Thursday, 14 February 2013

Quick guide to choosing student housing

On housemates, houses and landlords

Housing Awareness Week at the University of Surrey has just passed around the corner, so I hope a good number of you made use of the information on offer. However for those of you who weren't listening, or are simply a little bit behind on what’s happening on campus these days (this is usually me), here are my tips from experience.
On finding a house:
  • Find out what is important to you in terms of location to university and shops, ease of access to transport, the price and the amount of space. Be prepared to make compromises with your housemates. Then you can start looking for a house that will suit everyone. 
  • Try to not get distracted by the current tenants’ belongings – look out for evidence of mould or damp, whether the house has adequate locks for security, is it easy to keep warm? 
  • Ask what furniture and appliances will stay with the house when you move in and what you might want to supply yourself. 
  • Check whether any bills are included in the rent. Water bills usually are. 
On housemates:

By second or third year, I bet you feel you have a pretty good idea who your true friends are. Even better if you have friends that you feel share the same values as you in terms of cleaning, sharing and your place on the sliding scale of money vs. comfort. Well done! But once living together, you might find you’re not so similar after all. People have different ideas of what is clean or how often cleaning should be done, so that bitching session you had together about a previous housemate isn't necessarily a good indicator of your friend’s perspectives.

If problems do arise, try to solve them face to face rather than leaving notes. If you don’t think you’ll be comfortable being honest with the friend in question, then question whether you are going to be compatible as housemates. You don’t have to ruin a friendship this way!

On landlords:
If you have trouble communicating or negotiating with a landlord, university Student Advice centres are really helpful for sorting out queries and giving you a clear idea of the usual procedures. They might also know a bit about the landlord to inform you what they are like.

Meanwhile, it’s been fun browsing through the estate agent brochures that come through the door, imagining what I might do with that £3m+ house in Godalming or Haslemere.

I wish you the best of luck on your housing adventure, and leave you with some pictures of some utterly cool and crazy houses from around the world:

Cubic Houses ( Rotterdam , Netherlands )
Cubic houses (Rotterdam, Netherlands)
The Ufo House ( Sanjhih , Taiwan )
The UFO house, (Sanjhih, Taiwan)
The Smallest House in Great Britain
The smallest house in Great Britain (Conwy, Wales)
Cut straight into the rock: stone house (Romania)
Real-life Hobbit-like house (Wales)

Picture-28 ( 30 Most Amazing Upside Down Houses around the world )
Another upside-down house
The Crooked House ( Sopot , Poland )
The Crooked House (Sopot, Poland)

Read the rest of The Stag Issue 56

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

How to (re)start on the right foot and stay motivated at university

This is an article I had fun co-writing with fellow Psychology final year Megan Cherry (see her LinkedIn profile!)  It was great to share ideas and find out that feeling demotivated is far from being a rare thing after the lack of a proper Christmas break owing to the long hard slog of January exams.

Exams are finally over, HOORAY! I don’t know about you but we’re happy to see the back of the library. However, for many of you (including us two) the work doesn't end when exams do.  It would be nice to have a few weeks off and if you’re a fresher you can probably afford to do this but as final years, there isn't much room to slow down. 

We have now reached a period of post-exam calm where everything feels like it might turn out OK and you may even be looking forward to starting new modules.

Image source: Everest
But just because a fresh start is presented, you can’t expect to tackle the work in the same way as before and expect not to be laden with as much stress and pressure as what we just went through. 

Now is the perfect time to think about what you have learnt from the experience, look at what worked for you and what didn't  and actually implement changes to help you cope better, be more efficient and therefore enjoy more well-earned free time for all the other things you love to do.

From a pair of final years who've been through the mill, here are our tips for starting the next semester on the right foot:
  • Break tasks down. For a big assignment like a final year project, dissertation or ones that just feel colossal, it is better to divide them into smaller parts – you will feel good about yourself when you complete each part and it will help you stay committed
  • Set targets! Be specific when you want to complete each part and reward yourself when you do by going out with friends or just taking some time out to do what you enjoy. Rather than setting yourself the whole day to work on an assignment, it is better to split the day up with an allotted time for working and time spent on socializing and activities. Otherwise, you could set yourself the whole day to work and end up procrastinating until late afternoon.
  • Finding it difficult to start? If you are finding an assignment particularly difficult, work on the easier tasks first to build confidence.
  • Get into the style you will be examined in. Do you get a lot of essays for coursework and exams? When doing lecture reading, don’t just copy down the material – try to write about it as if you are explaining it, think about what it links to and jot down any ‘critical thinking’ that might have popped into your head! This will speed up the process when it actually comes to planning the essay.

We know that everyone studies differently but we have found these tips to be useful in the past and hope they will be helpful for you too!
Image created by Bryan

Read the rest of The Stag Issue 55

Thursday, 29 November 2012

A degree of uncertainty

Image source Melanie Toye
It might often feel like you’ll never stop being asked what you want to do when you finish university, like a bad hangover from the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” A lot of students still don’t know and probably won’t until their first forays in the working world. Others may have travelled this path already, discovered what they don’t like and are trying again.

As degrees become more expensive, students feel like they don’t have as much room for trial and error, but it’s still ok to not get things right first time – having the strength to change your course or university shows employers that you are capable of making tough decisions. However dropping out isn’t the only resort. 

Make a list of the things that make you reluctant to face university – if the root cause is a
particular person in your accommodation, course or department there could be a simple and effective solution just waiting for you to discover it by talking to your welfare officer. They will have come across all sorts of issues in the past and will be supportive. If the problem is a person from home or general homesickness this will usually pass with time, but if you feel the matter is reaching a critical point, a counsellor can help you work out the best steps for you.

picture from this blog
Perhaps you are someone who enrolled on a course you are enthusiastic about but the job prospects just don’t measure up. It’s not the end of the world – it’s often far harder to keep up motivation working towards a degree that doesn’t interest you. 

Completing the course doesn’t mean you will be stuck in one vein for the rest of your career; there is a lot of crossover between subject areas in the working world, and seeking to diversify shows individuality. Talk to a careers advisor or your personal tutor, you can even ask them to describe how they came to be in the role they’re in today – everybody’s story is different and there can be many paths to get to the same destination.

While friends and family might chalk your cold feet down to you just needing time to adjust, university is the time of life where you can really start thinking seriously about your personal aims, values and goals, independent to everyone else. Just remember to put things into perspective - these years are just a tiny portion of the long lives ahead of you.

You might also like:

Inspirational TED talk:
Nature, Beauty, Gratitude
Make It Yourself:
Studded jumper refashion

Read the rest of The Stag Issue 52

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Adverse weather & the local council: neglected populations?

A students' perspective 

      Great news! Guildford won’t grind to a halt this winter at the slightest touch of snow. Surrey County Council is currently considering plans to introduce advanced technology to distribute salt and grit on a risk assessed basis. Suggestions presented at a recent cabinet meeting included adopting thermal maps to detect roads at higher risk of ice and GPS for gritters to monitor progress. 

      But wait - only the roads are spoken of in these plans. It’s simple fact of life that ice makes no distinctions between road and path. Has nobody thought about pedestrians, which includes the entire student population who live off-campus? When thick sheets of ice pave the popular walking routes to campus e.g. Southway and to Tesco’s/Manor Park,  the stream of students slows to a wobbling trickle. It might be funny to see but it isn’t fun, and from personal experience it can be safer to walk on the roads.

       The expense involved in the clearance of ice and snow is justified by keeping the local and wider economy rolling by allowing workforces to reach their destinations and shoppers to reach their retail havens. However this should not mean that the rest of the population should go uncared for. The local council should take more responsibility for the safety of students, who the university website numbers at nearly 15,755 students living on and around campus, not to mention nearly 2,500 staff employed as lecturers, technicians, researchers and many more roles that keep the university running smoothly. Its’ hard to imagine that many people at once!

      Some Guildford residents bemoan the fact that the town is filled with students, if their experience of us has been as noisy nuisances rather than bright minds of the future. However it would be a classic reasoning error to think that because the majority of students are young people and the University of Surrey is in Guildford, all young people in Guildford are students of the university. The rabble found in and outside of Flares, Bar Med and other nightlife hotspots is a surprisingly varied mix of the wider area’s population.

      Although students don't pay council tax and still get the benefits e.g. our refuse and recycling being collected, we do contribute to Guildford's economy in other ways. This town isn’t cheap to live in and many landlords are making easy livings from student rent payments. An average student house holding 4 people will pay an annual total far beyond what average tenants could be expected to pay. Take for example two adults with children - it would be impossible for them to match the (roughly) £17.5k that myself and my three housemates fork out.

     Bone-chilling, shivering winter will be hot (or cold) on autumn’s heels and while the council can take credit for their forward planning against seasonal issues, I’d like to see more done for the wellbeing of all Guildford’s residents, whether they are seen to contribute a lot or a little to the wider community. 

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Prescription for the UK: 
exercise your right to wellbeing

If the shoe fits? Feminism and feet

Read the rest of The Stag Issue 51