Biological and Chemical Sciences

Life is for living.

I’m sure many of us have heard the phrases ‘life’s too short’ or ‘you only live once’ and these are phrases I believe to be very true. With so many great things to do, see, taste and accomplish, surely we can’t do everything on the planet, but we may as well try. Luckily, being a biology student, studying at QMUL and having the great chance to be in this fantastic capital, there is at least a place to start.

Aside from lectures and labs, my course has provided adventures across the globe. A field trip to Somerset in first year meant I could discover the ecology of a beautiful part of Britain. Second year ventured further afield, reaching Eastern Europe with 7 days in Croatia. Finally in third year, a trip to South Africa meant I could experience safari adventures like no other. I have seen parts of the globe that I perhaps would not have seen if it weren’t for these opportunities. Not only with my course, but other great chances have allowed me to travel to Asia. In the summer between first and second year, I went to China with QMUL on the study abroad programme. Two weeks at Sichuan University provided insight in to Chinese culture (and cuisine!).

The Kruger National Park,  South Africa

The Kruger National Park, South Africa

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

Returning to my base in London, there is so much to offer when not gallivanting the world. Numerous parks to wonder, cuisines to taste and things to see, there is always something to do, and it doesn’t have to be costly. For something different, I danced a ceilidh with the Ceilidh club, went swing dancing in Victoria Park, or have cycled the city by night on a Borris bike. Nowhere else is there such variety, in amongst a vibrant atmosphere of culture and fun.

Reflecting on some of the memorable experiences I’ve had so far, I can’t think of anywhere else I would have chosen to do my undergraduate degree. These times maks me realise I must live my life more than ever, as this is only the start. Life is for living. So live it.

Entrepreneur boot camp and fun at Hampton Court Palace

I spent Saturday with my LUIP Ambassador friends, first at Kingston University and then exploring Hampton Court Palace. Our time at Kingston was wonderfully impelling because we were led through an entrepreneur boot camp by Dr. Martha Mador, the head of Enterprise Education Strategy. Dr. Mador began by explaining the entrepreneur process:

  • A successful opportunity for entrepreneurial pursuit can occur at any point on the continuum of discovery, evaluation, and exploitation;
  • In order to be successful, there must be a healthy balance of creativity (the generation of new ideas) and innovation (the successful exploitation of new ideas–ideas being accepted in a marketplace);
  • Dr. Mador further clarified that innovation is not just a product or invention, and it’s not necessarily a new idea nor a ‘light bulb moment’. It is a combination of finding novel solutions to peoples’ problems.

After her thought-provoking explanation, we spent the next hour or so working through the entrepreneurial process ourselves. We split into groups, were given photo cards, and told to brainstorm a list of problems based on the pictures we had. The pictures were quite nondescript– a woman running through a field, a row of wind turbines, a person helping another climb a rock–but from those pictures we generated 10 general problems that could be fixed.

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We could even write on the tables…I was awed. English majors don’t get to write on much, other than notebooks.

After generating a list of problems, we chose one and brainstormed solutions to the problem. From there, we created a viable solution and developed and pitched our service to the group. My group decided to focus on the lack of work-life balance for many professionals. We developed a company called Stress Less, a consulting agency that businesses could hire to help convert their offices so that they promoted a more healthy work-life balance. Our pitch even had a jingle, set to the tune of ‘Call Me Maybe’. We won the ‘Best Brand Name’ award…go Team Stress Less!

After boot camp we headed over to Hampton Court Palace, the palace of King Henry VIII (the one who created the Church of England, and had 6 wives in his attempts to have a son. He also fathered Queen Elizabeth I, who is by far my favorite English monarch.). The palace was beautiful, but I was much more enamored with the grounds. The gardens were absolutely stunning, especially the ones along the bank of the Thames. And I was impressed by how successfully lost we became while wandering through the maze. Most of all, I couldn’t have chosen a better group of friends with whom to spend the afternoon.

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The English love their roses. Especially those Tudors. 🙂

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Kim and her band of merry ambassadors. Photo Cred: Divi

Being guided through the creative process of identifying and developing a business was unexpectedly motivating. I left boot camp feeling like I could actually create a viable business–on paper, anyway. I started brainstorming ventures I would be interested in and that might actually work. However, after my original elation wore off, I realized I would have some serious work to do on the numbers side of developing a business. Let’s be honest: although I find an odd satisfaction in getting the correct answer on a math problem I am nowhere near confident enough to trust a business’s finances to my numeracy skills. Creates a nice opening for a partner, though. Any takers?

A Pilgrimage to Canterbury

While studying in London and travelling to different countries, it’s sometimes hard to remember that there is more to England than this incredible pocket of diversity. A weekend trip outside of London can be a great way to counter that perception and the county of Kent was my choice for this experience. My journey to Kent included a visit to the well-known city of Canterbury, where I saw the Canterbury Cathedral and a very odd tour depicting Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Canterbury

Canterbury

While Canterbury has been a significant religious site for centuries, literature lovers like myself think fondly of it as the inspiration for Chaucer’s tales. One of the best aspects for me of being abroad has been seeing the actual places I’ve read about in some of my favorite works. I’ve gotten to read Virginia Woolf’s novels while actually living in the city she often tried to capture in her writing. I saw the Brazen Head Pub in Dublin, where Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, a work I’m currently reading in my Satire course, used to hang out. Traversing the final point of Chaucer’s pilgrims’ journey was certainly just as spectacular.

The Cathedral with its incredibly detailed design gave me a greater understanding why people would have made extensive journeys to this place, even though I only took a two-hour bus ride from London to get there. The rich history of the Cathedral including the murder of Thomas Becket provided me with a foundational background for Chaucer’s work. It was spectacular to actually be in a place that was so intimately connected with something I had read in a classroom. My trip to Canterbury allowed me to have an interactive experience with a piece of writing from the fourteenth century, which was eye-opening for me, in part because I don’t have that opportunity in the U.S.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Of course, the city of Canterbury acknowledges this connection to a very old text, and provides an interactive museum of manikins, which I can only describe as creepy and uninformative. It was still slightly entertaining, though, and mimicked the kind of unclear humor lurking beneath Chaucer’s writing.

 

New Year’s Eve in London

For New Year’s this year, my boyfriend and I came back to London from the States before New Years because we wanted to celebrate in London, and I’m so glad we did. Unfortunately, this year was the first year that you had to buy a ticket to see the fireworks. We didn’t get tickets because we thought we could just meander down that way and surely find a decent spot to watch from. WRONG. They weren’t joking when they said they’d have all viewable places blocked off. And heavily secured. We were steered through the Embankment station up to the Strand on a very inflexible route…which made for a crowded walk.

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Once on the Strand the crowd dissipated a bit because, thankfully, they had the street blocked off from traffic. We walked down the Strand towards Somerset house and really lucked out, because the security working Waterloo bridge decided to gift everyone with a free entrance to the bridge.

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See the green security gates on either side? They were everywhere.

Made for a tight walk through security, but once we were on the bridge it was perfect. Room to take some beautiful shots of London at night:

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And had time to spare to get set up for the fireworks. As cheesy as it sounds, I used some of that time to reflect on how lucky I am to be pursuing my dreams in this marvelous, historic city. I had time to get switched over from camera to video, and was able to record the first part of the show. With no further ado, for your viewing pleasure, here is our view of the 2015 New Year’s Eve celebration in London. (Listen for Big Ben…coolest thing ever!!)

New Year’s Eve in London

(goshdang WordPress isn’t letting me embed the video. Boo. Check it out on YouTube!)

Home will always be the Midwestern USA for us, but while we’re living in London we’re absolutely making the most of it.

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Here’s to a fabulous 2015!!

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An Associate Student’s Take on QMUL Student Culture

Since my arrival in London, I’ve been on constant look out for aspects or characteristics of Queen Mary and the city that I can point to and say, “that’s unique” or “that’s striking”. To be honest, these unique qualities only became apparent to me with time; yet, once I began to notice aspects of student culture and academics at Queen Mary that struck me, I was excited as though I had solved some great mystery. Of course, they had only been a mystery to me until I discovered them.

One significant aspect of student culture at Queen Mary that differs from that of my home university is rooted in the fact that most students actually live off campus. Queen Mary often seems smaller than Boston College to me, but it actually has a much larger student body. While at Boston College it seems as though the entire student body is taking over the campus for a large portion of the day, Queen Mary often feels less packed, especially on Fridays. I found this difference also lies in the fact that students have less class time and perhaps larger amounts of reading at Queen Mary, which means they most likely spend less time on campus and more time, well, reading.

I think this “absence” makes student culture at Queen Mary somewhat difficult to define. While it is still present, it doesn’t jump out at you in a maroon and gold jersey the same way Boston College fandom does. Perhaps, this is due the difference in the way Queen Mary and Boston College treat athletics. At Boston College, American football, hockey and several other sports are heralded as great identifiers and promoted as significant aspects of student culture. Yet Queen Mary’s football and other sports teams, which are successful and well established, are not huge aspects of student life or events. There are no emails about upcoming games or flyers with a mascot’s face floating around Queen Mary’s campus. There are no hoards of students flocking to weekend games decked out in blue and white. While I’ve always taken part in this aspect of Boston College’s culture, and it’s a largely positive part of my experience there, I don’t find any kind of negative emptiness in its nonexistence at Queen Mary. Instead, I find a student body which puts less emphasis on identifying with their school and seems to focus more on academics.

In an attempt to gain a first-hand account of student culture at Queen Mary, I decided to ask my flat mate where she felt it was present. She explained that while Queen Mary’s student culture is not as noticeably pervasive as that of many American universities, it does lie in academia. An emphasis on humanities and discussion at Queen Mary has led to groups of students from the same course going out to eat together or hang out. They create a forum outside their classrooms in which to relate and discuss their studies. While there are dozens of academic clubs at Boston College, these kind of informal communities of students who go out to dinner together just because they are in the same class aren’t very common. BC students tend to bond with the people they live with, are in clubs with and have mutual friends with. In this way, student culture is prevalent at Queen Mary, but it exists more subtly and informally than it does at Boston College.

In noting these differences in student culture between my American university and Queen Mary I’ve found that neither approaches the experience of college in a superior or more enlightening way. My experience at Queen Mary thus far has simply shown me that BC’s culture of football and tailgates and hanging around campus for hours simply does not exist everywhere else in the world. These different practices enhance the uniqueness of each student body and cultivate a distinctive presence that exists within each campus. Experiencing these differences has allowed me to better understand and pinpoint significant aspects of my own educational experience at home, as well as those of students at Queen Mary.

Back to School, Plus My Trip to Oxford

Lately, I haven’t been writing new blog posts, so hopefully I find the time in these next few weeks to update what I’ve been doing during my time in the UK. My winter break was quite interesting, and I’ll have to make a post about that later, but for now, I’d like to share my experience returning back to school after a month of holiday (or vacation, as Americans call it).

Since I’m an English major, my modules in Queen Mary don’t require final exams like the modules for sciences, etc. (Whereas, in America, most of the English courses I took had final exams at the end of the quarter. Some even had multiple choice exams!). Instead, all my modules required 2000-3000 word essays due about two weeks before the second semester. Writing these essays was stressful, especially since there’s a difference between the expectations of British courses and American courses, and it took a while for me to notice and adjust to these differences, but now that I’ve finished a full semester at Queen Mary, I have a better understanding of how to prepare myself for this new semester.

For example, I found that keeping up with my course readings was the most important thing to do. As a study abroad student, it’s easy to get distracted and make excuses for putting off readings, but with the few contact hours we get, it really is essential to come to class prepared and ready to discuss the material.

Another important thing is to go over the secondary material that professors suggest looking over. Many of the final essays I wrote last semester required the use of secondary sources, so it’s better to go over these throughout the school year, rather than spending a chunk of time sifting through multiple sources in order to find the relevant ones for your essay.

And while we’re on the topic of academics, here are some pictures of my trip to Oxford last semester:

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While we were in Oxford, there was a small march going on for the events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri this past Fall. It’s nice to see solidarity in the UK for an event of such significance in America.

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View of Sheldonian Theatre from University Church of St. Mary the Virgin

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Magdalen College

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Christ Church

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Ashmolean Museum

 

It’s actually very inspiring to go to a city that’s known for its education. According to my tour guide, Oxford is the oldest university in the UK. Isn’t it awing to think about the number of significant people who were educated there?

In terms of seeing Oxford as a tourist, you can’t go wrong visiting any of the buildings of the university, but my favorite was the tower in University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. From atop the tower, you can get a great view of the university, but the swirling steps are a bit  narrow and steep, and it was really crowded with a bunch of people going up and down the stairs. I’m usually afraid of heights, but going up to the tower was fine for me, so I would definitely recommend it for anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of physical exertion.

After our tour, an acquaintance said to me, “When I’m older, my children have to come to school here.”

Yes, hopefully mine too (I say this half-jokingly). But until then, I have a handful of readings and a full semester ahead of me to distract me from these hopes….

Savvy city-dweller… or ignorant newbie?

Sometimes I feel like I’m a confident Londoner getting the grasp of the ins and outs of the city, but that’s usually when something happens to remind me of my own ineptitude. Last week, for instance, I was taking a bus to go visit the library when a woman sitting next to me asked if the bus was going to Oxford Circus. I said yes (it was the 25, I was going to Holborn) and we rode on comfortably until the bus stopped at Bank Station (an uncomfortable distance from either Oxford Circus or Holborn) and announced it would go no further. As we exited the woman looked at me with some reproach. I smiled uneasily and walked away as fast as I could.

I learned that day that just because a bus is going in the right direction, does not mean it will go the distance. Instead of getting on another bus, I decided to walk to my destination. I had no idea where it was, but I figured that if I walked the direction the bus had been traveling until I found a map, I would get there eventually. And, eventually (about an hour later), I did. It was a beautiful day, though bitterly cold, and I enjoyed being a little lost and finding some things around the city I might not otherwise have seen. I stumbled onto Fleet Street, for instance, and found some fantastic street art.

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Being able to find my way, and without the aid of an Internet map on top of that, reestablished some of my confidence in my knowledge of where things are in London. So the following Sunday, after going with a friend to the Museum of Childhood (another amazing free London museum), I realized I recognized the area around Bethnal Green Station and thought I could find my way to the Columbia Road flower market, which happens every Sunday and is entirely delightful. I convinced my friend I could get us there and she bravely followed me down numerous twists and turns which I somewhat vaguely recognized. She started to get a little doubtful towards the end, but luckily we spotted a couple carting away a bundle of tulips, and knew we were headed in the right direction. We made it to the market just as they were closing up, and were able to sniff and admire the flowers in the fading sunlight.

That little adventure also offered up truly incredible art spray-painted on the walls of an ally, this time of bees. I’ve decided to never worry again about getting lost in London, as my lengthy detours always turn out to be worth it.

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Old Is All Around Us

 

I vaguely remember seeing a documentary about Stonehenge a few years ago and mentally putting it on my “places to go” bucket list. I was shocked that there could be a pile of stones somewhere that modern archaeologists and historians couldn’t attribute to a definite people, purpose or technology. So, when a couple of friends at QMUL brought up the idea of going to actually see this pile stones, I was thrilled.

Is it a moss-covered pile of stones in the middle of England? Yes, but Stonehenge is so much more than that. Standing there in front of this strangely haunting structure, I found the same feeling I’d first experienced while watching that documentary. These stones…are really, very old!

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“Old” might not seem like the best adjective to describe an ancient marvel like Stonehenge, but I think it’s probably one of the most significant aspects of Europe that American students find appealing, and deserves some consideration. Of course, being from the Southwest, I’ve seen really old natural wonders, like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. Still, I’ve never had the opportunity to drive two and a half hours to see a five-thousand-year-old man-made structure, whose origins we still haven’t puzzled out. The accessibility of this place was kind of hard for my friends and I to wrap our minds around. To add to this confusion was the fact that we could see Stonehenge from the road we drove in on, when we had expected it to be in the middle of some valley far from any civilization. Yet, here was Stonehenge, sitting amidst sheep farms and large tour buses. If stones could talk…

After walking the circumference of Stonehenge and taking in its extraordinary strangeness, my friends and I got back on the bus and headed to Bath, home of the ancient Roman baths made from natural springs. Again, I experienced that sense of awe, which might be particular to Americans, who have never travelled in Europe. I saw and felt that this structure has existed for so much longer than all of the shops and people surrounding it.

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This discovery of the very old has been eye opening for me especially in thinking about where structures like Stonehenge and Bath lie. They sit in the middle of daily life, as though nothing has changed since they were built. This aspect of accessibility wouldn’t be so apparent to me if I were just in England for a week or two. For this reason, studying abroad has been so enlightening. There’s a sense I get from travelling, that even though this amazing site is in the middle of this foreign country, it’s only a couple hours’ drive from the place I’ll consider home for the next four months.

Here I am, finally!

It’s now been two weeks since I arrived at Queen Mary, both excited and terrified at the prospect of meeting new people, and attending a new school. Having applied to QMUL last spring, I felt as though my arrival in London was long overdue. Still, I had qualms about coming to a place where I knew no one and had absolutely no sense of the landmarks or direction. I spotted the London Eye outside the bus window on my journey from Heathrow to Mile End campus, and felt both a sense of “Here I am, finally!” and “Wait, where am I?” Walking into my empty single room in Maynard House, I felt an immediate need for the familiar.

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London Eye

Nevertheless, QMUL, perhaps anticipating the apparent shock I was experiencing, gave us affiliate students numerous ways of distracting ourselves in the first week. I think one of the most exciting moments for me during Orientation was listening to people from the Abroad Office list the various places I could visit while in London: the Columbia Road Flower Market, Mile End Park, the 2012 Olympic facilities, Wimbledon. My eyes opened wide as I finally realized I had entered a different, but entirely wonderful new realm. I started to remember why I had left the familiar behind, and began a conscious effort to welcome the unfamiliar. I thought, finally, here I am.

Mine and other abroad students’ attempts to orient ourselves here led to a primitive method of exploration called walking. We found the Copy (not coffee) shop, where we could receive our course packs, the Mile End library, the campus dining hall called the Curve and of course, the laundry room in France House. We also endeavored to take a trip down Mile End Road, noticing the local Sainsbury’s and some enticing pubs and restaurants. By discovering QMUL’s landmarks, I found I was able to gain a better idea of the place and started to feel more comfortable with my new surroundings.

Another daunting aspect of coming to QMUL was getting accustomed to different educational practices. The idea of immersing myself in a new student body seemed thrilling before I left Phoenix, but somewhat intimidating upon my arrival. Despite my trepidation in attending a new school, I’ve found the differences between Boston College and QMUL to be more fascinating and exciting than scary. Each of my modules only meets once a week but requires significantly more independent reading. Additionally, I’m able to focus on four modules rather than five classes as I do back home. Another aspect of British education I find interesting is the focus solely on one’s major, which is much different from most U.S. colleges that require students to take several courses in other subjects. Neither method seems more desirable to me, but rather, simply unique in their approaches. I’ve found my courses here so far inspiring, and interesting, with professors who seem entirely passionate about their discourses.

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My first two weeks of adjusting at QMUL have been a bit like my freshman year at Boston College, so it’s fitting that I live with freshmen here. As they kindly welcomed me to their flat, I began to regain that sense of excitement toward the unknown that I had in my first year of college. Everything at QMUL is new and interesting as an affiliate student, and also seemingly strange. Although I’ve lost the sense of superiority and experience of being a third year student, I’ve also gained a fresh sense of wonder in being in a new place. I feel subject to the whims of an entirely unfamiliar system, and happily lost in a sea of new buildings and faces. Finally, here I am.

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