Freshers’ Week and Term One: What NOT To Worry About

Written by Emma MA Creativity: Innovation and Business Strategy student

The days leading up to your first week of university can be emotional. I remember feeling a bizarre mixture of excitement and anxiety. My mum grew tearful over nearly everything I did, and I was permanently torn over how much I should take with me. I’m now a postgraduate student at the University of Exeter and I’ve moved five times since moving into halls nearly four academic years ago. I found that adapting to change became easier with that first step of attending Freshers’ week. To remedy those Freshers’ fears, I’ve compiled this list of things NOT to worry about as a new undergraduate.

1. Halls: Moving out of my family home and into halls was the biggest hurdle I encountered during Freshers’ week and for a long time after. I had expected to meet my best friends for life in my new accommodation. I didn’t. I hadn’t expected to miss my family a lot. I did. If you’ve never lived away from home then this is probably the trickiest bit for you, but it is by no means something that needs worrying about. Yes, sometimes I felt a little lonely, but I truly believe that those first few months of university made me into the independent individual I am today. I stuck it out, I met life-altering personalities, I spent time getting to know the people in my block and the people in my lectures and seminars. I made a lot of amazing acquaintances, a few amazing friends, and three amazing best friends. By my second year of university I was itching to return and found over the summer break that I missed being on campus where everyone knew my name. So, don’t worry about moving or feeling alienated by your home away from home because you really will be settled down in no time without even realising it. I promise.

2. Making a good first impression: Social anxiety has been a close companion of mine for a few years now. Some days I find myself over-analysing the tiniest of things. These feelings especially acted up during Freshers’ week. I wanted my lecturers to like me, I wanted my new hall mates to like me and I wanted my course mates to like me. However, what you’ll soon come to realise is that every Fresher feels the same way. Make that effort to introduce yourself to everyone but don’t panic about being the most memorable person in the room. The friends I made in the flat below during my first few weeks of university I never kept in contact with after my second term. Not because I didn’t want to but simply because I settled with different company in the end. You might not find your more permanent social group right away, and that’s okay.

3. Getting top grades: Congratulations! You made it to the University of Exeter and you absolutely smashed your A-Levels. Now it’s time to dial it up a notch. I was immensely disheartened by my first few essay grades. How could I go from being top of the class at college to scrapping a 2:1 with a 60? University level study is hard. I adored the overwhelming intake of information in my lectures. I lived for the buzz in the room during an impassioned seminar debate. I also found myself permanently exhausted. The good news is that your first year doesn’t count towards your final grade. Spend the year finding a comfortable balance between all the new components in your life and before you know it, you’ll be floating back up to First Class territory.

4. Picking the best societies: I joined only one society in my first year: Creative Writing Society. I attended two workshops and never went again. The society was inspiring and immensely fun but I was too preoccupied with adjusting to my new environment to devote myself to it. By my second year of university I was involved in two societies: Archery (which I went into never having tried the sport before) and Xpression FM (of which I became the Arts and Literature Senior Correspondent for the News Team). In my case, I found that I was more able to give my absolute attention to societies and society socials by my second year when I’d found my footing. Here’s the secret: Freshers’ fair isn’t just for Freshers! It’s for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in university life at any point of their degree. I’ve attended the Freshers’ Fair every year I’ve spent at university and not just for all the freebies but for the electricity right at my fingertips. Go to the fair, enjoy the free snacks, pens, and pizza vouchers and don’t feel pressured to sign up to a single thing.

5. Time management: This one is a fine art that is perfected throughout one’s life. I remember feeling incredibly overwhelmed during my first year of university. Information came at me from all angles through several different channels that I wasn’t yet accustomed to using. I was being invited to society socials, to nights out clubbing with course mates, to dinners in my accommodation block, to parties in a friend’s friend’s halls, to additional lectures, to non-compulsory workshops, to poetry slams and art exhibitions, all alongside completing suffocating masses of reading in time for my seminars. I found time management easier when I purchased my first academic diary. I used to schedule everything in my day from waking up and writing emails to relaxing with a bottle of wine in the evening. I can’t remember at what point I stopped consulting it religiously, but it must have been the point in which I’d found a sense of routine. I still buy myself an academic diary every year and I still find myself writing in it every day (even when I’m searching for things to keep myself occupied with during the summer break). My top tip would be to invest in an academic diary yourself. Use it as a crutch until you no longer entirely depend on it. It’ll be the best tenner you’ve spent that year and you’ll have one less thing to worry about.

6. Freshers’ Flu: For some reason I lost the ability to hear out of my left ear entirely during my second and third week of university which really didn’t help my nervous fears surrounding my ability to keep on top of all my coursework. I went to the Student Health Centre with possibly the worst flu I’d ever experienced. I felt ran-down, lethargic, and bunged-up. The nurse recommended plenty of rest and explained to me that Freshers’ Flu wasn’t in fact a myth. I also developed a milder strain of the flu in my second year of university. Don’t panic, watch your lectures at home from your bed, eat well, and cut back on the partying (at least for a couple of nights). You’ll feel better once your body has built a resistance to your full and hectic lifestyle.

Despite my undergraduate years being some of the toughest of my life they were also the best years of my life to date. University is full of extreme emotions which make it a hell of a thrilling and unforgettable time. Just remember to keep your cool and everything will find its place. There really is nothing to worry about.

Musings of a Mature Student – Coping with the Holidays!

Written by Anne MA English Literary Studies/Film Studies Pathway student

These deadlines come around fast, don’t they? So, with the industrial action, I find I have more time at home, so being super-organised is more important than ever. The temptation to have a break (as no seminars for a few weeks) is strong, hey, why not ditch the coursework and carry on with the research report/essay/ or whatever needs handing in next?

Well, as tempting as it is, I found a lot more useful information in this week’s reading that will improve my writing no end. After all, good writing depends on good reading…

So, there are several ways to approach writing an essay; in fact, the LSE have some great tips on their website. 

My approach is to get as much done upfront as possible: as a mature student, I can’t pull all-nighters close to deadline, which seems to be a popular choice amongst some of the younger students, aided by heart-attack amounts of red bull and coffee! (Seriously, how do you do it?) ..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instead, I aim at around four hours a day steady writing, occasionally re-checking my research notes and making sure in-text citations have the correct page number. Then I just slog at it. I usually write my introduction at around 10-20% of the word count, then I write bullets points of what I hope to discover. This helps me stick to my point in the main body of the essay. It doesn’t matter about spelling and grammar at this stage – no point in correcting stuff which may well end up being deleted in the final draft! So, basically, I cobble it together then refine afterwards.  And referencing as I go. Also, remember to do that Turnitin check!

At least, in this way, I have something to submit early on, in case of a catastrophe, which happened to me at Xmas. I was bedridden four days up to deadline, so no, I didn’t write the stellar essay I hoped for, but I did have a finished essay to hand in, proof-read and formatted, checked and refined to a degree.

I have days that I’m sure you can all relate to…you know, where the sentence ‘the cat sat on the mat’ is the brain’s intellectual offering of the day and your head is full of clouds. You feel you cannot read ONE MORE thing and your eyes do that funny flicky from side-to-side thing. I either take a break and close my eyes for 10 mins, go and do something physical, or stop and set a later time in the day (that I have to stick to!) to carry on.

I used to ‘wait for inspiration’ in my undergrad days…that was great when I had 7 months to write 5000 words, (I kid you not), but I found it a shock to have to do the same in 3 weeks….so something had to change. I got far more disciplined, and when I wrote out my timetable for the Xmas break, it actually looked not only do-able but easily so.

Other things I do to stay organised:

Cooking: I plan a week’s worth of food, make out a menu, and spend a day making meals so that I don’t have to waste time wondering each day what I’m going to eat and then have to do needless shopping trips. As it’s a 40 min round trip walking to the shops where I live, this saves me A LOT of time.

Work: Yes, I have to work to support myself, so I make sure that my reading/writing schedule is lighter on those evenings, and make sure I get early starts on the days I’m not at work. It’s so easy to procrastinate at home and to get side-tracked. It’s not so bad for me as I have no dependants, but I still have to stay disciplined and not decide that hoovering the lounge is suddenly the most fascinating thing ever!

Delegate: I don’t like to ask anyone to do stuff for me, but since asking my sister (with whom I live) to take up the slack from some household/laundry/shopping chores, I find that I have more time. I have discovered that non-University family members can sometimes find it hard to believe that when you’re staring into space, you are actually working! I have also had to be firm about Do Not Disturb – it’s easy for someone to distract you and lose your train of thought. I shut my office door and have a sign on the handle. Family members can’t be expected to remember that you’re still working on the same thing two hours later!

Socialise: I make time to meet up with a friend, have a night out, and not spend the time worrying or feeling guilty, because I have scheduled it into my calendar. A good night out and having some fun does wonders for creativity!

It’s about pacing yourself, and realising that when you’re shattered/exhausted, you need to stop. Look after yourself, and your health. Be nice to yourself – you’ve come this far, you’re awesome! Sometimes you just need to remind yourself of just that. Get some sleep. Tomorrow is another day, and aren’t we lucky to see it?

Musings of a mature student – Eating well and staying healthy

Written by Anne MA English Literary Studies/Film Studies Pathway

I have to budget (like all of us do!) as a student, so I have been looking at ways to eat well and save pounds….and lose pounds too! My food bill is around £25-£30 per week, although a lot of that is on things that take a long time to use up, like oil, salt, mayo… store cupboard essentials. Although there are many great (and heavily discounted) eateries around campus, and it’s great to eat out with friends, there is something satisfying about cooking and having friends round to dinner. Even better if you club together to buy the ingredients or have different hosts even once a week.

The important thing is to strike a balance – it would be great to have dedicated ‘eat out together’ nights and some eat-in dinner parties too and think what you could do with the money you save!

Maths is not my strong point, but I’ll give it a go:

Scenario. You eat lunch every day on campus, evenings you eat out or grab a take-away. In this sample I’m using as an average just two meals per day and two to three drinks.

Lunch: Burger and fries, £5.75. Drink, £2.50.

Dinner: On campus £6.95 Meal Deal/ Takeaway Pizza (small), £13.99. Drink, £2.

Over 7 days = £106.40/£169.68

Daily expenditure (not including breakfast or snacks) = £15.20/£24.24

My food bill is £30 eating-in every day and taking my own lunches to college. If I add on a night out and a few coffees, then I can guess at another £15 on top, so that rounds up to £45 per week. Let’s round that to £6 per day if I’m feeling lavish, although realistically it’s a lot less than that.

It easy to see, then, that by cooking even three days out of seven could potentially save you a lot of money! There are too many variables for accurate calculations, but it’s safe to say at least £9 to £18 could be saved per day on not eating out. That could be a few extra hundred quid per semester! Be smart, eat smart!

As a one-time chef, I have always had an interest in food; not only from a restaurant-oriented perspective on food combinations, presentation and flavour, but also nutrition and its effects I the body. I cook all of my meals from scratch, and although it can be a bit time consuming, I save A LOT of money in the meantime.

So instead of grabbing a quick bite from a café or shop, I make a batch of food that I can take with me to Uni, like a frittata (sort of  a cold omelette) loaded with eggs, spinach, onions and feta cheese…healthy and delicious! Spinach is full of vitamins too, which is great for your body and brain! The good news is you only need one large frying pan, a decent knife and a chopping board, no fancy kitchen stuff. (Although fancy kitchen stuff is col…I’m a kitchen-gadget nerd). 😊

So, I’m heading for my mid-fifties, and my body isn’t what it used to be! I have always been fairly active – I love DIY, building projects at home and in the garden, I grow my own food, and I dance Argentine tango.

When I began my serious foray into education starting my degree late in life in 2015, my lifestyle also changed drastically. Gone were the long days of being active; instead I was (and am) spending a lot more time sitting down studying, or spending hours watching films for my course. So, the input/output ratio of food/energy expenditure was just not balancing up any more. Added to that was a broken arm followed by a knee operation and surgery, compounding the inactivity and inability to move very much at all.

I found that my energy levels were spiking and crashing all over the place. I felt tired even after 8 hours of sleep. I have suffered insomnia for a long time, and I was resigned to a good night’s sleep being a thing of the past. I was packing on the pounds, making my system feel sluggish and my clothes were not fitting well any more. I looked at my daily food intake and kept a diary – a few lattés with added sugar, an energy bar, and sandwich or fries for lunch and maybe pasta for dinner, followed by toast later on in the evening or some dark chocolate was a normal day, and although it looked healthy, there was a lot of sugar in there, even though I didn’t realise it! And I often felt hungry….

So, even though I cook a lot and cook well, I decided to add more ‘on the go’ foods to my list to avoid grabbing a carb-heavy lunch, which can make you feel sleepy!  Apart from frittata, another cool way to bring a packed lunch to Uni is in lettuce wraps: you can load a sweet, crunchy lettuce leaf (cos, or romaine are best) with chicken mayo, tuna, roasted peppers, flavoured tofu,  steak and cheese – think wrap but with lettuce for the ‘holder’. The best thing about learning to cook a few simple things for lunches is that it’s much, much cheaper and also really good for you…my lunches are very filling and cost around a pound each!

Now, any kind of regime is difficult to stick to without good planning; if you have a family to fit in around your meal choices it’s ever harder. But by spending just a few hours in a day to make lunches or dinners for the next few days actually saves a lot of time!

So down to the food itself! By eating good quality protein, vegan or not, you actually feel fuller longer, and by adding ‘rainbow’ veg you are getting all the nutrition you need. Finish off your salads with some good virgin olive oil or throw on some seeds and you’re good to go! Here’s one of my favourites, which is actually nice cold too – you have the leftovers for lunch the next day. Jazz it up by throwing in some fresh watercress leaves and fresh cherry tomatoes for a great salad!

I am going to start with a ‘middle of the road’ recipe, one that is Asian food inspired, and follows my particular keto diet, although it’s healthy for everyone. Here is one of my favorites, which you can cook in under 30 mins, after a bit of prep. (with adaptations for various diets). It’s a good recipe to have for lunch or dinner, especially if the other meal of the day is a bit heavier on fried foods or eating out. Why not get your friends round for dinner, everyone can help with the prep…not to mention the washing up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spicy Beef Asian Style (with veggie and Ramen Variations). (serves 2) prep time (overnight plus 30mins cooking) serves 2. Cost: approx. £7 (£5.67 for main ingredients, allowing £1.33 for spices, herbs and oils).

1 x 12oz sirloin or other good grass-fed beef steak

1 x Bunch spring onions chopped

1 x head pak choi

I x small carrot sliced into in ribbons

1x head of broccoli cut into small florettes

1x green pepper, de-seeded and sliced

1 x courgette cut into thin strips

1tbsp soy sauce

¼ tsp chili flakes

2 x cloves garlic

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp salt

Handful fresh coriander

2tsp toasted sesame seeds

1 x tbsp sesame oil plus extra if needed

 

Method

Combine oil, salt, crushed garlic, coconut aminos, chilli & ginger in a bowl.

Slice steak into thin ribbons, about ¼ inch thick and thoroughly coat in oil mixture.

Cover and leave to marinade in the fridge overnight.

Cooking:

Pre-heat a large non-stick wok and add beef using tongs, being careful to shake off as much liquid from the marinade as possible. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until all pink colour has just turned brown. If sticking, add a little more sesame oil. Remove and set aside.

Add broccoli, peppers and carrots to pan, cook for 2 minutes, tossing to keep them cooking evenly. Add sliced pak choi and spring onions, then re-add beef and rest of marinade. Add beef broth, lower heat on pan. Cook until all heated through and piping hot.

Ladle into two bowls, top with sesame seeds and coriander.

Enjoy!

Variations:

Less expensive: Use low sodium soy sauce instead of liquid coconut aminos, and switch to cheaper cuts of pork or chicken.

Ramen: Add a halved boiled egg and spiralise the courgette for low carb ramen, or for normal ramen add cooked noodles.

Vegetarian: add marinated seitan or tofu instead of meat.

Spice it up!  Splash on some hot chilli sauce or add bird’s eye chilies when frying meat/tofu.

Freshen it up! Toss in a large handful of bean sprouts to the veggies when cooking and add a big bunch of watercress on the side and squeeze over a generous slice of fresh lime.

 

 

The Postgraduate life: Managing study and managing your routine

Written by Emma Anderson MA Creativity student

When I made the choice to carry on with my studies by taking on a postgraduate degree, I was left contemplating how an MA schedule would affect by routine. I also questioned how it would fit in around my current job. Funding for an MA can be covered by a government loan, but maintenance loans were scraped for postgraduate students about a year ago. I decided to work part-time and study part-time to remedy this. This way I could ensure that I would have the time to do my MA justice. However, many of my friends have managed to work part-time and study an MA full-time under more stressful time restraints. Still, I was pleased with the choice I made to go part-time while studying an MA in Creativity. An MA offers so many routes for growth and expansion that are not part of the required reading list or contact hours. In this blog, I hope to explain what life is like for a part-time MA student so that others might better be able to decide what pace they want to work at during further study.

How long can I expect to be on campus?
I can be on campus anywhere between two and four days a week. This means that my part-time job needs to be flexible to suit my requirements. It also means I need to constantly be updating my employer with any schedule changes. One thing is always certain though: weekends are university free! So, I try and keep a minimum of half my weekdays for academia and weekends free for work shifts. I also find that sometimes I end up being on campus from eight thirty in the morning until six in the evening whilst sometimes I only have a short two-hour workshop. I often extend days like this (when I also won’t be going into work) by doing some core reading in the Queens café or organising a meeting with my project team for an hour or so. Trying to be conservative with time by keeping days on campus dedicated to academia can help balance the time divided between study and making money.

Which jobs work well with study?
I work part-time as a supervisor for a high street store whilst also finding time to write blogs as a Social Media Ambassador for the University of Exeter whenever I can. I have friends who work in hospitality, friends with jobs in bars, and friends with jobs in the cultural heritage sector who all manage to study an MA alongside their profession. The beauty of postgraduate study is the flexibility that comes with it. You are responsible for managing your time and making sure that you catch up with everyone that you work with. This means that every week can vary hugely, including the amount of time you put into each component of your life. Sometimes I find myself working on a module project for three full days straight. At other times I can take on some overtime at work and write an extra blog or two for spare cash. If your job can handle this kind of variation the choice to study part-time or full-time is totally yours.

How much of your time is spent on university timetabled activities?
One of my favourite things about studying an MA in Creativity: Innovation and Business Strategy is the time I can spend networking in social circles I would normally never be able to. I have had the privilege of conversing with experts in their field. Completing an MA is about taking on available opportunities and not just the compulsory content. In my case I enjoy participating in all available excursions and work placement opportunities. I spend additional time improving my CV and making new LinkedIn connections to improve my career prospects. Even taking the time to discuss business collaborations with a course mate over a drink at Wetherspoons is all part of preparing for my life beyond academia and beyond my course. Extra-curricular attendance needs to be embraced with a greater enthusiasm in further study. Considering this when deciding how to divide your time is hugely important to the level of success you strive for.

How much free time can I expect?
I thrive off a busy schedule which is why the opportunities that go alongside with studying at university suit me. However, I still find myself needing some time for TLC like anyone else. By managing my time and sticking to a schedule I usually manage to free up time in the evenings to spend with friends and family. There is always more work that could be done but studying at postgraduate level involves finding healthy ways to balance your time between doing some further reading and watching that new Netflix series everyone has been raving about. A measure of control, restraint, and organisation is vital for all students. This is taken up a notch with the flexibility of an MA. Studying part-time will always permit more freedom in terms of free time but you should still be finding yourself as busy as a full-time student if you are using that freedom wisely.

Do you ever feel left out of major projects as a part-time student?
My entire MA group are extremely supportive and work inclusively. We consistently aim to utilise each other’s diverse range of talents and skills. As a result, I have never felt excluded by my status as a part-timer. I have at times found myself excitedly anticipating a module I will be completing in the next academic year which my full-time course mates positively feedback on. If anything, I feel part-time study has given me the advantage of witnessing my course mates’ successes and progress which has aided in my gradual advancements. I also consider myself incredibly lucky in the fact that I will be a part of two academic cohorts of talented individuals with whom I can ideate and creative problem-solve. I have the capacity to bounce my business propositions off a wider variety of aspiring entrepreneurs which can only ever benefit my creative visions. I would imagine that completing a full-time course is much the same, but with a higher intensity work ethic and a greater need to rely on your current workmates.

Whatever your choice, time management is the key to adapting to your new lifestyle pace. Adopt as much as you possibly can into your new routine and relish all the potential that life at the University of Exeter has to offer its students.