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An Ode to Stephenson: The Forgotten Library of Sheffield Uni

Today I will take you on a tour through a hidden gem of Sheffield University. Students who have studied here past and present have gone through here not even knowing of its existence. It is akin to the Chamber of Secrets, only with a more mysterious history. Lo and behold, the Stephenson Library!

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*A mystical choir sings in the distance*

What’s so special about it, you ask?

Imagine being transported back into time. Imagine knowing what being a uni student here in the 50s was like. Imagine being able to know what exam papers they took, and what kind of building they lived in. That is the Stephenson Library.

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The library is attached to the Stephenson accommodation, which is from the Georgian era. It is located across from Endcliffe, signposted from the Edge and on Endcliffe accommodation maps. Its a 5 minute walk from Broomhill.

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Picture the scene. You walk into the entrance to what feels like a hotel lobby. To the right of you is a reception which is always empty. Old painting adorn the walls. It has the smell of a very old carpeted hotel or building if , like me, you know that distinct and oh so intoxicating smell.

To your left, there is a large hall. It is a large space where an indoor sport could be played with multiple table tennis tables (is there a technical term for that?). You may see the odd soul playing it, but there are never more than a handful of people within its boundaries. You also see a piano on the other side of hall.

You go through the lobby, up the stairs. There are portraits of wardens hanging along the walls.

Wardens? An outdated concept now, they were what came before Residence Life mentors, those who oversaw the wellbeing of students and ensured they weren’t getting up to any trouble. You head straight on through a door to a large room surrounded by even larger portraits of wardens, ominously looking over you.

All old white men, they are products of a bygone era.  But the largeness of their portraits makes you assume that these people were central figures in student life, with the power to expel students for naughtiness under the stricter university rules of those times.

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The building currently has no computers, but this room did before they were sent to The Ridge in Ranmoor this year.

Stephenson is meant to be undergoing maintenance, explaining their disappearance. But no maintenance work has been done.  Maybe at some point some work will be done, my guess would be summer, but I am unsure for reasons I will give later.

There is a router in this room, so if your laptop, like mine,  struggles to pick up wifi in certain places, it will have no trouble working here. There are plenty of plug sockets in this room.

However, the true gems are in the side rooms. Accessible from both this room and the corridor you travelled through, these are two medium sized rooms with two massive wooden tables to work from. There are no plug sockets here so don’t station yourself here if you have low battery life for your laptop. However, the tables are perfect for group work with the tables easily having the space for A2 sheets of paper, which a group could brainstorm a mind map or project of the like.

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Or a group relax and chill

But what shines through are the other things that adorn this room. You have pictures of the classes who stayed here from as early as the 1950s! This is a true piece of history. Its quite interesting to see how male-dominated university was back then, but slowly and surely girl power crept in and the ladies begin to populate the benches.

giphy-6But not only this, the rooms contain the exam papers that Sheffield had since the 1950s. There are some true gems to be had here. Did you know Sheffield used to have an art course? Or that if you were to study Roman or Ancient Greek history, you’d have to know Latin/Greek? I’m sure that no matter what your subject is, it’d be incredibly interesting for you to see how much exams/your subject have changed over time. I think this is enough of a reason to visit Stephenson on its own.

And the final touch? A load of other magazines and books from ages gone by. Funnily enough, there is no way to borrow these as there are no library facilities. However if you want a break, or want to read something curious, then feel free to have a read while you’re here. You have copies of the Spectator and National Geographic from the 90s and earlier. A true treason trove.

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As you walk this building, you feel a connection to university days gone by. The fact this library is connected to Stephenson accommodation conjures up images/feelings of similarity of Oxford/Cambridge, where each college has both its own accommodation and library solely for the students belonging to it. Indeed, you almost feel like you don’t belong in this building. Some people live here (apparently) including Residence Life mentors. The lounge feels like it is used by the residents for big events.

But it just isn’t. That room with the warden portraits? The last two times I’ve been there, I was the only one in there for the many hours that I studied. Even in my first year when it was slightly busier, there were always spaces to study. It seems so strange that this place isn’t used considering its proximity to Endcliffe.

But therein lies the appeal of Stephenson. Its lack of activity is reinforced by the fact its reception is always empty. Indeed, its old paintings make it feel not only like an old hotel, but a haunted one.

But it, in a way, haunted. Haunted by a lack of activity. It was obviously bustling in its day, but the more modern addition of the Endcliffe village accommodation and The Edge has drawn them elsewhere.

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Curse you.

It is haunted by its former students and their exam papers, as I’m sure they were.

Its haunted by the wardens. They watched over their students then, and they watch over you now.

Its haunted by the inability to explain why its so empty, why students choose to go to the crowded IC rather than study here. Maybe its because first year students go to the library less…or maybe they stray due sheer lack of knowledge about it.

There isn’t any history of this available. Most of my thoughts here are simply observations, imaginings of the building. In a university dominated by high tech building, this building has been forgotten. Its been forgotten by the students. Its been forgotten by the university, for it doesn’t even have facilities to oversee its collection of antique books and magazine. I wonder if the computers will be forgotten, and it’ll be decided that they’re better used at Ranmoor.

But most of all, considering the antiquity of the building in its entirety, the Stephenson Library has been forgotten by time itself.

And that is why I love it. If the building maintenance actually happens and it gets renovated instead, we may see it get ‘sexed up’ by high tech facilities.

But it will never be the same. It will no longer be the distant portrait of time which you will find me in, shuffling my notes, as so happened half a century ago.

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Saucy, Sore and Sour Sources

Here at 301 we run a workshop on Paragraphing and Using Academic Sources. Its really good! Anybody who is unsure exactly when to paragraph, how to reference, and how to use sources, should attend! You should try it!

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But when is a source not a source? When is a source saucy? When are sources sore or sour?

This is content not in the workshop. This information is less useful if you’re struggling with how to write an essay. But if your interest runs deeper, if you are wondering about the why’s and ethics of using academic sources, I’m your guy.

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So, what kind of sources should you use? In terms of secondary sources, you should reference journal articles, academic books and/or monographs. In terms of primary, anything about the topic you are studying could be useful…

HOWEVER (this is where you should think more closely about your sources), just because you have cited a source to back up your argument, that doesn’t mean you argument is completely proven. Because that source could be SOUR!

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What is a sour source? Well, its something which you might not necessarily get marked down for using. But it is something you might be marked up for questioning!

For example, imagine you are writing a paper on public perceptions on the sweetness of different fruit. You want to know what fruits people think are the sweetest, regardless of scientific measurements of sweetness.

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You might think simply referencing a study where all participants believed that apples are the sweetest fruit might be enough. But you should question it before you reference it. You should ask some basic questions. How many participants took part in the study? Where were the participants from? What questions were they asked? Were they asked to choose from a list of fruits, or were they asked to think of a sweet fruit off the top of their heads? Were they sampling a selection of fruits in the study?

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Why is this important? Because if only 10 people participated in the study, then that’s not a very representative sample of the public. You can’t make a claim that people from the UK think that apples are the sweetest, because you have only sampled 10 people. A sample of a few hundred, and you might be able to make that claim.

But there are other factors to take into account. For instance, the area they were from. If they are from a deprived area, or an area where varied fruit is often not delivered, then they are likely to not have tried more exotic fruit. This might mean that people from the UK don’t think apples are the sweetest fruit out there, they just haven’t yet tried whatever the sweetest fruit might be. Does this change the validity of your data, or not? It depends what statement you are trying to make.

Also, if the 10 people are from a deprived/unvaried fruit-selling area, then they might not be representative of the UK either. Finally, if they were given a list of fruit to choose from, they might not voice the fruit they actually think is sweetest. But if they are thinking off the top of their head, they might not remember the sweetest fruit they have had!

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There is obviously thus a lot of things to consider. But should this matter? Well, if you question the methodology of the sources you use, you are likely to get higher marks (depending on your mark scheme!). You should find a variety of sources which support your claim if some of the other studies have better methodology.

But there is a wider ethical question. Often when starting an essay, at least as a history student, I will have an idea of what I want to argue before I start writing the essay. I will thus search out the evidence I need to make that point. In doing so, I might be avoiding evidence which states otherwise. I might include evidence which states otherwise, but the evidence might be weak, so I use it simply to prove my better point. But could I have chosen better opposing views?

When you get this meta, you have to realise that you probably only have a limited word count to say all these kind of things. If you want to prove a point in 2000 words, you don’t want 1000 words supporting your argument and 1000 words against it. That won’t allow your argument to develop if you’re only listing the pro’s and con’s. What I ask of you is to simply be aware, that just because some sources state an opinion, doesn’t mean it rights. A little bit of critical thinking about this, whether it be in support of defiance of your point, can win you a lot of marks. But just don’t be too bogged down in the ethics or metaphysics of it all. That’s for PhD students.

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A 301 Christmas Carol

‘Twas the night before 301 Christmas, when all through the house
Not a student was stirring, not even a computer mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that study skills resources soon would be there;

The interns were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of workshops danced in their heads”

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I offer to thee on this month of festivities a tale of caution.

Ebenezer Scrooge was grumpy the day before Christmas.

“Why should I have to go for workshops next semester? I work hard enough at uni, and I’ve got good enough grades so far! Its the first time I have to do presentations for my assessments, but I should be smart enough! I’ll simply revel in the intellectual wealth I already have!”

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However, that night, he was visited by a 301 intern. He warned Scrooge to change his ways, or face the consequences. If he did not, he would be visited by three ghosts.

“Bah, humbug!”

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That night, he sat alone in his room, studying. However, he was interrupted by a ghostly apparition.

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“I am the ghost of 301 Christmas Past, and I am here to show you why you are like this!”.

Ebenezer and the ghost travelled to the past, and Scrooge saw his younger self completing an exam. Nobody within the vision noticed him, and so they could walk up to his exam paper once he had left, and check his answers. Scrooge looked in admiration of his younger self’s work.

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“See, you silly ghost! My marks are perfect! I have no need to attend a 301 workshop!”

“But this exam is purely a mathematical one. It does not need any display of group work, essay based or presentation skills!”

“Bah humbug! Away with you!”.

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The ghost dissipated, and Scrooge tried to go back to studying. However, he was distracted by thoughts of ghost as he was struggling with his work. An hour passed, and then a further ghost appeared.

“I am the ghost of 301 Christmas Present, and I am here to show you the error of your ways! Look at you, Scrooge! It is Christmas Eve, and yet still you are studying! Why aren’t you celebrating or sleeping to await Father Christmas?”

“The only celebration I need is success in my exams! I just have to work through some things I’m struggling with, and then I’ll enjoy a great big dinner tomorrow”.

“Scrooge you fool! Let me show you something!”

They transported to another area of town. Here, 301 Intern Tim was celebrating Christmas Eve with his father.

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“Look Scrooge, see the jolliness of 301 Intern Tim! Christmas is exam season for him too, yet look at him gallivanting! He has been to 301 Workshops, and even though he has never done a presentation before, he can now rest happily and enjoy his holiday season – bearing in mind he has the skills to succeed when his presentation comes”.

Scrooge was having none of it.

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The ghost disappeared. It was now 4AM, and Ebenezer Scrooge was still revising.

“Curse it! It is now 4AM, and my procrastination about A Christmas Carol has led me to stay up all night! I hardly have enough energy to enjoy tomorrow! How on earth will I cope? My presentation is due early next semester!”.

But then a shining light appeared upon him.

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“Scrooge! Do not fear! It is never to late to sign up for a 301 Workshop! There will be plenty come the Spring Semester! The work anxiety you experience will go away! You simply need to change your ways, and sign up to a workshop or 1:1 Study Skills Tutorial online! We have one specifically for you, a workshop on Beating Procrastination!”

And change his ways he did. He was able to book onto a workshop there and then, and the morning after (knowing full well he would acquire the skills needed to tackle his exam in due course) he managed to enjoy a Christmas Dinner with all his family and friends. The End.

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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the Entire 301 Team!

Posted in Taste of work, Uncategorized, Uni work, Written by Jun

How do you do a social science research?

Hello everyone. I am Jun, a new member of 301 intern team for 2018/2019. I am currently a third-year PhD student working in Information School. My PhD research is a socio-technical study of Chinese smart transportation system initiatives from various stakeholder perspectives in a social science point of view. Is it looking to be quite complicated? Yes, it is, so are most other social science researches I believe. But complicatedness does not mean it is difficult to do. Today, I am gonna give you some tips of doing a social science research, which requires you to do from the very beginning of your study.

Social study language skills

Academic writing and speaking skills are significantly important to your research. If you are an English speaker, you probably just need to think about how to use the correct words and expressions in social science particular in both writing and speaking. But if you are a non-English speaker, I suggest you getting some academic writing trainings from wherever you know. In the university of Sheffield, there are many places where you can develop your writing and speaking skills; some of them are open to some particular departments only or students in a particular level of study while some of others are open to everyone in the uni. In 301, you can get this greatly improved by taking 301 academic workshops. e.g. Academic Writing Self-diagnostic Session and Critical Thinking and Writing. Here you can also make an appointment with a particular tutor to learn some suggestions and useful tips from them.

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Meanwhile, reading academic materials is also a helpful approach to develop your language skills. Spend a bit more of your spare time reading through some research-related text books, papers, articles etc. to A) get your language skills improved, and B) get yourself familiar with your research field. Once you have read a substantial amount of resources, you will be able to use right words and expressions within various circumstances. If you want to know how to efficiently work with yourself in learning this, a good choice is to come to 301 academic workshop – Independent Study – where you can get more useful tips to studying independently.

 

Familiarisation with existing related studies

Being unique and valuable is very important to a research. Especially for a social science research, you should identify a gap of the current literature and existing studies so that you can raise your own research aim to fill that gap. At the initial stage of your research, a key step is to do a significant range of review of literature with regard to what similar topics have been already studied, what research methods they use in their studies, and what the current trend is in the field of your research, and so on. Digging up these questions will help you accurately navigate yourself towards the correct direction of your research.

However, if you are very inefficient in reading materials, you shouldn’t spend a lot of time wasting on this. Now you might want to consider how to enhance your reading speed. You might want to quickly capture the point without using so much time. In 301, they provide everyone with a Speeding Reading workshop session from which you definitely will be able to acquire many tips of reading quickly without loosing main points. I attended this at the beginning of my PhD, it helped me a lot. I was really grateful to this workshop.

 

Critical thinking and argument development

Doing an academic research is different from writing a school-level composition. It requires you to see everything critically and use strong arguments to uphold your statements. Particularly when you do a literature review, you can’t just list whatever you have found from the literature. You should instead critically analyse the existing studies by pointing out their limitations and when possible state how they are useful to your research argument development. When writing your own argument against the current literature, you should be able to make it as concrete as possible. In terms of how to get these two skills improved, again, I am still recommending 301 academic workshops for you – Academic Writing and Developing Your Argument.

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Well done! These skills are quite important and I believe you will have had these skills greatly developed by following the above points based on my own experience. 301 academic workshops are really good resource for your own academic development. Don’t hesitate anymore, just come!

Hope above tips are helpful.

Hope to see you soon.

Jun

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Hello!

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Hello! My name is Val and I am a mature student in my third year of a Philosophy degree here at the amazing University of Sheffield. This my second year working at 301 and I am really looking forward to welcoming new students – and old, to the 301 Academic Skills Centre.

As a mature student I found the services on offer at 301 invaluable when I first started my course. I came back into education (after a significant gap!) and found that I lacked confidence in my academic abilities and was struggling to understand terminology and what was expected of me in my assessments. Coming along to the study skills workshops and attending 1:1 sesions with tutors helped me develop my academic skills, but more importantly it gave me the confidence to move forward in my studies and really enjoy my course.

Having completed my second year and about to start my third year I feel ready for the challenges that my third year studies might bring. I found the second year of my course much harder than the first year; second year more is expected of you, assessments are more challenging and in my experience marking is harsher. If I am to be honest, I found I struggled in my second as I found the difference in level to be quite steep. It was taking advantage of the services offered at the 301 Academic Skills Centre and also talking to students in my department who had completed the year, that got me through.

For me second year was a steep learning curve, but one I got through and which has enabled me to feel ready for third year. Regardless of your level of study, you are going to face challenges on your course and it is these challenges that will enable you to grow as a learner. If you do feel challenged in any way by your course I would strongly recommend that you discuss your issues with your personal tutor, reach out to other students in your department and come along to 301. Whatever the problem is, there is a solution!

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Looking forward to a most excellent autumn semester – bring it on!

Val x