Friday, 27 November 2015

Success at Southampton

On Wednesday 25th November I was wandering around campus at the Postgraduate Open Day, since my initial plan for this post was to write about that. However, I spotted signs for something entirely different and thought I would wander in and see what was going on. It turns out that I had walked into the interviews for the University of Southampton’s SUCCESS scholarship scheme for Civil Engineers. Being from Social Sciences I had never heard of the scheme, so I was interested to learn more about what was going on. Fortunately a few of the students who were waiting for their interview to start agreed to talk to me. I wasn’t able to catch their names, but thank you to those who took the time to chat!

So what is the SUCCESS scholarship?

“It’s not just a scholarship. We are being interviewed by representatives from different companies within the industry who take on students from first to third year for 8-10 week paid internships over summer. Once you are successful in getting a place, you also receive a bursary to help you with your studies whilst at University.”

So what year are you in?

“Most of us are in our first year. Some of us had written our application for the scheme before we even started University in September, because they have to be sent off by the middle of October.”

Wow that’s pretty intense – what made you want to apply for the scheme?

“Loads of different things really; it’s a unique opportunity to gain industry experience and develop a professional network. There are really not many opportunities like this, because work experience is notoriously difficult to get as a Civil Engineer and this is so much more than just experience! We’ve heard from students who are already part of the scheme and they’re in such a strong position when they graduate, as they have on the job training and have created such good links with the company that they worked for. It’s a bit strange to be in first semester of our first year thinking about job security in the future, but this scheme means that the successful applicants won’t have to worry as much about that when they graduate.

Plus unlike a lot of internships, this is a paid position, so getting the experience isn’t a financial burden, which means that everyone is able to apply and doesn’t have to worry about not being able to afford it.”

Dressed to impress – Two of the students who I spoke to

I’m impressed, it took me until third year to feel ready for a formal interview! How has the University supported you in prepping for the interview?

"The Engineering department held workshops to help prepare for the interview, and you can ask for personal help if you need it. The department has definitely set us up to succeed - there isn’t anywhere else that provides you with an opportunity like this right off the bat!"

Thanks – and good luck with the interviews!

The SUCCESS Scholarship team very kindly invited me to stick around for lunch which gave me the opportunity to talk to some of the industry reps and a student who was currently on the scheme.

So from an industry perspective – why are you part of the programme, and why Southampton in particular?

“I think the main point is to improve links between industry and students, and to start making those links when students are in their first and second year. The thing about Engineering at Southampton that makes it so attractive for us is that the department produces good engineers year in, year out. As well this being very good for business, we provide on the job training across a range of developments so when the student graduates, they can start working for us from day one; they know the company and they know how we work, so they are ideal recruits! Of course, because they have such great experience, we have to encourage them to stay with us. Usually they have several companies offering them jobs"

Everyone approves of the free lunch

What do you think you gained from the six-week placement?

"So much I don’t know where to start. I think a big benefit was the friends that I made within the company. As an intern you are treated as a regular member of the team, and that makes a big difference – to feel so valued when you are just starting out. It’s going to have a huge impact on my dissertation as well, because I know people in the business that I can talk to and get advice from. I have such great links with the people in the industry, and that’s invaluable really."

Do you have any advice for people applying for the scheme next year?

"Research the company that you are applying for a position with - sometimes students get confused about which company they are interviewing with. The applicants that stand out are the ones who show good knowledge of the company and what they feel they can bring to the team, even if that’s just enthusiasm. Talk to students who are on the programme in the year above as well; they are the best source of information for those who are unsure what the work will be like and what will be expected of them."

Dedicated student ambassadors directing people to the right place at the Postgraduate Open Day

Tika Widyaningtyas representing social sciences at the Postgraduate Open Day

I know it’s strange for someone studying within the Social Sciences to be writing about opportunities for Civil Engineers but honestly, after talking to everyone, I was so jealous that I was thinking of switching disciplines…! Well maybe not, but still I wish I had been able to practice job applications and interviews when I was in first year!

I would hate to leave without mentioning the Postgraduate Open Day which was on the same day. I really recommend coming to an Open Day if you are interested in Postgraduate study. It’s a great chance to talk to lecturers and current students who can give you a unique perspective on the particular benefits of studying that course at Southampton. For those of you who couldn’t make it to the talks today the Welcome and Finance talks were recorded and are available online, and you can tour the campus using the University’s Virtual Open Day!


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Spreading Christmas cheer on campus

The Christmas lights on the University’s Highfield Campus have officially been switched on, meaning that yes, the Scrooges of the world can stop complaining that it’s “too early”. The time to start getting properly excited about Christmas is finally here!

In fact, this past week has basically been overtaken with thoughts of my favourite holiday of the year for a whole range of reasons.

The Christmas lights switch-on event itself on campus was a perfect way to kick things off, with Surge Radio and some special live musical performances providing plenty of those classic festive tracks to dance and sing along to, whilst the cheery yuletide spirit even spread as far as the next issue of The Edge, which I’m proud to announce will feature plenty of Christmas-themed entertainment fun. Yep, the University is definitely embracing Christmas in all its forms.

Whether you’re a Southampton newbie or a seasoned veteran of Christmas on campus, there’s plenty of new and exciting ways to spread the festive cheer around, especially if pre-exam nerves are getting you down. Below you’ll find just some of the many, many ways you can light up the lives of your fellow students this holiday season. The weather may well be inching towards arctic-level chilliness, but it’s easily counteracted with a smile and a tacky jumper.

Dress To Impress 

Southampton is lucky enough to have a whole range of shops in its City Centre (and there’s the internet too), so you’re never far away from a huge, sparkly piece of Christmas clothing. With the temperature lowering dramatically by the day, now’s the perfect occasion to invest in one of those gaudy jumpers you’ve heard so much about.

Not only will it give you that extra layer of comfort in lectures or in the library (the fluffier the better), it’s also pretty likely to raise a smile around campus too, spreading the joy of Christmas even further. If you’re feeling extra cheery, you could even grab a novelty hat too. Any way to make even just walking to lectures that little bit more fun!

 Tacky Christmas wear is the new black

Gaze in wonder at SUSU’s Christmas decorations 

You may or may not have had the joy of wandering through the Students' Union building since last week, but if you have you’ll probably have noticed the gigantic fully-decorated Christmas tree now stands proudly in the main entrance. It’s pretty hard to miss and it really is a sight to behold. But of course, it’s not the only festive-themed decoration that’s just come out for the year.

The Bridge has recently been fully kitted-out with an insanely glitzy winter wonderland theme, so if you fancy kicking back with a Christmas-flavoured drink or snack and escaping the library for a quick break, it’s the perfect place to do so. No word of a lie, there’s enough tinsel in there to keep your eyes sparkling for days. It’s positively magical.

Obviously, we can’t forget the University’s trademark Christmas lights. Switched on this year by the Deputy Vice Chancellor Adam Wheeler and our very own world champion Enactus team, the lights are spread across all of Highfield Campus - but the best place to see them in action is on the green by the Interchange. It’s a simple beauty, but a beauty nonetheless, and it’ll no doubt cheer you on through these cold, early nights.

The Christmas Lights on Highfield Campus are well worth seeing 

Secret Santa 

Finally, why not spread a little more than just the gift of cheer, like, well, a real gift? Whether it’s between your flatmates or course friends, getting together and each anonymously buying each other gifts is a great way to make the gradual build-up to Christmas even jollier.

I’ve actually found from doing this the past two years that it can even lead to the creation of a whole new holiday entirely: ‘Uni Christmas’, where all of the excitement of regular Christmas is brought forward several weeks and celebrated right here in Southampton! What’s better than two Christmases? Nothing - nothing is better than two Christmases.

 The SUSU Christmas tree stands tall and proud

There are of course many other ways of celebrating the festive period and keeping things lively on this last stretch of the first semester, but hopefully these are enough to get you started! 

A very merry Uni Christmas to all!


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Je suis le monde

Although I do a course which involves a lot of politics, discussions and strong opinions, I’m not the type of person to express my personal political opinions too often. You will never find me sharing political stuff on Facebook or in the comment section of an online newspaper fighting with other people via the internet. Apart from an article I wrote for a Norwegian newspaper a couple of years back, I rarely get involved.

Do not misunderstand me – I do chat about politics quite often with my friends, but it rarely leads to any heated discussions. The most heated discussions I have in regards to politics are often with my mum even though we mostly agree on different topics. My point is that I like to take the more diplomatic approach to things; I like to listen to other people’s views and why their views are the way they are. I don’t have a problem with saying what I mean and what I think is correct, but by no means am I an expert (yet) in any field. Thus, why I often leave the political fights up to those who really knows what they are talking about.

I made an exception today, however, when I decided to write this blog post.

It’s probably not shocking that the trigger for this post has been the recent terror attacks the world has seen. They are a reminder that the world is a scary place, but events like these also remind me to be grateful for everything around me. As someone who has friends living in Paris doing exactly the same as me - studying abroad - it is petrifying knowing they easily could have been a victim.

I don’t like using the phrase ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ because you should be able to go wherever you want to at whatever time without fearing for your life. You should be able to go out and enjoy yourself on a Friday night without ever doubting that you will get home safe.

More than anyone else, the younger generation has a responsibility to turn these horrifying events into valuable lessons. Lessons I wish we didn’t have to learn, at least not in this way. We have a duty not to spread xenophobic and racist ideas further, because I know very well that if every culture or religion on this planet wanted to kill everyone who was outside of their community there wouldn’t be any world today. I know very well that the guy who killed 77 people in Norway on the 22nd of July 2011 and bombed my beautiful city was a right-wing extremist Norwegian. I know that there were communities in Norway who experienced extreme hate the first hours after the bomb went off in Oslo.

This post is here to remind you that answering hate with hate only leads to more hate. It is here to remind you that the world can be so unimaginably cruel, just as it can be so extremely wonderful at the same time. It is here to remind you that you have an important voice in every community or society that you are a part of. Reading different comment sections on Facebook from various newspapers has made me (for lack of a better word) sincerely sad. I’m very happy my mum went to university with someone from Syria, who has taught us both that they are not as different from us as mass-media often like to portray it. I’m also happy I’m doing a course where we learn so extensively from experts on the different issues the world faces today.

The University has exchange opportunities in Paris and luckily all the exchange students from University of Southampton have been accounted for and are safe. At the same time we have students here from France both as students taking their whole degree here and through exchange with the Erasmus programme. Safe, however, does not mean that everything is alright and I’m extremely proud to be a student at a University who takes wellbeing and mental health issues very seriously. Remember that SUSU and the University’s Student Services offer help to everyone who is struggling with issues or concerns - I have only heard good things about the help offered by them.

Last week during the annual Christmas Light Switch On event, the University community observed a minute of silence for Paris and other countries affected by recent events before the lights were officially switched on.

Other societies have also had separate tributes to the victims; the Erasmus society along with the French Society made a book in which to leave a message - eventually this book will be sent off to a French university.


Friday, 20 November 2015

A healthy mind - Wellbeing Week 2015

Wellbeing. It sounds like an HR buzzword doesn’t it?

Actually, no – when you really try to understand it, the word is so much more than unsubstantiated jargon. The definition of wellbeing is essentially a healthy state of mind and physical form. With all the talk about stress management with work piling up, I decided to write about what the University of Southampton itself is actively doing to promote happiness amongst its students and staff.

From the 12th until the 26th of November is the University’s Wellbeing Event for 2015. This fortnight-long event offers workshops, performances and talks for all staff and students for free.

The University is known for its state-of-the-art facilities for ground-breaking research. I went to find out about a project scientists here have been working on…

Have you had a busy day? Your smartphone can help!

One of the talks introduced us to something Southampton health experts have been working on: an app called “HealthyMind.” It is a FREE android app that has been designed using cognitive behaviour therapy techniques and mindfulness theory.

You can get it from the Healthy Mind website or buy it from the android app store.

But don’t I spend too much time on my phone already?

Actually, the app has been designed to integrate to a hectic lifestyle. I do find that I often deal with stress by not even acknowledging that I feel that way. Instead of talking about it to friends or family, I ignore the issue and vent my frustrations in unhealthy forms. This can be through over-eating, drinking, or even losing sleep by staying up till 4 in the morning trawling through social media.

The screenshots below show how the app helps with these problems by encouraging calmness and lifting your mood. It promotes being mindful of your mental state and being able to talk about it as opposed to masking it.

Screenshots of the app. It’s okay to take a moment to take in what’s going on. 

The student lifestyle is fast paced, chasing deadline after deadline. If, like myself, you find yourself easily overwhelmed – as if no matter what task you accomplish for the day it still is never enough – having an app like HealthyMind is your buddy.

Using modern technology to beat the pressures of modern life 

A few years ago, the norm was to give ourselves an hour or so on the computer every day. Today we are connected to mobile internet 24/7. Instead of allocating non-disrupted time surfing the web, we now use it regularly in incredibly short bursts. The app has been designed to work with this cultural change. In fact, instead of making your hectic lifestyle worse, it takes you away from it.

However, one challenge the University’s experts have tried to overcome is preventing its users from finding the app obsolete and deleting it after a few days. Apps are often free nowadays and are thus incredibly disposable. So, the clever developers at Southampton and the US have been working closely with focus groups to make sure the service keeps itself non-intrusive. Instead of sending countless annoying notifications, the app senses when it’s the most appropriate time for you to use its service. This app is just an example of one of the cutting edge researches being conducted by experts here.

What else is going on?

Don’t forget that there are more wellbeing events coming up in the next few days. There’s the theatre performance of ‘Groomed’ which is a contemporary drama that explores the ever pertinent issue of sexual experiences. It is written and performed by Patrick Sandford who was Artistic Director of the Nuffield Theatre on Highfield Campus for 24 years. There will also be a ‘Letting Go of Stress’ course at Southampton General Hospital.

Happy stress-busting!


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Reduce, reuse, and recycle

It’s impossible not to notice that, when in halls or walking around the University's campuses, there are very few general waste bins, particularly inside University buildings. Instead, we have food waste caddies and separate bins for recyclables.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting the University’s Waste and Recycling manager and we had a chat about the University’s system for dealing with all of the waste produced by its thousands of students and staff.

It turns out there are 12 people who are part of the waste and recycling team, and they get up to far more interesting things than the job title suggests.

 First of all – what happens to all the rubbish?

The University (including halls) has over 1,000 bins and produces an estimated 2,200 tonnes of waste yearly. All of this isn’t dealt with by the Hampshire Local Authority. We have our own contractors which means that much more is recycled.

The most interesting recyclable that the team deals with is food waste, which is why you find food waste caddies in halls and kitchens around campus. Rather than just being composted, which was what I thought happened to it, it’s actually sent to an anaerobic digestion plant, where the waste is broken down by bacteria.

 One of the food caddies used across the University

This process releases carbon dioxide and methane, which is used to produce electricity. The remaining product then becomes a high quality fertiliser to be used in UK agriculture.

This is why the University encourages us to separate food waste from regular recycling. If food is put into the mixed recycling, it becomes contaminated and cannot be recycled. This is why you have to separate your sandwich from its container before you throw it away in the staff kitchen or in the Piazza!

All the other recyclables are sent to a recycling plant where it is separated and reprocessed. A newspaper becomes a new newspaper within a week, glass is melted and made into new glass and metal becomes, you guessed it, new metal parts.

 So many recycling bins in Hartley Library!

If you live in private accommodation, glass can be recycled by using bottle banks (see the Recycle for Hampshire website for more). Within the University, buildings don’t have access to glass recycling since the University uses an external system, so glass can be recycled via the compounds.

For those of you in University Accommodation it is particularly important that you make use of the external mixed recycling bins for glass, and don’t just throw it away in mixed recycling bin in your kitchen. It is requested that glass is taken straight to external mixed recycling bins because of health and safety hazards for the wonderful people that come round and empty your bins. There are some special collections for waste electrical electronic equipment (WEEE), because anything that has a plug or a battery is required to be collected separately.

This whole system is hugely environmentally friendly and saves money, as recycling is cheaper than sending waste to energy from waste or landfill. It also means that materials can be used again and again. If money is saved by recycling as much as possible, then there is more money for student services - a win-win for everyone!

One of the posters used across the University to explain the recycling system

There is also a focus on re-using rather than throwing away. This year the team have worked with the charity Farm4life to divert a tonne of waste in the form of old furniture. The charity selected the furniture that was still usable and in decent condition, and shipped it to their project in Ghana. So far this has been a huge success and the team are planning to do more in the future.

Farm4life isn’t the only charity that works with the University. The British Heart Foundation collect unwanted items from students, particularly at the end of term. The estimated income from these donations in 2015 was £47,516. There is also ‘Shift Your Stuff’ with SUSU and at the end of the year unopened tinned food is collected from halls and given to a homeless charity in Southampton.

The waste and recycling team are key to making sure that life at Southampton isn’t just pleasant but sustainable as well, by emptying the bins and performing all of the litter picking,

Happy recycling!


Monday, 16 November 2015

Recharging your mental batteries

As Emma pointed out in her last post, we’re now roughly at the half-way point of the semester, or perhaps just past it. Half way between the excitement of Freshers’ Week and the joy of Christmas, and it’s usually at this stage in the term where things start to lag a little bit mentally.

It’s perfectly natural to start to feel a little tired by this point; in fact, it’s highly likely that you will be, I know I am.

This doesn’t mean you’re bored, or you’re fed up; it just means that you’ve had a lot of fun, you’ve worked really hard, and now you’re more than welcome to take a few days or so to recharge that mental battery.

This won’t be true of everyone, obviously: we’re all different; beautiful and unique snowflakes as a strange, fictional philosopher once said. So if you’re not feeling the urge to slow down just yet, that’s perfectly fine too. The important thing though is that if you do find yourself losing the capacity to work or if you start to feel jaded at all with anything in any way, do allow yourself some time off. We’re all human, after all.

I say this now because just this past week, I took some time off myself to refresh and re-energise, re-evaluate my working mindset, and you know what? I’ve never felt better.

Part of this came from the fact that I happened to be graced with a reading week (basically, a week without lectures), and so, with so much extra time suddenly to myself I figured I would do something I’d never really done very much whilst here at the University: visit home.

My reasons for not doing so more often are pretty varied; from the fact that it’s quite a slog on the trains, and that I usually find myself too busy to make the trip, but this semester all the pieces just seemed to fall into place and so, I found myself Essex-bound for the first time in nearly two months.

I never thought I would miss this empty little train station back home 

Aside from the trip being a pleasant change of scenery, it also really helped me to kick into play what I just talked about: recharging those mental batteries. Again, it differs from person to person, but for me, home is very much one of the only places I can properly switch off my brain and just enjoy doing nothing of importance, so it was insanely lovely to spend a weekend doing so. With my deadlines pretty much out of the way for the time being, and a decent-sized gap before the next set, it was the perfect occasion to relax and regather some enthusiasm.

It’s safe to say that it definitely worked. After even just a few days in the comfort of home, away from producing radio shows and editing articles, I felt very much on top of things again; 100% ready to conquer whatever work awaited me back in Southampton. Even the journey back was more painless than ever as that good old positive mindset took over. There is really no match for being well-rested.

Catching the fireworks in my local park at home was a perfect way to end a relaxing few days away

So, the moral of today’s post is simply this: allow yourself the time to rest and recharge. Whether it’s a weekend away, an afternoon with Netflix or an hour spent power-napping, take care of yourself and all the wonders and challenges of university life seem to take significantly less effort to master.

Even if you can’t manage a trip home, there are plenty of ways to keep yourself smiling.


Friday, 13 November 2015

My top five 'struggles' of being an international student in England

I have never regretted studying abroad at the University of Southampton - quite the opposite. I think it is one of the best decisions I have ever made (so far) in my life. However, moving to a new country is not just challenging on an emotional/personal level – it also means becoming accustomed to a new country.

It’s not as ‘extreme’ as it might sounds; for many people it’s just learning to drive on the opposite of the road or learning to use the self-checkout at Asda. But there’s definitely some small ‘struggles’ I bet every international student goes through.

This is a list of my ‘Top Five Struggles’ as an international student in England. Take this with a pinch of salt though - calling these issues a ‘struggle’ is exaggerated!

Cars driving on the left side

The annoying thing about cars driving on the opposite side of the road to what I’m used to is that, as soon as I get used to it, it’s time to go home! Then, when I come home to Oslo, I have to get used to the right-side driving again. Suddenly it doesn’t matter if I’m in England or Norway, because the struggle to not get run over is haunting me regardless of what country I’m in! With that being said, my impression is that British people have a more aggressive way of driving. Also, where are all the pedestrian crossings in this country? I’m talking about those proper zebra crossings with a proper green light in front of you, so you never find yourself in doubt on whether you can cross the road or not.

You don’t take card? Card-charge? What? 

If I remember correctly, only 4% of purchases in Norway are made with cash and Norwegians use bank cards absolutely everywhere. I have experienced on trips abroad that you have to buy something for a certain amount before you can pay by card, but I have never been charged everything from 5p to 50p to use my card.

This is probably why I found it very funny listening to people complaining about the 5p charge of plastic bags, but never one word about the charges for using your card. The plastic bag charge is something we have had in Norway for a good 10 years, so at least that’s a charge I’m used to. You can imagine I was thrilled to see that some taxi companies are finally starting to have card machines with them, because driving around looking for a cashpoint after a night out is not cool.

Queueing everywhere

This is absolutely not a negative thing, but definitely a thing I have had to get used to! In Norway you get on and off the bus / tram at whatever door you like, but here in England it is a different story. To be honest, I actually like this, so when I’m home and people don’t wait until I have been able to get off the tram I get extra aggressive and mumble something about how much I miss England! People actually follow the 'stand to the right, walk to the left' policy on escalators here and I love that too.

British politeness

This is not to say that Norwegians are impolite, but it’s hard to compete with British people when it comes to politeness, hence why I constantly focus on not forgetting to say please, thank you and remember to use the right title when writing emails or talking to my tutors. Titles, for example, are extremely new to me; my old teacher just went under the name; John-Arve or J-A and my old headmaster was often referred to as; Tjossi-B. Going from that to writing ‘Dear Dr….’ when writing emails was quite daunting in the beginning.

Furthermore, in Norway if you accidently bump into someone in the grocery store, it doesn’t happen too often that people bother to turn around and say ‘sorry’. It’s something I didn’t use to think about before, but if I’m home and bump into someone and say sorry while they just walk off, I again mumble something about how much I miss England…

Tap water and gas stoves

Regardless of where in Norway you are, you can always drink water from the tap and it tastes better than Evian. Have you for example ever heard about Voss water? That is literally tap water in Norway and I never had any trouble drinking my recommended two litres of water a day before I moved. I love England, but this is one thing I hate. The tap water (in most places) tastes like a swimming pool compared to Norwegian water.

Then there are the gas stoves. I’m sure I just need some more practice on how to use them, but I always have to try at least two or three times to get the flame on everytime I want to use the stove. I’m always slightly scared the kitchen is going to blow up because I’ve heard so many scary stories about this! Luckily, I have a flatmate who is very proficient at using the stove in our kitchen and she’s always close by if I need help.

With this being said, it’s not all that bad. For example, as an international student here I have had the privilege of experiencing some proper British culture. Like last Sunday, Remembrance Sunday, one of my favourite days over here.

Not to mention the fact that I can be a tourist here forever and discover new places around the city of Southampton!

This is the Holyrood Church by High Street, I’ve probably taken walked past it 20 times, but never taken the time to go inside.

Are you an international student too? Feel free to share your own ‘struggles’ of living in Britain!