Thursday, 17 July 2014

Summer productivity

It’s the middle of that curious summer spell, far enough away from next term that doing work seems slightly over-hasty (although I guess it couldn’t hurt to check out some modules in advance!), but long enough since the end of exams that doing something productive feels necessary, and I’m writing at what has been the end of an almightily surreal, but wonderfully enjoyable, day.

As I wrote about recently, this time of year sees many of my friends, fellow Performing Arts members, and housemates departing for pastures new, having completed their degrees in the past couple of months – it’s going to be strange living in Southampton next year without them! So with many of their graduation ceremonies taking place today, I went along to catch up with many of them one final time on campus – well, for this summer at least (I’ve made as many as I can promise to visit!) – and just to check out what the graduation ceremonies are all about. After all, give it a year and, all being well, I’ll be attending my own next July (ahhh)!

Thankfully the weather couldn’t have been any better for the occasion; glorious sunshine throughout made for a fantastic, if at times sweltering (particularly for those graduating, all underneath robes and mortar boards!), backdrop for a day of celebration with families, friends and academic colleagues, all coming together to see off many a time at the University of Southampton in style. Highfield campus was awash with the colours of multitudes of smartly-dressed individuals and their loved ones, surrounded by packed marquees, eye-catching decorations and salient displays which all just added to the grandeur of the occasion. And that’s not even mentioning the free champagne on offer!

The reception venues looked magnificent, and were great locations for everyone to mingle!

Of course, my main reason for being there was to celebrate the magnificent achievements of some of the most inspirational, amicable and downright clever people I’ve met, so it was great to see many of them again, swap stories (with the hot topic being what conversations people had with their respective academics while claiming their degrees!), and share in their joy on what was hopefully a never-to-be-forgotten day for them. If the ceremonies I was able to catch on the video wall inside the main Students’ Union building were anything to go by, along with the huge amounts of photographs being taken and fun everyone was having basking in the sunshine, I’m sure the day certainly was! I hope to see everybody again as soon as possible!

I managed to watch many of my friends’ ceremonies inside the Union building, which was awesome!

If you’ve ever read any of my posts before, it probably won’t surprise you to know that, when not attending graduation ceremonies, most of the rest of my time recently has gone into rehearsing for – you guessed it – a theatrical show, even in the middle of the summer! After all, preparations have been well and truly in full swing for the two shows that Gone Rogue Productions (the touring name we use for Performing Arts groups from the University of Southampton) are taking to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August for a two and a half week run, hopefully to entertain international audiences on the most famous stage of all. These are Stephen Belber’s dark thriller Tape, and a cross-gendered twist on the Oscar Wilde farcical classic, The Importance of Being Earnest – two pretty contrasting shows, but both potential crowd-pleasers!

Being cast in the latter production as Gwendolen, one of the female love interests, has been an absolute blast so far, if slightly different to the usual rehearsal process! Many an hour has been spent recently learning how to act as a typically feminine character, for example in terms of changing my voice, mannerisms and physicality – as well as practising how to walk in heels (ouch!) while wearing a dress (luckily behind closed doors in rehearsal rooms, at the moment at least)! As my director Jed put it, it’s not something I really envisaged when I joined the Students’ Union Theatre Group in first year! But it’s been a lot of fun preparing for the Fringe again with another brilliantly talented and convivial cast and crew, and the show’s coming together nicely to hopefully form a rollicking farce for audiences to enjoy, just in time for our preview showings on campus at the end of the week. It’ll then travel to Scotland at the beginning of August and start showing on the 10th – so there’s not much time at all to go now! For more information, feel free to check out our crowd-funding pitch below:

So as ever, life at Southampton, even in supposed “downtime”, remains busy and challenging, but wholly fulfilling – and with only a year left until I’ll hopefully be graduating too, that’s certainly the way I’d like it to continue to be!


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Summer learning

The summer break is a great opportunity to do things which you normally don’t have time to do. For example, this summer I have been utilising a number of free online courses provided by a company called Future Learn. The online courses are put together by members of university staff who specialise in the subject area of each course. The study material includes informative videos, articles and discussions and the great thing about these courses is that they are completely free and it’s up to you how much time and in how much detail you choose to study each topic. In addition, most of the courses are suitable for both beginners with little knowledge in the subject and people who might already have a solid foundation due to studying related topics at university.

There is a huge variety of courses including a course titled Developing Your Research Project which as the name suggests is all about learning how to develop a good research project and was put together by the University of Southampton. Other courses which I am following include a global food security course by Lancaster University, which I have found extremely interesting, especially since food security is one of my main interests. I’m also interested in a course about sustainability by the University of Nottingham and a course on obesity by the University of Reading. I have honestly found these courses to have been a great source of learning and as I mentioned they are totally free so anyone with an interest can take part.

Apart from participating in these online courses I have also been spending some time choreographing a few dance routines. As you may know by now, I’m a total lover of dance and while I still plan on cutting down on my involvement with the dance societies next year, I thought it would be fun to explore choreographing a couple of routines. I really admired the dance captains who choreographed our competition routines over the past two years so I’ve been wanting to see what I can come up with. So far I’ve really enjoyed it and my sister who is also a dancer has been giving me some tips along the way. I think being able to choreograph is a really great skill and one which is really valuable as a dancer, because it allows you to explore your individual creativity in a new way.

Lastly I have also been spending a fair amount of time outside enjoying the wonderfully warm weather we’ve been having here in Sweden. Where I live, you don’t have to walk far until you find yourself deep within an ample forest, so I’ve been exploring new corners of various nearby forests with my sister and our dog. I’ve also been spending time swimming in a nearby lake which is a popular summer activity in Sweden. Because it’s so popular my sister and I try our best to get up early and go swimming, before the crowds of people arrive. The only downside to this is that the water is usually (super) cold in the morning – but we’re getting used to it.

Here’s a photo of a typical lake where we often go swimming. I really love swimming in these open lakes, it gives you a total sense of freedom.


Friday, 11 July 2014

Formula One

I love all kinds of sports and fortunately the University of Southampton offers a wide variety of facilities and societies for students to get involved with. I have tried my hand at many, including making frequent use of the Jubilee Sport Centre’s swimming pool, joining several teams including Handball and Badminton, and stepping into the unknown worlds of Dodgeball and Tchoukball.

However, outside of the realm of university sports, the one I am most passionate about is Formula One. I think the reason that I love Formula One so much is because it manages to combine my interest in physics with my love for sports (and it also makes me quite a handy asset for any pub quiz team!).

Last Sunday was the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and I was fortunate enough to receive two tickets for the race for my twenty-first birthday. I decided to give the other ticket to one of my friends, on the premise that he would then drive us to the circuit. We arranged to leave very early, expecting a mass of traffic on the motorways, but somehow we managed to beat it and arrived there much earlier than we had anticipated.

Even though we had arrived several hours before the start of the race, there was still plenty to see and do. Upon arrival at the circuit we caught the tail-end of a GP2 race, which is a racing series below F1 and is used a talent pool for young drivers. I had never been to a live racing event before, and even though I knew how loud the cars were going to be, I was still surprised at the noise, especially when they shifted gears with a ferocious bang.

After the podium ceremonies for the GP2 race had finished, another support race began, but this time it was for the Porsche Supercup, a category where all competitors drive in identical Porsche 911s. Next on the programme was a parade of classic Formula One cars, driven for the most part by the drivers who actually drove them in the world championship. I didn’t know this event was happening, so naturally I was bursting with excitement as Maseratis, Lotuses and Ferraris from a bygone era came speeding onto the track.

A parade of the finest automotive machinery ever built

Before the actual race got underway there was time for one last warm-up act: a fantastic performance by The Red Arrows. They gave the 120,000-strong crowd a high octane routine, consisting of formation flying, crash-defying acrobatics and plenty of patriotic red, white and blue smoke.

An amazing up-side-down formation by The Red Arrows

Finally the time came for the Formula One cars to line up on the grid and get the race underway. The speed of these cars compared to the previous races was incredible and despite there being an hour long pause to proceedings due to a first lap incident, the two hour race flew by. I was also lucky enough to be sitting at a portion of the track which saw a lot of the most exciting moments, including a brilliant wheel-to-wheel overtake, which straightaway was deemed to be one of the best overtaking moves of the season.

The heat of the battle

The whole day was a fantastic experience and it was made even better when I spotted myself in the crowd when I watched the race back on television!


Thursday, 10 July 2014

Summer internships

My time as a writer for the Life at Southampton blog is quickly coming to an end – this will be my penultimate post ahead of my graduation next week! My graduate life in London has started to take on more of a routine, as last week I began the first of two internships which I will complete before I head off to Asia in November.

I will be working at a city-based farm two days a week, as their Corporate Social Responsibility intern; a role which I am, so far, thoroughly enjoying. The farm itself is based in London, in sight of landmarks such as the Shard and the Gherkin, yet it feels like a little oasis. It’s a working farm, with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, donkeys and pigs, and a variety of crops which are used by the cafĂ© to make simple, wholesome meals. There is also a rural arts centre, where visitors can try their hand at crafts such as pottery and woodwork. The farm works with a wide range of people from the local community, from school children to the elderly, as well as providing volunteering opportunities.

The urban farm, where I will be interning from now until November.

The department in which I am currently working organises and runs corporate volunteering days for large companies, which send groups of staff down to the farm for the day to undertake meaningful activities and work on projects which have a positive impact both on the farm and on the local community. My role is quite varied – I assist my colleagues with the organisation and running of the corporate days, as well as working on the promotions and marketing side of things. I have spent the last few days, for instance, updating the Corporate Volunteering page of the website with some new imagery, and will be helping to publicise the days through the social media channels over the coming weeks.

 Some of the projects undertaken by the farm’s corporate volunteers.

The farm itself is largely volunteer run, and I’m working with a fantastic team of people. The environment is so enjoyable that sometimes it doesn’t even feel like work! If I feel as though I’m getting too cooped up in the office, I can take a wander around, get some fresh air and spend some time with the animals, which is really therapeutic. It’s fantastic to be able to gain valuable experience, enhancing my C.V., whilst doing something I love, and something that’s a little different from your standard office-based internship.

There’s nothing quite like spending a sunny day on the farm to lift your spirits!

My second internship, which begins in two weeks’ time, is with an organisation which promotes good food and farming. I will be assisting with their one of their campaigns, again for two days a week, and helping to organise an event which will take place early next year, bringing together all the groups and individuals involved.  I’m extremely excited to start work for what is one of my favourite food-related organisations, and will hopefully be able to tell you a little more about it  in my final post towards the end of the month!


Monday, 7 July 2014

World Cup fever

In case you somehow hadn't already noticed (which must be pretty unlikely given how much it’s been on television!), the FIFA World Cup is now in full flow, meaning it’s one of the best times of all to be a football supporter – and one of the worst if you’re not!

I've been making the most of the brief few weeks I've had off before rehearsals for our next trip to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe get into full swing across July (with our two week run up there beginning in mid-August – scarily soon!). I opted to head back up North and make the most of the ideal listings on television in a setting complete with the home comforts of family, cats, and a seemingly eternally-stocked fridge, always in the company of my eagerly-watching Dad. After a hectic term stuffed with assignments, a dissertation, examinations and extra-curricular commitments aplenty as ever, the opportunity to take some time off to help on the family farm and enjoy some world-class sporting action was much appreciated, particularly as we all love football around the household – well, unless you’re my Mum, that is!

Following a fantastic, if all-too-brief, spell of rest, relaxation and recharging, it was soon time to return to Southampton to switch student houses and get settled into my new surroundings. I moved  into a property with new housemates for the first time since I started University – and simultaneously received a timely reminder that I have way, way too much stuff with me, as the two car trips between the houses (thanks massively again to my long-suffering parents!) and whole day spent unpacking proved!

As I wrote last time, the experience of living with new people will probably take a bit of getting used to after such a long time elsewhere, particularly as my old group were all used to one another’s (occasionally weird!) habits and routines after three years together. But I’m once again lucky to be living with some terrific people, all of whom I've shared many a happy memory already with during my time in Southampton, so if the year ahead is anything like the first week or so has been, it’s going to be another memorable one!

Aside from box-moving aplenty, being around campus in these sport-intensive times has also allowed me to observe a different aspect of the happenings in Brazil, namely its propensity to foster a unique culture within the (remaining!) student community – a.k.a. 'World Cup fever!' Although I think football is quite widely seen as a controversial sport in many ways, particularly in terms of the manner in which support is often expressed for domestic teams, the World Cup always seems to be one of those all-too-rare occasions where everyone, partisan or less so, can come together to appreciate the sport the way I think it should be; having a bit of fun, enjoying a chance to get behind a team, and laughing along with any friendly, competitive rivalry which naturally ensues.

This spirit seems to have been widely adopted across campus, and is particularly evident in the Students’ Union pub, the ever-popular 'The Stag’s'. Dressed in the flags of all the participating nations to celebrate the occasion, it’s the go-to place for catching all the football as it happens and enjoying a buzzing, excited communal atmosphere while doing so! For example, during one game in the earlier rounds, a number of student fans dressed in Colombia’s colours had a great time watching their team race into a convincing three-goal lead over Greece, cheering loudly for every goal they scored to the point where the neighbouring Greek fans, seeing the funny side of things, began to cheer equally as loudly - every time their team completed a pass!

The Stag’s has been a second home to football-watchers in the past few weeks!

One word of warning though: if you do plan on heading down to The Stag’s to catch a game, it’s probably best to get there as early as possible as my friends and I discovered when, out of sheer determination to ensure we got good seats for the first England match against Italy (The Stag’s fills up very quickly on such occasions!), we ended up arriving seven hours before it began, watching two other matches to fill the time – and all, at the end of the day, for a disappointing 1-2 loss! But once again the atmosphere inside the packed pub was fantastic, with a large mixed crowd of England and Italy supporters ensuring the competitive yet ever-friendly rivalry was there for all to enjoy.

The view from our eagerly-protected sofa bay – seven hours in the making, but it was an amazing day of football!

And so as the tournament soon draws to a close (“Finally!”, I hear my Mum cry!), it’s odd to think that the enjoyable World Cup fever which has gripped many across Southampton, and indeed the nation, is also soon to fade away… but then, of course, the new Premier League season is but a month and a half away! Sorry, Mum!


Monday, 30 June 2014

In Bruges

Several months ago my girlfriend and I decided we should go on a holiday together. Initially we thought we would just go along the south coast towards somewhere like Beer or Lyme Regis, but soon became distracted by the promise of chocolate in Belgium and finally settled on going to Bruges.

Last Monday, after waking up early to catch a train, then a tube, followed by the Eurostar, then another train and finally a bus, we had arrived in sunny Bruges. It was stunning; we had been dropped off onto a cobbled street lined with chocolate shops, where the tranquillity was only interrupted by the murmur of tourists and the clip-clop of horses pulling carriages towards the main square, or Markt.

After arriving, finding somewhere for lunch and checking into our hotel, we were ready to orientate ourselves within the bustle of Bruges. We headed towards the Minnewater Park; a beautiful garden surrounding ‘Lovers Lake’, which itself connected to the system of canals that wind their way around the city.

The beautiful Lovers Lake is a great place for an evening stroll

On our way we stumbled across the very impressive St. Saviour’s Cathedral, one of three places of worship we visited, the others being the Basilica of the Holy Blood and the Church of Our Lady, which has the second tallest brick tower in the world and also features a sculpture from Michelangelo. On the second day we decided to climb the other prominent tower of Bruges’ skyline; the famous Belfry. The 366 steps required to reach the top gradually got steeper and narrower, but once you had a chance to recover your breath, the views across the city were spectacular.

The Belfry at night

We were staying in Bruges for four days, so we decided to buy a city pass that allowed free admissions into all of the main tourist attractions. Having this pass meant we could squeeze as much as possible into our stay, tallying up six museums and two art galleries amongst many other things. My favourite museum had to be either the multi-sensory, almost 4D, experience of medieval Bruges or the mouth-watering chocolate museum, featuring everything from the origins of chocolate in Aztec societies, to an unbelievably massive chocolate egg.

It’s hard not to succumb to the lure of chocolate and waffles in Bruges

It was incredible to hear how many languages many of the locals spoke – they all seemed to be fluent in at least four (Dutch, French, English and German) and they would ask you what language you would want to be spoken to in when you approached them. This was most evident on our canal boat trip, where the guide seamlessly switched between different languages pointing out the landmarks and maintaining an interesting dialogue, all whilst navigating the uncomfortably low bridges arching over the waterways.

A gorgeous view of where the canal meets Lovers Lake

The canal trip and Belfry climb are joined in my top three activities by the visit to the local and internationally acclaimed Halve Maan (Half Moon) brewery. After a guided tour through both the old and new parts of the production line and even a small science lesson, we were led back to their on-site bar, where we could try a glass of their handiwork for free.

After the brewery tour, we had time for one last waffle, piled high with chocolate and cream, before it was time to make the seven hour journey back home. It was a great way to end an incredible time in Bruges and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back there again.


Saturday, 28 June 2014

Planning ahead

The last few weeks leading up to the beginning of summer were pretty hectic. Along with revising for my end of term exams, I also had a number of important decisions to make regarding what I want to study in my third year. Around this busy time all second year biological sciences students had to make decisions about the types of third year projects and preferred supervisors they would like as well as which modules they want to study in the next academic year. Things to consider included what type of third year project you would find most interesting, what would keep you motivated to work hard, what would best suit your future aspirations, what types of skills or techniques you might want to learn and so on. In addition, as a first for this year, a number of new projects were introduced in order to better cater for the various types of skills we might need depending on what we plan on working with in the future. For example, some of the new project types that were introduced as an option this year include a bioscience business project, bioscience education and a science communication project. So as an example, those students who already know they want to go into teaching after their degree might prefer to choose a project type such as the bioscience education module which could prepare them better with the types of skills they might need in the future. Originally the project types included doing a long lab project, a short lab project, a literature project or a long field project.

Choosing a project type does require some thought into the future and what you hope to do when you graduate. For example if you’re planning on continuing study with either a Masters or PhD then (depending of your area of research of interest) a long lab might be the best choice. After a lot of consideration I ended up choosing to do a field project which I hope to accompany with some additional lab experience, however I will save the details for a future post closer to the time I begin my project.

Many of the biologists and zoologists who choose to do field projects take the opportunity to collect their data abroad (including travelling to exotic continents such as Africa and Asia) with an external company. The expenses are paid by the student but many find ways to raise money so that they don’t solely have to cover the costs. It all depends on what your interests are and what your project is. On the other hand, there are numerous interesting lab projects which generally revolve around an area of research in which your supervisor is working, which is why your supervisor choice can be very important.

In terms of the modules I have chosen for next year, I have decided on mostly plant-related modules, building on many of the modules I chose in my second year and on topics which will hopefully complement my third year project. My future modules include Applied Ecology, Applied Plant Biology, Global Change Biology and Spatial Ecology and Conservation. Again, choosing modules for next year required some thought into the future and what I might want to work with or continue to study after I graduate.

Now while I’m still at home in Sweden for another couple of weeks, I have some free time to really start thinking seriously about what I might want to do when I graduate (and what I want to do with my life!). I want to start thinking about this seriously now because I think it will be somewhat of a relief to have some sort of a plan ahead, even though it could likely change, especially seeing as you never really know what opportunities may arise and if this should happen I think it’s best to be flexible and welcome them with an open mind. Anyway, along with planning ahead and thinking of the future and about applying for jobs, I have decided it would be a good idea to start cleaning up my online profiles and hopefully represent myself better. During the last careers fair I went to, there was a lot of emphasis on how you represent yourself online with social media. It can be a valuable tool but if you’re not careful it might also cost you your dream job. So I have been gradually trying to clear away old photos and material, including old blog posts (from my old personal blogs) which now in hindsight I have realised I might have shared more information than was really necessary. In any case it has been quite amusing reading through some of my old blog posts as well as looking through old photos and seeing how much I’ve changed. It’s unbelievable how fast time flies and it feels like it only passes faster each year as I get older! I find it hard to believe that at the end of the summer I will be entering my third year at university!