Bit of Motivation

Okay, so I haven’t posted in absolutely ages. But that is because a number of things have happened recently:

 

* Got a placement sorted

* Coursework

* Exams

* Three weeks of just… recovering

* Starting placement

 

I have a lot to write about this year and I will definitely get round to it soon!

 

The main thing I have to say right this moment is…

Never Give Up!

 

Things get tougher as university goes on – as do A-Levels/BTECs, and GCSEs – you just always have to keep in mind why you’re doing it, the end goal, and ultimately that you can do it!

It’s easy to forget how capable you are when it feels like your work is 12 foot high above your head, and pressure is creeping in from all sides. Just remind yourself that there will be an end to it soon. A few more hours/weeks/months and that part will be over and you can move on to the next, even more exciting stage in your academic/professional life!

 

Second year has been a real struggle for me personally, but one of the things that kept me going was telling myself that no matter what, in 3 months, 2 weeks or 4 hours time, I will be past that exam, piece of coursework, or the end of second year itself. Reminding myself that a stressful period in my life would actually come to a close in a finite amount of time was actually kind of reassuring and helped me to focus a bit more on the tasks at hand.

 

Another thing is – take time for yourself! Summer is now upon us, and now is your chance to catch up on some well-earned rest, relaxation, and time to do things you may have side-lined throughout the year because of your studies. Remember – you deserve it!

 

It’s been a relatively short one today, but I do hope to post more in the future 🙂

 

Have a good summer!

Keeping Stress at Bay

Okay, so I’ve already written a post about the more personal side of being stressed a little while ago; in honesty, I’m still stressed now – I mean, who isn’t? Whether you’re first, second or final year of uni, or even at sixth form/college, the lead-up to Easter is a tough one, as it means summer exams are getting nearer and nearer. It’s nail-bitingly tense.

 

So anyway, I’m trying to be proactive at the moment, and find ways that are actually going to work for me to keep myself calm and – most importantly to me – happy. I’m kind of on a happiness-hype right now, trying to keep my head above water and keep a smile even when I start to submerge, because I know I’m always going to be okay in the end – and so are you!

 

Here are some things that I have recently found to help with keeping happy, sane, and stress free (well at least less stressed!):

 

Number One – Alpha Waves

My friend Aron pointed out to me on the bus back from the Tamworth Snowdome that “alpha waves” are meant to be good for when you’re revising – to help keep focused. I’d never really heard of them, and to be perfectly honest I still don’t quite know what they are; check it out for yourself, this is what I’ve been listening to a lot recently:

I have it on in the background when I’m working, and so far I’ve been listening to it for about a week now. It helps me to keep chilled out when I’m doing things that would otherwise stress me out, and I feel that overall in the past week, I’ve become more relaxed when I’m not working as well as working. Revision and writing notes for me personally is always stressful, as I spend so long doing it. So, having this on in the background reduces the built-up stress and I think it’s actually helped me out to be less of a stress-head  in general day-to-day things! I might be talking rubbish – but hey, it’s worth a try!

 

Number Two – Whatever you’re doing that’s stressing you out… stop!

It might sound a bit dumb to say this, but if you’re getting stressed out by something… stop doing it! Take a break, go make a nice cup of hot chocolate, or sit and watch cats on YouTube for half an hour. Just do something else. Believe me, I’m saying this from experience; if you’re hitting a wall, you’re not going to be able to get through it if you’re just continuously banging your head against it, hoping for the best. You’re going to tire out easily, and it’ll start affecting other things in your life like sleep, friend/relationships, and also your general attitude to life in general. If you’re hitting a wall, the only thing you can do is take a rest, so you can come back and knock it down completely in a bit! 

I got a Tassimo as a present from my parents; having a Caramel Latte is a nice stress-break and a little treat too!
I got a Tassimo as a present from my parents; having a Caramel Latte is a nice stress-break and a little treat too!

I thought this picture was actually quite good for getting my point across here; in order to succeed, you need to have a balance of working and taking time for yourself. It looks like a yin-yang symbol is in the latte foam, which I thought perfectly captured my me-time treat of a caramel latte when I was taking a break from work. Also, I hope you like how pretty my coloured pens are 🙂

 

Number Three – Have Something To Look Forward To

This one has come in a number of forms for me lately: trips home to see the family; going to the snowdome in Tamworth to ski; having a random meal out with friends – just because we’ve all gotten a bit fed up and tired with working. The point I’m trying to make here is that having something to look forward to – a goal if you will – will help you stay motivated, and also take your mind off working when you get to that event.

My flatmates and I have also set aside Wednesday evenings for movie night where we each take turns to chose a film, and we just sit and watch it together. It doesn’t really require any planning or added stress to make it happen, it’s just a nice, quiet, social time to get you out of your little bubble in the library or your room and taking two or three hours to do something else.

Aron, Chaz and I going up to the top of the Tamworth Snowdome; that's me and Chaz on skis, and Aron on a snowboard!
Aron, Chaz and I going up to the top of the Tamworth Snowdome; that’s me and Chaz on skis, and Aron on a snowboard!

You’ll only get to experience uni once (unless you’re a certain Dr Sheldon Cooper and have about a million degrees of different levels), so you want to make sure you’ll remember it for all the right reasons in the future – so definitely not a dark period in your life where you were so stressed you cried yourself to sleep every night. That’s bad – and you can help yourself to avoid it!

 

Number Four – Bedroom…

Okay this is a weird one. My mum always used to tell me when I was in senior school and sixth form that “A tidy room is a focused mind” or something similar, and I was always just like pssshh okay because I was a teenager and anything that adults said, you know, I naturally had to disagree with. One of the aims I made at the start of the term to try to combat my stress was that I would have my room for living in, and I would go to the library or a lab to work. It’s a shame because I can’t tell you whether that would have worked or not, but I suppose it would have done. The only reason it didn’t work is because it would have been so impractical to take all my stuff to and from my accommodation each day as it would be quite heavy – so I just do it at home instead.

The thing is, if my room is tidy, I feel I can focus a lot more… It’s weird. I mean, my bedroom isn’t a complete mess all the time, and when it is messy, it isn’t the type of messy that anyone else would consider “messy”, if you get what I mean. But if everything is away, my desk is clear of anything not related to work, and my bed is made, I find it easier to get into the swing of things as I’m not thinking every 8 minutes that “jees, I really need to put that jar of curry sauce in my food box” or something like “I really need to sort out the stuff at the end of my bed so you know it’s like not at the end of my bed…” and things like that. If I’ve already done those things, my mind can’t really wander to them when I might start hitting a wall.

 

Number Five – YOU

Take some time for you. This is you-time, so doing what you want to do, and what will make you happy. Paint your nails, read a book, start watching a new TV series, get some flowers, go into town and window-shop, actual-shop, online-shop, cook a nice meal or order in, watch a film, make nutella on toast or the best toastie you’ll ever eat. The most important thing in your life shouldn’t be your degree – it should be YOU. If you graduate with a 2:1 but are so broken when you do eventually graduate from the stress you put yourself under, you’re not going to be able to do anything – let alone commit to a job that’s basically what you’ve been stressing about for the past 3/4 years! Take time for yourself, and start to realise that having 10 minutes to yourself here and there isn’t going to do anything but get you a bit more chilled out, and more ready to tackle your work.

The beautiful flowers my boyfriend got me for Valentine's Day!
The beautiful flowers my boyfriend got me for Valentine’s Day!
The other beautiful flowers that my mum sent my up to surprise me!
The other beautiful flowers that my mum sent my up to surprise me!

Okay! I think that’s pretty much it you know, all I can think of right now, but I’m probably going to post another thing similar to this in the future as keeping your stress under control is a big part of getting through your degree!

 

As always, stay happy!

 

~Chloe 🙂

Update: Placement!!

So, it’s nearly Easter; phew, this term has gone so quick! And it’s also forever since I’ve posted… oops.

 

One of the main reasons I liked Aston so much when I was looking at universities, was the emphasis they have on placements, and the support given to help you get one. In the business school (ABS), doing a placement is actually compulsory, so you’ll reap all the benefits of an Aston degree – as well as embarking on an amazing experience in placement year.

 

As Computer Science is in EAS (Engineering and Applied Science school), doing a placement isn’t compulsory; however, there really aren’t any cons to doing a placement at all, so I’ve gone all for it! It’s a year away from your studies, which, in most students’ cases it will be the first year since you were 4/5 that you won’t actually be in education… scary! So, you get this fantastic experience by working in your chosen field, you get to be treated as a real employee with real responsibilities, and more often than not, you also get paid for it! Doing a placement also gets you out of the tricky situation some graduates find themselves in when searching for a job once they’ve finished uni. If you find your dream job, there will probably be an advert something (well, not at all) like the following:

Your Dream Company

We are looking for a fantastic individual to work with us, achieving at least a 2:1 degree in <how coincidental – your degree name here>, to work in the most amazing department ever, with so many benefits, and a starting salary of £99,000!

The ideal candidate will have some experience in the field.

 

Okay, so I know job adverts don’t exactly look like that, and if you find a job with a starting salary of £99,000 when you’re fresh out of uni – be sure to let me know..!

 

My point is, employers love experience; if you can talk about situations you’ve been in when you’re in an interview for a job, your placement go-to sack of situations will be your best friend, because you’ll have a whole year’s worth of stuff to talk about. If you don’t have experience, you can’t really talk about diddly-squat, except for things you did on your degree. But the thing is, your degree alone won’t give you the practical experience you’ll need to really get out there once you graduate!

 

I mean sure, of course there have been many successful people who have graduated and have found jobs without doing a placement, but it just gives you such a boost when you’ve done it. It’s basically a safety net year to try out a career-path to see if you like it; it’s of course a real job with real responsibilities, but you’re there for a year! If you find out it’s not the thing for you, then you can stick out the year and hey, once you’ve finished, you’ll have a better idea of what you do want to do, and a bit of money in the bank too – as well as a whole stack of experiences and memories to boot.

 

By doing a placement, you get out of the worm-hole that is a job advert that goes something like “We’d love to hire you, but you need experience to be considered.”. If you do a placement year, you’ve got a whole year’s worth of experience and can high-jump over this starting barrier once you’ve graduated. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in the situation of “I’d love to get a job right now, but because I’m fresh out of uni, everyone wants experience’“…

 

I think you get the idea by now.

 

ANYWAY, the real point of this post was to actually say that I have secured a placement already for later this year!

Second year is a real stress when you have to look for placements, apply, and prepare for interviews and assessment centres – all on top of your studies… It’s a balancing act, but if you want it, you can do it!

I was invited to an interview with a company in Birmingham in mid-December, and found out I’d actually been offered the role in February! I am super excited to start in July, and I’ll make sure to write about some top placement tips in the near future.

 

I suppose for now I just wanted to express how strongly I feel about how positive doing a placement year is, but of course it’s not for everyone! There are people on my course who aren’t doing a placement, simply because they don’t want to – and that’s fine! Everything I write about is of course my own opinions – I’m just trying to big it up a little to explain the benefits of doing so, but the decision is down to the person doing the degree at the end of the day.

 

Okaaaaay! Well, that’s it for now, I guess! I have a few posts planned for the future, with another stress-free second year guide coming up soon, and another idea I had (which I’m quite excited about) is a photo tour of Birmingham! I don’t quite know what will feature in it yet, but I hope for it to be really good!

 

So, thank you for reading this (once again…) super long post, and I hope it’s been a little informative if nothing else!

Good luck with the rest of term until you break up for Easter, and stay happy!

 

~Chloe 🙂

Dealing with Stress

It’s been ages since I’ve posted. There are many reasons for that, but I’m going to talk about one of the most important, and contributing, factors now, and that is stress.

 

I admire you if you’re not stressed at university at any point; that must mean you’ve either got nerves of steel, you’re super composed, or you’re ace at managing your time. I’m not saying I don’t have time management skills (because I do), it’s just adjusting to the workload of second year is tough – almost too tough to deal with as well as finding placements etc.

 

What I’m going to write about today is a very sensitive and personal part of my life right now, as I haven’t been coping very well – and I’m going to admit that. Like any kind of recovery, it is the first step to making things better for yourself. Now, this isn’t just going to apply to any workaholics out there that don’t know how to turn off; it applies to every single student who is at, or wants to go to university. I’m going to outline a few things I have found to help deal with stress, as it’s bad if you let things get on top of you too much.

 

Okay, so, negativity over – let’s talk about how to deal with stress.

 

First thing’s first – stop. Now, being a self-confessed workaholic, I know for a fact that this is easier said than done, because when it is a part of you, stopping working for a minute or two seems like an impossible task. But seriously – take time for yourself. You need time in the day where you need to not do work, and actually think about something else for a while. If you feel like you’re getting to your boiling point – just put down your pen, shut your laptop lid, sit back in your chair or lay on your bed and shut your eyes for a moment. Breathe. It sounds stupid saying it, but if you’ve gotten to the level of stress that I have lately, this helps a lot – even if you’re not that stressed at all. Taking a few moments to focus on yourself when you’re surrounded by work will help you focus better, and to clear your head. If it doesn’t work – listen to your body. If you feel you can’t type another word – don’t. Go to bed, or go for lunch. Do something that isn’t work, because if you force yourself to work anyway, the result won’t be great – trust me.

 

It’s taken me many a time to realise that I stress myself out way too much. I found a method in first year, of visually recognising the fact I was making progress to keep my stress levels down – and it worked. What I did was have a sheet of paper tacked to my wall, with bullet points of all the things I needed to get done. Here’s a short extract from my current list:

  • Write myAston Uni Life blog
  • Neat notes of Software Engineering lecture
  • Talk to careers centre about placement progress
  • Look over functional requirements for group project
  • Put DVDs on eBay

When I did something, I could cross it out, and it signified I had actually done something. When you’re stressed, it becomes hard to acknowledge your achievements or progress, and that sucks. Doing something like this will help keep you focused, and most of all, positive.

My alteration for this year is that I have a paper spike and post-stick notes. I write a post-stick note for each task I have to do and stick it on my wall. Once I’ve done it, I can stick it on my paper spike, and hey-presto, an impressive stack of tasks is there to show me that I am actually getting somewhere.

IMG_1210

 

 

Another thing for when you’re stressed is to do something that makes you happy. Take today for instance; I went out for lunch with my friend, and my mood instantly improved, because I wasn’t thinking about my course, and I wasn’t in an environment that made me think about my course. In stressful periods, removing yourself from the place that reminds you of working can be a really good thing to help you out – I have found this so useful. Saying that, don’t then take your work to restful places, as then that will remind you of work and subsequently if you visit that place without doing work, you’ll think about it anyway and it won’t do your stress levels good. So basically – keep the places you work to just the places you work, and make sure the places for yourself stay that way too. Segregate your work and your life, and you’ll feel a lot better.

 

I’ve found that one of the biggest contributing factors of my stress right now, is that I had all these things that I needed to do swirling about in my head, and because I only found the time as and when to work on those things, my mind snowballed them into this massive task that I couldn’t bear thinking about anything else but. I can’t stress enough how you don’t want to end up in this situation! Seriously; jot down all the things you need to do, then sit down with your timetable. Work out where you can fit these things in, and plan for your tasks. More importantly, plan some break time! Down-time is just as valuable as work-time when you have a lot going on, as it helps you to focus, and rest too. If you’re emotionally drained from stress, you’re not going to be good to do anything, let alone producing quality work you can be proud of. Planning breaks was the hardest thing for me, because I felt guilty that I could be doing work during that time. Do yourself a favour – take a night, or even an hour off. As I’ve said – do something that makes you happy, because if you’re not happy, you’re going to keep being stressed. Go out with friends, or take a walk. Go on the internet for an hour or two. Do something.

 

I’ve found I was in a vicious circle. I felt stressed because I had a lot of work to do. Because I had a lot of work to do, I spent more time doing work, and not resting – so working late nights and getting up early. Because I was working more, it took longer to do things because I was exhausted. Because I was exhausted, I got stressed. I got more stressed because I still had loads of work to do… and the cycle continues. The hardest thing is breaking out of the circle, or your body forcing yourself out of the circle because you literally can’t take it anymore. Either way, once you’re out, you can work to make things better. That’s what I’m doing now. In the words of my boyfriend – when you’re stressed, “a part of it is because you’re creating deadlines that don’t exist”.

 

A way I’ve managed to do this (surprisingly) is by making a schedule.  Yes, I’m conquering my stress by setting myself a schedule  – but hear me out. Having all these things to do cooped up in my head was not a good way forward, and I was getting stressed because I couldn’t forsee them getting done. I would fit things in as and when I had time – but this also came with its issues as I had become so unfocused that this was proving to be another problem in itself. I drew out a simple grid on paper, with seven rows (one for each day), and 17 columns (roughly). The first two are the biggest in size. The first column is “Today’s goal”. This is a positive start to the day; it is for something that I want to achieve, or if it is a rest day etc. The second column is for deadlines, so anything that has to be done by that day, like coursework or personal deadlines. This gives an aim for the day, and helps to plan ahead because I know when things have to be done by. Then, I have hourly slots from 9am to 12am, to plan in what I would like to do that day. I’ve found this majorly helpful because I can see what time I have, when I can have breaks (instead of winging it, or taking a break when I’m desperate), and also to stop me working six+ hours at a time without a break. It’s taking time management to the extreme, but I need this structured approach to get me back on track and out of the hole I have been in personally. It could work for you too, or something similar. I recommend a diary of some sort, or a calendar with space to write a lot, so you can plan in things with detail for what you’d like to achieve. This helps to organise yourself, and also making you remember deadlines – my academic diary has been my saviour this year!

 

Wow, this post has gotten very deep quite quickly (well, I say quickly very loosely, as I’m over 1.5k words currently…).

 

Okay, a summary if you’ve made it this far:

  • Stop, close your eyes, and breathe
    • Do this immediately when you’re feeling stress; you can’t plan for this to happen, it’s your back-up when things get too much
  • Recognise your achievements, and put it in a positive light
    • I’ve done this through a list on my wall of things to do, that I cross off as I go along. I’ve also done this with lots of post-stick notes and a paper spike to represent finished tasks, and accomplishments.
    • The most important thing to remember is you’ve made more progress than you give yourself credit for. Sometimes, you should give yourself a pat of the back for taking a break, as when you’re stressed, that can be an accomplishment in itself.
  • Do something that makes you happy
    • Go out for lunch, treat yourself, buy yourself a new piece of clothing, splash out on full price Ben and Jerry’s…
  • Segregate your work and life
    • Don’t do work where you have your leisure time, as it’ll always remind you of work. If you’re trying to unwind and destress, the last thing you want is little niggles at the back of your mind that you still haven’t finished that piece of work you started in that place…
  • Plan in breaks
    • You can’t work 100% all of the time. I’ve learnt this the hard way, as it’s always what I have strived to do. You’ll eventually grind to a halt. Breaks are good to focus yourself, and to clear your head, instead of getting worked up. Even though breaks are time you’re not working, and can be seen as “wastes of time” (Me, 1995-present…) – they are actually more helpful than you think.

 

Some other things that are useful, are to get your feelings out. Take five minutes to write down everything that’s getting you down, stressing you out, or that is on your mind. Get it out your system. If you don’t want to write it down, rant about it! I ranted to my course mate yesterday, and we found we were both in the exact same position. One thing to remember about stress and university – you are not alone! Talking to people can help, as it gets it out and you can lean on each other. Your friends are your best tool for success at university, in my opinion. Others may disagree, but I strongly believe that without all the support – emotionally and academically – from my friends, I would not be in the privileged position I am today. Alternatively, write a super long blog post about how you’re coping with it… I surprisingly feel a lot better than I did an hour ago.

 

This has been a very unstrucutred, whatever-comes-out-of-my-head-styled post, that turned out to be so much longer than I intended! I suppose I will write a more condensed and planned piece soon, that isn’t all over the place, but for now, I hope I have helped. If all else fails, know this: there is always a way to break out the circle. It may take a while, it may be that you find it difficult to identify that you can make things better, and not everything is as bad as it seems at first. I have certainly learnt this over the past two days. I hope in the future I can help you as much as the people in my life have at this moment in time, and throughout my time at university, because without them, I believe things could be quite different right now.

 

All deep-thoughts aside, I do hope I haven’t sent you to sleep with this insanely long post, and I hope it’s contained even a sliver of useful information you can take away to improve your stress.

 

Thanks for reading, and until next time.

 

~

 

The Forbidden “B” Word

BUDGETING!!!!!

 

No body likes it. Nobody wants to actually pay for food or toilet roll. Then again, nobody wants to be left with no money and starve for a month because all their student finance money has been blown on a 52″ TV because wow now I have money and I can spend it all. I’m just going to straight up say it – no you can’t spend it all on everything you’ve ever wanted since you were five!

 

Okay, rant over. Well, nearly. Here’s my guide to actually living well and having lots of money to spend whilst paying for your essentials like, you know, food and rent. Once you’ve got your musts sorted, leisure-spending can be worked in. It’s this easy – work out what you absolutely need to pay for like rent, and how much food you’re roughly going to buy each week/month, then other things like going out, getting a takeaway and going clothes/games shopping won’t leave such a big hole in your bank account that your rent isn’t covered by the measly amounts left in it.

 

Don’t be scared; a lot of students don’t get budgeting right or it takes a while to get into the swing of it – and scarily some adults struggle too! I’ve found a way that’s worked for me, so I’m going to tell that to you today. Aren’t you lucky? 🙂

 

Step One – Income

Before you can think of spending anything, you need to get a rough idea of how much money you’re going to have. This includes your student finance maintenance loan/grant, any financial help your parents/relatives may give you, scholarships/bursaries, wages from any jobs you may have etc. Then what you need to do is work out how much you’re going to get each term/semester; you’ll usually get student finance money each term, so that’s a good place to start.

 

Step Two – Rent

Rent and bills will be the biggest thing on your expenditure list, so this comes first – always! You’re likely to have to pay rent each term/semester, and these might be split so one term costs more or less than the other two – so just check it out first, as it could leave you with a hole in your bank account you weren’t expecting! The average living costs for the UK (excluding London) is said to be £4,834, so that roughly equates to $1611.33 a term if split equally. Your rent amount depends on a number of things: contract length, location, single/double bed, bills included, house/halls, ensuite/shared bathroom, catered/self catered etc. If you have to pay for bills separately,  it’s about £13-£23 a week for gas, electrics and internet, with a TV license on top of that if you want it.

 

Step Three – What you have to work with

Take your  rent costs away from your income to give you everything you have to work with for that term. It may surprise you – it certainly did when I first did this! If you’re looking at your costs before you go to uni (great stuff, as you’re being prepared!), you may want to search out for any scholarships your chosen universities may offer based on academic performance, to give you little extra money to help you out. If you find your term costs are in the minus, you might need to search for a part time job to help you live a little easier, or ask parents or relatives if they will be prepared to help you out. Alternatively, if you’re looking at accommodation and haven’t actually started uni yet, you might want to chose a cheaper, alternative accommodation to reflect what you can realistically afford!

 

Step Four – That thing everyone loves called FOOD

I’d say £30-£40 food shopping money per week is absolutely plenty; I had £50 budgeted per week for all living costs last year, which included food, any leisure, going out for meals, other shopping etc., and my budget sheet I made said on average my weekly spending for food was around £15-20! It can be done, and I will make another post soon about how to actually eat like royalty on a student budget – I won’t disappoint. The most important thing you need to do is stick to your food budget. This can be per week (my preferred method) or per month I’d say instead of per term, as that can leave you high and dry if your spending is much greater at the start of term. Keep your receipts, or use a budget spreadsheet (again, I will make another post soon including the spreadsheet I used – it has useful calculations to see how much you’re spending each week, and how what you’re spending affects the other weeks you have to plan for.) to keep track of what you’re spending, and how well you’re keeping to your limit.

 

Step Five – Toiletries and Household Essentials

You’ll need toilet roll, toothpaste, deodorant etc., so don’t forget to factor in these things! I can’t say from experience, but I can only imagine how annoyed I’d be with myself if I’d spent a great deal on creating an impressive stash of beverages or games let’s say, but have to go for a month smelling like an old sock because I have no money for deodorant. That’s not a good look. I’d guess about £30 would be a high estimate of these costs per month, including things like laundry if you need to pay for it separately.

 

Step Six – Anything left is what you have to spend

You might find by this point your balance is teetering on the verge of going negative, is negative, or if you’re one of the lucky students, you have plentiful amounts of cash to spend how you wish. I’d say the first option is the situation most students will be in. If this is you, there are ways you can help yourself! Here are a few:

  • Cook from scratch
    • This will save you money and is ultimately a lot better for you. I find cooking a good stress reliever too 🙂
  • Don’t eat out insane amounts
    • Treating yourself once in a while with some friends is nice – but make it stay a treat, so every so often
  • Supermarket value products will be your saviour if you want to save money!
  • Buy food in bulk, or share bulk foods with friends and split the cost
    • A 3kg bag of Tesco pasta is £3, whereas a 500g bag can be like £1.50!!
    • 3 for £10 meat – your freezer will be your best friend. Bag up meat separately and in portions, and freeze for a later date
    • Markets are always cheap; fruit, veg, meat is all good
    • BIGGEST STUDENT TIP and everyone does it… put your loaf in the freezer when you buy it! It keeps for ages and you only have to defrost a slice as and when you need it
  • Alcohol
    • I’m not going to tiptoe round the fact that students and alcohol are usually practically a pair; I don’t drink that much, but on the occasion that I do go out, I’ve found that buying x cans of drink and sharing them with a friend cuts costs, and is a good way of moderating yourself! Alternatively, buy a bottle of a spirit or whatever and make it a flat bottle, so everyone chips in
  • You don’t need that cute top, or that must-have game
    • …Yet, anyway. There is such thing as Christmas and your birthday!

 

Set yourself a budget each week for everything other than the essentials; if you spend less one week, you can up that amount for another week – or vice versa. All you need to do to budget successfully is be conscious of what you’re spending, and how what you’re spending will affect you later in the term or later in the year.

 

Phew, if you’ve lasted this far, well done! I suppose that’s all I have to say on the matter right now, and I hope I’ve given you a little bit of an insight in how to keep your money in your pocket and not in your overdraft!

 

~ Until next time 🙂

Busy busy!

So, one of the most important factors of university life is… organisation!

All throughout your academic life, you’ll have had to get coursework and homework in on time, making sure you plan enough time into your gaming/going-out-shopping routine to actually get it done – and well. At uni, things make a sharp turn and become a little more intense to say the least.

 

If you’re the studious type like me, you’ll be a bit more ready, but everyone gets a shock in their first term/semester!

 

The biggest difference  that everyone finds with university is that your lecturers and tutors will not nag you to get your work in. Most likely, they’ll say the deadline one time in your lecture, and then expect that to be enough to spur you on to do it. You won’t get regular check-ups from them asking how you’re getting on with it, or even if you’re understanding it – because it is now completely your responsibility! Don’t be scared though, you can get on top of it.

 

Lecturers and tutors will expect that if you have a problem or don’t understand something, you will go to see them and ask them, or read up on it in some of your course textbooks. University is about independent learning and studying, so if you don’t get something, be proactive and go ask someone! To put it bluntly (but most effectively), lecturers aren’t going to care on deadline day if you’ve been struggling with your piece of coursework, because you’ll have had the following opportunities to better your understanding:

  • Seminars/tutorials
    • These are a chance to cement your understanding of the material covered in lectures. Use them well! You can also get the chance to do some related questions maybe, and ask the lecturer/tutor questions and actually highlight to them if something has been majorly unclear in the lecture. This helps everyone!
  • Lecturer/tutor office hours
    • These are bookable appointment times or drop-in hours that you can talk to your lecturers in their office about absolutely anything! My lecturers always say that noone ever comes to see them, yet there are some people not doing very well. If you’re struggling, go talk to someone!
  • Books
    • You have a list of core textbooks for a reason!
  • THE INTERNET!!
    • although don’t forget the majority of places aren’t verified explanations, so books are a better resource – also, for everyone’s sake… DON’T USE WIKIPEDIA!!!!!!)
  • Academic sources
    • Aston has a number of different resources you can use to further your learning. For example, for Computer Science/related subjects, we have the Programming Support Office, where there is a post-grad officer that you can sit down with and discuss/ask about programming/other stuff. We also have the LDC in the library, which you can get maths tuition, one-to-one help, study tips and report writing guidance etc. It’s there, so use it!
  • Friends
    • your coursemates will be better at explaining something in terms that you and I understand, without using the academic jargon that flows in lectures…

 

Get a calendar with a decent amount of space to write down what you have each day. At the moment as I’m in second year and I’m doing a lot of different extra curricular things, I have to be really careful about organising my time so things don’t clash and I remember to do everything!

busy time!

 

This becomes especially true when things like deadlines and exams start getting added to the picture, but right now it’s just meetings and work etc.!

This part is really really really really (you get the idea) important!!! Here are a few guidelines about how to avoid late-submission penalties, because these will be enforced no matter what your excuse pretty much (unless you talk to your year tutor about it and see if you can get some exceptional circumstances to be relieved of it, but it’s better to do that before the actual deadline has passed!!!).

Top tip for any work ever… don’t leave it til the last minute. Hopefully you don’t need to learn from that as you do it anyway, but seriously, things get piled up when you least expect it, then you’ll find yourself working til 6am for three nights in a row trying to get everything in on time.

By the way, universities are strict on deadlines; there will be penalties if you get it in even 30 seconds late if it’s submitted online, so don’t risk trying to upload it with 5 minutes to go, because the likelihood is that a lot of other people will try to do the same thing, it will take forever, and you’ll eventually upload it after the deadline, losing 5-10% of your grade usually! This goes up every day you leave after the deadline before submitting it, so either do it the day before if you’re happy with it, but if you are running a bit late, leave at least an hour to ensure it gets in on time and you are credited for all the marks you deserve!

If it has to be handed in to your school office on paper, make sure you check the opening and closing times of your school office! Some people that I know have coursework deadlines for like 5pm, but the school office closes at 2pm! Don’t run the risk of having to submit it the next day and losing more marks because you didn’t check the times – submit it either when the school opens in the morning, or even the day before!

 

Hopefully I haven’t scared you, just motivated you to do your work to the best you can, and to actually get it in on time! Everyone that you speak to at university will have the same view on this as I do, because you really don’t want marks being taken from you that you deserve. If you plan your time carefully and don’t leave it til the last minute, you’ll be absolutely fine. Also, don’t forget to ask for help – you’re paying enough tuition fee for it! 🙂

 

~Good luck, you’ll be fine!

 

 

 

Fresher’s Week!

Hi hi!

 

So, fresher’s week has come to a close and lectures have begun… students all around are recovering from the lack of sleep and the unavoidable fresher’s flu!

 

This year, as I am now a second year student, I had the opportunity to be an Aston Auntie! We are a big team of 200 second, placement or final year students who help the freshers move in to their flats and settle in, check if everyone’s okay and help everyone make friends! We’re also there to ensure that everyone has a fresher’s week they won’t want to forget!

 

Auntie2014

 

The hoard of blue-shirted aunties (including me!) around fresher’s week are the Welfare Aunties (and we’re the best!). We make sure you’re all okay and get home safely! We also do door knocks on all the accommodation flats to see if everyone’s settling in well and answering questions or having a chat. Other aunties roaming around are General (green: help with everything!), Promo (purple: seshing, making friends, getting you to come to the events!) and Student Activities (red: clubs and societies).

 

So, to recap on this year’s AWESOME fresher’s week… I did aim to post during the week, but there was literally no time to even make dinner… so pizza was a recurrence!

 

     Moving-In Weekend: Moving in, with the Saturday Welcome Party and Sunday Beach Party

Aunties armed with big trolleys and huge muscles (well, some of us…) arrived with a friendly face to help fresher’s unload their cars, get their accommodation keys/cards and unpack their stuff into their very own uni room. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to help out, but from what I heard, the days were manic! The parties were also renowned too, giving the fresher’s their first taste of university life and freedom!

     Monday: Carnival Bar Crawl

B4 Bar, Walkabout, O Bar, Players and Risa! Some of the big names on Broad Street all in one night. MASSIVE turnout of 1750 (I think) students, who all had an amazing time! Risa was packed by the end of the night, with the queue curling all the way round the corner of the street at one point because of the sheer number of people!

     Tuesday: UV Mardi Gras Party

UV Paint, glow sticks and a black light made this party the highlight for me – even though I was on sober duty (helping people back home safely). Everyone had a great time – and went full out with their paint!

     Wednesday: Sports Fest!

Sports clubs went mad, donning their sports gear and partying with club members til the early hours.

     Thursday: Masquerade Ball and Naughty Boy @ The Institute

Everyone got dressed up for this dress-to-impress event held at the Institute in Digbeth. As a music venue, it gives a bit of a different experience to the previous clubs and bars on Monday’s bar crawl which I thought was a great chance to see different venues available in Birmingham.

     Friday: Fancy Dress Fiesta

Ministry of Sound DJs came to our union hall to make this one event not to miss!

     Saturday: POUNDED!

Pounded is a union event which started last year, and has quickly become incredibly popular with everyone. With £1 and £2 drinks, you can’t go wrong!

     Sunday: Fresher’s Fair!

Fresher’s fair is THE place to load yourself up on free pens, bottle openers, t-shirts, pizza slices, and sign up to some awesome clubs and societies. All the clubs and societies will have a stall so you can go and talk to committee members and join or find some information about them – and for some you can get some free sweets! There are loads of new things on offer for you to get involved in, and even things you may have already done before. A sample of the weird and wonderful clubs/societies Aston has to offer are:

  • Tea Society
  • Aston Radio Station (AUX)
  • Aston Snow
  • RAG (Raise and Give)
  • Extreme BBQ
  • Ultimate Frisbee
  • Gaelic Football
  • Kayaking
  • Pool and Snooker
  • Aston Go!

These are just a few! The first four I am getting involved with this year, and Aston Snow is something I’m really looking forward to! With this, I’ll get the chance to do skiing or snowboarding which I’ve never done before, so I’m hoping it’ll be amazing! Here is a partial list – I think it still needs to be updated as a few I know of are missing… but nonetheless, this will give you an insight to what is on offer!

 

 

During the day there were other events going on in the MLK (Martin Luther King Multi-Faith Chaplaincy Centre) such as mask-making, Indian head massage, crafts, and other things too. The alternative fresher’s events (non-alcohol events) were held here too. There was an acoustic evening, a movie night, and other great activities too – so there really is something for everyone to get involved in.

WP_000866 WP_000867

 

 

If you haven’t signed up to any clubs or societies yet, or missed fresher’s fair, drop Owain (VPSA – Vice President of Student Activities) an email and you’ll get sorted! I really recommend joining as many societies as you think you can handle as you get to meet so many new friends and get to do some amazing things, so you’ll really miss out if not!

 

That’s all for now, enjoy your first week of lectures 🙂

Preparing for the Big Day – Part 3

Phew… if you’ve made it this far, kudos to you, my friend. This is my final post in this… unexpectedly long trilogy!

If you haven’t read the first part, about the things I consider essential, you can find it here.

Alternatively, if you missed the second part, which is about making yourself at home, it can be found here.

Here we go!

 

Step Three – Uni Stuff!

 

Whether you’re super organised like me and will have all of your lecture notes in pristine, chronologically organised sheets with colour coded sections, filed between labelled dividers – or you’re more of the “I’ll find it when I need it” kind of person, you’re going to need stuff for uni, whether you like it or not. I may sound like your nagging mum, but at the end of the year when you take those all important exams – you’ll be glad you filed your lecture notes in some sort of decipherable order to revise (yes, revise) over the Easter break.

 

Now, onto what you need.

 

The absolute must if you’re even going to attempt to pass is lots and lots of paper. You may be the sort of person that uses one lined A4 pad, dating and titling the page with the module and lecture number at the top and organising the pages by module dividers in a folder later on, or you might be the sort of person that likes to use one pad for each module. Regardless, get paper, and get at least two pads to start you off (you don’t want to run out half way through a lecture… trust me, it’s bad).

 

Paper would be pretty darn useless if you don’t have anything to actually make notes with – so get some pens! Get at least two colours – the standard are black, blue and red and you can buy packs with all three which is pretty convenient. This will help during seminars/tutorials or when you do some lab exercises/class tests so that you can clearly see which colour your answers are in, and then what the corrections are. Or, if you’re anything like me, you’ll buy a pack of 20 differently coloured pens from Asda for about a pound so you can make your notes look anything but boring. Pencils are also quite helpful if you have any sketchy-type modules or things that require a lot of remodelling.

 

If you’re doing something like Computer Science where a lot of programming is involved, or any subject where you need to think out your ideas before you execute them/work out some theory before you put it into practice, a little jotpad will be your best friend for the year. Seriously, I filled a couple of A5 pads this year in lab classes whilst doing programming exercises and coursework, because sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to and you need to either try and work out a different way to do it, or visualise it to see where things are going wrong. A quick example is when I did one of my early lab exercises in October time last year, and we had to create a car out of rectangles and circles using coordinates etc. to organise the shapes into a car-looking arrangement, and my first attempt failed pretty badly as the wheels were overlapping the roof and the chassis was half way across the page… Out came my trusty notepad and I could draw it out, working out the dimensions as I went so I could figure out exactly where I wanted the shapes to be – and then it was easy. It can also be helpful for little sketches if you’re doing something design-based I imagine, or recording some ideas for later use. Either way, and for all courses, it’s awfully handy to have anyway.

 

Here’s the assorted list of everything else you can undoubtedly find in my stationary drawer (yes… you did read that right…):

  • Lever arch folder (you’re almost guaranteed to have a lot of notes, and ringbinders usually won’t cut it – they’ll also prevent pages ripping!)
  • Page dividers (handy for separating module notes)
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Sharpener
  • Stapler
  • Hole punch (useful for any handouts you may get, and if you want to put them away in a folder. Just saying, but a two-holed one will make your life a whole lot easier)
  • Post-it notes
  • Highlighters could turn out useful
  • Hole strengtheners (if you do opt for a ringbinder, hole strengtheners are polo-shaped stickers that you put over the punched holes in the paper to prevent them from ripping, and I recommend you buy a few packs to make sure you don’t lose any of your notes!)
  • Paper clips
  • Bulldog/Foldback/Grip clips (these are so helpful if you have a big piece of printed coursework you need to keep in order, or even holding a few sheets together which can then be hung from a pin on your pin board (clever, right?), so investing in a few of assorted sizes is a good idea if you want to save yourself hassle)
  • White/blutac (I recommend to get whitetac because most halls will allow it instead of blutac for things on the walls – but check first)
  • Glue
  • Tipex (lifesaver, all I can say)
  • Pen pot (in all honesty I bought a pack of three tumblers from Poundland and use those for my penpots! Cheaper and more convenient)
  • Plain paper (for if you have a printer, and for if you need to sketch/draw/doodle/use some paper…)
  • Page markers (these can be like slim post-it notes to mark important pages in your textbooks without damaging them – always helpful!)
  • Envelopes and stamps (not always a priority, but there have been a few occasions I needed to post something last year, so it’s worth considering having something just as a backup I suppose)
  • Calendar of some degree (academic or year, both are useful! I’ve gone for a normal flip-style calendar that I have on my board. I’d say if you do get one, look for one that has a fair bit of space to write next to the dates as this will be your lifeline for the year! Don’t let deadlines creep up on you, so write them down in big, red letters on your calendar. Also record important dates like if you’re working or when a special event is, so it doesn’t slip your mind – as your year ahead will be very busy. I’d personally stay away from big, academic wall calendars as they take a lot of whitetac to stay up, and it may damage the walls if it stays there all year – but that’s just my opinion!)

 

That’s all I can think of right now! So, at the end of this long, long post, I hope I’ve helped to identify some of the things you may forget or may need to still buy before/after you arrive at halls. Things like your favourite mug or slippers will surely be already packed in the boot of your car in preparation, and you needn’t worry that you’ll not have anything to sleep on because your bedding will already be stowed away too.

 

All that’s left for me to say is don’t forget to pack your excitement! I know how daunting moving into halls can be – I’ve been there myself! But seriously, you’ll have an amazing time – just don’t forget to look forward to it and don’t let your nerves shadow that!

 

~Good luck 🙂

Preparing for the Big Day – Part 2

Hi! This is the second part of my moving in guide – find the first part here.

So, onto part two!

 

Step Two – Personal Stuff

I classify the stuff in this part as things that you could live without, but would make your life a whole lot better if you had them. These are things like photos, fairy lights, books, DVDs (or in my case a blender…) etc. that will make you feel more at home or give you something to do.

 

My first instinct in pretty much every situation is to make a list, so maybe you could try that before you start to pack – it will help you realise what you don’t yet have.

Start out by running through a usual day for yourself, from getting up, to getting ready, to eating, to… Doing what you do! For example: toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, retainer (dont want to forget that!), shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, flannel etc. Then moving onto eating – you’ll need a bowl for cereal maybe or a plate if you’re feeling toast in the morning (these are already down on your essentials list though, right?) and something to eat that with, maybe for lunch you’re going to make yourself beans on toast so you’ll need a saucepan (again, essential!), and maybe some clingfilm to cover it up in the fridge if you dont use the whole tin. So, that’s a start, right?

a) Cleaning

Okay, onto the things you may not think about. You’re going to need things to clean with if you want to actually make your room appealing to others! Cleaning musts in my opinion are as follows (but for example you might only want spray and a sponge instead of wipes – so personalise it!):

  • Duster and furniture polish (doesn’t have to be expensive – I have Tesco Everyday Value!)
  • Washing up liquid and sponge/cloth (no, the fairies don’t do it)
  • Antibacterial/Cleaning wipes (for wiping up any spillages and general cleaning)
  • Antibacterial Spray and sponge/cloth (Dettol do an all-purpose one that you can use in the kitchen and bathroom which is really handy – that’s what I have) (I hate to say it but you will be responsible for your own living area! So if you want to keep your room and kitchen clean and hygenic, giving these areas a once over every so often is crucial!)
  • Toilet bleach
  • You can go wild and get specific cleaning products like bathroom/kitchen, but check where they can be used first – you dont want to damage the surfaces and then be liable for charges at the end of the year!

 

b) Make Yourself at Home

Once again, everyone is different in what they bring to uni. Have a look round your room to see what you would really like to take with you and write that down, or leave it to one side maybe if you’d prefer not to. Think about things to make you feel like home such as fairy lights or photos, and then things to do like books for reading/cooking and DVDs. This is really the easy part, as you’re just putting all your stuff into cases/bags/boxes, and most of the time you don’t actually need to buy anything extra. Do check though what your halls provides for you so you can remember to get anything else to put on top of your room inventory.

For example, this year, my accommodation doesn’t supply me with any of the following in the kitchen: microwave, kettle, toaster, kitchen bin, anything like kitchen roll or washing up liquid (which is the usual), iron, ironing board, hoover, mop and bucket, dustpan and brush etc.

They also don’t supply any of the following in my actual room: bedroom/bathroom bin, and any light source (like a desk light) apart from the main ceiling light.

To make your move easier and to help you settle in quicker, check your room inventory as living without a bedroom bin right now is pretty weird… I’m using a back inside one of the boxes I used to get all my stuff here! Sometimes you will have to improvise for a while (like my makeshift bin…), but also for things that you might not foresee. For example, I’ve been in my accommodation now for just over a week, and two nights ago was the first time I went to use the oven. I’ve previously just used the hob for a quick stir fry or to cook some pasta, but when I went to use the oven, it didn’t work!! Luckily, Birmingham is host to many a takeaway establishment, so improvising was done.

So – list time. Check if your room includes a desk lamp, because in the event that you’re studying a little after dark, you might not want your big room light on and would prefer a smaller desk lamp. I’m lacking this right now, so it just goes to show that I should have written this before I actually moved in myself…

Other, smaller and more homely things you might want to think about is a toothbrush holder, a games console maybe, hairdryer, printer, photoframes, blu/whitetac, jewellry box etc. – it’s your room at the end of the day, personalise it!

 

 

Preparing for the Big Day Part 1

Here’s another post about preparing yourself for your big day – moving in!  This one’s focused on what to actually pack, rather than what to do to occupy yourself before you go. This is part one – the essentials.

 

One of the main things I was worried about when I first moved in was that I had so much stuff. Like, “my mum and I went up on the train with a suitcase so the rest of the stuff could fit in the car”-much stuff… So here’s my guide of how to not get yourself in a fluff about having too much stuff. Step 1: DON’T WORRY THAT YOU HAVE A LOT OF STUFF! Don’t even worry if you feel you don’t have a lot of stuff! You have the amount of stuff that you have, and that’s that really. I like cooking, so a lot of the space I filled in the car on moving-in day was to do with, or to go in, the kitchen; things such as a blender so I can make soup, cake tins so I can bake, spices etc (although as I said in my last post, I do recommend buying food when you get there!). If I didn’t like to cook, I would have a lot less stuff and wouldn’t have been stressed out – but I do, so that’s that. Once you accept that you have the amount of stuff that you do, you can think about enjoying the thought of unpacking it all and making your room yours.

 

All my things packed to move in!
All my stuff ready to move in for second year!

Okay, so, what do you pack, then? While I stress that you can’t have too much stuff, take it with a pinch of salt and don’t take every single thing from your room at home and lug it to the back of your parent’s car. Just a word of advice: you won’t need everything you’re going to pack! All that will happen is your uni room will get cluttered and you’ll end up taking it back home again at the end of the year. Take a good look at the room inventory of your halls first to see what you definitely won’t need to bring. At Aston for example, a kettle, toaster, microwave, iron, ironing board, hoover, bins, mop/bucket and dustpan/brush are all provided – so you don’t need to bring your own!

 

     Step One – Essentials

Once you’ve had a look at your inventory, jot down the essentials. I’m an organised soul, so for first year, I made a few Excel spreadsheets for everything I wanted to take with me – a spreadsheet for each different category like bathroom, bedroom, kitchen etc. If extreme organising isn’t your thing (call me Monica), then definitely do try to write down the absolute musts, just so you don’t forget them. Here is a short (yes, short) compilation of what I would define as essential for moving in (each to their own, though!):

 

A list of packing essentials

This is me trying to explain this list. “Bedroom” is pretty self explanatory I think; paracetamol and ibuprofen I’ve put as essential as it’s better to have them when you’re feeling ill rather than having to go out to get them! “Bathroom” is pretty straightforward too. “Kitchen” includes some weird ones.

Pans, minimum 2; I’d say this is the absolute essential if you’re wanting to cook for yourself, even if it’s beans on toast or pasta and sauce – you’re going to need a pan for pasta and a pan for sauce possibly! Or maybe rice and something… I don’t know, I’m off on a food tangent. Pans, two, get them and be done with it.

Baking tray (no holes); if you’ve only got a pizza tray and are wanting to cook chips in the oven, it will make a massive, huge, oily mess. The absolute no-no if you’re cooking on a pizza tray is a chicken kiev. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Yes Josh, I am talking about you last year. If you’re cooking anything other than a pizza on a pizza tray, don’t be surprised when your oven starts smoking up – that’s all the grease and fat burning up in there that’s dripped through the holes from your last meal! Take it from me – invest in a baking tray without holes. Cutlery and crockery is standard – you can even go for multiple of each if you’re expecting to cook for friends or family. I have a set of four of each, so it’s just what you’re wanting.

Sharp knife; with this goes a chopping board which I didn’t mention. You might need to chop some chicken or something, and that’s not going to happen with a butter knife, so buy a sharp knife or two! Also, buy a glass chopping board if you’re up for it – easy to clean and can be doubled up as a worktop saver to put hot pans on (for example – flat fajita night!!). Or, plastic chopping boards are cheap as chips.

The obvious thing I missed out here was clothes, duh. You’re most definitely going to need them. Think about nightwear, daywear, going out stuff, winter stuff, summer stuff, swimwear, underwear (don’t forget that…), slippers, dressing gown etc. Basically, this is the part where you know what you do and don’t want to take, so just make it up as you go along! Leave behind things you don’t wear so much maybe, so it gives you room for other things if you’re struggling for space. Also, vacuum bags are a godsend for space-saving! You heard it here first.

 

 

Right, so I say don’t take a kettle etc. because you may have one in the flat, so why have I got one in my picture you may ask? That’s because I’m not actually living on campus this year! 🙁 Nope, I’m taking a step into grown-up land, but not going as far as renting my own house! I’m just a few minutes walk from campus this year in a private accommodation (meaning not owned by the University), which is still halls of residence. At this particular halls, we don’t get kitchen appliances provided, so we have to take our own. That’s why I have a kettle and iron and stuff – which does actually take up a fair bit of room…

 

That’s it for part one! I hope this has been informative and you aren’t sleepy from the long read!

~Until next time 🙂

 

“Stuff” count: 15…