Tuesday, 19 August 2014

University sports

As I turned on the news last Thursday morning, I was presented with pictures of nervous Sixth Form students opening their A-level results. That day is the start of your university journey and I want to congratulate all who achieved the grades they needed and wanted.

Seeing the news made me remember my A-level results day three years ago. After finding out that I had achieved the grades necessary to study at the University of Southampton, I was filled with excitement for the years ahead. In the weeks that followed I was sent a few information booklets and I did some research of my own; one of the things that I was most looking forward to was trying my hand at some of the sports that the University has to offer.

The first thing that I signed up to was the University’s Tchoukball team. I, like many of you, had never heard of this strange sport and I, like nearly all of you, found it impossible to pronounce. Tchoukball (pronounced ‘chuke-ball’) is of Swiss origin and mixes elements of handball, volleyball and netball together.  It was designed in the 1970s by Hermann Brandt to remove the aggression associated with most team sports.

This seven-aside game is played on an indoor pitch, similar in size to a basketball court, which has a frame at each end surrounded by a semi-circular forbidden zone whose radius measures three metres. A frame is essentially a square trampoline, measuring one metre by one metre, which is orientated at 45 degrees from the floor. The aim of the game is the bounce the ball off the frame so that is lands beyond the forbidden zone without the opposing team catching the ball and your team can score at both ends. Tchoukball is a game of threes: the game is split into thirds lasting fifteen minutes, and you can only hold the ball for three seconds, within which you can only take three steps and a team can only make three passes before they have to take a shot.

Southampton Stags in action (Credit: Southampton Tchoukball Club)

I played tchoukball religiously throughout my first year, attending every training session and playing in all the games I could make on a Sunday afternoon, which often saw us making trips to Portsmouth or Bedford, where several teams converged to play two or three matches in one day. Last year I decided to make a switch and joined the University’s Handball team. Although tchoukball has similarities to handball, I didn't know the rules of the game, so I joined the University’s development squad, which allows novices like me to learn the game whilst improving our technique.

The handball tournament I took part in last November

Besides handball and tchoukball, I have always enjoyed playing badminton and whilst I've been here I have played it recreationally with friends, attended a few RecBad sessions (the badminton society for recreational playing) and I am currently part of the Physics badminton team. Every year at I look out for new things to try, and even though I’m going into my masters year this ethos will not change. I have tried some sports that didn't work out for me, like the dodgeball taster session I attended in my second year.

My advice to the new intake of Freshers who will soon be appearing in Southampton is to try everything and to not be afraid to give something a go!


Friday, 15 August 2014

Looking to September

It’s halfway through my stay at the internationally-renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe and, settling down to write this at the second attempt after I fell asleep on the company flat’s sofa the first time round, I think it’s safe to say I've been dealt a great reminder of just how exhausting – and yet equally amazing – the experience really is!

But outside of the Fringe bubble (of which I've plenty of tales to tell and photos to share upon my return!), the real world goes on, even if sometimes, when you’re involved in and seeing theatrical shows for twelve hours a day, it doesn't always feel that way! And if you are in Edinburgh at any point for the festival, please do come along to C Too at 2pm to catch our show if you've a spare hour or so – we’d absolutely love to see you there!

Gone Rogue’s gender-swapped production of the farcical classic “The Importance of Being Earnest” is going brilliantly, with every show ending with an on-stage selfie with an audience member conscripted to play the role of Miss Prism - such as Alastair here!

Yet once again we've reached that time of the year where many an academic destination is determined and plenty of plans for the months ahead are formed: the excitement (or trepidation!) of A Level Results Day! It seems crazy to think that it’s been three years since I woke up to some of the best news of my life – that I’d made it into the University of Southampton to study Software Engineering (after I was absolutely convinced I’d messed up my exams!) – but three years it has indeed been, during which time so much has gone on that it’s almost impossible to know where to begin even summarizing my Southampton experience.

From the early days of those first few nerve-racking, but equally exciting and curiosity-stacked weeks, during which you learn the hundreds of domestic skills you've probably always taken for granted at home (grocery shopping at supermarkets was like another world to me at first – there’s way too much choice!), to the incredible adventures I’m having at this very second, the journey of self-discovery you go on can be quite amazing, however cliché it sounds.

And looking back in hindsight, it’s for this reason that, if I had a time machine, I don’t think there’s too much I would want to tell my younger (positively elated, if soon to be terrified!) self, or indeed anybody else who’s just now confirmed their place at Southampton for next year – well, apart from wishing them massive congratulations, of course!

Because ultimately so much of the fun I've had at University has come from learning from mistakes, both as an individual and in collective groups, as much as celebrating whatever successes have come by, even if that did mean accidentally leaking milk all over my first year flatmates’ vegetables on day two of living with them – after all, it got us laughing and talking (particularly when I had to ask what replacements to buy!). Things generally seem to have a way of working themselves out for the better down here, so there’s truly no harm in giving anything – activities, sports, modules, assignments, or even domestic duties – a go, particularly as it’ll probably provide a laugh or two for yourself and others along the way (as well as another new experience)!

So it’s because of that I’d be confident in saying that if, for whatever reason, the day didn't turn out quite as you’d originally planned, or you've decided to take an alternative route for your future, you honestly needn't worry. Although I was one of the lucky ones who had a fairly relaxed time of things, loads of my friends from home didn't quite end up where they hoped they would at the start of the day, but ultimately landed in a place they came to love equally, if not more so, through Clearing or other means, so there’re always plenty of options open to everyone – just don’t panic, and make the right decision for you.

And if you are on the way to Southampton… well, then congratulations - you’re in for the best three or four years of your life! After all, this blog is packed with two years’ worth of posts to prove it – just click through them to see more!

And to everyone: congratulations, enjoy the final few weeks of your summers, good luck – and hopefully see you in September!


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

My last summer blog post from Sweden

The summer holidays are passing by so quickly, I’m kind of wishing I could stop time for a while and just continue enjoying this time with my family. My sister will be starting her first year at university on the day I’m leaving to fly to the UK. I’m really excited for her but it’s also really hard to comprehend that we will both be university students. When we’re together it’s easy to feel like we’re kids again and the thought of her starting university is something I've always thought would happen far into the future but I guess the future has arrived and I need to start getting used to the idea. I wonder if she had similar thoughts to ones I had when I first started university. Anyway, this will be my last summer blog post from Sweden because the next time you hear from me I will be back in my house in Southampton.

I’m already feeling a little sad to leave my family because I won’t be seeing them until December. I will especially miss my mum’s home cooking; I truly never appreciated how lucky I was to have my mum cook for me every day until moving out on my own. Even though my cooking skills have improved a lot since moving out, they still can’t compare; my mum is a total pro!

On the other hand, I’m also feeling excited to go back and see some of my housemates again. As I mentioned in my last blog post,  one of my housemates has been on placement for the last few weeks and because she was assigned to carry out her placement in Winchester (which is not far from Southampton), she has been able live in our house over the summer. It will be nice to catch up as well as keep her company. However, I will only be in Southampton for a week before I head off to Italy to collect data for my third year project. Before I leave for Italy, I’ll also be catching up with some of my dance friends and heading out on an adventure to the New Forest, a national park in the south of England. As always, I’m keen to explore somewhere new and I've had many people recommend I go there so I can’t wait.

My sister and I in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles during our Paris trip this summer.

As you now know, I will be collecting data for my third year project, in Italy (as well as doing further analysis back in the labs in Southampton). I've been preparing by reading up on research other scientists in the field have done. In addition to collecting data for my own project, I will also be contributing to the data collection for the project 'WATBIO', with other undergraduates participating in the Italy project. This is a huge collaboration between partners across Europe, researching into improving non-food crops to provide more biomass (which can be used for bio-energy), as well as crops with the best drought tolerance to reduce water consumption. This will not only be a great experience, but also great for my CV and as something to talk about in future interviews.

I am not the only undergraduate participating in the Italy project, but we will each have a different area which we will be specifically researching. I am also looking forward to seeing those of my coursemates who will be going to Italy and catching up on what they have been doing over the summer.

Anyway, I will continue to keep you all updated and I hope you look forward to hearing from me again once I’m back in the UK.


Friday, 8 August 2014

A student summer

If you've been reading my blog posts over the summer so far, you’ll have noticed that I've tried to squeeze a lot into my holidays. I've been on holiday to Bruges, visited the Beaulieu National Motor Museum, had lunch on a cruise ship, been to Silverstone to watch the F1 and attended both my girlfriend’s and my sister’s graduation. However, as July turns into August, the time to do something a little more serious and useful has arrived.

This week I started a work experience placement at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. I am working within the radiation protection department, which is part of the hospital’s medical physics facilities. This is exactly the sort of medical physics department I wish to go into after my master’s degree finishes next year and so far it has been an enlightening experience and one that is making me even more motivated to achieve my dream job.

The grand façade of the hospital

The general route to get into a career in medical physics is to apply to be part of a training scheme that takes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) graduates and adapts their skill sets towards medically-inclined roles. These are hospital-run courses that last three years and involve working whilst you are also studying, so that you get the advantages of both worlds!

Going from student summer lounge-about mode into the role of a normal nine-to-five worker has come as a bit of a shock to the system. My alarm goes off before seven o’clock every morning and I am at the train station by eight. Now that I’m four days into my work experience I have become accustomed to these ‘strange’ hours and I am beginning to enjoy the ‘getting up for work’ routine – it’s a shame I’m not being paid for it though!

However, since my last blog it hasn’t been all work.

Despite the lovely, hot weather we have been enjoying, my girlfriend and I decided to indulge ourselves in a spot of nostalgic cake making and decorating last week. After finding a recipe online, we raided the supermarket for supplies and set to work making a chocolaty mess, which, rather surprisingly, actually resulted in some pretty good looking chocolate cupcakes! We then set to work decorating them, trying to create the best masterpieces we could. Our creations included a portrait of each of us, some weird and wonderful animals (including a unicorn, a dragon and a questionable tiger) and yes, an F1 car.

 Our weird and wonderful cupcake creations

At the weekend my parents celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary and took me and my sister, along with our respective partners, out for a family meal. It was a great night, filled with lots of laughter and it was also lovely to see my sister, who I haven’t seen since her graduation in July.

 Happy Anniversary Mum and Dad!

This balance between work and fun activities is a common juggling act that students deal with in the summer. If you fill your summer with too much work it doesn't feel like a holiday, but if you don’t utilise the time for something, it can feel like a wasted opportunity. I personally feel that as long as you try to get some balance, in whatever ratio, your holidays will be both fulfilling and enjoyable.


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Back to Scotland

As one spectacular celebration in Scotland comes to a close, in the form of the fantastic Commonwealth Games (for England certainly!), so opens another! I’m writing today with suitcases, schedules, clothes and scripts scattered around me, struggling to sit still in anticipation and counting down the hours until the clock ticks over to arrival day. Because after the adventures of last August, I can’t quite believe that, by the time you read this, I’ll most likely be on a train back to the largest performing arts event in the world, the incredible Edinburgh Festival Fringe – and I can’t wait!

It’s quite difficult to know where to begin to describe the Fringe if you've not been before, as I found out last year when writing about my experiences up there – and two or three blog posts later I still think I had more to say, more scenes to describe and more stories to tell! Simply put, time spent at the Fringe is a complete whirlwind of imagination, dedication and talent, on display everywhere you go and in all forms you can imagine.

From fascinating street performers to free shows aplenty (one of my favourite shows of last year’s Fringe featured an initially very nervous magician who showed us a great trick on the corner of the street, convincing us to come along – before being awesome!), from novel flyering techniques (with everyone competing for potential audience members, the strategies on the Royal Mile can become something to behold!) to spectacularly thought-provoking drama tackling comedy to politics. All of this featuring some of the most talented yet friendly performers on the planet (who you get to network with easily at events) amidst a backdrop of picturesque cobbled streets of a beautiful city. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything quite like Edinburgh at festival time before.

Marketing on the Mile can get creative – as we tried to be with an impromptu rendition of “Angels” last year!

Edinburgh at festival time can be crazy, but it’s one heck of an experience!

Climbing Arthur’s Seat was a perfect way to round off an amazing adventure!

But my outstanding memory stems from how, despite the sleep deprivation, malnourishment (supermarket meal deals tend to be the order of the day for sheer convenience!), and resulting illness we all suffered straight after two weeks of complete mayhem, I can recall emerging from the madness of the Fringe invigorated with ideas for the future, inspired by the standard of performances I’d experienced, and saliently reminded of just how much impact theatre, comedy and the arts, as a whole, can have. One particular show, for example, took on the history an incredibly controversial figure from an alternative angle, and somehow made a skeptical audience consider him differently, at least for a moment, and the feeling of being mentally challenged in that way has stuck with me since. Plus, there’s really nothing like the arts as a medium through which to express yourself – or just play around with them and have some fun!

Having never been before last year’s Fringe, I didn’t really know what I was missing out on whenever I heard about it. But now, having experienced the magic of the occasion once, I can see it becoming a regular trip in the future – having somehow crammed 54 shows into the 18 days I was there last time round, I think I’ve become a complete Fringe addict! In fact, it’s weird to think that there may come a day (probably sooner than I’d hope!) that I won’t be able to attend – so, as always with life at University, I’m going up aiming to make the absolute most of the opportunity to attend – and perform - while it’s there.

And it’s these kind of one-off opportunities, the sort which could open your mind, inspire you and show you things in another light, as the Fringe did for me last year, which the University of Southampton are committed to providing; not just in terms of performing, but in all academic and extra-curricular fields – as the recent Open Days suggested!

For example, the Students’ Union’s touring production company, Gone Rogue Productions, of which I’m a member again this time round, have been fortunate enough this year to have received some hugely generous and appreciated support from the University’s G.F. Forsey fund, covering some of the numerous vast expenses associated with preparing a show and undertaking the trip; a donation which has gone some way to making the whole thing possible. Likewise, I have personally also been humbled to receive support from the ECS Student Development Fund this year, for which I am extremely grateful, and which I hope to use to expand my insight into the networking side of the Fringe this year (whereas last time round I was just overwhelmed by it all!), with the ultimate goal of guiding Showstoppers, the Union’s musical theatre society, up there next year and offering our members similar life-changing opportunities – so fingers crossed!

But ultimately, I think what I’m most excited about is just the chance to get up there and perform to international audiences from far and wide, like last year. The fairly surreal nature of Gone Rogue’s gender-swapped twist on the Oscar Wilde farcical classic, The Importance of Being Earnest, has already seemingly gone down a storm during our preview performances in Southampton, and has resulted in a show which is a heck of a lot of fun to be a part of (although after having to wear them for the first time in my life, I’ve discovered I’m really not a fan of heels!). Likewise, our other show, Stephen Belber’s thriller classic Tape, left audiences teetering on knife-edge tension throughout their previews, promising an emotional roller coaster which stunned many into silence at its conclusion.

Mastering heels is a challenge I never really thought I’d have to take on at any point in my life!

So please do, if you happen to be at the Fringe (or know somebody there!) between the 10th-25th August, come along and support Gone Rogue Productions’ The Importance of Being Earnest (2pm, C Too) and/or Tape (10.15pm, C Too) – both offer a rollicking time and are well worth a viewing, so we’d love to see you there!

In the meantime… well, here we go again!


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Third year project update and more

I’m starting to feel a lot of excitement for my third year project as the plans for the field work and data collection component are being finalised. I spent the majority of last summer working in one of the clothing stores in West Quay, a large shopping complex in Southampton city centre. I only went home for two weeks, in addition to one week off in Edinburgh, Scotland, travelling with my sister. I found it was really easy to get a summer job in the UK as a student compared to in my city in Sweden which is why I chose to stay in Southampton most of last summer. However, this summer after flying back to Sweden for my sister’s graduation, I’ve had to be a little more flexible and patient while making plans for my third year project. Because of uncertainties of dates for the data collection it has been harder to commit to a summer job this year however on the plus side I’ve been able to spend more time at home in Sweden with my family which has been wonderful too.

Anyway, now that some plans have been finalised I can begin to fill you in on some of the details of my third year project which will be about stomata and stomatal patterning. In August I will be flying to Italy with two other undergraduates as well as PhD students and staff from the University of Southampton to a field site containing 6000 poplar trees. In about three weeks I will be returning back to Southampton which will give me about a week before I will be leaving for Italy to begin data collection. I’m looking forward to this new experience and will keep you updated on the progress. Until I leave I will be preparing by beginning further reading into the area of research. We have also begun completing a risk assessment for the field project which is an important safety measure for field work and a good step for us to become accustomed to, especially if we plan on doing more field work in the future.

Because I have now been in Sweden for longer than initially planned, it’s been a while since I’ve seen any of my uni friends and I’ve been trying to keep up with what everyone has been up to. I won’t go into too much detail but I thought it might be interesting to mention some of the things my friends have been doing over the summer. I’ll only mention what my second year friends are up to seeing as many of my third year friends who just graduated have already started their new jobs and I’d just like to wish them good luck! So some of the interesting things my friends have been up to include internships; one of my friends who is studying chemistry is in the middle of an accounting internship which may be surprising considering it’s a different field from their course. Another friend has recently started a summer job working as a waitress in her home town. One of my housemates, who is studying audiology, is currently on placement while another of my housemates (a geologist) is currently in Bulgaria working on a mapping project. I have another friend who started their summer off volunteering in Greece – many others have been travelling with family and friends.

As I’ve mentioned before it’s really easy to travel around places in Europe from the UK, as well as there also being a lot to see within the UK. Last summer I spent a week in Edinburgh, Scotland with my sister and much like when I travelled to Paris this summer, we travelled there by coach which we found to be the cheapest option. There was a lot to do in Edinburgh and we were lucky enough to go at the same time the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was taking place (even though prior to arriving in Edinburgh we had no idea what the festival was). Pictures are always fun and while I’ve recently been neglecting taking pictures, I thought I’d share a few photos from my trip last year which was also a really budget-friendly trip and I would highly recommend.

In the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh

In Edinburgh castle, down in the prisoners exhibition

View from Carlton Hill

Lastly, we’ve been having very hot weather where I am in Sweden, probably one of the hottest summer’s I can remember since moving to Sweden. Anyway, I hope you all are enjoying yourselves wherever you are and taking care if you’re out in the sun.


Thursday, 24 July 2014

Summer time in Southampton

Last summer I spent most of my holiday down in Southampton working the summer Open Days and practising with my band. By contrast, this summer I haven’t been in Southampton at all since I left after the Grad Ball in early June.  However, during the last week, I have visited Southampton twice.

If you’ve been on campus, have friends in third year or follow the University of Southampton via social media, you’ll have noticed that the two week graduation period got underway last week. On the first Tuesday of the graduation period I went down to see and support my sister and my girlfriend, who were both graduating with History degrees.

It was a strange day for me. On one hand I was a very proud brother and boyfriend, but on the other, it was sad to see them, and other Historians I knew, leaving the University. Of course, I will have all the pomp and circumstance to look forward to next year when I graduate and wave goodbye to the University one last time.

A very proud brother

My second trip down to Southampton was for a mini holiday of sorts with my girlfriend. We set off on Friday and drove down to Beaulieu in the New Forest to visit the National Motor Museum and the Beaulieu Palace House. As you will have seen from my last blog post, I am a massive fan of Formula 1 and cars in general, so I was like an excited child on Christmas morning walking through the museum and seeing all the cars I can only dream to own.

Is it obvious I like F1?

After admiring the collection of classic cars and riding the monorail (with its ridiculously low ceilings), we headed towards the Beaulieu Palace House. It was now my girlfriend’s turn to get excited as we had a guided tour through the parts of the house that were open to the public. Both the interior and exterior of the house were very impressive. Each room seemed to have its own history and, as the tour guide explained, its own supernatural entity.

In the evening we made our way back to Southampton, just in time to see my fellow Life at Southampton writer, Robin, perform in the first preview showing of The Importance of Being Earnest, which is being taken to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. I would highly recommend watching their gender-swapped adaption if you get the chance to see it, because not only is it extremely well acted, but seeing Robin dressed as a woman is priceless!

Bizarre as this may sound, we ended our mini holiday together the next day on a cruise ship. After heading down to Southampton docks, boarding the ship and going through customs we were given a tour of the giant vessel. We were guided round some of the luxurious penthouse suites and then taken to see the public areas, which included a theatre, a spa, several swimming pools and even a roof-top garden with real grass! The morning was concluded with a cocktail mixing performance, which inevitably involved many glass bottle being bravely juggled, before we were whisked away for a fantastic three course lunch in their sparkling dining hall.

If this trick had gone wrong we would have been soaked!

All of this sounds incredibly expensive, but fortunately we didn’t have to pay a single penny because my mum had won the tickets for the event in a raffle at work – hooray!