Saturday, 29 August 2015

Top tips: Summer internships

Ah summer time; the time of year of freedom from alarm clocks, holidays, BBQs… and summer internships.

It wasn’t until second year that I became seriously active at searching out some internship or work placement opportunities. I had worked in retail before and have done some volunteering during my gap year, but never had I done any office work. 

Getting that experience

As soon as second year hit, I was applying for internships roughly two or three times a week. I regularly went to employability workshops hosted by the Career’s Team. I highly recommend people to go – they are free and incredibly useful. Some argue that this may have been too early but the cathartic party me of year one was over and it is never too early to apply! The new term commences this September so now is a great time to start looking. You hear horror stories of students missing out because they did not know about application deadlines. Some worry about their statement’s quality looking rushed because they left it last minute. Don’t let your chances of finding the right career become subject to lack of preparation!

A leaflet from one of Southampton’s graduate fairs last semester. These are held a few times a year and are not just for final years – click on the link to find out when the next one is!

It is a good idea to apply for as many opportunities as possible. As well as going for mainstream companies and organisations, I also applied to a few of Southampton’s Excel work experience programmes and the Study Abroad programme. Spending a semester or so abroad is an excellent way of getting a well rounded university experience. I was set to head off to the University of Adelaide in Australia but chose to stay in England instead as I managed to secure myself an internship with the Civil Service.

I have heard good things about the British Civil Service and their graduate programmes even before applying. Applications are a few clicks away online which made the whole process incredibly accessible. And after a challenging selection process, I’m now having the pleasure of completing a two month internship with the Civil Service at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in Westminster. 

Outside of the office

What am I doing here?

It most certainly is not making coffee and filing all day.

As well as shadowing my colleagues and coming to meetings, my project here looks at supporting mental and physical health for people at work. This is as opposed to just giving up on health and letting go of valuable staff. For me, the ethical nature of this project has kept my interest in it so far.

Working 9 to 5 does have its tests for someone who’s used to getting up for breakfast at 6 pm and having dinner at 6 am*. But, in terms of knowledge acquisition, working such hours have become incredibly rewarding. The DWP’s work inevitably affects you and me at one point in our lifetime and I am especially grateful for working in an organisation that deals with issues at the top of the political agenda.

What have I found so far?

Whether it’s when you’re waiting for data to be gathered or when you’ve finished your tasks for the day, it is true that some projects experience quiet moments. But I actually think that this is the point of an internship – in fact, I think it is one of the best things about it. This blank space in your schedule is prime time for you to go ahead and find out about what your colleagues actually do. The first advice I got from my line manager when I first started is to never be afraid to join people for lunch or to invite them for a coffee. Not only does this come across as enthusiastic but once you know more about them you may find that you’re actually really interested in their work. If you do, you could ask to shadow them for a day or sit in at one of their meetings, if they didn’t mind. Chances are they won’t. People love talking about what they do and it is a fun and practical way for you to figure out what you want in your career!

Having lunch with the colleagues

Ultimately, there are plenty of opportunities out there for you to get some experience. It is just the case of proactively searching for them, so go out there and have fun while you’re at it! Good luck!


*NB: Author is particularly guilty of this.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Decorating on a budget

The time is fast approaching for moving into Halls of Residence for freshers and for moving into new houses or flats for second, third years and postgraduate students.

Moving home is exciting, a new place, possibly with new people and for many first years, the first time living away from your parents. But whether you’re a first year undergraduate or a mature postgraduate, everyone thinks about decorating their new space. When moving into rented accommodation the first thing I want to do is put my own stamp on the place, I need to make the space available (however small or big) feel like mine, and balance that with renting guidelines and budget.

Particularly for those of you moving into unfurnished or part-furnished flats and houses, finding the right furniture on a budget is a difficult task. However Southampton offers hundreds of practical solutions.

Firstly there is, obviously, Ikea. Home to cheap and ingenious flat-pack furniture Ikea is the natural destination for students looking for bookcases, sheets, side tables, lamps etc. However, while Ikea can be good value for money, there is better out there if you are willing to look. For instance Portswood is full of charity shops like Sue Ryder, which stock huge amounts of furniture, and will deliver it to your new place for a small fee. Additionally there is the often forgotten about British Heart Foundation store by Debenhams in the centre of town, not only will they deliver new furniture, but they will remove things you want to get rid of for free (something to consider when moving out).
The problem I have found however, is that often it is difficult to find furniture to match my favourite colours or the other pieces I already have. For instance anything in Ikea that isn’t the classic clinical white is often infinitely more expensive. Second hand furniture suffers from the same problem, it may be an outdated style or in need of some fixing up. However, we are students, disposable income is to be saved for nights out, and most importantly, food, so buying the furniture that already matches what you want is not an option, nor is it sensible.

That’s where decorating comes in. Go for the cheapest pieces and then fix them up yourselves. For this, I rely heavily on Pinterest for inspiration. There are hundreds of tutorials on how to breathe life into dying furniture. My favourite place to go for paint and decorating ideas is Olive and Ted’s interior decorating store, right at the bottom of Gordon Avenue in Portswood. They stock a range of paints designed to emulate French buttermilk paint used in the 1800’s, the best bit being that you can put it on anything and it will go on no problem. 

The grey paint replaced the unattractive orange wood of this old bedside table rescued from my garage at home – I am gradually finding replacement drawer handles, two down, four to go! 

The image above is from my new privately rented flat, which is full of old furniture from my parents garage, second hand pieces and some new things from Ikea. When moving into a new place (particularly if you are a postgraduate moving into an unfurnished flat) don’t be afraid to beg borrow or steal from family and friends.  

We covered these bookshelves in fabric from Ikea, breaking up the otherwise overly clinical white. 

I like grey, it goes with everything, and with a little patience a £10 bookcase can look however you want.

My previous flat wasn’t spared from my erratic decorating tendencies…

A mobile made from old records, fabric, playing cards and fake flowers. While not to everyone’s taste, I loved the colour it brought to an otherwise entirely cream room. 

If decorating a rented room with posters or art, stay away from sellotape and blu-tack! They are horrible to remove and often take the paint off the wall or leave a greasy mark which needs to be washed off. Instead opt for double sided craft tape or glu-dots which are less likely to damage a wall. If you want to create a photo-wall, buy one large clip frame (Ikea sells them for not much money at all) and then use craft tape to stick a collage of photos inside. Then you need only use one small picture nail to hang the finished piece, rather than lots of pieces of blu-tack. Picture nails are easy to remove and the tiny holes they leave are pretty unnoticeable, and can very easily be covered with a tiny dab of paint. 

The start of my picture wall, bringing together holiday and graduation photos with minimal wall damage and tiny cost (the photo frame on the left is from Poundland and the clip frame from Amazon was only £10).

My next project is to paper-mache the shelves of another bookcase (I have six bookcases in my flat) with newspaper. I guess my feeling is that even though we are students living in short-term rented flats and houses, there is no reason not to make it feel like home and putting your own stamp on furniture is a great way to do that.

P.S. It is also an awesome way to procrastinate. 


Monday, 24 August 2015

Jumping into the year ahead

Somehow - and I still don’t quite know when or how this happened - I woke up and it was late August. Whether you’re a third year at university or a third year in secondary school, you’ll recognise such a date to be the universal sign for summer basically being over.

No matter how you fight it, it always seems to just creep up out of nowhere, but I guess at least in realising it this time around I can start to put things in place for the new semester. Doing so is - surprisingly enough - actually pretty exciting when it comes round to it!

Maybe I’m just the kind of person that has a weird fondness for making to-do lists and generally getting myself organised, but even if you’re not, the thought of a complete change of pace from your home/work life must surely be enticing.

The new year at university always seems to offer so much adventure in such a small space of time, whether you’re a veteran like myself or totally new to the whole experience (that means you, incoming Freshers; congratulations and welcome to one of the greatest places on planet Earth!).

So anyway, I guess the question from here became: how does one get themselves ‘organised’ exactly? Well, with moving in still a long way off thanks to that significantly shorter housing contract I just had to have, thoughts became more focused on the academic side to things; preparing for my upcoming modules and making sure everything was in place mentally for the start of that first semester.

For those not yet aware, in a standard semester at Southampton your course is split into a series of what they call ‘modules’ - units of study, all about differing subjects within your main field. As far as my Film course goes for example, in the past I’ve delved into the delights of world cinema, women in film, and documentary, whilst other courses will obviously vary. English may have a module on Dickens and another on Shakespeare and Maths will probably have something on big numbers and… I don’t know, shapes or something. Maths was never my strong suit. My point is, you choose which modules interest you, and build your course through them.

 I think I find making to-do lists a little too fun...

The best way to prepare academically is to look forward at what modules you’ll be tackling first and doing some reading (or in my case, watching) around the subject. In fact, in some cases you might even have access to a module outline or reading list, meaning you can get a jump start on the actual things you’ll be studying. Otherwise, like me, it’s all about getting creative and reading around the topic. For example, ahead of my Music in Film module I’ve listened to so many film scores and arrangements that every ambient noise has just started to sound like a trumpet. Curse you, Hans Zimmer!

Then there’s the elephant in the room. Above all else academically speaking, third year means dissertation time - that gigantic essay I have the whole year to do but feel a bit weird going near since overall it’s actually pretty daunting. But this week I took the first proper leap and, believe it or not, I actually thoroughly enjoyed myself!

The dissertation may seem like a rather gargantuan undertaking, but it is ultimately about a subject of your choosing, meaning it’s, in reality, pretty easy to find interesting. This is what university is ultimately about after all - finding what you love and exploring it further. Gone are the days where work was just work: something you suffered through to reach an end-goal. Now it’s… well, fun!

With the first big step towards reconfiguring my brain now taken, it feels almost as if the new academic year couldn’t come soon enough.

Next on the list - a stationary run to Southampton’s finest on-campus bookshop John Smith’s, soon after which I will no doubt be drowning in post-it notes and funky marker pens. Now it’s begun, the excitement never stops.

Enjoy the final whispers of your summer and if you’re joining us in September for the first time, don’t be afraid to say hey! It all starts here - after all, to paraphrase a formerly popular and now extinct mobile service provider: the future is indeed bright.


Friday, 21 August 2015

Mark your calendar: September Open Days

September will soon be upon us, which means there are loads of exciting things coming up. Hopefully a lot of people reading this blog are excited because they have been accepted to Southampton and will be joining us in September. Or maybe you’re thinking of visiting on the Open Day and starting to apply to universities for next year!

The September Open Days for the University of Southampton are coming up very soon. Two weeks from tomorrow to be precise!

I personally did not visit on an Open Day and I honestly can’t say that I regret it tremendously. However, after being a student ambassador at a recent Open Day it struck me what a great opportunity an Open Day actually is. I know I learned a thing or two about the University and the campus that I didn’t know before, even though the Open Day was 5/6 months after I started uni!

Therefore, I have some advice and tips for the upcoming Open Day that I want to share with you.

During the Open Day you will be able to meet some prospective lecturers, attend taster sessions, go on campus and accommodation tours, meet with current students (student ambassadors), sometimes even alumni ambassadors show up and you can meet the staff who work within the admission team.

In other words, it’s a great opportunity to really get the feel of what the University of Southampton has to offer.

The first bit of this post is slightly obvious. I advise you to ask ALL of the different questions you have, no matter what! Stop a student ambassador and ask them about the course; what does he/she like about the course? What has been the biggest adjustment at university? You can ask about halls, nightlife, Freshers’ Week, optional modules, sporting facilities, societies, the library…anything! Make sure you also ask the lecturers and other staff about course content, readings, assessments, academic tutors, workshops, tutorials and optional modules.

Bringing a small notebook where you can write down your questions in advance or to take notes from the information provided on the open day is a good idea.

The whole purpose of the Open Day is for you to decide if Southampton is the university for you, so remember that there are absolutely no ‘stupid’ questions and you can never ask too many!

This brings me on to the next part, which I think is very important to remember, regardless of whether you are a prospective student or parent.

It’s important that you distinguish between the student ambassadors and the staff. As mentioned, you should ask all the questions you might have, but in order to get the best response, make sure you ask the ‘right’ person. For example, if you are curious about internships you can ask your student ambassador if they have had any internships or what they know about internship opportunities. But, to get the best response, you should also ask the staff/lectures. They have (probably) been around longer than the student ambassadors and they are connected to all the students regardless of what year they are in. This means that they can tell you about the current internships opportunities, but also what current AND previous students have been doing.

The same applies to questions about admission and conditional offers. If you are worried you might not meet your conditional offer, maybe something in your personal statement will secure your place. It might be a good idea to ask staff about personal statements, but bear in mind that all applications are different and no one at the Open Day can tell you if your application will be accepted!

Highfield Campus

Going on a Campus Tour is a standard part of the open day. So, when you first arrive, go on the campus tour! Touring around the main Highfield Campus is a good way familiarise yourself with the ‘heart’ of the University.

Depending on your course, the majority of your lectures may be at another campus. For example, Ocean and Earth Science students will study at both Highfield Campus and the Waterfront Campus. Humanities students will be at Avenue Campus a lot, whilst Medicine students will be at Southampton General Hospital. Highfield Campus, despite this, is still extremely relevant for all students, because Highfield is more than just lecture halls. It’s where you find the Hartley Library, which is the largest of all the University libraries, as well as the connection point for all the Uni-link buses, and the location for the University Health Service and the Students’ Union (SUSU).

In other words, Highfield will always be relevant for you and it is, in my opinion, one of the nicest places in Southampton! A little ‘botanical garden’ within the city, as I like to call it.

One of my favourite buildings on campus – The Hartley Library 

The same advice goes for the accommodation tour, but I recommend that you visit the University’s accommodation pages and read about the different types of accommodation offered before you go. The University offers all types of accommodation within the different halls, but unfortunately you can’t view all of them on the Open Day. If the accommodation you see on the tour isn’t ideal for you, fear not! I guarantee you will find a hall that fits your needs.

You should ask your student ambassador about accommodation, because almost all of us will have lived in halls at least for our first year. For example, if you have seen a specific hall you like, but this is not the hall shown on the accommodation tour, ask your student ambassador about it! Chances are that the student ambassador has lived there or will know someone who has.

Some other questions you might like to ask yourself when looking at accommodation include;

  • How far away from Highfield Campus will you want to live?
  • Do you have a budget?
  • Should I opt for catered or non-catered halls?

If you are unsure what the best choice is, ask the student ambassadors what they preferred and hopefully this will help you!

My last piece of advice would be to eat all the food offered at the Open Day! There is usually some really good food, with lots of refreshments available on campus - or you could visit the street food and general market down in the City Centre when you are done! There are plenty of place to eat when you visit.

The view from Mayflower Park in the City Centre

I hope those who are attending the Open day finds this helpful and that you enjoy your visit!


Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Searching for private accommodation

In July I made the decision to move to the Big Smoke.

Granted, my move from Southampton to London is only a temporary necessity for an internship. An everyday commute to the capital would’ve been impractical and I’ve found myself settling in just fine in my double life as a metropolitan woman.

So today I thought I could tell you about my experience as a Southampton student looking for private accommodation in both cities. The comparison may be helpful for you one day!

Obligatory Big Ben photo 

Finding a room in London

The first step was a room search. I found my London room through a free house search website. The website allowed me to post an advert of myself which meant landlords were able to contact me themselves. This was probably a more efficient way of letting people know I was looking for a place – landlords are always looking to fill spare rooms. I went to about six or seven viewings and most rooms were decent sized with utility bills included in the rent. I was even able to customise my search based on my maximum budget and other preferences - look out for the ‘advanced search’ option when you go on these websites to do this!

For students with internships, house shares tend to be the cheapest way of getting accommodation. However there are other types of accommodation too; from bedsits to studios or one bedroom flats. It goes without saying that you must always go with someone you trust to these viewings or meet with whoever is showing you the place at a public area.

I was fortunate enough to find a room fairly quickly. The problem was that I was also unfortunate enough to get a room that suddenly became unavailable three days before the big move! That was pretty devastating. If, like myself, you get some work experience in the city and become unlucky in your accommodation search, there is never any harm in speaking to your manager about starting after you’ve secured yourself somewhere to live. The most important thing is that you find a place that is safe, comfortable, and within your budget.

The University has some valuable tips for those looking for private accommodation, wherever it is you're moving to. Looking through them really did help so you may want to check it out!

Monday morning motivation - courtesy of Transport for London! 

What to pack? 

The most challenging thing about the move was traveling with all of my things. I had to travel via coach so I stuck to the bare minimum. So I packed my clothes and shoes for work, pots and pans, a pillow and my alarm clock. I was surprised I managed it myself!

My entire life packed into two suitcases.

How different is the search for accommodation in London compared to Southampton? 

The University has plenty of advice outlets for students who need help in their search for accommodation in Southampton. The Students' Union also have a Housing Advice team to support you.

Southampton even has SASSH – a university-accredited student accommodation search engine. Made in collaboration with Southampton Solent University and Southampton City Council, it lets you search for student houses, flats and lodgings in Southampton. You can get in touch with the landlords themselves if you prefer not to go through an estate agent. It even lets you search for rooms in other towns and cities.

My student house in Southampton for this year, found through the SASSH website. 

A similarity between the two cities is that a deposit will almost always be required whenever you move into a new place. It is a good idea to sign a tenancy agreement between you and your landlord or whoever is letting you the room before you hand over any money to them.

It is a universal truth that moving homes is quite possibly one of the most stressful things we have to go through at one point in our lives… but this needn’t be the case! If you plan in advance and go to some viewings you are guaranteed to find yourself a nice place to live in regardless of what city you may find yourself in one day.

Stay safe and best of luck in your search!


Thursday, 13 August 2015

Results day advice

I will remember the day I received my results for my entire life. I stayed up until 2am checking UCAS, despite their assurances that results wouldn’t be available until that morning, before succumbing to inevitable sleep.

When I woke up, there it was, unbelievably (Southampton required higher grades than I had been predicted) I had done it and I was going to my first choice! My Facebook feed was filled with my friends posting which university they were going to, and the feeling at my school when I went to collect my results was one of elation.

It was some time that afternoon when the excitement calmed down that the reality hit me: I was actually going to University. Before then it had seemed like a pipe dream, something that I was desperate to do, but before then it had never seemed real. And when it hit me that it was all actually going to happen I panicked. I didn’t have anything for University, no kitchen supplies, no bedding, I could only cook pasta, and then that wasn’t even very good pasta…

I couldn’t cook, but I could bake. I could live off home-made treacle tart… right?

So for anyone facing the crazy idea of leaving home for some strange city that you may have only been to once, I have a little advice:

Calm down, and enjoy your day, you deserve it! Remember that you have absolutely bags of time before you move.

When shopping, for those of you who don’t want to break the bank, supermarkets catch on to the ‘Going to Uni’ craze and offer loads of discounts on essentials such as duvets, sheets and kettles.

For anyone that hasn’t made it into their first choice, or isn’t sure how to handle the clearing process, again, don’t worry! If you’re not sure what to do, try phoning admissions at the universities you applied to, they are always more than happy to explain the clearing process, and how they deal with it, and what you should expect. Since every university does things a little differently, phoning or emailing them is a great course of action. Southampton has all of their Clearing information online too.

For those lucky people that have discovered they will be joining us at Southampton in September, welcome! From now on, keep an eye on your email, as the University will use that to contact you with vital information about what to do next. You can also visit their website for Welcome information!

If you have any concerns about things like accommodation, paying your fees, or anything else, just get in touch with the University or ask them on Twitter or Facebook! If you are stuck on any part of the process over the next month, feel free to leave a question below – we’re always happy to help too.

Congratulations to everyone on their results and I look forward to seeing the new Southampton Freshers at the Bunfight and Freshers’ Week events on campus!


Wednesday, 12 August 2015

How to save your summer

Regardless of whether or not the weather chooses to recognise it, we are currently experiencing what scientists have referred to in the past as 'summer'. To some this means nothing more than a supposed increase in temperature, but to university students such as myself, it has a whole other meaning.

For students, the summer period is entirely what you make it. Almost three months of un-timetabled, un-scheduled blank space to fill with whatever you see fit. Obviously this can come in many, many forms; from work placements, to travel adventures, to simply kicking back and catching up on some much-needed sleep. I’ve been spending the past six weeks trying to mix and match and find the perfect combination of all of the above, but it has definitely proven to be a far trickier task than I first anticipated.

Being away from Southampton was a little jarring at first - a shorter housing contract may have saved me a lot of rent in the long-run, but without a place to stay in the city, I had to head home to Essex until September. Jumping between two very different lifestyles can be quite difficult, and so, to avoid that rather soul-crushing state everyone will recognise as 'boredom', I’ve set out to try and conquer as much as humanly possible.

Taylor Swift was kind enough to help me avoid boredom by performing nearby in Hyde Park.

Whilst many of my friends have stayed in the city and opted for getting themselves a work placement of some sorts - from marketing internships to social media training through the University’s Excel placement scheme, I instead looked towards placements nearer to home. Luckily enough, through The Edge’s connections, I managed to secure a week working with The National Student, a far-reaching entertainment and opinion website based in London. And so, as you read this, I will be joining the ranks of the capital’s army of commuters and I couldn’t be more excited!

However, as important as work is for future experience, the summer still has plenty more to offer. With the University accepting students from all over the globe, I’ve found that even just visiting friends over the summer months can be something of an adventure in itself, giving me the opportunity to explore places I had never been before.

Thanks to my student railcard (an essential tool that no young traveller should be without), I’ve been able to parade up and down the country on any number of trains for a surprisingly affordable price. June took me to Nottingham, whilst this past weekend has been spent on the (not at all) sunny shores of Liverpool.

Catching up with friends on an adventure up to Liverpool has certainly been a summer  

Whether it be one friend or a whole group, travelling up to visit them has proven to be a great way to spend odd weekends and keep in touch whilst separated by the holidays.

Obviously, it’s not all running around though. As fun and thrilling as it was, second year proved to be one of the craziest years to date, so taking some time off to just sit and relax seems entirely reasonable. Catching up with local friends and binge-watching Netflix has helped to slow my brain down to a far calmer pace, and I’m now far more able to look forward to the year ahead and start planning life back in Southampton.

Getting a kick-start on the reading for the new academic year has definitely kept me in check - Hartley Library’s huge collection of e-books has certainly proved useful - whilst continuing my work with The Edge over the summer has allowed my creative juices to keep flowing smoothly.

It seems that even when I’m away from Southampton and the University physically, there’s still plenty to be getting on with!