Posted in Intern advice, Written by James

Exam Season Blues

The terrible, rainy weather has timed itself perfectly to coincide with the start of exam season. The final essay and project deadlines are up and revision season comes. Now you can get wet too and from the IC as well as being miserable! But don’t worry. You’ll survive. At the time of writing, its sunny and warm once more. But I’m not sure I trust it…

As a now postgraduate research student, I remember walking out of what will probably be my last undergraduate academic exam with a sense of relief that was palpable. For those of you still stuck in the rut that is exam season, you probably have your revision techniques ready by now. If you still feel like refreshing yourself, 301 has some resources for you, but otherwise I’m assuming that you’ve got all of that sorted. Rather, in this short little blog post I’m going to share some exam survival tips.

1. GET YOUR CALCULATOR APPROVED AND STATIONARY READY NOW

You’re still reading this? I said get it done now. There is nothing… NOTHING worse than forgetting to get your calculator approved by SSiD and having it snatched away before the exam. There are many reasons to fail an exam, but having the wrong equipment is not one of them. Once you have it done, you’ll be golden throughout the entire exam period and potentially every exam period you’ll ever experience. Pop into the Student’s Union, get your gear checked and pick up some new pens while you’re at it so there’s no chance of running out of ink! And don’t forget that clear pencil case while you’re at it!

2. Your body is a temple, your brain is part of your body, look after yourself!

This may see obvious, but the amount of friends I have had to tear away from their laptops to eat dinner surprises me. We work best when we’re well fueled, well hydrated and well rested.

Consider taking some snacks to the IC to eat while you work, energy dense and nutritious snacks like fruit (a punnet of grapes is pretty good) and nuts. Try to avoid extremely sugary food, as they’ll give you half an hour of energy then a crash.

Similarly, go easy on caffeinated beverages. Try to only drink them at the start of a task, and limit yourself to a reasonable amount, perhaps no more than four cups of coffee in a day, if that. Caffeine remains in your body and has effects way beyond the initial burst of energy, and too much will stop you getting a good night’s sleep. Then you’ll be stuck in a vicious cycle of feeling tired, drinking more caffeine, then feeling even more tired, so drinking more, etc.

Try and get some exercise throughout the revision week, either at the start of the day or late in the evening. Being sat down at a desk all day can cause quite a lot of back and arm pain, and with so much inactivity your energy levels can drop. Sport or exercise is not only a fun break from the grind, it will also get you consistent energy levels throughout the day.

3. Make a timetable/revision plan and stick to it.

A few good hours planning what you’re going to revise when will make a world of difference. But moreover, leave yourself enough time to occasionally procrastinate. You’re only human, and sometimes you’ll just not want to work, something will come up or you’ll just feel a bit ill and want to rest up. No plan survives first contact with the enemy, but at the same time that doesn’t mean tactics are rubbish. Plan around yourself, and don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake. Rather, take each day as an attempt to make the difference.

4. Don’t lose hope!

In the end, these exams are not the be all and end all. Retakes are a possibility, marks can be made up and any degree is a good degree. We all want to do our best, but these exams are not worth undergoing any degree of harm over. Look after yourself and your friends and do the best you can, but I promise you, once they’re over and you’re on your next degree or beyond, all the stress can seem a little too much!

source

 

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Posted in Intern advice, student life, Written by Arinola

On final year feels & learning statistics over the summer

What an unlikely combination of words, I know! However, whether you’re a final year student, are starting a Masters degree in autumn or are currently studying a PhD that requires some knowledge of statistical software, this is perfect for you. Just stick with me. 

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Like most other final year students, I am currently at the point where revising for my last set of undergrad exams and attending my last few lectures is seeming like too much to handle. As if that’s not enough, I am determined to enjoy these last few weeks with all my friends before some of us go off in separate directions for much needed summer holidays and to start our proper adult lives. It is a lot and no amount of warning can prepare you for the experience but I try to smell the roses when I can. It also helps that I’ll be hanging around over the summer to enjoy this amazing city that has become my second home.  

Amidst all of this, I still find time to obsess over the fact that I will be starting my MSc in Behavioural and Economic Science in September. Yes, I am a sucker for academic pain. The combination of the gruelling nature of my upcoming Masters and my need to find anything but the upcoming exams to think about led me to an interesting discovery. The university is running R and SPSS workshops after exams! I understand that it may seem very strange to find this exciting and I assure you that I am desperately looking forward to taking a long leisurely break over the summer. Yet, I can’t help but be happy that I can get an early start on learning R, which will be crucial for a few of my MSc modules. This is me smelling the roses 🙂

If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to learn how to use R or SPSS and don’t trust yourself to actually start doing some learning via YouTube or Codeacademy, I think this is a perfect opportunity. Especially if you’ll be here in the last 2 weeks of June when these are being put on. The R workshops are a total of 8 hours spread over 4 days and the SPSS workshops are a total of 10 hours spread over 5 days. Also worth noting, they all start at 10 am so it really won’t interfere greatly with your other leisurely plans 😉

Posted in All things 301, Intern advice, Written by James

Addicted to Procrastination

Are you aware of the most recent addiction sweeping the university? Its like a plague, moving from one student to the next. Thousands of marks have been lost because of it. It’s name… procrastination!

Alright, slightly melodramatic, but also technically true. Procrastination is a normal part of life, both in university and beyond. While you might think it a typical ‘student’ thing, any experience in an office or in the field should show you that people are just as likely to get nothing done and something done. The good news is that your experience with beating procrastination in university gives you an extremely valuable set of skills. Just like planning skills, avoiding procrastination where possible can help you save time. A person who cannot manage their money will always be poor, no matter how much money they earn. Similarly, a person with poor time management skills will always be short on time, no matter what they’re doing.

The 301 Service has a workshop dedicated to beating procrastination you can find where available here, along with the rest of the workshops we’re offering that term. If you fancy popping in, there’s also some worksheets available in reception, and where available a 1-1 tutorial can focus on time management. Here however, I’ll summarise the techniques I’ve found the most valuable personally. Your mileage might vary! I’d encourage you to try out as many techniques as possible to find one that works.

And remember that you are only human, nobody expects you to avoid procrastinating entirely! Procrastination is something to be managed, but not something to be entirely eradicated!

1. The Pomodoro Technique

A classic and proven method of avoiding procrastination, the Pomodoro technique has you work in intervals with breaks in between. There are many apps, free and paid, which have built in timers and diaries to help you in using this technique.

The science behind it is that there is no such thing as true multi-tasking. Sure, you can do two things during the same time period, but the brain cannot focus on two tasks at the same time. Instead, you constantly swap your attention back and forth between the two tasks. There is an opportunity cost to this, and you will never use your full cognitive ability on any one task, instead working inefficiently. I’ve tried during my PhD to split writing tasks with playing specific games or watching television. This might be fine for very practical, tedious tasks which don’t need your full attention. For everything else, you’ll either spend time watching the TV, or you’ll ignore it entirely. There is no in between.

The Pomodoro technique allows you to avoid multi-tasking. During, for example, a thirty minute period, you will focus on one single task. Distractions, such as wanting to check your phone, sending or replying to an email, booking an appointment etc. should be written down on a notepad next to you. When the timer is up, you have a short break to address these smaller tasks and distractions. With this, you can hopefully keep the minor distractions to a minimum, as these often become larger distractions. One moment checking my email and I’m online. These machines are designed to make you pay attention to them for as long as possible. With the Pomodoro technique, you can train yourself to avoid that slippery slope!

Social Smoking is Still Smoking… So is Social Procrastination

Do you know somebody, it might even be yourself, who claims not to smoke or drink, but will indulge themselves in a few when they’re with friends who are doing the same? Often, this is just a cover to make ourselves feel better about the activity, which we know might not be socially acceptable. For example, drinking alone often tends to be a sign of alcoholism, but there are just as many people with drinking problems who only drink when they’re in a social setting, and therefore don’t believe they have a problem. Its just that they constantly seek out such social settings.

The same can be said for procrastination. Studying can be a lonely activity, so often its a good idea to form study groups, formally or informally. Don’t get me wrong, this can be a great idea. Not only can it keep up your morale , but you can talk about each other’s work, correct each others mistakes and generally help each other not to procrastinate! However, be wary of falling into the trap of social procrastination. You’re all there to study not to relax in the pleasant surroundings of the Information Commons. Before you know it, your five hour revision session only included about thirty minutes of revision.

Consider taking a set of headphones so that you can cut yourself off from the group conversation in general with music. Then, you can select when you want social interaction. Consider pairing this with the Pomodoro method or similar scheduling systems. You can work together, but also break together so that you stick to working during work time, and enjoy the company in social times. If a group just isn’t working out, then you might consider working alone or with a different group. Just like any other addiction, some people are enablers, and will tempt you (knowingly or unknowingly) against your better nature to procrastinate with all the tools of peer pressure, usually to make themselves feel better about their own. The best way to beat this sort of procrastination is to remove yourself from temptation!

There is no ‘Perfect Mood’, but there are ‘Bad Moods’

Some people like to only study when everything is perfect. The room has to be just the right temperature. One must not be too hungry or too full. There should be snacks of just the right sort, and coffee must be drank at just the right time before the session begins. It must be placed just before other obligations. Two hours before the lecture? I just won’t have enough time to focus. Two hours after the lecture? I’ll be too tired by then. And what if I have to go out tonight? I might as well just watch Netflix instead.

If these sound like excuses, its because there are. If we all waited until the ‘perfect’ time to start working on a project or goal, nothing would ever get done. It is a fact of life I have struggled to internalise that often I will not be in the most productive mood, but most moods can be productive-ish. I might not write one thousand words in one sitting, but I will write one hundred, and ten times that I’ve done just as well as I was when I waited. Recognise those thoughts for what they are, the essence of procrastination. You don’t want to work, so you are grasping for any reason to avoid it. Don’t fall into this trap!

This being said, please don’t work yourself to the bone. There will be times where the work you produce will not be of a good enough quality to justify the pain you’ll inflict on yourself. Your time is better spent on rest, recovery and self care. Procrastination is when you avoid doing work for poor reasons, not when you take the rational decision to take a break from work you would like to do soon because you simply aren’t up for it. There is a happy medium in deciding when to work, and when to take a break.

Planning to Work is not Work.

Planning is an essential part of good time management. With large academic projects, time spent planning is often time saved later down the road. But often, planning to do something can be a way of avoiding actually doing it.

I once knew a friend who would take great lengths to write long plans, colour coded, with time assigned for each element, all first in a planner, then online, then on her wall. She would highlight each reading meticulously and then transfer that to written notes. All this before a word was put to paper. Yet, when it came down to it, all that planning was overkill, a way for her to feel like she was doing a lot, when actually she was avoiding the harder task in favour of one she could do easily. Just like in office settings we criticise the idea of forming committees and having talks and action plans regarding relatively straightforward tasks, so should you recognise when you’re planning for the sake of it to avoid the challenging task of academia.

Avoid Talking Too Much About What You’re Doing

Similarly, you might find yourself eagerly talking to peers about your goals, what your study schedule is like etc. yet find yourself not doing that at all.

Personally, I’ve found myself waxing poetic about the fact that I’m doing a part-time degree as well as working, and how eternally busy I am, while at the same time I tend to spend more time than I’d like to admit relaxing and working on personal projects rather than my academic work. This is because it is a proven fact that we tell our peers about our work seeking validation. Once we receive this validation that we are indeed hard-working people, we have no psychological incentive to actually follow through with our claims. Receiving validation for planning to do something is a replacement for the validation one gets from their peers when they actually have done it. To keep yourself motivated, recognise when you’re talking too much about what you’re going to do, rather than what you have already done.

This doesn’t mean avoiding any discussion of what you plan to do. Rather, recognise when it becomes unproductive to do so, and when its more for the sake of your ego than for any practical reason.

So in summary…

Procrastination is something that everybody does, but like any vice, it can become a problem. I’ve found myself in trouble I shouldn’t have been because I didn’t plan properly. I should have been using these techniques years ago. Sadly, I didn’t, any I’ll never get some of that time I wasted back. Learn from my mistakes and the work of the scholars who have identified these ways we procrastinate and ways we can avoid it, and make the most of your time at university!

Posted in All things 301, Intern advice, student life, Written by Arinola

Making the Best Use of the 301 Workshops

Upon first finding out about 301 and the variety of workshops on offer, I know that the first instinct many of us have is to pick the workshops that seem relevant and sign up to all of them in one fell swoop. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that by itself. However, a couple of things can make that strategy problematic and I’ll share some advice on what you should be doing instead.

If right now, you’re having a look at all the Exam Techniques and Exam Revision workshops we have available and thinking, “sign me up!”, you will find this blog post useful for ensuring that you can utilise the information you gain from the workshops – and smash your exams, of course! 🙂

  1. WHY: Yes, yes. I know you know why you’ve chosen to attend a particular workshop but think about it. Say you don’t have any group work this semester and have always been really unenthusiastic about the prospect of doing assessed group work, so you sign up to attend a workshop on that here at 301, I’m sure you’ll find it useful because I did myself. Now that’s different from signing up to attend that workshop and 9 others because you just like the sound of them. There are a ton of workshops to pick from and they are all great but it is worth considering your reason for attending the workshop and having in mind that your interest will affect how seriously you take the workshop, your willingness to engage with the material and your drive to get the best out of it.
  2. HOW MANY: I touched briefly on signing up to 9 workshops at once and I’ll now elaborate on why that may not be the best idea. Quality over quantity applies a lot here but it’s not the quality of the workshop that is in question at all. It’s the quality of information that you can feasibly get out of, and then apply to improving or developing the skills that the workshops aim to provide support with. How realistic is it that after attending 9 workshops in a semester you’ll be able to successfully
    • get better at presenting;
    • reading quickly;
    • taking notes effectively;
    • working well in a group; and
    • planning your dissertation

and do all of that within 12 weeks! I mean, if you can, fair play to you and please…

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Just bear in mind that you have at least 6 semesters in university and if you prioritise your skills needs every semester, the probability that you’ll leave university having gained all of the skills I’ve listed above is most likely a 100%. You can afford to take time and be deliberate about it.

3. THE FOLLOW-UP: From experience, this is the most difficult part. Nothing good comes easy, they say, but it is so tempting to hope that attending a workshop or 1:1 study skills tutorial will set you right up. You do have to make time and work with the advice you have received so that you can make progress. Revisit the slides you get sent as many times as you need to as well as any notes you take. Also make sure to use the resources recommended to you during the workshop. It’s normal to be eager for a marked improvement within say 2 weeks and to be frustrated if you don’t see any. Take your time and after a while you will be instinctively doing things a different way after making those repeated efforts initially.

I hope you find these tips useful and are having a fantastic Easter break whether that is being spent in the IC or somewhere a bit more fun catching some sun rays.

Posted in Intern advice, Written by James

How to Avoid Seminar Sadness

Seminars are the marmite of the university world. You either love them or you hate them. Humanities students will most often have seminars, where you are expected to join a group discussion rather than be taught specific tasks (tutorials) in a taught environment. The seminar leader, which might be a student depending on how your course is set up, is ideally meant to do little at all. The group discussion should simply occur naturally. The tutor is meant to facilitate discussion, rather than participate. But this doesn’t always go to plan. Momentary silence can quickly become awkward, conversation jilted and discussion replaced with frosty looks and stammered points. I’d say the reason this occurs is because often, students aren’t taught how to g about discussing a complex topic or text. We’re thrown in at the deep-end, so naturally we either sink or swim. Thankfully, we at 301 are here to help with some tips about seminars to help you swim the distance!

1. Seminars are Group Work

When you think of group work, you think of large projects, a list of tasks to be divided and booking rooms in the library. Few would think of a seminar. But a seminar is probably the most common group task a humanities student will ever have to face. Except instead of producing a physical piece of work, the project is the fifty minutes of discussion and argument you’re about to have. 301’s seminar on group work and its corresponding materials are fantastic. A group discussion is not just a simple exercise of people speaking and responding. It takes a lot of work to keep that discussion going, to take a point and elevate it, rather than just acknowledge it.

With this in mind, consider taking on some of these roles from the 301 worksheet:

Facilitator Moderates team discussion, keeps the group on task, and distributes work.
Recorder Takes notes summarizing team discussions and decisions, and keeps all necessary records.
Reporter Serves as group spokesperson to the class or instructor, summarizing the group’s activities and/or conclusions.
Timekeeper Keeps the group aware of time constraints and deadlines and makes sure meetings start on time.
Devil’s Advocate Raises counter-arguments and (constructive) objections, introduces alternative explanations and solutions.
Harmonizer Strives to create a harmonious and positive team atmosphere and reach consensus (while allowing a full expression of ideas.)
Prioritizer Makes sure group focuses on most important issues and does not get caught up in details.
Innovator Encourages imagination and contributes new and alternative perspectives and ideas.
Liaison Ensures that systems are in place to ensure that group members can communicate.
Wildcard Assumes the role of any missing member and fills in wherever needed.

Your seminar leader should be the perfect Wildcard, being whatever the group needs to keep discussion going. Mainly, they will be Facilitator, but at times they’ll favour one over the other. You should too! Nobody will always fill these role, and a room full of Devil’s Advocates helps nobody.

You don’t always need to be bringing up fresh points each time you speak. Sometimes it is better to ask a person a question, to deepen the point they’ve made or your understanding of it. Sometimes its good to summarise the points so far and the group’s current conclusions. Other times its best to question the relevancy of a point a person just made. All of these are good. All of these are valuable. Treat your seminars like the group work they are and you will only do better!

2. Everybody makes mistakes

I have known some students, myself included, to say some stupid things in seminars. Everybody froze to try and grapple with what had just been said. And you better believe I remember them. However, don’t let the fear of saying something stupid put you off. Its better to say it here than in an essay, and if you treat these occurrences with good humour, then you can be sure that the laughter will be kind, rather than cruel.

3. Do the reading. No, seriously.

I know, I know. This is simple stuff, but it has to be said once more. In a lecture, the only person seriously hurt by not having done the reading is yourself, as you might not understand some of the points brought up by the lecturer, as they will assume you have already read at least the essential readings. But in a seminar, especially one of eight or ten? Everybody can tell you haven’t read anything. If you’re lucky enough that nobody has done the reading, then we might as well pack up and go home. Your tutor isn’t there to teach you, just facilitate discussion. We can hardly have a productive discussion if nobody has anything to discuss! Do the readings, at least in so far as you can. If you don’t understand something, highlight it! Bring that reading to the seminar. Avoid the embarrassment and awkward silence, while also enriching yourself and your peers! Often the best thing I’ve said in a seminar has been “I don’t understand this”. By the end of the seminar I did, and so did many of my peers to embarrassed to admit they also didn’t understand what we were discussing.

In summary…

There you have it, my three big tips for success in seminars. First, realise seminars are group work and you don’t have to fill only one role. Not every role in a discussion is coming up with new points. Second, don’t let the fact that you might say something stupid hold you back. Its better to speak up and have a laugh in a supportive environment, than still be wrong when you write it down a few weeks later. Third, do your reading, for your sake and that of everybody else! At least as much as to answer the questions.