Undergraduate Blogs

Smells Like Team Spirit

Queen Mary has a wide range of societies on offer. With over 200 societies, whether you are interested in politics, gaming, sport or something in between Queen Mary has a society for you. This year I made it my goal to join a sports society. After much deliberation, I chose fencing, as it looked very fast and exciting when I watched it at the Olympics a couple of years ago. It’s always been something I have been interested in from afar, but I have never had the opportunity to participate in it prior to coming to university.

 

The novice sessions are held on a Wednesday afternoon, and are led by a friendly coach, who is a former commonwealth games athlete. Each week, after an intense warmup, we learn different techniques, skills and actions. Along with the other fantastic novices, the improvement in the quality of our fencing has been great. By the end of the tenth and final week of the novice session our fencing was almost unrecognisable compared to our first week.

 

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Picture 1 – All the gear and no idea – me during my first novice session

 

Also, over time, the comradery between the novices has developed and there has been a seamless integration and acceptance into the main, more experienced, Queen Mary fencers club. Now, like many of the many other novices, I take part in the ten-week intermediate fencing sessions with the same coach on Wednesdays, as well as the main club training on Saturdays. The experienced fencers are very kind and helpful, providing insightful tips and a tough challenge to fence against. As we improve further, our minds start turning to more competitive fencing and competitions.

 

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Picture 2 – Smells like team spirit – the fencing novices at the team fencing competition

 

Incidentally, on the 18th March I took part in my first novice fencing competition at the University of London. Two teams of three represented Queen Mary: ‘the Beekeepers’ and ‘We are the fencing Queens,’ I was in the latter. After the round robin group stage, the knockout tournament began. In the quarter finals, my team had an intense, narrow and hard-fought victory, winning 45-43 against the Oxford team. Meanwhile, after a valiant effort, the beekeepers were stung by their opponents in their match. While, in the semi-final we narrowly lost to St. George’s University, we still achieved a bronze medal.

 

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Picture 3 – “We are the Fencing Queens” – My team for the ULU Team Fencing competition in action

 

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Picture 4 – Can’t Touché Us – The Medallists’ Group photo at the social after the tournament

 

After my fantastic first tournament experience I have officially caught the fencing bug. I’m looking forward to future competitions I may do in the future, as I continue this fast paced, high adrenaline hobby for a second year.

Women in Higher Education

When the resolution to award full degrees to women on an equal basis to men was first voted on in 1897 at the University of Cambridge, protests erupted across the city.[1] Male undergraduates strung an effigy of a female scholar from a window. When the resolution fell through, those students ‘maimed and decapitated the effigy before pushing it through the gates of all-woman college Newham’.[2] While women were allowed to study and sit examinations at the university, they were not allowed to receive a degree. This was the type of attitude that women had to contend with as they ventured into higher education.

Flash forward 120 odd years, and according to the BBC, women in the UK are 35% more likely to attend university than men, and this gap is increasing year on year. If the current trend continues, then a baby girl born in 2016 is 75% more likely to go to university than a boy.[3] Moreover, more than 80% of Higher Education institutions now have more female students than male students. There can be no doubt that we have made progress. However, while a cursory glance at these dazzling statistics would lead to the conclusion that a decided victory has been achieved for women in HE, everything is far less rosy than it seems.

We may have achieved the equal right to study and receive degrees, but women still face discrimination when they decide to pursue a career in academia. According to a 2016 report published by the University and College Union, only 8 higher education institutions pay women equally or more than men, and at 154 institutions, women are paid less. On average, female academics face a shortfall of £6,103 per year.[4] Furthermore, a study published last year by Sue Shepard from the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at the University of Kent, highlights the significant gender imbalance in terms of leadership in HE: women make up 45% of academic staff but account for only 22% of professors.[5] The figures are even more dismal when it comes to BME representation: in the UK ‘only 85 professors are black, of whom just 17 are women’[6]. Also, only 20% of UK vice-chancellors are female.[7] This shows that an institutional level of discrimination exists in HE in that there are not enough women in senior positions. Unfortunately, this reflects the wider trend in the job market. For example, 10% of FTSE 100 companies are headed by female CEOs, and currently, only 6 out of 23 Cabinet posts are occupied by women.[8] True, we have come a long way but the battle for equality is far from over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Victoria Finan, ‘A brief history of student protests: From ‘no women at Cambridge’ in 1897 to ‘cops off campus’ in 2013’, in Independent, (published 11/12/2013), < http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/a-brief-history-of-student-protest-from-no-women-at-cambridge-in-1897-to-cops-off-campus-in-2013-8997569.html> [Accessed 05/03/2018]; ‘A History of Women’s Education in the UK, <https://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/history-womens-education-uk.html> [Accessed 05/03/2018]

[2] Finan

[3] Sean Coughlan, ‘Why do women get more university places?’, (BBC, 12 May 2016), < http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-36266753> [Accessed 05/03/2018]

[4] ‘UCU names and shames colleges and universities that hold down women’s pay’, <https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/8130/UCU-names-and-shames-colleges-and-universities-that-hold-down-womens-pay?list=1676> [Accessed 05/03/2018]

[5] Sue Shepard, ‘Why Are There So Few Female Leaders in Higher Education: A Case of Structure or Agency?’, < https://core.ac.uk/display/78074896> [Accessed 05/03/2018]

[6] Jack Grove, ‘Universities confront ‘horrifying’ figures on BME promotion’, in Times Higher Education, (published 25/01/2016), <https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/universities-confront-horrifying-figures-bme-promotion> [Accessed 05/03/2018]

[7] Louise Tickle, ‘Why universities can’t see women as leaders’, in The Guardian, (published 08/03/2017), <https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2017/mar/08/why-universities-cant-see-woman-as-leaders> [Accessed 05/03/2018]

[8] Tickle

Moving into the Real World

After a fantastic first year living in student accommodation, for my second year studying at Queen Mary I have moved off campus and into private accommodation. The residential block I live in is clean and modern, with easy access to local shops and amenities. I share my flat with one of the many friends I made on my course last year, he’s friendly, reliable and clean, so that’s the major boxes ticked. My flat is a convenient 20-minute walk from campus and only 5 minutes from the nearest railway station. Dealing with landlords and estate agents, living off campus and managing bills myself, means I have some more responsibilities than I had living on campus in the first year; where most of my bills were incorporated into the cost of rent. As I no longer have the comforts of student living, most notably a cleaner, and my neighbours are not students who go to Queen Mary, for the first time, I feel like I am living in the real world. Here’s a look at some of my flat’s highlights:

Living Room (Image 1):

 

Image 1:

 

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First stop on the tour is the living room. This is the main communal space and social hub of the flat, hence my flatmate and I spend most of our time here. In the room we’ve got a television and sofa, whilst the adjacent balcony offers views of the main road below. Most importantly, the living room has witnessed a great many victories from myself on Mario Kart.

 

Bedroom (Image 2):

 

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Next stop on the tour is my bedroom; I definitely did not just clean my room before taking this photo. Otherwise known as the essay factory, my bedroom is where most of my work gets done, but, equally, it is a place of rest and relaxation after a long day’s work. That bed looks very tempting!

 

Kitchen (Image 3) and Bathroom (Image 4):

 

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I hope these next two rooms are self-explanatory.

 

Rooftop terrace (Image 5):

 

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The aspect of my flat that drew my flatmate and I to it when we were initially shown the property was the access we had to the communal rooftop terrace, which, on a good day, offers some really nice views of London.

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.

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!

A Day in My Life: Wednesday 27th September 2017

Summer is over but a new chapter of my life is beginning, I have just started my second-year reading History and Politics at Queen Mary. As I am no longer new to the university, finding my way around campus and adjusting to my new timetable is easier. The campus at Queen Mary includes the teaching buildings and accommodation on one site. Below is an outline of how I spent my first Wednesday in second year – an example of a day in my life:

8:00 am: My alarm goes off, but it’s bit early for me, so, with time on my side, I stay in bed a little longer.

9:00 am: Finally, having mustered up the energy, I wake up and get ready to go.

10 am: To shake the cobwebs away and prepare myself for the day ahead, I did a quick session in the gym. Queen Mary has its own gym, the Qmotion sport and Fitness Centre, and I used this last year when living in university accommodation (halls). However, now that I have moved into private accommodation, a rented flat a short distance from campus, my new, local gym is more practical to get to, but has equally good facilities and customer service.

 

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Image 1: Me on the roof of my flat, just before heading to the gym.

Midday: After walking to campus, I arrive at my History lecture. A lecture is a talk by an academic on a given subject, where students are expected to take notes. Class sizes are a lot larger than in secondary school, with potentially over 100 students attending. Today’s focus was early German history, from its formation to World War 2. I’ll spare you the specific details today, but (spoiler alert) it didn’t end well.

1pm: Straight after this I went to a free taster session for Fencing, one of Queen Mary’s 60 sports teams, having signed up at the Welcome Fair. During the 2-day event the full range of Queen Mary’s 200 plus societies are showcased and students can sign up to the societies they are interested in. It was a quick and fun introduction to Fencing’s basic techniques aimed at novices, like myself, of any academic year, who wanted to try out a new sport before fully committing to it (I have since signed up for the full year).

2.30 pm: I then went to Queen Mary’s Mild End Library, where I printed off, read and made notes on my lecture readings. As part of my degree I am expected to read around my subject independently to supplement the lecture so that I can participate in in-depth discussion, in much smaller groups, during the seminar tomorrow.

5.45 pm: Finally, time for dinner! I usually make my own meals, as it is cheaper and healthier than ready meals or take aways, today I had Chicken in a satay sauce and noodles (image 2).

 

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7 pm: Over the course of my first year, I made many new friends for life; some were people who I lived with and others I made through my course. A few of them have become my new flatmates for this year. With my work finished for today I could enjoy some downtime with them. It wasn’t all relaxing though, as our game of Mario Kart Wii got very intense (image 3), although I’m pleased to say that I eventually won the race. Afterwards, we went out socialising.

 

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11.30 pm: Exhausted, we returned home and swiftly went to bed (image 4).

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