to go, I am determined to start fresh next term, put on my red lipstick and make sure I study constantly, thoroughly, to avoid midnight breakdowns…Who am I kidding ? It’s university, if you don’t have a meltdown, it will definitely find a way to give it to you. But that’s what makes it the ‘uni life’ we all crave for, doesn’t it?

Building Kingdoms, Chasing Dreams

Happy new year to all of you! 2016 has been a rather interesting year for all of us, but I believe 2017 would be a better year for all of us if we act upon our dreams and our goals, and be motivated and passionate about our ambitions. I too, have personal dreams and goals – both short term and long term – and by living each day driven by the will to become better, we experience circumstances that acts as stepping-stones that bring us closer to our aspirations. In my own opinion, our education is one of these stepping-stones. There are in fact numerous simple things that you can do now that will contribute achieving greatly in university or even after. Here are some things that I personally do:

 

  • 1. Manage my time, by having a calendar beside my study table and on it are upcoming events or deadlines.

 

  • 2. Keeping my room always organised, and not only when I feel like cleaning up!

 

  • 3. Set up a ‘goals and to-do’ list, as if making SMART goals, but less strict with the time limit, for example, ‘Go to Bermondsey and eat Padang food’ and ‘patch my jeans,’ as you can see in the picture below!

 

img_6464-1

Above all these, I believe that there is one thing that will motivate you, drive you, keep you fuelled up and burning with passion – your purpose. Finding your purpose liberates you from work that you may see as burdens now. Finding your purpose is not at all easy and can be time-consuming. It is a slow process, but it is an investment. I am also still in the process of discovering myself. I wouldn’t say that I have found my purpose, but it seems to me that I would love to become an inspiration to others, and this idea of becoming an inspiration has encouraged me more than ever before. Other than that, pushing yourself beyond your own limits and being a life-long learner are just as vital.

At Queen Mary, how are you doing? Are you pushing yourself in understanding the materials in the lectures, or do you have a more apathetic attitude towards learning? Remember, again, education plays a major role in achieving your dreams. Most importantly, keep in mind that “your mind has to arrive at the destination before your life does.” Let us all not just create new year’s resolutions, but act on it! #hustle2k17

What are university timetables like for students?

As I begin to settle into my third year, as with the previous years, my weekly timetable begins to take shape. During the first week of term, I was provided with a timetable which includes when and where my lectures will be taking place. This timetable will be used throughout both semesters of my degree course – a semester is part of an “academic term period” which here at QMUL consists of 12 weeks of classes. In addition, QMUL categorize their semesters as “Semester 1”, “Semester 2” and “Semester 3”. Below I have given an example of what my timetable looks like for semester 1, and information on how to read timetables in general.

personal timetable

Image 1: My personal timetable for the subjects I study. (Note: Click on image for clearer view)

 

How to read timetable 1

Image 2: These are the official QMUL guidelines for how to read your timetable. (Note: Click on image for clearer view)

As you can see, my timetable includes a mixture of IT labs (labs based on specialist computer software) and lectures. I don’t have any seminars for my course, but for many students, this would typically involve getting into groups with your class mates, and discussing in detail, questions set by the lecturer about what was mentioned during lectures. It is also worth noting that in week 7 of each semester, there is a period known as reading week. This is where there is no teaching and it gives students the chance to catch up with their understanding of the course material so far. Finally from image 1, the blank spaces on the timetable indicates free time. Here it is expected students use this time for independent study around the course material.

Next semester I will be getting a new timetable which will have different modules from my first semester. If you want to check out the current general calendar for students at QMUL check out this link. It is also worth being aware that each student’s timetable will be different depending on the course they are studying. They will therefore have lectures at different times, as well as days where they have no lectures.

 

What is it like taking notes at university?

As I finish the second week of my third year at university, I thought it would be useful to share how I take notes during lectures. Although I took lots of notes during college and secondary school, one particular skill I didn’t use much was multi tasking. Typical note taking at university involves listening to a lecturer talk and, while they are doing this, taking notes. This was something I needed to adapt to. In the past teachers have allowed me time to take notes before transitioning to the next topic. At university, this tends to happen less in the majority of lectures. For students that prefer not to multi-task when note taking, lectures are recorded so students can review them in their own time. I use this tool a lot, and even get surprised at the amount of information I miss. Below is an example of what a recording would look like from the internet portal known as Q-review , which is accessible to all QMUL students.

QREVIEW lecture

Image 1: On the left screen are the lecture notes and on the right screen there is a recording of the lecturer in person.

When I am concerned about missing out on too much information during lectures, there is no need for me to worry, as most lecturers also provide lecture notes beforehand that students can use. For example, there is currently a module I study that has a lot of theory, and I find it useful that the lecture notes have dedicated space for me to write my own notes. You can see an example below of lecture notes I printed out this week:

Image 2: Example of lecture notes with my own annotations.

Image 2: Example of lecture notes with my own annotations using s the space provided.

In addition to lecture notes, instead of writing on removable paper pads, I buy blank exercise books like you may have at college/school now. These are very useful for easy access to information when needed, especially if you want to avoid having lots of loose paper from different subjects. Below are notes I took using my exercise book:

Image 3: Extra notes taken from a lecture.

Image 3: Extra notes taken from a lecture.

If you would like to see more examples of lecture notes, a simple internet search will give you many examples to look at. In a future blog, I will also be talking about the online platform, students at QMUL use, known as QMplus.

Shakespeare’s Globe

This summer I have been fortunate enough to attend three different theatre productions at Shakespeare’s Globe. All three plays were absolutely phenomenal. The tense and eerie atmosphere in Macbeth, the genuinely hilarious scenes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the unsettling feelings that The Taming of the Shrew created, stayed with me long after the curtain call.

Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London SE1 9DT

Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London SE1 9DT

I have to confess – this is probably a cardinal sin for an English Literature student – but I was not always a big fan of Shakespeare. Studying Shakespeare in the lower years at secondary school was a frustrating ordeal. We spent absolutely ages analysing just one metaphor! I could not engage with the old-fashioned language, and I remember finding it incredibly difficult to concentrate in class. It was especially bad when I had double English on a Friday afternoon. The words just felt dead on the page.

My attitude began to change somewhat near the end of GCSEs, and it changed completely after I began studying English at Queen Mary. This is because I started watching theatrical productions of Shakespeare’s plays. Reading a play is not enough to understand it. Plays are meant to be performed – it is why they are written. This seems very obvious but it is an important fact that is worth mentioning. When you watch a performance, the physical action of the actors, their tone and mannerisms bring the words to life. Hearing Shakespeare’s words out loud make them feel less alien than they appear on paper. The development of the storyline becomes more clear and easier to follow. For example, Macbeth is about a loyal soldier who becomes seduced by the lust for power. He kills his own King, and all those who get in his way, to take the throne.  The three witches utter one of the most iconic lines in the play, ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’. This is meant to foreshadow a sense of confusion, where nothing is as it seems. The witches represent evil and immorality, and they tempt Macbeth to create his own downfall. When you just read the witches’ lines on a page, you cannot visualise their wickedness or feel the sense of danger that they pose to Macbeth. Nevertheless, in the Globe’s current production, initially the actors playing the witches are all heaped together, like a mass of limbs. Then, they disentangle themselves into one menacing, conjoined being. Moreover, the use of prosthetic limbs, coupled with the eerie organ music gives them a sinister presence as they lurk about the stage. For the audience, the threatening evilness of the witches become a tangible reality.

Our £5 yard tickets to see A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Our £5 yard tickets to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Shakespeare’s Globe is my favourite theatre in London. Every time I go there, it feels like taking a walk through the pages of history. It is a faithful reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre which was built in 1599. There is a yard which is encircled by three floors of tiered seating. From a bird’s-eye-view, Shakespeare’s Globe looks like a massive ring doughnut because only the stage and the seating is covered by a thatched roof.

I always get yard tickets because they are the cheapest, costing only £5. The one drawback to getting yard tickets is that you have to stand for the whole performance. For me, however, this is not a problem, because I think the yard is the best place to watch the productions. You are the closest to the stage and the actors constantly interact with the audience. The plays are so entertaining and engrossing that time flies without you noticing. One of the things that I really like about Globe productions is how the plays bring Shakespeare to the twenty-first century by making it relevant to modern audience. For example, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the actors were dressed as Hipsters instead of Athenians. They made jokes about health and safety, sang David Bowie songs, and when Hermia told Helenus about her engagement to Lysander, the two best friends broke into a Bollywood infused rendition of Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’.

The stage in A Midsummer Night's Dream

The stage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

One reason why I decided to study at Queen Mary is because of its location. Not only does it have one of the best English and Drama Departments in the country, it is also in London. For me, London is the heart of culture, music, art and creativity. Going to a London university allows me to have access to fabulous places like the Globe. Also, there are numerous museums and galleries which are almost always free, and going to these places allows me to enhance my understanding of the contents covered in my course. The West End always has concessions for students and young people and I would encourage everyone to take advantage of that. For instance, the Donmar Warehouse is currently running a ‘Young and Free’ scheme which gives people aged under 25 free tickets to watch their Shakespeare Trilogy. I will include the link for more information below and I really hope I have persuaded you into going to the theatre very soon to check out some Shakespeare!

Donmar Warehouse: http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/mailing-list#xkGeHFHZ0WYEgvX7.97

Shakespeare’s Globe: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/

©2017 QMUL Student Blogs