Wednesday, 10 February 2016

What makes me special? Writing an internship application.

At one point, every student will have to sit down and start writing applications. I find myself in that situation right now and as I try to puzzle together the right way to explain why I’m the best fit for this internship or this exchange-program, I’ve decided to run to my ‘productive procrastination’ method – blogging.

In all seriousness, how do you explain that you want a position and you are a great fit for it without sounding almost desperate and extremely cliché? How do I write an application without much work experience to fall back on? How do I find a suitable internship for me? I’m not an expert, but I have collected a couple of points that have helped me.

1. Collect your thoughts 

I’m laughing a bit about myself for writing this, because this is exactly what I try to do, but somehow always get distracted. Nevertheless, collecting your thoughts is important. The internship I’m applying for now, for example, had a couple of questions you were supposed to answer. Instead of just writing as I go, I have made a little mind map about positive attributes I have, which will be relevant to this particular internship. This method also includes collecting thoughts about why this particular attribute is relevant.

2. Inform yourself 

There are loads of possibilities out there in terms of internships, but if you just apply for the first ones you find, you might not find the most suitable internship for you. Pop by the Careers and Employability services and ask what they have available, check what is available through your course and think outside the box. Valuable work experience is everywhere.

3. Lacking work experience 

Make up for it by explaining what skills your course/volunteering/societies have given you. These are things we often forget, but even having done sports in the past can be valuable. For example, playing handball taught me how to play on a team and possess good team spirit, whilst playing tennis has taught me to work independently. Through my course we learn extensively about critical thinking, how to see cases from new perspectives and how to discipline ourselves/plan ahead and take responsibility for getting work done.

A picture of campus is always appropriate – especially when the light (and weather) is this nice as it was last week.

These are just a couple of things that might help when you write your applications. You might have read fellow blogger Emma’s blog post on how to tackle an interview. As she also mentioned, the University’s Career and Employability Services located in Building 37 on Highfield Campus are one of the many perks of being a student here at Southampton. You can go there to get advice on your CV, writing your application, what you can do with your degree, how to turn your idea into a business and so many other things. They also run regular workshops which are definitely worth having a look at.


Monday, 8 February 2016

Planning a society event

New semester, new society commitments.

Valentine’s Day is coming up soon and so is the Filipino Society’s annual Valentine’s Party. Being new to event planning, there are lots of things I need to consider to make sure the night goes smoothly. More importantly, we need to make sure that our guests have fun. As such, as president of the society, I have a big responsibility on my shoulders.

Thankfully, each in the committee take pride in their own role for our success. Since becoming president, it has become clearer to me that a good leader is not one that does everything, but one that delegates to the best people. Effective delegation saves time and increases the morale and confidence of the team.

Our event poster 

For those who know little about the Philippines, it is a tropical nation defined by emerald rice fields, teeming mega-cities, graffiti-splashed jeepneys, smouldering volcanoes, bug-eyed tarsiers, fuzzy water buffalo and smiling, happy-go-lucky people. It has more than 7000 small islands – if island hopping is your thing, then it is the place for you!

Our British Representative, Emily talking about her experience when she visited the Philippines last year. She and our Vice President, Justine (in the picture) met when they did some work experience in the country. Emily loved the Philippines so much that she became part of the committee! 

So what does the Filipino Society in Southampton do exactly?

The good thing about FilSoc is that you don't have to be Filipino to join our socials. University is the perfect time to get to know cultures you never thought you could ever experience and FilSoc offers a chance for people to get to know a little country in the far South East of Asia.

We throw:
  • Karaoke Parties: Filipinos like to sing - a LOT.
  • Filipino (Tagalog) Language Lessons: Why not come to our chilled out language lessons and learn a few interesting new words while you're at it?!
  • Filipino cook-offs: We love our food and we LOVE sharing it. We hold socials where each person makes a dish, Filipino or not, and shares it with the group. The best dish wins the prize of pride.
  • Pub trips: who doesn't like a pint?
  • Filipino movie nights: We often hold screenings of Filipino movies (with English subtitles).

Things to keep in mind for your event 

If you’re planning to hold a society event soon, there are other things you must keep in mind such as entertainment and sponsors. In last year’s Valentine’s Party, we played a live version of 'Take Me Out'. Things got pretty brutal. Thankfully, our local sponsor made the ruthlessness worth it as the “winning” couple received a £10 voucher for their date.

Looks like we have a yes from the ladies for this gentleman…


Can you bring food to the venue? How close is it? I have found that having the venue somewhere where it is easily accessible increases turn out. Moreover, depending on your expected turn out you need to consider the size of the venue too. If the event is likely to be a cosy one, find a place that is not too big so it won’t look too empty.


This is another crucial part. Our Halloween party last year was held exactly on October 31st which was a Saturday. I think that had we held the event at a different day, maybe just before Halloween itself for example, we would’ve had a much bigger turnout. It is important to consider what other plans people might have on the day you have your event.


Will your catering be halal and vegetarian friendly? It is important to consider the varied needs of guests that may come on the night. You don’t want them to turn up having paid money for their tickets and find that they actually can’t have any of the food you’ve made.


Do you know anyone who can sing or perform for your guests? Last year we had a few singers. For our last Halloween Party, we got in contact with the Circus Society who gave us a fantastic performance!

Rofini singing for us


How will you let everyone know about your event? This year we’ve made sure to get in contact through social media with societies in the SUSU Communities’ Zone to let them know about the party and asked if they could help spread the word about it. The good thing about planning events is that you have a reason to get in touch with people you may never approach thereby increasing your network. We’ve also stuck a few posters around the Library. This is the most frequented place on campus so hopefully more people see them!


How much should your tickets be in order for you to not incur a loss? To encourage people to buy early we’ve slashed our ticket prices by 1/3 if bought a few days before the event. This helps us plan out how much food we have to make so there’ll be more than enough for everyone.

These are just some of the things that I have learnt from my time as President of the Filipino Society and planning our big and small events. If you’re keen to learn more about a new culture and discover amazing Filipino food, why not come to this year’s FilSoc Valentine’s Party on February 11th?

Hope to see you then!


Friday, 5 February 2016

The big interview

At the start of November I heard about a job opening with the Office for National Statistics as a graduate statistician. For me, this was a pretty big deal since the ONS is one of the best places to work in my field and it’s essentially my dream job.

It turns out that applying for a real job is a lot harder than just handing round your CV and having a 20 minute interview. The application process for the ONS required days just to fill in the initial application. They were assessing us on six competencies, which we had to prove we were capable of in 250 word paragraphs.

I’ve spent my time at University taking part in so much, and working really hard in order to build experience relevant for jobs like this one. However, none of that really matters if you can’t get it across on the page.

I met with my personal tutor who helped me come up with ideas for what examples to give in the application, and then I spent three days writing and re-writing various parts of the application.

However, that work paid off and I was lucky enough to get through to the interview stage. At first I was thrilled that I got the interview, but then the reality that I would actually have to go to an interview dawned and I came back down to earth. Earlier this week I went to the interview, and it was absolutely terrifying, and I will be kicking myself for the questions that I messed up on for weeks. A competency-based interview is not something I have ever experienced before; they don’t ask the general questions you might expect such as ‘what are your core values?’ and ‘what can you bring to the team?’, but rather focus on the same six competencies that they assessed in the initial application.

I wish I hadn’t told anyone that I was going to an interview, because of course when I got back everyone was asking me how it went and I really didn’t want to talk that much about it. How do you tell people that it just didn’t go that well?

The best thing to come of the whole process really is simply the experience. As much as I wish that someone would just come along and offer me a job without me having to put any effort into applying, that’s just not going to happen. Without going along to interviews I will never be able to improve how I respond to them. There were definitely some key lessons that I picked up just from this first one:

1. Prep like crazy. I fell down on one part of the interview because I just couldn’t remember the answer to a technical question; not because it was difficult, but because it was easy. It was a topic that I hadn’t covered since first year and I just assumed I would be able to answer their questions, resulting in me feeling pretty foolish when I couldn’t remember the answer.

2. Prep some more. Thinking up decent answers on the fly to questions you could have prepared answers for is just silly and for sure highlighted my naivety in the interview.

3. Know the company you are applying for, and think about what kind of person they want to hire. That way you can tailor your answers to make sure you are including the really key things that they are looking for in an employee, and showing knowledge about what they do will get the point across that you really are interested in working for them, and not just applying for the sake of it.

Remember that if you are struggling with your application, the University offers a career drop-in service where they can help you with the application process and give advice for how to proceed.

If anyone else has any key tips or pieces of advice that they have learned from interviews please do share in the comments, because I’m still figuring out the best way to go about it and other people’s experience and insight would be very helpful!


Thursday, 4 February 2016

Summer plans and avoiding scams

This past week has been a bit of a strange one, I’m not going to lie. With lectures and general learning kicking back into play, it was full steam ahead on the organisation front, which obviously meant a whole lot of knuckling down and getting on with work. It also, however, meant I was finally in the right mindset to start thinking about the immediate future; most notably this coming summer.

With applications for graduate schemes flying around all over the place, I started to realise that, with a great deal of them not beginning until this coming September, I would have a whole three months to kill: one final summer before becoming a proper, fully-functioning adult. So of course, my attention turned to how to fill such an enormous chunk of time, and that age-old student solution swam right up to bite me: travelling.

Did you know that there are certain schemes that allow you to travel and work at the same time? So basically you can see the world whilst earning a decent wage and return home both culturally and financially richer. There are, no word of a lie, hundreds of companies devoted to bringing you this experience. The important point here though, is that some are far more legitimate than others. Something which I actually learned first-hand this week.

Travelling as a student is a great idea, and a great way to create lifelong memories. Like playing pat-a-cake on top of a mountain.

In the past I have looked up the possibilities of working in summer camps in the USA and had some great feedback from a family friend who had done so with a particular company recently. This year however, I decided that Europe seemed like a better option, and on a random job search, I came across a company that offered the opportunity to spend some time living in Berlin, whilst working on a travel guide of the city. The salary was listed as competitive, and the perks seemed to all be in place: it was a pretty exciting prospect.

When I dug a little deeper though, things seemed to get a little fishy. Firstly, and this was the biggest sign of something being wrong, I couldn’t find anyone who had completed the scheme in the past three years. There were testimonials on the company’s website, but being in a slightly cynical mindset, I figured these could easily be faked, and with no one that could be contacted to give their story firsthand anywhere on the internet (popular forum TheStudentRoom turned up precisely no leads), I took a bit of a step back.

Then came the invoices. I realised that living abroad would cost money; accommodation rarely comes cheap, but the fee the company were asking for was incredibly steep, and more importantly, there were no guarantees or contracts. I received an email literally just asking me to deposit a large amount of money into a particular bank account, hoping that I would accept such a move on blind trust. Also worthy of noting: by this stage, all mention of a salary had been dropped.

It’s probably pretty clear to see why I ended up dropping out of communication with this company in the end, and whilst it was disappointing to let such an awesome sounding opportunity go, it did teach me an awful lot about looking out for scams. The company seemed legitimate, their adverts and website reflected this, but in dealing with them, it just didn’t feel right. It may well have been perfectly fine, but if I wasn’t comfortable, I wasn’t ready to fork out a large amount of money.

Travelling when you’re a student is a great idea; there are few times in your life when you will have the freedom and the opportunity to do so. Travelling and working is even better; you can gain some incredible experience whilst abroad that can really beef up your CV no-end. Just be sensible with the companies you follow, and make sure to go in with your eyes open.

If you’re ever in any doubt about a scheme’s legitimacy, the Students' Union Advice Centre can help with any issues and most likely point you in the right direction. Don’t let this scare you; there are plenty of incredible opportunities out there, and with a bit of help you can seize them whole-heartedly.


Monday, 1 February 2016

World Cancer Day - 4 February 2016

As short as February is, it still holds quite a few remarkable days. The obvious one is Valentine’s Day, the 29th of February (since it’s a leap year)…and one other day which might not be as well-known: World Cancer Day on February 4th.

I believe this is something almost everyone can relate to. When I did my last year of college, we had a fundraising event for the Norwegian Cancer association (Kreftforeningen). A representative from this association held a motivational talk for us before the actual fundraising day. He asked everyone who knew someone affected by cancer to stand up and I don’t think anyone in the room remained seated. He held this talk three times that day and the result was the same every time. He made his point clear; everyone knows someone affected by cancer. Hence, why research is so crucial.

You might have walked past the Life Sciences building on Highfield Campus with the posters stating “The cure for cancer? You’re it”. Maybe you didn’t think about it twice, but it refers to the research the University is currently doing on cancer and immunology.

The University of Southampton does research on two particular cases which are very close to my heart. The first is their research on Alzheimer’s and the second is their research on cancer. Since World Cancer Day is coming up and because this is something really important to me, I thought I’d dedicate this blog post to tell you a bit about the research University of Southampton does and how you can get involved.

Currently, the University is fundraising for a new Centre for Cancer Immunology and, as I’m writing this blogpost they have raised £13,859,877. That’s just over 50% of what the university needs to build this centre, as the goal is £25 million. Among many others, The Wolfson Foundation has donated £450,000.

Let’s be honest; they wouldn’t have raised so much money if this wasn’t a revolutionary research area. I’m not a medicine researcher nor a medical student, but I have done my reading and I encourage you as well to take a look at the University’s campaign website dedicated to this research.

Being able to build this centre, which would be the first dedicated cancer immunology centre in the UK, means that the University could double the number of people working on cancer immunology and undoubtedly accelerate the development of immunotherapy treatments. Treating cancer with immunotherapy is already being done today and the results are more than promising.

I won’t repeat here everything that’s already so nicely presented on their website, but I will urge everyone who has the possibility to donate or spread the word to do so. I don’t believe everything is possible, but I believe that a cure for cancer out there.

Here are photos of the two people I thought of when I stood up that day back in college. This is why cancer research is a matter close to my heart.

The campaign is something everyone can get involved with, including staff, students, alumni and members of the public. For example, many bake sales have been held to raise money!

For now, I will just leave you with this quote from Paul Raine, who sums up my thoughts. He is one of the donors to this cause and hope you will spare ten minutes to read some more of their success stories.

“There are good reasons why it takes a long time to conduct medical research and investing in this area will help to make breakthroughs more quickly. I believe that this new Centre will hugely raise the profile of immunology and immunotherapies as a way to treat and stop cancer.” 


Thursday, 28 January 2016

My tips for video interview success

This week I had the experience of having my very first ever video interview. Video interviews are becoming a more common way of screening potential candidates for jobs. It’s quicker, cheaper and can be conducted literally anywhere in the world!

It took a while to get used to pretending my camera was a real life person but at the end of it, I actually found that I felt more comfortable talking about myself this way than in face-to-face interviews.

My video interview didn’t have another person asking my questions at the other end. Instead, questions were given to me on the screen and I was given time to record my answers.

Based on the questions that I got asked, I have listed above what I think the recruiter wanted to gauge from me.

In my experience, depending on how specialised the position that you’re applying for is, most recruiters are becoming less interested in technical knowledge. What they want to know is whether or not you can fit into the culture of the company. Most importantly, they want to know how easily you can learn and adapt on the job – this is much more important than sounding as smart as Einstein.

My insider tips


1. Take the video interview seriously and dress as you would for a face to face meeting. 

You will feel more powerful and this will transpire when you speak. You might think that you can get away by wearing a crisp shirt on top and your pyjamas as bottoms but it would do your confidence a favour to really dress to impress. 

2. Do research on potential questions that may come up based on the position you’re applying for.

Why don’t you check YouTube for other people’s video interviews so you have an idea of how best to conduct yourself? Better yet, why don’t you attend a careers interview workshop? Check out our Careers and Employability website for events to help you.

3. Familiarise yourself with the technology.
  • Is the webcam/microphone working? Don’t leave it last minute to check.
  • Can you stop and start the interview or will you lose time by doing this? My interview allowed me some time to read the question. Afterwards I was free to start the recording of my answers.
  • Are you allowed breaks? In my experience, I wasn’t. The idea is to emulate a real life interview but merely to exploit how technology makes it quicker and cheaper to screen candidates.

4. Try and locate the fastest internet speed you can get. 

This affects the quality of your video and ultimately how the recruiter will perceive you. The University’s Eduroam connection has never failed me. If you’re having trouble getting hold of a webcam, Hartley Library provides laptops with a microphone and camera. If you need a quiet room to record your interview, you can book a library room here. Of course, you can also complete the interview in the comfort of your own room! Just make sure you tell your housemates that your life depends on their quietness for the next hour or so…

5. Do a trial run.

Skype a friend before recording so you can ask for feedback on how close you should be to the camera and any other adjustments to make such as lighting and sound. I found that a plain white background for the video was enough. Too much going on in the back takes the attention away from you.

My experience in retail job interviews

As a student, it helps to have extra income from a part-time job whilst doing a degree. I work one shift a week in retail and that is enough to pay for my weekly food shop which is fantastic. My video interview was for Transport for London but I have had more experience being interviewed for retail positions. It’s different in a sense that they are done in person but incredibly similar in a sense that most of the questions I’ve been asked want to know how easily I can fit into the culture of the team.

If you’re thinking of applying for a part-time job in retail, here are some things that my manager has told me she keeps in mind when interviewing candidates:

Retail is very much team based and customer facing. Typically, employers want to know if you are warm and welcoming to new people, if you can sell products well and if you can learn on the job quickly. Retail is also busy and fast paced. I’ve found that it’s all about using your intuition and not relying on the manager or supervisor to tell you what to do all the time. For example, if I see a spillage on the shop floor I use my intuition to follow the right clean-up procedure and not wait for my manager to ask. One other thing is that retail managers want flexible recruits. Sometimes, your colleagues will get ill or someone can’t turn up for their shift. Your CV will get a guaranteed tick if you are flexible and open to short notice shift work.

In my experience, practice makes perfect if you want to succeed in that interview. Take a few hours to search online what kind of potential questions will come up based on the technicalities or competencies needed for the position you’re applying for. Ultimately, an interview is your opportunity to bring to life your CV. If you’ve got it – flaunt it. Don’t be shy to sound passionate.

If you have had a video interview, let me know how it went in the comments below. If you have one coming up, best of luck to you!


Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Preparing for your dissertation

It’s that time of year – exams are finished and semester two begins, bringing along with it the dreaded dissertation. I was fortunate enough during my undergraduate degree to have been an intern within ECS (Electronics and Computer Science) after my second year, where I began a research project that became my dissertation completely by accident.

However, keeping momentum on any project is tough. This time last year, despite having started technically some months ago, I was still fairly unsure of what I was actually supposed to be doing. I’ve jotted down a few key pieces of advice for those of you embarking on your dissertation marathon. Take it with a pinch of salt; it worked for me, but ultimately this is your project and you know how you work best.

1. Read

Read everything about your topic that you can get your hands on. If you aren’t sure what your specific research question is yet, read an array of literature and write down questions that arise as you go - maybe one of them will be interesting enough to become your project. Once you have your research question, don’t jump into the literature review straight away. keep reading and learn as much as you can. Then when you sit down to actually write something, it will be much, much easier.

2. Talk to your supervisor

Supervisors are your best resource for advice and guidance. Arrange meetings with them and make sure to attend prepared, make a list of the questions you want to ask so that you don’t waste your time. Some departments have a limit on how frequently you can meet with your supervisor, so make sure you check your department’s rules and regulations.

3. Plan your time

Discuss a timeline with your supervisor, set reasonable deadlines for each stage of the work and try to meet them. Setting deadlines helps to avoid things being left to the last minute, and by involving your supervisor it becomes harder to miss the deadline.

4. Don’t let it take over your life

Remember that you have other modules and coursework to do, don’t let the dissertation become the only thing that you work on. Third year is a crucial time and you don’t want to ensure success in the dissertation at the expense of your other modules.

5. Talk about your ideas

Get together with friends and coursemates and talk about your ideas for your topic. Talking to someone else can really help clarify your ideas; it doesn’t matter whether or not they actually know what you are going on about. It’s like the ‘programming teddy bear’; the idea that, when you are programming, talking to a teddy bear on your desk explaining your code helps you to avoid mistakes and helps you understand what you are trying to do. The exact same thing is true with your dissertation. Find your teddy bear!

My teddy bear is actually an owl – poor thing has listened to me talk about my work far too often

The final piece of advice isn’t really so much advice as it is a cliché. Don’t leave it to the last minute. As with most things, the way to ensure a really strong dissertation is to give yourself plenty of time to write and re-write. It’s an organic process where things improve the longer you give yourself to understand what it is you are trying to do.

The final thing! Sending it to be bound is only slightly less terrifying than actually handing it in.

Good luck!