Thursday, 30 October 2014

Green Action and Halloween events

Last week Green Action held the second event of the term which was on food and the environment. We organised a speaker from Rice Up, a local whole foods cooperative in Southampton, to come and talk about how they started their business and the principles and ethics behind the choices they’ve made while creating and running their business. We also learnt about the importance of the choices we make with the food we buy and useful things we can think about if we want to buy ethical and environmentally friendly goods. In addition, we served some free vegan sausages and vegan cake which I think the members were quite happy about - who doesn’t love free food? Following the talk we held a meeting to vote in a new Web Manager and Social Secretary into the committee. It’s great having more people on the team and hopefully with our new Web Manager we’ll be able to reach out to more people with what we’re doing as a society. As for our new Social Secretary, it will also be nice to start organising some socials outside of the events we hold, so people can get to know each other better. To round the night off, we showed a movie about industrial agriculture and sustainable alternatives. Next Tuesday we’ll be having our third event, about starting a fossil-free campaign, which we’re looking forward to introducing to the members.

Last week I also met up with one of my first year flatmates who is studying Aerospace Engineering and who I haven’t seen in about a year! (It’s crazy how fast time flies by while you’re at university!) This is the same flatmate who helped me out a lot during the summer, when I participated in the intensive Mandarin Language Course for beginners. We’re planning on meeting again so I can brush up on my Mandarin skills which should be interesting, considering how easy it is to forget a language when you don’t use it often. I’m also feeling that my Swedish is slowly deteriorating (even after having lived in Sweden for six years) so I had better make sure I use it as much as I can when I go home for Christmas.

Last night I attended the dance societies joint Halloween Social. As with most of the dance socials not only are they a lot of fun, but they’re also a means for us to raise money for the annual dance show, Pure Dance, which will be held in the Guildhall O2 Southampton in March. This is very exciting as it’s a bigger venue compared to the Turner Sims hall we’ve had the show in previous years. Even though I’m much less involved with dance this year, it was still fun to go out and see everyone, especially seeing the jazz dancers - many of whom I haven’t seen since before the summer break. It was good to hear that everything has been going well for them since taking over the society.

Me and the new President of the Jazz dance society on the Halloween Social. It was so much fun to catch up! 

On the topic of Halloween, on Friday I’m looking forward to visiting Thorpe Park for the first time with one of my housemates. They have Fright Night events for Halloween which I’m honestly absolutely terrified about but equally excited! I’ve never been to Thorpe Park before but have heard from a lot of people that it’s worth a visit so in addition to celebrating Halloween there it will be fun to try all the amusement rides for the first time!


Monday, 27 October 2014

From fresher to fourth year

Last Friday I attended a first year Film Studies seminar on blogging as a guest speaker, alongside fellow blogger Robin and ex-Life at Southampton blogger and graduate Joanne. After introducing ourselves and the ideas behind the blog, we were able to give insight into the world of blogging and the various techniques we use, as well as critiquing some example posts that the students had written beforehand.

Although it wasn’t going to be the most strenuous of public speaking events, I still had a few nerves about participating in this seminar, but I actually really enjoyed the experience and the various discussions that the seminar brought about.

I have found that during my time at university my public speaking has improved vastly. In my first year I was terrified at the prospect of presenting a five minute talk in front of my tutor group (consisting of four people!) and I needed to have the presentation written out in front of me. However, by my third year I was able to give a confident and well laid-out presentation on space weather in front of a room of staff and students as part of my group project – practice really does make perfect!

One of the things I most enjoyed about the seminar was being able to read the first years’ posts about how they were finding their first few weeks in Southampton. Some had travelled from abroad, whilst others already lived in Southampton; but regardless of where they came from, they all seem to have settled into their new lives, finding friends in a whole host of different societies.

The session got me thinking about how much has changed since I was in my first term at the University of Southampton. The biggest change for me has been to do with my university work. As you might expect, the workload has definitely increased - especially now I’m a Masters student, - but the most significant difference is the type of coursework I am now doing. In first year I had weekly assessed problem sheets for each module, which had their own help classes set aside within the timetable, as well as tutorials that also dealt with the same problems. Throughout the following years this means of assessment has become more independent and naturally a lot harder!

Of course this year, on top of my other modules, I also have my Master’s project, which runs for the majority of the year. For this my project partner and I am studying a group of astronomical objects called Quasars, which are a very luminous and distant type of galaxy core that surround supermassive black holes. Our project involves running a computer code to discern particular characteristics of these quasars, which will hopefully provide new insight into this rapidly growing area of research.

As well as the different type of work I am doing, I feel I have a lot more trust and responsibility given to me within the Physics department. For example, two weeks ago we were involved in a two hour l conference call with a professor in Italy discussing the computer program he had written to analyse Quasars. Every week we also have a meeting with our project supervisor to discuss ideas and any progress that we have made, which echoes the fact that the work we are doing is actually new and important.

Although it may seem like it, but life as a fourth year physicist isn’t all work! Last week the Physics Society hosted a Game of Thrones themed social, where we were encouraged to dress up as our favourite characters from the show. Despite my involvement with the fancy dress society, I found assembling a costume for this theme quite difficult, but in the end I think my Little Finger costume turned out alright and really enjoyed the evening.

My Little Finger costume for the Game of Thrones Physics social 

When I think about it, it’s clear to see how much has changed over the years I have been at the University, in both an academic and personal sense. This is one of the reasons I enjoy blogging so much; I get the opportunity to really think about my university life, and it also provides a nice way to document it too!


Friday, 24 October 2014

What lies beyond

I wrote in my last blog post about how quickly time at university shoots by (maybe it’s because I seem to mentally split it into chunks of time spent for rehearsing for shows!), and how, sooner than you’d perhaps think or expect, you’ll find yourself considering what lies beyond it all in terms of a career and… well, the rest of your life! For me, that reality has never hit home harder than during the past couple of weeks, during which I’ve found myself looking into options, attending a careers fair or two, talking to companies, drafting applications and - most terrifying of all - getting to grips with the prospect of the real working world after a fantastic few years down here!

It seems weird to think that I’m now firmly entrenched in my fourth and final year of an MEng Software Engineering programme – meeting the new set of Freshers in the musical theatre society, Showstoppers, has certainly hammered that message home! With work towards modules well underway and the first deliverable document deadlines of my Group Design Project (a group dissertation originating from a challenge within the technical industry) rapidly approaching, I can vividly remember thinking in first year how this time would never come around for me!

Yet with graduate scheme applications now opening for many an organisation, and my last ever winter at the University of Southampton creeping ever nearer (the central heating in our house has been greatly appreciated recently!), it really is time to look beyond my course and on to the future. In that respect, I’ve been trying to adopt as pro-active approach as possible to figuring out my future career path, looking at many a prospectus, graduate scheme and careers fair which fits around my course and the various other activities I’ve undertaken during my time here to give myself the best chance I can.

The first event I attended took place at the Royal Opera House in London last week, entitled TheatreCraft.This quite unique careers fair is a free annual event for everyone up to and including the age of 25, and is tailored to those prospectively looking at a career in the theatrical industry outside of performance (however much I love performing, the competition is fierce to say the least)!

Braving a five o’ clock wake-up call (an hour I definitely can’t remember the last time I encountered!) in order to make the necessary journey, and thus boosted by a strong coffee or two, I went along to try to investigate the possibilities of taking my passion for the Performing Arts beyond the amateur societies I’ve loved being a part of so much in Southampton – a quite intimidating prospect to undertake on your own, but ultimately a wholly worthwhile one!

The event consisted of a grand hall of theatrical-related showcases from employers and prospective routes into the industry, including theatres, drama schools, performance colleges, concert halls, press stands and much more. These were all manned by professionals eager to answer questions and talk about their specialisms. Furthermore, there were free hourly workshops, led by figures within the industry. Figures ranged from directors to producers, marketers and plenty more – I managed to, in quite a star-struck state, meet the Director of one of my favourite shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year! It was with these talks that I filled up almost an entire day, listening attentively to the anecdotal advice of people who’d made a living out of it all and taking notes aplenty along the way! One even took place in the Royal Opera House rehearsal hall – incredible!

It was an inspirational and brilliantly informative day, and left me feeling suitably encouraged that a career in the arts is definitely something I have the option to pursue should I so choose – and in final year, options are what we’re all looking for!

Additionally, this week I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the University’s Information Technology, Science and Engineering Fair 2014 – perhaps a more traditionally associated event with my degree programme, and equally as informative and encouraging! Organised by the University’s Career Destinations team (who are always seeking to give you advice and support in terms of offering placements, advice and CV workshops) the day followed a similar format of showcasing a vast array of organisations and potential employers, and thence allowing you to speak to as many professionals from them as possible, with a particular focus, in my instance, on those offering careers in technology.

I went to the event slightly unsure of whether my background in Computer Science leant itself to much by way of adapting to other specialisms – for example, the financial sector (of which my knowledge is enough to get by – but nowhere near that of my housemate studying Economics, for example!). I was heartened to learn just how much can be picked up on the job or taught via many graduate schemes, and I left feeling inspired to tackle plenty more applications to companies across a range of industries I’d never previously considered – so here’s hoping I hear back soon! Plus, as an added bonus, many companies at the Fair were offering freebies along the way – so I left with a bag chock-full of useful goodies and accessories, alongside leaflets and contact details aplenty. All in all, not a bad afternoon’s work!

So despite my initial trepidation, it’s with great optimism that I look to what lies beyond University and, although I’ve still some way to go yet during this academic year, it’s certainly a weight off my mind to know just how much is on offer after my programme concludes! Fingers crossed for the future, wherever it may be!


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Dance opportunities and developing new lab skills

Recently, I was asked to work as a dancer for a new disco/funk/soul launch night at a venue in Southampton. One of the people running the event found me through one of the dance societies I’ve been a part of. I was asked if I was interested in being hired as a dancer for the evening, and if I had any friends who would also like to get involved. I ended up gathering together a group of four; myself and another girl along, with two guys from the dance societies, to form a quartet. Our role was basically to help promote the new event, perform a few choreographed routines on the stage throughout the night and dance with the crowd and try to get them to dance more as well. The music played included tracks from artists such as Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder. To keep in with the theme we were also given some very colorful costumes with distinctive flares which we all found hilarious but actually made the job even more fun! It’s not every day you have an excuse (not that you actually need one) to dress up in disco attire! It was particularly funny to see my friends dressed up, especially because I actually thought the costumes surprisingly suited some of them.

The gang and I before heading off to the event. 

On the topic of dance, squad auditions have been going on and, while it has been very tempting to audition again in my third year, I’ve managed to keep to my word and will be focusing this year towards my degree, especially now that I’m fairly confident a career in research is the path I want to take. I’m really enjoying the research for my third year project and learning new skills in the lab. However dance is still a passion of mine, so I won’t quit dancing altogether!

At the weekend I met up with one of my dance friends who graduated in July before she moves to Singapore in November. Together we went to the local Mayflower Theatre to take a ballet class taught by one of the dancers of the English National Ballet, who were in Southampton performing the ballet 'CoppĂ©lia' last week. We were also taught a short variation from the ballet which was a lot of fun, especially since it has been a while since I’ve danced any ballet. It was great to get my body moving like that again - I had forgotten what good exercise ballet is, and how challenging it is to find and work those specific muscles that ballet uses.

The class was taught on the Mayflower Theatre stage, so this photo was taken from the stage looking out into the auditorium (which I find quite cool, since usually it’s the other way round). 

After the class we were also given a little demonstration of some of the costumes they use in the show, how they are made and reused and how much they cost. I had no idea how expensive some of the tutus for the lead roles were, costing up to £1,800 and even more shocked at the cost of the wigs which could cost up to £1,500! I guess they want to be able to give the audience the best possible performance so they pay a lot of attention to quality detail.

As I just mentioned, I’ve really been enjoying working on my third year project. I’ve been doing increasingly more lab work and learning some new laboratory skills including working with liquid nitrogen and dry ice when grinding the leaf samples I collected in Italy, preparing them for RNA extraction. More recently, I’ve been working through the protocol for RNA extraction of poplar leaves.

So far I’ve only executed the protocol using tester leaves, but I will be using my actual samples later this week which is both exciting and a little nerve-wracking because if I make a mistake I won’t be able to fly back to Italy and collect more leaves! Equally, if I manage to do this right I will be one step closer to getting some data which I can then start analysing. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some good results!


Friday, 17 October 2014

Getting creative

After nearly four months of summer holidays, it is always surprising how quickly you re-orientate yourself back into university life. The first few weeks of term always seem to be the busiest, as you begin to settle into a rhythm; finding a way to squeeze in everything you want to do within a week.
However this semester has been particularly busy, because in addition to being deep into the syllabuses of my taught modules, my MSc Physics project has begun to demand more of my time. On top of this I have continued my membership with badminton and handball, as well as trying out a couple of new societies too.

The one activity that has captured my interest in particular has been ArtSoc – the University’s art society. I’ve always enjoyed doing creative pursuits and I spend a lot of time sketching when I have free time over the holidays, but I’ve never really found the time whilst at university. Over the summer break I spent many hours working on a drawing of a lobster, inspired by Alice Shirley’s ‘Giant Lobster’ and Salvador Dali’s famous surrealist piece ‘Lobster Telephone’.

The finished piece

Whilst I was on holiday in Bruges over the summer with my girlfriend, we discovered a Dali exhibition at the foot of the famous Belfort. It was a nice surprise to find because I didn’t know about it before I arrived and it was inspiring to see his work his real life. We also visited another gallery whilst we were in Belgium, called the Groeningemuseum, which displayed works from famous Belgian and Flemish artists that were split into distinct artistic movements. The main highlight of the gallery were the works of Jan Van Eyck, a fifteenth century resident of Bruges, which included the stunning ‘Virgin and Child with Canon ver der Paele’.

The Belfort, which housed the Dali exhibition on its ground floor.

The first ArtSoc event was a free taster session, in which members old and new got the chance to meet each other whilst practicing our portrait drawing skills. However, unlike a traditional portrait class, it was held in a speed dating-fashion, which meant we only had five minutes to draw the person we were paired with before everyone moved on to a new partner. I thought this was a really clever way of getting to know a lot of new people and it was great fun too!

This week’s ArtSoc event focussed on life drawing, which is something I’ve always wanted to try, but never had the chance to. The session gave me a chance to improve my ability to draw the human body in different poses and from a wide range of angles. After each pose it was interesting to compare sketches with other people to see their own technique and to observe how the drawings changed as you moved round the circle.

The other new activity that I have been trying out is Ultimate Frisbee, which is a very intense sport, because offense turns into defence in a blink of an eye, requiring you to have full concentration at all times. In our first training session we were taught how to throw the Frisbee backhand (the way people naturally do it) and also in a forehand manner, which was very challenging, but I think I’ve just about mastered it now!

Trying to fit all of these activities in has meant that the past three weeks have flown by, but nevertheless I have really enjoyed re-immersing myself into University life and can’t wait to see what the rest of semester one brings!


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Breaking into industry

One of the inescapable facts of being a fourth year is that many of the opportunities, events and experiences I’m encountering in day-to-day life are ultimately (and quite sadly!), the final of their kind for me in Southampton – something I’m still trying to get my head around, really! It’s weird to think that these are the final Freshers’ events I’ll attend; the final time I’ll go to a Bunfight; the final time I’m preparing a costume for Halloween socials, and so on. It seems like a lifestyle that I could honestly keep up forever and never get bored! But the final year it is, and as such, I’m more determined than ever to make the opportunities which present themselves count as much as I can. For example, I’m already one down on that bucket list I presented a few weeks back.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to make my live Surge Radio (the Students’ Union radio station) co-hosting debut with my brilliant (and thankfully well musically learned – I have a pretty dodgy taste in music!) friend Caitlin. Her wit and naturally amiable character seemed to complement my cheesy jokes quite well for the hour, as we winged our way through the first edition of “The Performing Arts Show”. This slot is dedicated to broadcasting all the latest news from across the Union’s Performing Arts departments! Next time we’re planning to actually prepare content in advance to give the whole show slightly more structure; we improvised games this time, including a Shakespearean quotation contest and an American “spelling bee” style quiz! However, for a first shot, we think we did pretty well – and I had a fantastic time in the process, so I can’t wait for the next show!

I was also lucky enough to this week be cast in another production (after a week entirely out of them!), following a couple of rounds of intensive auditions over the weekend which really showcased the levels of talent that exist within the Performing Arts. It was a fairly intimidating prospect going into the audition room knowing that five or six other extremely talented individuals were going after the same roles as you, but I’m delighted to say that (somehow!) I managed to come away with the role of Prince Escalus in the Theatre Group’s production of the Shakespearean classic “Romeo & Juliet”, to take place on the professional Nuffield Theatre stage in February 2015. This is hopefully another final opportunity to make the most of, as my investment in the Performing Arts in Southampton slowly winds its way to an end!

The main thing at the centre of my thoughts this week has been getting off to a good start as I enter the fourth year of my MEng Software Engineering course. Most importantly of all to this, all hands have been to the pump to kick start the Group Design Project we are to undertake, which in turn makes up a significant portion of our assessment throughout the entire year – so no pressure, then! The project (or “GDP” as it’s affectionately known by all of us who have to type it each time!) is in itself yet another fantastic opportunity for us to gain experience in the field of project development and in turn boost our employability, which is obviously something at the forefront of every final year student’s mind right now!

This is because not only does the project we are assigned stem from an industrial specification (and hence is likely to be applied within a professional context), but it also tests the depth of our personal, managerial and skill-based development as both engineers and computer scientists since our very first year. We are expected to employ skills and knowledge we have acquired over the course of our degree programmes across the entirety of the project’s lifespan to accurately simulate a development process we might undergo in a job. This gives us plenty of practice in this kind of context before we move into the wide world next year and potentially do it for real – eek!

For example, we will be formulating specifications, formalising designs and carrying out evaluative testing (to make sure it works!). These are skills which we have been given the opportunity to hone across a multitude of various design projects over the years, and now are left to independently apply in this particularly challenging situation. Now that we’ve had plenty of practice in an academic environment, it really feels like an opportunity for us to take a (tentative – it’s still quite difficult to even know where to begin, after all!) first step into breaking into the technology industry!

With regards to my group’s project, ours stems from the mobile application of Digital Behaviour Interventions (for example, phone messages or alerts) which psychologists can design to help encourage people to lead healthier lifestyles or, for example, to undertake anti-smoking or fitness programmes. We’re also working closely with an on-campus client to extend an intervention’s functionality into allowing people to test the potency of any personal cochlear implant (devices which improve hearing) they might possess through their mobile phones, potentially saving them a lot of money in reducing the need to travel to their nearest implant centre.

We’re hugely happy as a group with the specification we’ve been allocated. Not only has it already stimulated a number of fruitful discussions about how we’re going to go about supporting all the relevant factors and requirements of the project, and incorporate such hearing tests sufficiently accurately, but it also has the potential to have a strongly positive effect on real people’s health, routines and lives if it works well. This is a wonderfully inspirational goal in itself and hence something additional to strive after - so here’s hoping (just as an aside: it will be rigorously tested before deployment, of course)!

Looking forwards, it’s weird to think the clock is counting down on my time in Southampton, and quicker than I might like, but given all of the events going on at the University at the moment, it’s looking like it’s going to be one heck of an academic year to bow out on – fingers crossed I can make the most of it!


Monday, 13 October 2014

Self-defence, forest walks, talks and films

Since my last post, I’ve been trying out some more groups and societies. Last week I attended a couple more Martial Arts taster sessions including Chinese Kickboxing and an evening Self-defence class. I am very tempted to join the Chinese Kickboxing - however it clashes with one of the Street Dance classes I also want to attend on a Wednesday. The session was a lot of fun so it is definitely something I want to try again in the future. The self-defence class was great and is actually free every week! The classes are in the evenings and so don’t clash with anything else I’m doing. The instructor is really enthusiastic and dedicated and keeps the class fun. Knowing a few tricks to protect yourself is a really good thing to have up your sleeve and because the classes are free I don’t see any reason not to attend.

At the weekend I went to the Hillwalking Society’s first day-walk of the semester. This was the first time I had been on one of their walks and in spite of the rain I really enjoyed the walk in the fresh air and being out in nature! This walk was along a route their committee had planned out. The walk I went on was in the New Forest, which is beautiful and local (and very easy to get to from here!) but they also have walks planned for the Isle of Wight and an away trip to Snowdonia amongst others.

 Our walk in the New Forest, a local beauty spot.

During the week, the Green Action team had our first event. This began with a quick introduction to what we do as a society, who the committee are and what our roles are. Then we had the pleasure of listening to a talk from a guest speaker who we had organized to come and talk about the controversial TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) trade deal. After the talk, people were free to ask questions and we had a really interesting discussion. The talk was very successful and it’s great that we were able to raise more awareness about the potential consequences of TTIP. We may even organise a follow up event, since a number of members were quite passionate about the covert trade deal.

Last weekend I also spent full day in the library doing research for my third year project. Afterwards, my friend and I rewarded ourselves by watching a movie at Union Films. Union Films is the University’s student-run cinema. I think this was the first time in over a year that I took the time to go and watch a film there, and it turned out to be a great way to end a full day in the library! This weekend my friend and I plan on dedicating another full day to working on our projects in the library and then watching another film.

Getting ready to enjoy a film at Union Films

We were quite keen last weekend and were almost the first ones to arrive. Since it’s cheaper to watch movies at Union Films than in larger cinemas, my friend and I hope to be able to watch a few more movies throughout the term and make the most of having a cinema in our Students Union while we’re still studying at Southampton. It’s also good motivation to keep working; knowing you’ll be able to relax and enjoy a film in the evening.

 The Union Films entrance, and SUSU's new Diner!

The entrance to the cinema is on the far left, but this picture also shows the Student Unions’ new retro Hollywood Diner at Bar Three, which I think looks really cool! I have yet to try any of the food but plan to soon.