Friday, 4 September 2015

Bagging a First Class Honours Degree without being the "model student"

So as another rainy Irish "summer" draws to an end, and with it my time at university, I feel like it's an opportune moment to pause and look back at what was undoubtedly the best and most unforgettable 4 years of my life.

Graduation Day con los amigos
My uni experience, like most graduates will tell you I'm sure, had it all... Ups, downs, tears, tantrums, laughs a minute, surprises, adventures, many many a hangover, and even more late nights spent in the library that I would care to remember (or admit for that matter). All shared of course, with some of the most amazing people I'm proud to count amongst my best friends. To come out of it on the other side then with a BA First Class Honours Degree in Business Studies and Hispanic Studies, really has been the icing on the cake. And to be honest, I'm still not really sure how I pulled it off! I wasn't really what they call "the model student". That said, it's got me thinking over the past few days...

For those of us who have ever undertaken a course, whether it be a university degree or a knitting class at the local college, we always begin it with the best of intentions. For me, I remember almost 4 years ago being adamant that I was going to do my utmost to earn a First, how I was going to do this and do that, how I was going to become a goody two-shoes and do whatever it took to get there. However, the path taken was anything but the one planned. If you take a moment to type into Google "How to get a First" and have a quick scan at the results, no doubt you'll see various articles and blogs all setting out their 10 point plan or list of specs which they say you need to implement in order to achieve such. Yet they're all pretty unanimous about how you should go about it. And in short, it would seem that you have to be pretty much bloody perfect! From attending every single lecture to burying your head in further reading from week 1, having any sort of a life outside of your studies is pretty much forbidden. Work from home instead of the library? "Not conducive for productive learning." Trip to the pub instead of preparing for next week's interpreting class? "Do you want to fail?" Mistakes and hiccups, meanwhile, are just not allowed.

Well from my experience, I say they are. Often necessary, in fact. University is a very steep learning curve, and more than just learning about whatever you're chosen field is. It's about learning what motivates you to work and what doesn't. It's about learning not just how to overcome challenges, but knowing when and when not to challenge yourself. It's about learning that you're not so unflappable in the face of adversity as you thought you were, while at the same time learning that you're more resilient than you ever thought you could be. To go along this long and bumpy road without a few and stumbles is nigh on impossible. The most important thing is that you learn from your mistakes as you go along, so that when push comes to shove and the stakes are high (i.e. final year), you're in the position to deal with it and hopefully excel. I'm not going to completely disparage all those articles and other blogs, because they do point out some sound advice, however I do think most of them are just a tad unrealistic. Three years is a long time, four in fact for my course, so everyone's experience is going to be fairly unique. It's all about finding a balance that works for you. So after a bit of reflection, I've compiled a few general and more specific steps I took which I think contributed to me stumbling over that magical 70% line. (NB. These are not intended to be taken as Gospel, but were merely just what was successful for me. I still reckon they're a pretty good place to start though ;)

1. Be strategic when picking your modules. This doesn't just mean picking modules or areas you think you'll like because you "aced an exam in it at A Levels without doing a scrap of revision". For me, it was key to pick modules which I knew I would be motivated to work at, especially if things got tricky. For some people who have been very career-focused from a young age and know exactly in what area they want to work, this probably won't be much of a problem. For others who aren't so certain, this can be a problem. For example, it wasn't until half way through 2nd year and after 2 resits that I recognised I really ought to avoid accounting modules like the plague, and instead stick to marketing classes (which I found engaging and enjoyable). After compiling a short list of modules I was interested in, the next step I took was taking a look at their assessment breakdowns. Did I really want the stress of having to sit four 2 hour exams in the space of 2 weeks right after Christmas, and which carried practically all the weight of assessment for that semester? Hell no I didn't. Or did I want a mixture of exams and written assignments, spread nice and evenly over the course of the year? Ding ding ding, we have a winner. I know picking your modules can be a bit of a pain, especially if you're like me and don't know what you want for dinner that day, never mind knowing whether in 10 months time you'd rather be taking a class in Post Dictatorial Latin America or 14th Century Basque Poetry. However, with a little bit of forethought and research, you might just save yourself a whole heap of stress, and even set you on the way to that First.

2. Get reasonably organised. Although this may sound obvious, I know a stack of people who are the most disorganised people in the world yet still walk away with the best grades, time after time. And vice versa. That said, I'm not advocating doing nothing, neither that you need to create the most extensive filling system or something equally OTT (although by all means do if it works for you). A nice middle ground will do. For me, getting organised took place at the start of each semester by having a quick read through the module handbooks and making a note of all assessment components on my miniature whiteboard which hanged on the wall. This ensured I knew straight off the bat what was expected of me and, more importantly, ensured that I didn't accidentally miss a deadline - we've all been there. Then, when I had handed in an assignment I would tick off it off on my wee whiteboard. This might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but at times it brought a nice little psychological boost. Uni is a marathon, not a sprint, so breaking it down into smaller, more manageable short-term targets helped me to stay focused and push on to the next assignment/exam. Furthermore, don't listen to anyone who says at the start of term "it's too early to look at past papers." It's never too early if you want to get ahead of the game. Besides, I've witnessed actual physical tussles over them in the library during exam periods. Get in there early.

3. Go to most of your classes. It's amazing how what seemed impossible in first year i.e. getting your lazy ass into class anytime before lunch time, becomes a doddle by final year. "Sh*t has got real, and I am not paying the best part of 10k to lie in my scratcher all year." It's common knowledge that going to your classes will allow you to enhance the basic material found on Blackboard or whatever online resource tool your uni uses. However, I found doing so was beneficial for a number of other reasons. The first of these is that, again, it made me more aware of exactly what each module tutor/convenor expected assessment wise. This was especially important as my course was split across two departments. Furthermore, if you're attentive enough, and depending on the charitable nature of your teachers, you might just be able to pick up some invaluable information and pointers regarding the assessment. For example, I was able to successfully anticipate a number of exam questions, something I wouldn't have been able to do if I hadn't bothered to turn up for class. The second advantage is that it allows you to be in contact with your tutors, week after week, and to subsequently build a rapport with them. Now I'm not implying that being pally with tutors will lead to favouritism in exams (everything is marked anonymously and externally anyway), but it can certainly do no harm. Plus they can give you ongoing feedback on where you can improve in your work.

4. Do some extra reading & learn how to reference. Something a bit more specific now, and two tasks which tend to go hand in hand. It's no lie when you're told that you need to go above and beyond the material provided in class if you want to get higher marks. It's also no lie that being told this usually results in a collective sigh from you and your classmates. We were so used to being spoon-fed everything at school, so the thought of having to source our own information can be quite daunting. And even more so when you're handed an 8 page handout of 'Essential and Recommended Reading'.... "I have to read all this, and find my own sources?" However worry not, as it doesn't have to be such a hard long slog. Nor do you have to bury your head in the library from day 1. The key, I found, was to be selective about what you're looking for, and then know where to find it. And this is something that becomes easier and quicker with practice. For example, if you know the areas which you're going to be assessed on in the exam, then only do extra reading for those areas. Unless for comprehension purposes, there's no point wasting time and effort reading papers and text books if they're not going to help you in your assessments. Likewise, often you don't need to read entire papers to be able to reference them in your work. 9 times out of 10 the abstract will contain all the information you need. A further shortcut, is to take a look at the bibliographies of papers you've already used, as it's likely that you'll find even more relevant sources there which you can avail of. In terms of where to start your search, my first port of call was usually Google Scholar or the university's electronic library. A useful tip when using Scholar is to look at how many times an article has been cited by others, as this is a fair indication of the quality of its content. I also tried to mix up the types of resources I used by reading the odd text book from the library or online periodicals in my field of study. I realise now that it may sound like a lot, but like I said, once you get into the routine of it, it almost becomes second nature. Almost lol

Once you've found your sources and included them in your work, you need to reference them wholly and correctly. This is for 2 reasons. The most important being, that you will avoid accusations of plagiarism, which as we all know, is a serious crime at university. The second, is that having spent all that time and effort researching, you want to demonstrate to whoever is marking your work that you are able to write up to an academically high standard. It gives your work authenticity and the impression that, basically, you know what you're talking about. So please, learn how to do it right. It's such a silly thing to throw away marks over. I tended to follow my university's online manual for Harvard Referencing and hand type each reference, but I know of various tools and programs that automatically create the reference. Again, whatever works best for you. A quick point on referencing in exams. It's usually sufficient to include just the author's name and year of publication, although it's always good to check with the module tutor.

5. Pray and hope that the stars align. The unfortunate truth is that, despite your hard work, some things will be out of your control. From the people you're placed in a group with (it might be that not everyone pulls their weight), to your exam timetable (two exams in one day - really queen?). All you can do is adjust the best you can, and pray for some good old fashioned divine intervention. That's what I did anyway, and thankfully it paid off. For those of you who are religiously inclined, here's a prayer for exam success which I've used since I was 11 and it has never failed me once.

Well, I think I'll leave it there as I've rambled on more than I intended to. With this blog I've aimed to share a few of my own experiences, tips and stress-saving shortcuts which I think are more than useful if you're hoping to bag that First. However most importantly, I hope it shows that it is OK to make mistakes along the way, it is OK to skip a few classes, and it is OK to have fun and enjoy the wild ride that uni is. As long as you learn as you go, then there's (almost) always time to pull things back and come out on top by the end. If you've managed to make it this far, firstly: well done, and secondly: feel free to add some of your own tips advice below. Thanks for reading! :)

¡Hasta la próxima chicos!


Sunday, 26 July 2015

How to Get a Haircut in Spanish

So here it is, my first in a series of 'How to '_____' in Spanish' blogs, aimed at making all those linguistically tricky situations just that little bit less tricky. All the tips and vocab found in these posts have been picked up or tried and tested by my good self during my time in Spain, so hopefully they'll be of use to somebody else out there :) (NB: While this first one is more aimed at the guys, there's still some vocab which everyone will hopefully find useful)
Going to the barbershop or hairdressers can be quite a daunting  experience for a lot of us. While I don't profess to having sleepless nights over the subject, I am quite particular about what I like, and even more so about what I don't. Being able to communicate those intricacies to the person
Oops, I did it again
cutting my hair then, had, up until I moved away to Spain, always been something I took for granted. "Just a wee bit shorter on the sides please"... "I prefer scissors over clippers on the back and sides"... "Could you leave a good length on the fringe please?" All those little, spontaneous interjections we say without thinking in the hope that the hairdresser gets it just how we wanted it. Of course, 9 times out of 10 they still don't. And, being the Irish/British way, we still grin and nod our heads in polite approval. "Oh yeah that's great, exactly how I wanted it. Thanks very much!", all whilst screaming internally about how we now resemble 2007 Britney or something equally disastrous. 

Imagine then, having to go through all this in a country and language that isn't your own. Relating back to my own experience, I remember putting it off as long as I could (I think it was 7 weeks or so after I arrived in Salamanca before I finally gave in to sorting out the unkempt bush that had spouted on my head). Of course, by this stage I was already competent in Spanish, but competent wasn't going to be enough to get me through this ordeal. 

Nervous selfie before my 1st Spanish haircut
So I went off to do a bit of research and to write down all the words and phrases I anticipated that I might need or hear in la peluquería (hairdressers). Below is a list of that vocab, which, after being double-checked by a native friend I should add, has served me more than well throughout the few trips to the hairdressers I've made in Spain since. Hopefully you find it just as useful as I do, and, more importantly, you don't end up having to wear a hat until your next cut comes around ;) Please feel free to add your own experiences and vocab suggestions in the comments below!

Hairdressers / Barbershop = La peluquería (usually the same for both in Spain) 
Hair = Pelo / Cabello
Hairstyle = Peinado
Stylist = Peluquero/a
I would like a hair cut please = Querría un corte de pelo por favor / Me gustaría cortarme el pelo por favor
Do you have an appointment? = ¿Tienes cita? (More times than not they'll ask you to take a seat - toma asiento - even if you don't have one, especially if you're a fella) 
To make an appointment = Pedir una cita
How would you like it done? = ¿Cómo lo quieres? / ¿Cómo te gusta?
Just a trim = Solo recortarlo
Just the ends = Solo las puntas 
Not too short = No demasiado corto
In layers = En capas
A crew cut = Un corte rapado
I want you to tidy it up for me a bit = Quiero que me lo arregle un poco
Wash and style = Lavar y peinar (peinar can also mean 'to comb')
A dry cut = Un corte en seco
Scissors = Tijeras
Electric trimmer / clippers = Máquina eléctrica
What number? (on the clippers) =  ¿Qué número?
I would prefer if you used scissors instead of the clippers = Prefiero que lo corte con tijeras en vez de la máquina
Short on the sides and back, but longer on top = Corto por los lados y por atrás, pero más largo en la parte de arriba
A little bit shorter on the sides please = Un poco más corto por los lados por favor
Could you take off those hairs sticking out please? = ¿Podría quitarme los pelos que sobresalen por favor?
Fringe = Flequillo
Leave the length on the fringe please = Mantenga el largo del flequillo por favor
To dry = Secar
With a lot of volume = Con mucho volumen
Hairdryer = Secador
Shampoo and conditioner = Champú y acondicionador / Suavizante
Hairspray = Laca
Hair gel = Gomina / Gel
Put a little bit of gel on please = Póngame un poquito de gel por favor 
Is it fine like that? = ¿Está bien así?
Yes, I like it = Sí, me gusta
I'd like a beard trim too please, (if you don't mind) = Quisiera un recorte de barba también por favor, (si no le importa)
Sideburns = Patillas
Moustache  = Bigote

Annnnnnd if you happen to become a bit of a regular...
The same as always = Lo mísmo de siempre
*Just a few other pointers*:
- Unlike in Ireland and the UK, most Spanish hairdressers will insist on washing your hair first even if you don't ask for it. It's all part of the service and they generally don't charge extra for it.
- Some salons offer student discounts, or on particular days of the week. It's worth asking beforehand.
- I use the usted form as it's always best to be polite, especially if it's someone you don't know.
- The Spanish are a lot more direct than us "over-polite" Irish, so don't be shy about using the command form of the verb more than you would in English. Just be sure to finish off your statements with por favor and you'll be perfectly fine.

Happy haircut! And remember, hair grows back ;)

Friday, 28 March 2014

Un finde en León

Here it is as promised (albeit a few weeks later than planned); blog post number 2. I'm currently sat here twiddling my thumbs on a 2 hour plane journey back to Ireland, so I thought I'd put the time to good use. Anyway, here it goes…

So on the final weekend of Feburary/beginning of March I took myself up north to the beautiful wee city of León, just over a 2 hour bus journey from Salamanca. A little background info about the place: the 4th largest city in the comunidad autónoma of Castilla y León (behind Valladolid, Burgos & Salamanca – the region does not, in fact, have an official capital city), with a population of just over 130,000. The typical Leonese climate for this time of year is nothing to write home about, indeed the entire Saturday I was there was a complete washout. But hey, I'm Irish - I'm used to it.

I arrived late on the Friday afternoon, after a rather smooth bus journey despite my hangover. My local tour guide for the weekend (you know who you are :P) awaited my arrival at the bus station, before we headed off to drop our things off at the hotel we were staying in - The Hotel Rincón del Conde. If you ever find yourself in León then this is a really great place to stay. Anyway, after a quick disco nap and freshen up, we headed out to the town centre for the night. This weekend just happened to be carnival season in Spain - the week leading up to the beginning of Lent in which lavish street parades pass through the streets, lined with thousands of spectators all in fancy dress. It was a little surreal being there, coming from a country whose only traditions involve drinking as much as you possibly can until you can't stand up any longer lol For dinner we decided to do a little mini tour of some bars around the Plaza San Martin, each specialising in a particular snack to accompany your drink. Be sure to check out the croquetas at El Rebote (Don’t however ask for “tres impresiones de jamón y queso” like I almost did – you will get laughed at), while the pizza at La Competencia is the probably the nicest margherita I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. The rest of the evening was spent mingling with my friend’s friends at various bars and nightclubs, before calling it a night at around 4am (or maybe 5 – Tequila plays havoc with my memory). All in all, an excellent start to the weekend.

It was no surprise then that it wasn’t until early afternoon on Saturday by the time we managed to make it out of the hotel and began our itinerary for the day. If you’re not fortunate enough like me :D to have a local show you around the place, then the sights below are a pretty good place to start…
  • Casa de los Botines
Built in 1893, it’s one of the few examples of Gaudí found outside of Barcelona. Nowadays serves as the headquarters for Caja España. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside that particular day, but ain’t it pretty? There’s me chilling with the man himself.

  • Basílica de San Isidro
Basically it’s a really pretty, extremely well preserved Romanesque church-come-museum. If you only visit one place in León, make sure it’s here. We took the guided tour, which cost 5 euro each and lasted around an hour. The whole tour is given in Spanish, so unless you’re a decent speaker or have a translator handy, you’ll not understand very much. However the main highlight needs no explaining; the Panteón real. Sadly we weren’t permitted to take any photos (the tour guide keeps a beady eye let me tell you), but think of a low-ceilinged Sistine Chapel with great stone arches and tombs lining the floor, and that’s pretty much it. Just watch you don’t crick your neck like I did.
  • Convento/Parador de San Marcos
Yep, another church (such a good Catholic boy I am). As you can see from the photo below, it’s pretty damn huge - over 100m in fact. Built in the 12th century, it was originally built as a hospital for pilgrims on el camino de Santiago. Nowadays the majority of the building is a high end hotel or Parador, not accessible to non-guests (this didn’t stop us trying though – such rebels!). The adjoining chapel and cloister, to the east side of the building, are just breathtakingly beautiful AND, mostly importantly, free to enter :)


  • Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (MUSAC)
Our last visit of the day was to León’s contemporary art museum, or ‘the big gay building’ as I like to call it. Opened in 2005, its colourful facade is meant to be representative of the Cathedral’s stained glass windows and rainbow flag. I’m not usually one for art museums (I’m more of a science geek) but the exhibitions here were genuinely interesting and thought-provoking, and presented through a variety of mediums (oooh, get me!). But no seriously, very much worth the visit.


Other points of interest include the aforementioned Cathedral, pictured below. While you’re there be sure to get a snap with the huge LEÓN sign, also demonstrated by my good self below  :D



Suffice to say, after all that walking, as well as the previous night’s shenanigans, we were very much looking forward to taking it easy that night. A quick jaunt into town to have a look at the carnival celebrations, followed by a Chinese takeaway and board games at a friend’s house… it was a lovely end to a lovely weekend.

Doy las gracias especialmente a Arturo y a sus amigos por su hospitalidad :) Volveré pronto!

Hasta la próxima!


Wednesday, 26 February 2014

In the words of Robert Burns...

"The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men Gang aft agley" 

If there ever was a quote that summed me up, this is it. Four whole months down the line since I created this blog, and only now am I bothering getting round to writing my first post. And here it is...

¡Hola chicos! ¿Qué tal?

It's been a pretty whirlwind few months so far, as any Erasmus student will tell you. Between 40+ hour weeks in the office, exploring the great wee city of Salamanca, meeting new people from all corners of the globe and weekend breaks away... not to mention trying to get to grips with the language and the food (especially the food. But that's for another time).

This month has been the busiest so far (although probably more out of me trying to avoid starting my year abroad essay than anything else jaja). I bagged some cheap Ryanair flights in January and took myself off to the beautiful Barcelona at the start of the February. The highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly a trip Europe's biggest football stadium, the Camp Nou. Here's a shadowy pic of me with the lateral stand in the background (note to self; invest in a new camera)...


If you ever find yourself in Barcelona, I'd strongly recommend taking one of the many city bus tours on offer. The prices may seem a little steep at the time, but it's definitely worth the money. The route I took is probably the most typical, starting at the city's 'central hub' Plaça de Catalunya, with stop offs including Gaudi's breathtaking Segrada Familia and Parque Guell.

The weekend just past saw me head back to the Madrid for the third time. The capital is often overlooked when it comes to European breaks away, with more and more people seemingly opting for Barcelona. But I really don't know why! Yes, Madrid may not have a beach, but in terms of everything else... the sights, food, hotels, nightlife, value for money... it's all just as good if not better in my opinion. My favourite place to stay is in the Fuencarral/Chueca areas, which are within earshot of the main shopping street, Gran Vía, the vibrant nightlife of Puerta de Sol, and the awesome Parque del Retiro (the perfect spot to walk off the previous night's hangover). It's such an easy city to get around as well. Unlike the unbearably cramped and stuffy London Underground, Madrid's metro is modern, spacious and, most importantly, it sports 3G coverage ;) But seriously, it's a brilliant city to visit and can be done on pretty much any budget. I'll eventually get round to writing full review posts about all the places I visit/have visited :)

This weekend I'm heading up north to the city of León (my boss has actually just informed us interns that we can take this Friday off so... happy days!). I'll try and post a write up with lots of lovely photos next week, although for those who know me know that it'll be lucky to be done before Christmas jajaja

Hasta la prómixa, amigos! :)

object oriented programming without classes « alexandria va photography classes « trades school « online courses uoft « top hundred mba college in india