Friday, 19 December 2014

Home for Christmas

One of the benefits of coming home for Christmas from university is that you effectively get to have two Christmases; one with your home friends and family and the other with your University friends! My University Christmas day was on the last Friday of term, where I first went up to the Winchester market, before returning back to Southampton to go out for a meal with my housemates, which was followed by Secret Santa. 

Earlier in the week I also had my final Artsoc session of the year, which was a festive themed art and crafts session, with plenty of mince pies and wine to enjoy. It was fair to say that not much got done in the session, but I did manage to create a snowman (that ended up looking very sad) out of card and tissue paper. 

My cardboard snowman needed a bit of festive cheer! 

This is the second year in a row that I have gone up to Winchester with my girlfriend to walk around the wooden huts that are adorned into festive decorations and tempting gift ideas. The stalls, which sell an assortment of clothing, food, jewellery, toiletries, paintings and Christmas decorations, wrap around the arresting cathedral with an ice rink at the centre. However, after attending a roller disco last year in the Cube, a multi-purpose space within the Students' Union, we decided it was probably best not to risk going on the ice rink. Neither of us have the greatest skating abilities, or more specifically, the best balance! 

After walking round the market and stopping for some mulled wine, we headed back to Southampton, which takes less than ten minutes on the train. Once home we joined my housemates and made our way down to a cosy gastro-pub on the edge of the Common. Bar one, we are all in our final year of university, so it was nice to celebrate our final Christmas together with a proper three-course Christmas meal. It is sad to think I am beginning to do things for the last time in Southampton; I still can’t quite believe it’s Christmas already! 

Our University Christmas Day, complete with tree!

Now I am back home for the Christmas holiday and I am eagerly awaiting for family to arrive next week in time for Christmas itself. I am looking forward to spending time with my sister, because sadly since graduating from Southampton in the summer, I haven’t seen a lot of her. Whenever I do see her though, she always jokingly complains that hasn’t been featuring in my Life at Southampton posts as much! 

Although I am feeling festive, I do still have a lot of work to be doing. This week I have been spending time writing my progress report for my Master’s project, which is due in the week back after the Christmas holiday. I am finding that as I write my report I am amalgamating all of the work I have done over the last term, which is helping me to understand my project with greater depth. Maybe a career in astronomy isn’t out of the question after all! I am also beginning my revision process and have made myself a little timetable which I will try my hardest to stick to. Hopefully I won’t become too distracted by mince pies! 

Merry Christmas, 


Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Festivities North and South

And with one, final, hectic fortnight, in which there were Christmas celebrations commonplace, events and shows galore, and final deadlines defeated (huzzah!), I’ve just been through the final throes of my last ever Michaelmas term as a student at the University of Southampton - and what a term it’s been! 

I’ve already written about the sheer amount of rehearsing, socialising, training, applying, planning, radio hosting, directing, designing, performing and other things have somehow been crammed into the diary this term - and that’s all been around the demands of a Masters year! It’s certainly been a challenge from an academic perspective, not only in terms of time management, but also particularly with the unique requirements of the Group Design Project which makes up most of my marks, in which I with four others have to engineer a computerised solution to a professional industry problem. 

Outside the academic bubble, it’s reached that time of year when, despite the millions of distractions on offer, the sense of Christmas cheer really is impossible to resist.

This festive feeling was built up for me by one of the most amazing weeks I’ve had at University, the final one this term. Following on from the brilliant lights switch-on event, Christmas shopping galore and annual Theatre Group Dinner (mentioned in my last post), a real buzz and vibrancy was everywhere to be found on campus. From the cheesy songs we all know and love playing constantly in the Students’ Union, to the extra jovial nature of lectures, as well as the beautiful decorations around everywhere, there’s nowhere quite like campus at Christmas! 

For me, the three highlights of a brilliant week were, as you might have guessed, Performing Arts related! Wednesday saw the performance of the biannual Stage Technicians’ Society (StageSoc) pantomime. The society consists of students who usually prefer to stay behind the scenes, providing incredibly professional lighting, sound and staging effects for the performers in shows. Their own production, based loosely around a variation of Dick Whittington, somehow managed to incorporate ruthless parodying of every show we’ve performed in the theatre over the past year or so, and was definitely one to remember! But it was all done with smiles on faces and tongue-in-cheek, with us as an audience laughing along with them (or, in my case, laughing on stage, when they got a few of us up there to take part in a 'Take Me Out' style segment!). Most importantly of all, it raised a truly magnificent £506 for the local charity, Solent Mind, a spectacular result which left everyone cheery – so massive congratulations to everyone involved! 


The StageSoc Panto was something a little different, but for an absolutely amazing cause!

I was also lucky enough to go along during the week to the Nuffield Theatre on Highfield campus, which I’ve always found a convenient place to catch some tremendous theatre when I’m not too busy rehearsing for more! At the moment the Nuffield is hosting its Christmas play, a brilliantly witty, innovative and refreshing update of the classic story The Snow Queen. The show features some hilarious spins on the fairy tales we’ve all come to know and love as they seek to reunite a pair of lost friends in the winter storms, as well as some stunning design, a gorgeous set, and side-splitting performances. It left me with a broad grin across my face! So if a pantomime’s not your thing, or you’re looking to catch a show in Southampton to celebrate Christmas with, it’s definitely one to see! 

Finally, after missing it for the past couple of years, I was fortunate enough this time round to have the chance to attend the Showstoppers Christmas Ball, which is one of the most spectacular events in the Performing Arts calendar. Words cannot do justice with regards to how special an occasion it was! The ball took place at the swanky Dolphin Hotel in Southampton’s City Centre, with a 1920s speakeasy theme. The venue was magnificent, the food incredible, everyone dressed up to impress at their very smartest, and brilliant company making for a truly extraordinary night - one which I’ll remember long into the future. 

Our on-arrival photo at the Ball! Credit: Southampton University Photographic Society

A gorgeous meal was preceded by some quite competitive cracker-pulling! Credit: Southampton University Photographic Society

I had the minor worry of delivering the annual President and Vice-President’s speech (assisted very ably by my VP, Anna – whom it was slightly thrust upon!), which featured plenty of cheesy Christmas jokes and a list of ‘thank-you’s as long as our arms for both the night and term. After that, I was able to set about ‘throwing some serious shapes’ (as I think I said at the time!) on the dance floor, despite my unfortunate two left feet affliction, to truly see off the term in style. Once again, many thanks to Fiona for her hard work in putting the event together, to the Dolphin Hotel for being such hospitable hosts, and to the society for being such an inspirational and radiant group of people to work with – it’s an incredible honour to represent them, particularly on such wonderful nights! 

A good sixty or so people witnessed us putting our public speaking skills to the test at the Ball, to interesting results…! Credit: Southampton University Photographic Society

 … but we remembered to round it off with the classic toast! Credit: Southampton University Photographic Society

So…at long last, after tying up a couple of loose ends to some projects, it was time to make the long journey back up North for home, and the comforts of friends, family and a seemingly ever-stocked fridge! I currently find myself in the lounge, sitting opposite a roasting fire (pet cats naturally sprawled in front of it!), enjoying the company of family and watching some corny television, and firmly at the centre of the classic Christmas cheer buzz. After such a hectic yet enjoyable spell, I can’t wait to spend some time in bed (first and foremost!), before catching up with my siblings and all my old schoolmates (with plenty of stories to share!) over that classic Christmas spirit. 

The Johnson family Christmas tree, 2014 edition!

The tree is up, the lights are everywhere, and Christmas cheer is well and truly in the air – it’s going to be a fantastic one! A very Merry Christmas to everybody, and a Happy New Year for good measure! 


Friday, 12 December 2014

Russell Group Roadshows and renewable energy

Over the past few weeks Green Action has been busy working on our Fossil Free Campaign and organising events to learn about renewable energy in our local area. At the last talk we organised guest speakers from Hampshire Renewable Energy co-op and West Solent Solar to come and talk to us about the goals of their energy co-ops, the start-up process and their vision for the future. It was interesting to hear about the challenges they faced when starting up and how they were able to overcome these. At our last event for the year, we organised a poster making session for our campaign. It was a fun way to get people more involved and a chance for us to get a little creative. We then used these posters and signs to launch a photo campaign to raise awareness about the fossil fuel industry and its impact on climate change. It’s exciting to see more people getting involved and finding new ways to reach out to more students across campus! 

We had our first joint social with the Oxfam Society, OXSOC, a few weeks back. OXSOC have joined us in the Fossil Free Campaign as they have also been focusing on the global issue of climate change this year. It’s great to have them on board as they are able to bring up issues from a social perspective which adds greater value to the campaign. We’ll be joining the Marine Conservation Society who have also joined the campaign for another joint social. It’s great to be able to get to know people who are passionate about the same things you are and have fun while working towards a meaningful cause! 

This week, I attended the Russell Group Universities Postgraduate Study Roadshow  which came to the University of Southampton this week offering a great opportunity for students to speak with representatives from each of the Russell Group universities. 

The University of Southampton is part of the Russell Group, which is a group of 24 universities all focused on excellent research and education. As I have mentioned before, I am very interested in pursuing Postgraduate study so I found this to be a very useful opportunity. I was able to ask questions about various Postgraduate courses offered and entry requirements. Running that day were a series of talks on why you may want to do a Masters or a PhD and talks on how to secure funding for Postgraduate study. 

The Christmas Market in the city centre of Southampton 

Finally…how can I not mention that fact that Christmas is soon?! My flights home are booked I’m getting really excited to see my family again after four months of not seeing them! Last weekend my house and I had our last 'Come Dine With Me' night of the year after which we started decorating the living room for a house Christmas meal we’re having this weekend. We will of course be doing Secret Santa so I went searching in the city’s shopping centre for a good gift! 

I’ll still be around Southampton for another week after we officially finish term, during which I’ll continue preparing for upcoming exams in January. Since it’s my final year it’s more important than ever that I focus on revising which, I know is always really difficult once I’m home with my family! 


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Getting involved

It is that time of year again when deadlines are upon us and exams loom in the distance. Nevertheless there are smiles to be seen all around campus, as the festive spirit begins to ignite in us all, bringing a real sense of community across the University. Nowhere was this more evident than at the annual Christmas Lights switch-on event at the end of November, where crowds gathered with mulled wine in hand to enjoy an evening of festive celebrations.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the switch-on for very long, because I was going to an evening presentation on routes into becoming a Physics teacher. For regular readers of my posts, you’ll know that my career ambition is to become a Medical Physicist. However, I also think that at some point in my life I would like to turn my hand to teaching. The talk discussed the different ways of getting into teaching, including the increasingly popular Teach First method, as well as the traditional PGCE course based here at the University of Southampton. It was a very useful evening, which was made even better by the free pizza and refreshments laid on by Physoc (the University’s Physics Society), who organised the talk.

There was in fact another talk that evening that I really wanted to attend, which was hosted by the Mercedes Formula One team, where they discussed different aspects of Formula One engineering. Sadly though it was at the same time as the teaching presentation and I had to let my head guide me, rather than my heart.

A collection of Formula One cars I saw in the summer.

I think it is very important to remember to still get involved with University life despite the large workloads you tend to have at the end of term. For me, this comes includes continuing to go badminton training and matches, as well as attending ArtSoc every week. In fact, I really look forward to Wednesday evenings when I can completely forget about my work and regress to being a child in an art class!

Our latest session really did feel like a junior school art lesson, as the evening’s theme was finger painting. There was also a serious table where you could practice your drawing skills, but most people chose to sit on the floor in a circle and produce fairly questionable paintings using their fingers and hands alone. It was great fun, and relaxing!

I was fairly pleased with my finger-painted landscape.

Previously to this we spent two weeks on creating our own plaster of Paris sculptures (term used incredibly loosely!). We started by constructing a rough model out of cardboard and newspaper, before we coated it in plaster of Paris to make it turn rock hard. The following week we then got to paint our creations, completing the process and turning my ambiguous white creation into a duck! It’s not all mucking about though, as prior to the finger painting week we had another life drawing session, which I find really pushes my drawing skills to the limit, but at the same time it also helps me to improve.

My plaster of Paris duck!

The last few weeks have really flown by and I can’t quite believe it is the end of term this week. Despite still having a fair bit of work to complete, I am feeling very festive and I am looking forward to taking a well-earned break!


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Why not?

I know it plays up to the perpetual student stereotype a bit, but one great thing about being in full-time higher education is that ultimately you get to choose how to distribute your time. As long as you put in the hours with the books, and as long as you’re happy that you’re doing all you can to fulfil your ambitions, then for the rest of your day you can do just about anything! For me that’s usually taken up with committee meetings, work experience, rehearsals, planning meetings, writing applications, coursework and (probably less productively) cheesy television, the occasional computer game, and spontaneous lunches with people, as well as the odd social here and there. Aside from your academic commitments, you really are free to go out there and have the student experience you choose. Or rather, if you’re happy just to say “yes” to things, you’re free to go out there and have the University experience thrust upon you! 

One of my favourite aspects of  life at the University of Southampton is how one thing seemingly always leads into another, most of the time almost seamlessly, with embracing one opportunity constantly a pre-cursor to something equally as new and exciting in the future – so you’re never bored! For example, with regards to theatre, I got into the directing side of it just through a casual conversation in the pub with a good friend, Tom, to whom I mentioned I was interested in trying the role out – and before I knew it, I was on the other side of the audition table as an Assistant in his next project! Fast-forward a few months, when a couple of other friends, Mike and Jed, were looking to put on a show, they asked me to direct with them – and our proudest achievement to date, our award-winning production of the classic theatrical thriller Equus, was born! Fast-forward even further, and now I’m lucky enough to live with them! 

That’s solely one example of just how many paths your university career can take, and it’s why attending events such as the Bunfight (the annual societies’ fair during Freshers’ week) careers events (usually found through checking your emails regularly and via Career Destinations) and even just browsing through the Students’ Union website or society social media pages, are all hugely important. After all, in doing so, you never really know what you’re going to find! 

The Christmas tree in the Students’ Union has gone up, and is looking as spectacular as ever!

That sense of serendipity can drive a university career and ensure you’re always engaged, challenged and, best of all, having the time of your life. As I approach the halfway mark of my final year here, I’ve felt myself relishing that sense of freedom more and more recently. It’s quite unlikely that, once I’m on the career ladder, I’ll have the free licence to go out and actively seek the sort of rich inspiration on offer here quite as regularly in the future, so why not make the most of it while I can? 

Perhaps my favourite hour of every week so far this year has been taking part in the Performing Arts radio show (through the Union’s own radio station, Surge Radio) as a co-host alongside the brilliant Caitlin and Joe, chatting about events coming up, the latest news from the theatrical world, and discovering lots of (relatively useless!) trivia about one another through online quizzes and such. It’s fantastic fun just to sit there at the beginning of the week (usually fuelled by a coffee!), have a laugh and joke with some hilarious folks in the studio, and promote our favourite societies, all the while aware that hopefully some people, somewhere, are listening in (it’s mid-day every Monday if you’d like to - we’d love to hear from you)! 

Aside from this, I’ve also spent a lot of time on the coursework front recently, tackling the classic end-of-November deadline rush which usually envelops this time of year – so less time spent in bed last week, and more in the library and labs! Upon their completion, I only had one assignment left to push through before the Christmas holidays, so I duly rewarded myself with taking a weekend off, during which I managed a productive trip to the West Quay Shopping Centre for some Christmas present shopping! 

The West Quay Shopping Centre in town was in fully festive decoration!

I also went along to the University’s annual Highfield Campus Lights Switch-On event, which was as beautiful and well-attended as ever – congratulations and thanks to everyone involved in it, it’s always an amazing occasion! After that, I attended the Union Theatre Group’s annual Christmas Meal, at the swanky Banana Wharf by the docks in Ocean Village; gorgeous food (a far cry from the beans on toast of the previous week!) and amazing company led to a truly memorable evening, and it’s incredible to think that I’ve been so lucky as to enjoy such nights for four years in a row now! There’s really nothing like Christmas at Southampton.

The Lights Switch-On event on campus was amazing yet again – and also featured fake snow to add to the festivities!

The annual Theatre Group Christmas Meal was also a great occasion once again! Credit: SUSU Theatre Group

We had a full student house at the event – and had an awesome time to boot! Credit: Jamie Hemingway

When I first started at the University (particularly in the first few days!), I can remember being completely petrified, too nervous to go out and meet people conventionally, but also somewhat frightened by the complete strangers I was sharing a flat with – although thankfully both changed, in time! But being so far away from home for the first time, and knowing absolutely nobody, I made the conscious decision to try and throw myself into as much as possible, hoping I’d pick up these experiences along the way – and I can’t believe how fortunate I’ve been since! 

After all, looking back on everything that’s happened in my three and a half years, I can barely imagine what University life would’ve been like without the question “Why not?” There’s something truly special about life in Higher Education, and it’s definitely something to be celebrated! 


Friday, 28 November 2014

BEES and biodiversity

During the last few weeks I’ve been really lucky to have had a number of opportunities to attend and engage in several talks and activities on topics that interest me and skills I’m eager to learn. I recently completed my training for ‘BEES’ which stands for ‘Business Ethics and Environment Students'. BEES is a program that gives students the opportunity to work with local businesses to help improve sustainability in their practices. This will involve working in groups and going and meeting with the businesses, speaking to them and asking them questions on topics such as energy, waste and water management, employment conditions including pay and leave, transport and supply chain management.

While visiting the businesses we will also be taken on a tour of the site to gather further information for the audit of their ethical and environmental practice. We then take the information gathered from the audit to devise an action plan for the business to help them to implement new ethical or environmental practices or improve on things that they may already be doing but could make even better. Eventually, we’ll go back to the business and present this plan and hopefully help them to make positive changes within the workplace.

I think BEES is a great initiative with the potential to greatly benefit both the students and local businesses involved. It was also great to meet other students from a range of degrees who have an interest in sustainability. Having now finished my training I’m excited to get started on a project in the near future!

I’ve also had the opportunity to attend a number of interesting talks on topics closely related to some of my third year modules and third year project. One of these talks, called ‘Biodiversity: past and future trends and strategies to halt its loss’ was given by a guest speaker Dr Jörn P W Scharlemann from the University of Sussex. The talk focused on the use and effectiveness of protected areas as a conservation strategy to prevent biodiversity loss as well as the estimated costs involved in global conservation of species by down-listing each species. For example a species, would be moved from being classified by the IUCN Red List as being ‘critically endangered’ to ‘endangered’. Although the estimated costs seemed high, when compared to the benefits both from an ecological perspective but also an economic perspective, it provided a good case for increased investment into conservation.

A couple of weeks ago I also attended the Centre for Underutilised Crops (CUC) re-launch which gave an interesting introduction into the various research projects ongoing across the University of Southampton. These projects are helping to tackle major issues such as sustainable agriculture, food and energy security, amongst many more. Underutilised crops with unlocked potential that have yet to be domesticated, like the staple crops we find in our supermarkets, could offer huge benefits.

It was fascinating to hear about the work researchers at the University are involved in and the advantages these crops may offer to us. It’s been a n educational couple of weeks!


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A trip to London

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post about going to see several bands live in Southampton. Both of the bands that I saw were playing in a local music venue. However last Thursday I travelled all the way up to London to attend my latest gig.

The band in question were a semi-acoustic pop-folk duo called Paper Aeroplanes, who couldn’t be more different from the last band I saw in Southampton. The support acts were also acoustic-based; the first were a duo from Mississippi who had only formed at the start of this year, whilst the second was an eccentric solo artist from Australia. The usual moshing and head banging that feature at rock concerts were nowhere to be seen, instead replaced with warming hot chocolate and rows of seating – a very civilised experience!

Paper Aeroplanes’ magical performance

The venue was a beautiful old church, with balconies that overlooked the stage and stained glass windows that glinted in the multi-coloured lighting. It was a very unique setting, which helped enhance the music and make it a very memorable and special night.

The venue’s beautiful architecture. 

The reason for going up to London and to see this band was that my girlfriend and I were celebrating one year together and although the band was her suggestion, I actually enjoy their music too. Before the show, we had decided to eat out and had chosen to book a table at a small restaurant near Euston station, where we indulged on nachos, gourmet burgers and spicy fries, opting for real pig-out food!

After the gig we made our way to Victoria Coach Station and headed back down to the South Coast. The coach dropped of us on Highfield Campus, which just echoes what Kristin mentioned in her last blog: travelling to and from London is a very easy to do from Southampton! In fact, I’ve found getting to most places very easy, whether it’s been to the nearby Portsmouth, Eastleigh and Winchester, or places further afield.

The next day we went out to every student’s favourite ice cream parlour nearby. I had a gigantic brownie sundae with hot fudge sauce, which sadly defeated me. It was the second time I had been in a week, as I had also gone there with my housemates the weekend before, after trying out the (relatively) new and popular gourmet burger restaurant in the nearby Portswood area.

 A ‘little’ treat after a hard week of work. 

Although it may look like all I have been is socialising and enjoying myself, I have in fact also been hard at work with my studies. My modules are heading towards their conclusion and the word ‘revision’ is slowly starting to re-enter my vocabulary. My Master’s project is also progressing nicely; my project partner and I have almost finished the first half of our work load, after using our code to analyse several hundred quasars, creating a comprehensive catalogue of data in the process.

Going up to London and seeing all the Christmas lights and decorations in shop windows has made me feel all 'Christmassy' and with it comes the realisation that this term has almost finished. As I write this, my housemates are getting ready to put up our Christmas tree and I’m sure my next post will feature lots of festive spirit (and maybe the odd mince pie!).