Friday, 29 August 2014

Some advice for soon-to-be students

As I mentioned in my previous post, when this appears online I will be working away in Italy! I’m hoping that I will be able to collect a lot of good data and do a good job. Wish me luck!

Anyway, giving advice can be hard sometimes because I think one of the best ways to learn is to experience things for yourself and just see what you think when you get here. However, if my friend Ivy and I were to summarise a few things we wish we would have done a little differently, or thought we did well, it would be these few things…

First of all, don’t wait for people to come to you; go and introduce yourself! Everyone is in the same boat, even though it might feel like you’re the odd one out. When I first moved into halls I arrived a day late. Well, technically I arrived in the middle of the night of moving in day because of my flight from Sweden, and at that time no one was around because there was a welcome party on campus for the Freshers). When I met everyone the next day I thought it seemed like everyone already knew each other really well. However, in hindsight I've realised that everyone was still just getting to know each other. I shared a kitchen with twenty other people in my first year so there were a lot of people to get to know in my flat! I was quite shy and waited until someone else introduced themselves first, but looking back I really didn't have anything to lose and could have made friends in halls a lot quicker had I just made more of an effort to introduce myself to everyone. And, just like you might feel grateful if someone came over to talk to you, I’m sure the other person would be thinking the same thing and would be grateful if you went and spoke to them too!

Me and some flatmates from my first year at the Freshers' ball.

Some of my first year flatmates and I celebrating my 20th birthday at halls.

Secondly, join societies. In my first (and second) year, I tried so many different societies and met loads of people who had similar interests as me. Go - even if you have to go alone! You will meet people there. I was the only person I knew when I joined the SubAqua Club and after a year I got my ocean diver qualifications as well as having met some people who I would have never have spoken to had I not joined the society. Furthermore, some of my best friends at uni are from the dance societies, but when I first arrived I went to all the classes without knowing anyone else there. Some people join in their second year but many of them regret not trying it out in their first year. Eventually, I got to know everyone and now I can’t imagine uni life without them. Having said that, as with my first example, I could have made friends with them much faster had I made more of an effort to get to know everyone and not waited for them to approach me first. Don’t be afraid to talk to the existing members. The first friends I made within the dance societies were also freshers, but now I’m just as close with those who were in the years above me. I’ll admit I was a little intimidated by them in the beginning but knowing them now, I really had no reason to be!

On the note of trying new things, just go to as many of the taster sessions as you can. Most of them are completely free and you are not obligated to join the society if you feel like it isn't really for you. You’ll get more information about taster sessions at the Bunfight during Freshers Week, where you can meet all the societies and student groups in one place! Just to give an example, in my first year I also tried a film society, archery and the athletics club amongst others and while I did enjoy them I knew I wouldn't have time for all of them, so I prioritised the different dance societies.

In terms of studying, I think everyone has their own methods which best suits them. I would just like to advise first year students to still put the extra effort into their work even thought your first year grades won’t directly count towards your degree. Some people might joke around saying you don’t have to work too hard during your first year because your marks don’t count, but the reason I’m mentioning this is because if you plan on applying for placements or internships during your summer break, they will often ask to see your first year grades and therefore you will want to have good grades to help you get the position you want.

These are the most important things Ivy and I could think of. While you might have heard some of them before it can sometimes be good to hear something a few times for it to really sink in. Hopefully this was inspiring or helpful and I wish you all a great start to uni life, and hope that you’re excited!


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Phantom of the operating table

I have spent a lot of this month at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading as a Medical Physics work experience student, but sadly now the two weeks are over. I mentioned in my first August blog that I wanted to apply to a training scheme that would allow me a route into medical physics and after working full time within a hospital’s physics department, I am even more certain of that career aim.

I spent the majority of my time there working within the Radiation Protection Branch of the Medical Physics Department, under a Non-Ionising Radiation Specialist, who deals mainly with ultrasound imaging.

Probably the main role of a medical physicist is to carry out procedures called Quality Assurance tests, known simply as ‘QA’s. These QAs involve testing all different types of imaging machines to check that they are producing the correct results and, ultimately, that they are fit for clinical use. These tests are carried out on things called ‘phantoms’, which are physical objects built to simulate a specific part of the human body, so that tests can be carried out without the need to have a real patient with you.

A phantom designed to replicate blood flow

During my two weeks of work experience I performed eight QAs on ultrasound machines, including probes used for urology, obstetrics, gynaecology, cardiology and even a machine that is on its way to Ghana to be used in the diagnosis of breast cancer. These QAs involve performing a routine series of checks for different characteristics of the ultrasound probe, before writing up a report and concluding if the probe can be used or not, and if not what alterations need to be made.

 I used this phantom for a QA on an ultrasound bladder probe

The other part of the job is based in research. Whilst working within the Radiation Protection Department, I used some of my time to construct and test a new type of phantom that uses computer technology to simulate the human body, which would remove the need to have physical phantoms.

I was also asked to build my own phantom which was to be used as a training tool for inserting needles into the prostate, guided only by a real-time ultrasound image. I used layers of solidified gelatine to mimic the tissue, before placing a plastic practice golf ball in the middle to replicate the prostate. I made two of these and the next day they were used in a seminar given by the department.

My DIY phantom in action 

Despite spending most of my time with ultrasound I did get the opportunity to experience other types of medical imaging. This included working within the Nuclear Medicine Department to learn about their role within the hospital. Their main work involves injecting a patient with small quantities of a radioactive element and imaging the body, so that they can assess the function, rather than structure, of different organs.

My final expedition was off to Radiology to work with x-rays. X-rays are probably the most commonly known type of medical imaging; however there is so much more to this branch of physics than hospital dramas portray. This is because the x-ray film on TV is a thing of the past. Now the image is produced on either digital cassettes or by a computer. CT scanners also exist, which produce 3D images of patients with x-rays, as well as the growing field of radiotherapy, which uses radiation to kill cancer cells.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time visiting the different departments at the Royal Berkshire Hospital and now that two weeks of work experience are over, I can safely say medical physics is the path I want to take in the future.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

My Southampton bucket list

As the completely mental, yet simultaneously extremely enjoyable (and infinitely memorable!) Edinburgh adventure begins to wind down, and after what will probably be a week of sleeping when I return home in a few days’ time (it’s been exhausting!), it’s weird to think that I will soon find myself looking forward to a fourth – and (provisionally, at the very least!) final – year. A terrifying thought when I realise how quickly my time in Southampton seems to have shot by!

As I wrote last week, from joining the University way back in 2011 to beginning to consider life beyond it now, Southampton as a city has given to me not only an incredible stay and education, but also bundles of happy memories and opportunities which I can only hope I’ve made the most of – certainly I’m not sure my sleeping patterns could take any more, although that might just be the tiredness of the Fringe talking! It’s been a magnificent three years, and I’m just as excited for my final one as I was for my first - if considerably less anxious about domestic abilities, and more so about workload!

But there remains a number of activities to undertake, and places to visit, which, despite probably now being classified as a Southampton “veteran” (hopefully a less direct way of saying “old man!”), I’ve somehow always managed to avoid. So with time running out on my stay in Southampton, I thought I could write up a quick “bucket list” of things I hope to check off by the end of the year, fitting them in sensibly around the degree (honest, Mum!). Although, much like a New Year’s Resolution, only time will tell how well I’ve done!

1. Write an article for the Wessex Scene

The Wessex Scene is the regular online, and occasionally paper, newsbeat of the University of Southampton. Written, produced and edited by its student body, it has recently frequently been cited as a source by major bodies like the BBC– pretty solid proof that when something happens, they’re usually on the scene in a flash! Although I may not have my finger quite as on the pulse as its editorial team, I’d still love the chance to contribute to such a broadly-read publication in my final year, hopefully through an opinion (or, indeed, satirical!) article or two – here’s hoping!

2. Write an article for The Edge magazine

Likewise, The Edge is a Students' Union (SUSU) publication, covering all forms of entertainment media from music to movies and from games to theatre. As a self-confessed occasional procrastinator (although I’ve somehow avoided getting Netflix yet, for the sake of my degree if nothing else!), I’ve a keen passion for all of these things, so I’m hoping to be able to chip in a review or two here and there across the year - although I’m not sure I’d get away with doing it for my own shows!

3. Host a show on Surge Radio

Having appeared as a (hopefully not too tongue-tied!) guest on the Students' Union radio station, Surge, a few times in the past three years, taking on the actual hosting of a show is something I’d like to try at some point, just to see what it’s like from behind the desk! Thankfully for the musical tastes of its listeners at home, there’re plenty of default playlists available too, featuring all the latest chart hits and thus, if I were to get the chance, sparing any potential listeners from an evening of dodgy song choices!

4. Direct a musical with Showstoppers

Having been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attempt directing some of my favourite plays with the University’s Students' Union Theatre Group, having a great time to boot, I’d absolutely love to have the chance to try driving a musical show with the musical theatre society, also known as Showstoppers – if only to try something a little different! Watch this space!

5. Visit the Isle of Wight

Just a short and relatively cheap ferry ride away from the shores of the city, the Isle of Wight has been a popular destination for students looking for an exciting voyage on a day out, often including a picnic or two on sunny occasions. I’d love to get the chance to visit at some point, although given we’re soon to enter September, it’s probably far more likely I’d be doing so clutching a raincoat!

6. Visit Playzone in Portsmouth

A place to let loose your inner child, this legendary destination is a short train ride away – but during my time here trips to it with various societies have always clashed with something or other! The resulting stories I’ve heard from such visits have always made me want to go along – and I’m determined for this to be the year that it finally happens!

7. Read five (or more!) books for pleasure

An old habit I’ve sadly found myself ignoring more and more lately, despite there being plenty to choose from, particularly with resources like the comprehensive Hartley Library on campus at my finger tips. I’d love to get back into reading regularly, so I’m hoping to make much more time for it next year!
And, finally…

8. Complete and submit an assignment more than a whole week before the deadline (!)

… Well, I did say time would tell on this list!

So, between this list and my academic commitments, along with the occasional extra-curricular activity here and there, my work is definitely cut out! Bring on fourth year, Southampton! 


Friday, 22 August 2014

Back in Southampton

I've now returned to Southampton and am getting settled back into living away from home. I was afraid I’d feel the pain of homesickness upon returning but I’m relieved to have avoided it, maybe because I had spent a whole extra month in Sweden with family. In any case, it almost feels like I’m returning back to another family - as cheesy as it might sound! A few of my housemates have been staying in our house over the summer so I didn't have to return to an empty home. My room is just as how I left it and it feels somewhat comforting to be back. The summer break is flying past but now that I’m back in Southampton I’m actually feeling quite excited for uni to start again. However, I’m also grateful I still have just over another month of summer (even though I will be starting work for my third year project, so it won’t be all fun and games).

As I might have mentioned in one of my earlier posts when I introduced some of my housemates, one of my housemates is actually an international Masters student from China. During my first year when everyone was sorting out living and accommodation for second year, two of my flatmates from halls and I came together and decided we’d love to live together. Then each of my flatmates had a friend from their course who they also wanted to live with, so we became a group of five. After finding a house we all liked, one of my friend’s coursemates had decided it would actually be more convenient for her to live at home, since it actually wasn't a far drive to uni and her schedule didn't require her to be on campus everyday. By living at home, she could save money on living costs, which we all thought was a fair point, so she found a replacement to fill her empty room…and that replacement turned out to be Aubrey, who we've all loved having around.

I've particularly loved hearing about her stories from China because I’m always keen to learn about different cultures and lifestyles from around the world. Sadly, she will be leaving while I’m away in Italy so this will be my last chance to see her before she goes. While I’m sure we’ll keep in contact, we are all going to miss her! On a happier note, one of my coursemates will be filling Aubrey’s room and moving in with us in September which is exciting. This coursemate will also be going to Italy and working on a similar project to me, so hopefully we’ll have some interesting things to share when we come back.

Aubrey and I will keep in touch!

Besides seeing my housemates again, I've also met up with my dance friend Ivy and caught up on each other’s adventures. She’s now a psychology graduate and has been spending the past couple months travelling around the U.S. which has made me really envious (I might even consider doing the same once I graduate). We also talked about uni and it was helpful to talk to someone who has completed their third year and to get some advice about things they might have wanted to do differently as well as some general tips.

Me and my always-interesting friend Ivy.

Going to university opens up a lot of opportunities and gives you a lot of options in life, as well as unlocking more job opportunities or opening up possibilities to go onto postgraduate studies (which can also open up further career opportunities). You may feel like, before committing to a job or further study, a gap year after you graduate is what you need. As great as it is to have so many options, it can also feel burdensome because it means you have to take more responsibility for your life and the decisions you make for yourself. Getting some perspective and advice from someone who has been through it and has also been figuring out what they want to do once they graduate has also been really reassuring.

On a little but of a side note, for my next post I’ll be away in Italy for my course, so I’ll be writing something a little different. While we’re on the topic of advice and tips, I have decided to come up with some pieces of advice, with the help of Ivy, which we think would be good to share with new students. And by the way, congratulations to all who are happy with their A-level results and have succeeded in getting into their desired university! Those coming to Southampton, don’t hesitate to say hi if you see me around.

Anyway, I hope you find my next post useful and see you again when I’m back from Italy.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

University sports

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

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

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

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

Southampton Stags in action (Credit: Southampton Tchoukball Club)

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

The handball tournament I took part in last November

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

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


Friday, 15 August 2014

Looking to September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

My last summer blog post from Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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