#UniAdvice – Never too late or too old to learn something new

Editor’s noteWidening access to higher education to the so-called ‘non-traditional’ students has become quite an important target for Universities in the UK. It is known to improve the outcomes and opportunities for people who would not otherwise get such chances. On the Aspiring Professionals Hub, we like to share inspiring stories about people from diverse backgrounds with interesting and inspiring stories about their experiences or career successes. In our latest ‘Reflections’ article, Anna shares her experience of higher education as a mature student and hopes her experience would serve to inspire others.

I am 46 years old and in my second year of an MSc degree in Social Work. I was one of 5 children raised by both parents who struggled financially due to unemployment. I left school at the age of 16 with two standard grades- Music and Art. I then went onto work in a shoe shop under the Youth Training Scheme (YTS). At the age of 17 in 1988 I started working in an electronics factory, this led me to working in international companies. However, as the electronic industry began to decline, with many people facing redundancies, I decided to take the step and go to college where I achieved a national certificate and higher national certificate (HNC) in social care in 2005.

#MyUniStory – Making the most of opportunities as an international student

StudyChatIn today’s study chat, Amara shares her discussion with Cynthia Ochoga, the President Elect of the Student Union at the University of Salford. Cynthia shares from her perspective as an international student and offers advice on managing the opportunities and challenges within Higher Education to maximise your experience. Enjoy!

APH: Can you tell us about your educational and professional background? 

CO: My educational pursuit began at Home Science Nursery and Primary School, Ikoyi Lagos. In 1998, I moved on to Queens’ College Lagos for my secondary school education.

In 2006, I attended the University of Lagos where I undertook a diploma in Cell Biology and Genetics. By second year it became apparent to me that science was not a field I wanted to pursue and then left Nigeria to Middlesex University (MDX) Mauritius campus in 2010 and studied Psychology and Counselling. In 2014, I went to Oxford Brookes University and did a conversion to Law degree (GDL) as my 2nd degree and in September 2015, I came to University of Salford for my MSc in Media Psychology and I’m half way through it at the moment.

I have worked in a number of different roles too. My first job was a three-month internship at Action Health Incorporated. In 2010, prior to moving to Mauritius, I followed my passion in journalism and worked as an intern at a radio station in Nigeria.

While studying at MDX, I was elected president of the International Students’ Society for Mauritius campus. I also joined AIESEC, an international youth development organization and rose to become Vice President of External Relations which I did simultaneously with my role as President. In the final year of my undergraduate degree, I worked for a month with the Mauritius Institute of Directors as part of a team that delivered an international conference.

After graduation, I went to Nigeria to participate in the NYSC programme. Since then, I have worked with BBC Media City as a research assistant for Mozfest 2015. I have also worked in a customer services role for Doddles Parcels in Manchester. I recently resigned to take some time out to prepare to take on my new role as the President of the Student Union at the University of Salford.

You started out your Higher Education journey in the Biological sciences, what spurred the switch to Psychology? Was it a smooth transition?

The Art of Acting II – Impact of ‘Type’ and ‘Casting Choices’ in Finding Roles and Honing Your Craft

Recently, we featured an article on the Art of Acting by Shauna Blaize, an actress, model and film producer. In the article, Shauna shared her perspective and the “reality” facing budding actors in the film industry. In today’s post, Shauna reflects on how type and often race play a part in casting choices and how she is showcasing her own abilities as an actor and a producer.

We all have a type and when casting directors look at us they see the girl next door, the sassy girl, the best friend, the leading lady, etc and quite frankly it may not be what you or your friends/family see when they look at you.  But again we are not looking at our personalities or our inner essence; we are looking at ourselves with a critical eye, knowing the type we fit into and how we can sell that type. In other words how our type fits in with the need they are trying to fill.

Type has a few branches; it’s not only if you have straight or curly hair, if you wear glasses, or if you are short or tall or have a “look” that is more on the “businesswoman” side versus a “hippie chick.” It goes deeper than that. For instance I need to know that as a Black woman I will be viewed for certain roles. Roles such as the neck twisting/”around the way” type girl. If you want to go even deeper, I am a woman of mixed ethnicity and “light skinned” so I will be viewed as that “pretty light skinned chick” from the projects that is considered a “prize” because let’s be honest, I have a lighter complexion.

We look at Kerry Washington (Scandal) and recent Emmy winner Viola Davis (How to Get Away With Murder) and it seems that it’s all good for actresses of color but we are still quite far behind.

#PhDChat – From Industry to Academia, A Personal Lesson in Change Management!

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As the popular saying goes, ‘The only constant thing in life is change.’ It is essential as an aspiring professional to develop the capacity to manage change. Navigating through new ‘territory’ comes with challenges but it can provide opportunities for growth too.  In this article, Hephzi, reflects on the first year of her laboratory based PhD and how she is managing her – not so common – move from an industry background into academia.

After 8 years of working in industry, I decided it was time for a different challenge. When I received news of being awarded a studentship to pursue a PhD program, I was obviously overjoyed. I had spent about 2 years searching and applying for a suitable PhD program and I had finally achieved my goal. Interestingly, the offer came with a BUT… The following clause had been included –“As your route to academic studies is a bit circuitous, it would be good if you could write a covering letter that states why you want to do a PhD after your time in industry.”

“How interesting,” I thought. The clause seemed contradictory to what I had heard at various conferences and workshops I had attended over the last few years while carrying out my research to inform my decision to pursue a PhD program.  I had always thought that industry loved academic recruits and that academics would value industrial experience. Since moving into academia, I have come across academics looking to move into industry, with little success. It now seems to me that this is not the reality of the situation. Industry and academia are not necessarily viewed as two sides of the same coin.

#PhDAdvice – How to ‘survive’ the viva experience!

 

Are you a researcher, masters, PhD or doctoral candidate with your fated ‘viva/defence’ looming? In this article, Dr Nadia Anwar reflects on her viva experience and shares tips making your viva a positive experience. Good luck!

The term ‘viva’ comes from the Latin phrase viva voce, which literally means ‘by word of mouth’ or ‘with living voice’. It is somewhat surprising that many people, although possess sufficient information about oral examinations and face to face interviews, have no substantial knowledge of the term viva voce and what really goes into preparing for it. The main reason for this is that popular terms used for viva in England are oral examination and post-submission interview or assessment. In countries like India and the US, the word is translated as verbal defence which has pretty much the same connotation as the word viva. The difference is that whereas the former is conducted in a form of seminar or presentation in front of a large group of specialists and non-experts – sometimes including colleagues, friends and family – followed by rigorous Q&A, the latter is done in the privacy of a room and under the critical eye and observation of examiners.

Reflections – My Parliamentary Internship Experience

Daniel AmundFinding a placement can often be challenging however the opportunity to embark on a placement is one we always recommend. In our opinion, if you are a student or early career graduate seeking that dream job, if you get the chance to embark on a placement, grab it with both hands! In today’s post, Dr Daniel Amund, Academic Mentor at London Metropolitan University, London, UK shares his internship experience at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) highlighting the benefits of an internship.

During the third year of my PhD, I applied for and was awarded a POST fellowship. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) is the UK Parliament’s in-house source of scientific advice, providing parliamentarians with balanced and accessible analysis of policy issues related to science and technology. POST runs several fellowship schemes funded by various Research Councils, charities and learned societies, which allow PhD students to spend three months working as POST fellows. Most fellows research, write and publish POSTnotes, which are four-page briefing papers summarising public policy issues, based on reviews of literature and interviews with academic, government and industry stakeholders.

My experience of working in Parliament during my PhD was very enjoyable and rewarding. It was refreshing to be able to take a step back from my PhD research, and focus on researching a different topic, using different methods in a different environment. That ‘break’ was beneficial because when I went back to writing my thesis, I had a fresh perspective and was able to utilise the skills I had developed to improve my thesis. Having to condense a lot of information into a four-page document that had to be accessible to non-scientists helped me develop my writing and communication skills, which helped in communicating my ideas better in my doctoral thesis.

Aside from the renewed vigour, clarity and focus that can be derived from an internship, there are added benefits such as CV development and networking opportunities. These may sound like a cliché, but they are rather important. My fellowship at POST was the most significant piece of work experience I had on my CV while I was a student, as the other jobs on my CV had been mainly casual student jobs at University, as well as some voluntary work. I should mention that these were by no means a waste of time, as my interview for the POST fellowship demonstrated as some of the questions were focused around my casual and voluntary roles.

However, having the POST fellowship on my CV has meant that I can use the range of transferable skills I gained in demonstrating how I meet the person specification when applying for jobs. Furthermore, the POSTnote counts for me as a publication which is not only satisfying and something to be pleased about, it is also a good career plus! Keep in mind that internships also serve as a point of discussion in job interviews as my experience shows.

During my fellowship, I interacted with various people, including other POST fellows and staff, and got to take part in various events within and outside Parliament, all of which served to broaden my horizons and expand my networks. As a POST alumnus, I have been invited to attend POST events, and I get informed of job opportunities within the field of science policy. My experience at POST has also directly or indirectly availed me of opportunities to attend other events in Parliament, such as Parliamentary Links Day, Voice of the Future, and SET for Britain. Networking at one of such events has led to me being involved in an annual international youth science conference, as a speaker and as a poster judge!

The networks built during internships could turn out to be the most significant networks for the early stages of your career after graduation. Employers often write references for interns in support of job applications, or may inform interns of vacancies within their companies or in other companies. Networking is definitely not just about who you know, but about who knows you.

Internships provide opportunities for students to put themselves out there, in professional environments, so that they get noticed by those who matter, in addition to gaining valuable knowledge and experience. Doing an internship could also inform students of the various career options available to them in their subject disciplines. In my case, the POST fellowship revealed other career options for scientists, outside of academia and industry.

Internships and work placements are a great way to enhance employability upon graduation. I highly recommend students to take up such opportunities, be they short-term or year-long (sandwich) placements.

Finally, how did I find out about my internship? I got to know about the POST fellowship as a result of being a member of the society that sponsored my fellowship! Thus, membership of relevant professional bodies or learned societies can be useful in securing an internship or placement. This I highly recommend as professional bodies and learned societies are a great source of incredibly useful resources, information and support.

If you would like to find out more about internships and how to take advantage of them, please contact us. In addition, if you have questions for Dr Amund about the POST fellowship, you can email us for details or better still, find him on LinkedIn. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and follow! We would love to share your stories in The Hub as well so do get in touch – info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com.  

Reflections: The Emotional stages of a Research Journey

EmotionsReflection can be defined as the act of giving serious thought or consideration to something. It is amazing how many powerful lessons we can learn from ‘reflection on action.’ Sharing these lessons can help others currently going through what we have deal with the situations they find themselves in. We are so grateful to our guest writers for sharing their stories with us.  In this ‘Reflections’ article, Nadia Anwar discusses emotions associated with the different stages of a research journey.

Every research project passes through eight important phases: Euphoria, Realisation, Shock, Disillusionment, Acceptance, Depression, Revival, and Completion. The following narrative is dedicated to all my friends, colleagues, and students who are currently engaged with some kind of research – be it an MPhil dissertation, PhD thesis or monograph writing and are struggling to comprehend the volatility and psychological diversity of changing scenarios which come natural to any research process.

Euphoria is characterised by passionate involvement of a researcher with his/her research. This stage presents an idealistic vision of what one can achieve with hard work and commitment. At this initial stage all ideas seem original, all propositions unprecedented, and all perspectives fool proof. Very soon, however, it dawns upon the researcher that despite his or her unquestionable trust in the quality and potential of his/her research and supervisors’ initial approbation, there are fault lines which if not bridged in time can create serious obstacles in the research process. More often than not, students associate this problem with a lack of understanding on the part of their supervisors or with issues that exempt them of any fault on their part. However, the burden of this realization – of faults in the perfect proposal – can be too heavy and leads to a state of shock. In cases where the researcher possesses prior expertise or/and experience in teaching or guiding other people, the realisation of one’s deficiencies and ignorance can sometimes be extremely intolerable and emotionally painful.

At this stage disillusion sets in. The initial euphoria evaporates in the air like steam and the researcher is left with plenty of work, no sense of direction, anger, and annoying fear of failure and subsequent embarrassment. These feelings continue to haunt the researcher for some time, triggering eonian internal dialogues, which if ever come to an end makes the researcher blame everything and everyone else associated with the research rather than one’s self. John Burroughs thoughts neatly sum up implications of such scapegoating: ‘A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody’. Human mind, nevertheless, cannot nurture the same feeling for long. Besides, the critic that sits inside the researcher’s mind soon begins to argue about the practicality and reality of his/her narcissist thought processes, compelling him/her to conduct a thorough self-analysis.

At this stage, the researcher realises that s/he has been overly and unduly justifying her/himself. This is termed as the acceptance stage.  It is important to note that by this time the researcher should have already integrated him/herself in the dynamic research environment, establishing useful links with peers and imbibing the subtle but helpful suggestions coming from senior researchers. Therefore, the feeling of being an active member of a research community infuses a new spirit and taking full advantage of this new state of awareness the researcher formulates new research strategies, revise ideas, and starts working with overhauled vigour.

This newly conceived exuberance helps the researcher achieve plenty in terms of research and writing up – preliminary drafts are made, previous notes are updated, and fresh perspectives are formulated. As a general rule, every emotionally elevated stage, however, heralds a period of depression. After some productive and useful time the researcher too starts feeling low, unable to figure out how and when his words will become mature enough to go straight into the final draft. This is a crucial and emotionally dangerous stage. The researcher may also experience psycho-somatic symptoms such as palpitations, fluctuating blood pressure, and sinking heart along with feelings of futility, inadequacy and worthlessness of all s/he has remained involved with during her/his research journey. I would strongly advise my friends not to get upset by the appearance of these symptoms for there is nothing physiologically wrong with them. These are actually auspicious signs helping a researcher regain lost energy levels and boost creative thinking. Besides, in a more general sense this state is an ostensible evidence of how far and with how much effort you have covered your research journey. These apparently negative feelings are blessings in disguise for they emotionally prepare you to experience a wonderful sense of achievement in the times to come.

Struggling with one’s emotions is hard but after each effort one becomes stronger than before. The autoimmune capacity of the researcher gradually works to revive passion in research that helps the researcher swim through the troubled waters of psychological depression. Coming back to active and engaging research life has its own benefits as it sheds new light on the meaning and vicissitudes of life per se. This revival stage is imbued with fear, nervous expectations and excitement all at the same time. I used to get butterflies in my stomach during the final wrapping up of my thesis. Perhaps I was in love with my research the way people fall in love with human beings.

That feeling when you see yourself printing out the final draft or sending the final email to your supervisors or reviewers! The very act of submission gives you a fresh lease of life, a new hope for future and a wonderful sense of completion. The final count-down that entails waiting for viva after submission or for feedback on research is hard and demands plenty of patience. However, all hard times are forgotten once results are announced and glory is achieved.

Kudos to all my friends who have remained steadfast during all the stages of their respective research journeys. All the best.

About our writer – Dr Nadia Anwar has a PhD in Nigerian drama from the University of Northampton, UK. She is a Senior Lecturer in English at the Education Department in Pakistan and is a visiting faculty member at the University of Management and Sciences. Her primary areas of interest are African literature in general, specifically focused on Nigerian theatre and drama.

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