Oct 15 2014

Post-hoc Reflections: The lessons I have learnt….

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Its over. Done. My Master’s program is now in the past, and already there’s a whole new batch of students who walk the corridors and fill the library chairs at at the London School of Economics. I’d be lying if I said I don’t somewhat envy them. I am bemused by how quickly it’s zoomed by; as if my grasp on the time was so very tenuous. In some ways, its a blur, yet somehow, every moment stands out in my mind. Moments I am yet to fully process, yet which I know I will forever cherish.

Somebody recently asked me what I’ve learnt from my year at LSE, and what I would tell someone who had to go through the same year. What can I say? It has been a year of great learning – not just about my program of study, but about myself too, and the joy of discovery well worth the journey. And, in typical post-hoc reflective melancholy, I decided to indulge myself by writing them down in this post.

It’s not a sprint: The orientation week will not solve all the doubts, nor will it be a fool proof launchpad for the weeks to come. For that, there is just no substitute for reality. Perhaps I had somewhere in my head the idea that the transition into this new world would be seamless. In reality, I felt out of my depth and often overwhelmed by the sheer wealth of new information and stimuli coming my way. So many clubs, so many societies, so much happening. Book into this event, book into that event, sign up here, sign up there: all for fear of missing out on something. And fear is not a good way to begin anything, least of all a Master’s at LSE. It got to the point where I didn’t sign up for anything, because I felt like I wasn’t ready to commit to anything. It was only a couple of weeks in that I found my pace, found my space and got into a rhythm of my own. And once I found what worked for me, most of the rest just followed. Seamlessly.

I have a responsibility to do my research – This is by no means some sort of universal truth, but in my experience it feels that way. By research, I simply wish I had given some more thought to my post-degree plans, or having some idea of my general research interests. Still a teenager at the time, I came to LSE with no particular ambition or plan. I just wanted to learn, and to allow my newly acquired knowledge and skills to determine my path. In fits of petulance, I’d argue that if I knew everything beforehand, why would I have come here? I now see the defensive childishness in that kind of thought. Nobody can know everything, and of course it is important to be open to change, and to embrace the experiences life gives us spontaneously. Still, when you come to a place like LSE, where opportunities abound, it is not advantageous to be perennially unsure. Things don’t just happen to you here. You have to make them happen. And to make them happen, you have to know about them, or try to know. I realised I didn’t need a plan mapped down to the letter, but if knowledge is power, then surely, it is good to know things. I have learnt that sooner or later, I have to ask myself the tough questions, and it is to my advantage if I ask them sooner, even if my answer changes later.

There are anchors and there are crutches: This is something I am very glad I found out for myself, since I’m learning to protect my self-esteem and love myself without ever getting complacent. When people around you seem bent on a certain kind of career, or when everyone seems to be in perfect control of everything, their ways and their choices can seem like the ideal way. It is surprisingly easy to forget who you are and what you want. Surprisingly easy to cast aside our individuality and our true dreams to chase some externally-generated mirage of success. Surprisingly easy to beat yourself to a pulp for not achieving measures of worth you never really set for yourself in the first place. On the flip side, there is no point of coming to a global institution like this one if you are going to cling to your old achievements and refuse to change. I came here to be challenged, to explore new paths and push myself, not to rest on past laurels. I’ve often wondered what the solution to this conundrum is. For me, I decided to differentiate between my anchors and my crutches. My anchors are the things that keep me constant, that support me, that remind me that I am more than just the sum total of my accomplishments or my ambitions. Steadying, reassuring elements that keep insecurity and mindless rat-race behaviour at bay. The things that I can take pride in, irrespective of what I might or might not later achieve. The moments that bring a smile to my face whenever I feel in need of some internal TLC. My crutches are the things which hold me back, yet which I cling to, afraid of falling down should I let go of them. My crutches are my irrational anxieties and my rigid, stubborn preconceptions. The line between an anchor and a crutch isn’t clear to me yet, but I believe that the difference has something to do with fear. An example that comes to mind is my dissertation, where I did a mixed-methods study. I was reluctant to use quantitative methods or run an experiment, since I thought it was just too hard. I kept telling myself it didn’t matter if I didn’t, because I was good enough at qualitative methods and that would be enough. But, with some help from my supervisor, I came to realise that that was a crutch. My fear of trying out a new method and messing it up was standing in the way of my learning something new and doing my research in the best way I could. And the satisfaction I felt when I submitted my dissertation with both an experiment and with interviews, tells me that my crutch might just have become an anchor.

There is so much more I have learnt; so many things I have come to understand, to question and to appreciate. My year at LSE has been so many things: challenging, frustrating, demanding, exciting, engaging, enjoyable and of course, extremely, extremely busy. But more than anything, it’s been life-affirming. And now, having survived it and lived to pen the tale, I can confidently say that if I could do it all again, I would. Exactly the same way.

PS: Thank you for tolerating my ramblings all year long! :)

Posted by: Posted on by Vaishnavi Ram Mohan Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Sep 10 2014

At Journey’s End

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It once appeared difficult to conceive. Now, it is reality. For those of you who are about to embark on your LSE journey,  the end of the road appears far and unclear. So it is for most of your degree. Present necessities and preoccupations sap your energy, while the future, that imperceptible state, appears far away and demands little attention.

As a master’s student I can assert that among the biggest preoccupation is your dissertation. You built it. You destroy it. You change its foundation until somehow, rather like the culmination of a series of accidents, you have 10,000 coherent words.

For a master’s student, the pinnacle is the dissertation.

Yet, it comes as a shock when it is done. A predictable shock, but a shock nonetheless. Why is this? Because, for the previous 8 to 10 months you have been giving your heart and soul to the enterprise. You have defined yourself, in part, as an LSE student. You have become part of the academic machine.

Once your dissertation is over, you feel an overwhelming sense of relief. Your life is yours once more, you are at journey’s end. But you soon realize that for all its faults, for all its stress and sleepless nights, it was worth it. You would not trade in the experience for anything in the world. You enjoyed it. And now, it is gone.

Here we are at journey’s end. Your world, which you have painstakingly built, has dissolved.

All in all, it was wonderful being a student. Your sense of accomplishment soon leads to a feeling of “what’s next?”. However there is an immeasurable strength to this LSE adventure. For those who graduate it may be an end to a journey, but there are many more chapters to be written, many more adventures to be had. In the end all will be better.

After all, you will probably never have to write 10,000 words ever again. And if you do, not only will more than 3 people read them, but you will probably be paid for the effort.

Posted by: Posted on by Matthieu Santerre Tagged with: , ,

Jul 23 2014

As Green as (Wimbledon) Grass

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*Advance warning: This post contains inordinate amounts of Roger Federer adoration and some rather unashamed ‘fangirling’ *

It has been a bit of a break between posts, yes. I’d like to say the reason behind it was the hours of long work on the dissertation, but in all honesty, it feels like the summer is melting away just like snowflakes! What will not melt away as quickly, however, are the memories I have of earlier this month, when I realised one of my lifelong dreams in getting to watch Roger Federer (and much more tennis) at Wimbledon.

For tennis aficionados, Wimbledon is the tennis tournament, and has attained pilgrimage status amidst fans and players alike. Since the age of nine, I’ve been watching tennis and have come to love the game despite having never picked up a racquet in my life. And, oh, yes: I. AM. A. FAN. OF. ROGER. FEDERER. The chance to watch my childhood (and adolescence and adulthood) idol glide around Centre Court, floating across the hallowed lawns where he has reigned supreme was quite simply, the chance to tick an item off the very top of my bucket list.

Like most good things, tickets to Wimbledon are practically impossible to come by, especially if you don’t plan months in advance. The cheapest way for students like me to get tickets, is to join “The Queue” (please note capitals). The Queue is…well…the mother of all Queues. I visited Wimbledon Park two days before the tournament began and was greeted by an enormous empty field, serene and lush. When I got to Wimbledon during the Championships, the field was filled with tents and stalls and had turned into something of a campsite with an atmosphere not unlike J.K. Rowling’s Quidditch World Cup scenes. I joined The Queue at about 6am, only to discover that there were 4,700 people ahead of me! Yes, and within minutes, there were another 4,000 after me. Some people had been camping overnight for two days!

The Queue is not just a “queue” – it is an experience. A chance for people to chat excitedly about the day’s matches, hedge bets and make predictions, laugh and joke and spend time together in the early morning amidst sun-drenched grass. As coffee is poured into Styrofoam cups and sleepy smiles are exchanged, as people shuffle excitedly as they inch forward, you realise that the Queue is not a four/five-hour wait, but a sort of build-up where you get to soak in the excitement. While I was surprised by the general enthusiasm and bonhomie that filled the air, I was really impressed by the amazing order and efficiency that defined the process. A crowds of thousands of excited people queueing up for long hours has the propensity to turn ugly. But the pleasant stewards were in complete control and the process totally streamlined.

An image of tents at the legendary Wimbledon queue

The legendary Wimbledon queue

And once you’ve made it in (at which point you might experience the feeling you get when you find a seat in the LSE library), there is the tennis. The world’s best players, within touching distance. Watching them run and play and lunge, straining every muscle, their limbs taut as they push themselves to attain excellence and glory, both of which are encapsulated in every swing of the racquet, and every toss of the ball. Truly, watching sport live is incomparable to watching it on television or on live stream, and to get the opportunity to do so is to be highly fortunate.

Wimbledon is beautiful, make no mistake about it. The grass, as green as could be, each blade trimmed as if with a precision razor, forming a luxuriant carpet. The colours are bright and bold, with the theme colours of purple and green evident in every spot. Even the flowers all across the complex are various hues of purple. A rich, regal purple and a pristine green reflected throughout.

What is most exciting, especially for starry-eyed fangirls like me, is the proximity to legends, fresh talents and crowd favourites alike. It reminded me a little bit of the time we used to travel on safaris in Kenya. Whenever we would spot a “minor sighting”, like zebra or a wildebeest, there would be mild excitement in our kombi (minivan). A brief pause, a quick snap and a lazy nod, before we proceeded. But when we chanced to sight a lion or a leopard, a sudden hush fell upon the line of vehicles, preceding the excited flurry of cameras and stifled whispers. I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to Wimbledon, where the sighting of a “big player” meant the phones and cameras were whipped out in a fan frenzy, whilst other players enjoyed a more serene reception.

The highlight for me was wangling a ticket to watch Roger Federer’s second-round match on Centre Court. I could write dissertations on Roger Federer, but suffice it to say that this was an experience I will never, ever forget. A masterclass. An exposition of brilliance. It had a dreamlike quality to it; the childish fantasies of a nine-year old, unfolding before her eyes. The hastily clicked photographs proof that indeed, dreams do come true, even after a decade.

Centre court at Wimbledon

Centre court at Wimbledon

Tennis notwithstanding, the Wimbledon experience is one to savour because of the lore and tradition that surrounds it. The players wear only white, and there are no big sponsor hoardings (except for those from sponsors long associated with the event). From the overnight queue to the Pimms and champagne, from the ice-creams to the Robinson’s Barley Water slushies, everything is built into the legend in such a way that your experience would be incomplete without sampling them all.  And then of course, there are the strawberries and cream. Of the many celebrated Wimbledon traditions, this one is probably the winner. There is just something about plump red strawberries slathered in Kentish cream and dusted over with powdered sugar that makes it irresistible. At this point, I feel compelled to point out that red strawberries and (off)-white cream are a perfect match for Roger Federer’s Swiss-themed colours – a mere coincidence, no doubt!

Strawberries and cream

Strawberries and cream

You do not have to be a tennis fan to enjoy the many aspects of this wonderful celebration of talent, skill and character. There is so much more to appreciate. The quest for perfection, the respect for tradition, the attention to detail. Each little element feels like it has been there for years, and will remain there for years. Constant, enduring and a hallmark of this great sporting event.

In short, if you are a tennis fan, do go and see Wimbledon. If you’re not…well, still, do go see Wimbledon. :)

Posted by: Posted on by Vaishnavi Ram Mohan Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Jun 26 2014

Academiaholic

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I’m writing to all of you who are at LSE (or who project to come in October) and who are planning on doing a PhD after a master’s. Hear my story:

Before I came to LSE I had done a bachelor in psychology and was sick and tired of it being so theoretical and, at times, lacking entirely in critical thinking. I was frustrated because I immensely enjoyed social psychology, but academia didn’t seem to be able to nourish entirely my thirst in understanding the human being. Nevertheless, I still decided to pursue a PhD (and a master’s in between) for recognition in the academic world and in order to get a proper job.

Then I arrived at LSE, with such a determined mind, and trust me, many of my peers were the same; They had their whole lives planned out and seemed quite confident that the postgraduate programme was just some sort of one-year intense project. I remember one of our doctorates telling us the first week “you should expect to change your mind this year concerning your future plans…concerning if you want to do a PhD or not”. I would snigger at that comment and confidently lay back on my chair, probably in an arrogant way, thinking to myself ‘I don’t need to reconsider things, I know exactly what I want to do, and nothing is going to make me change my mind’.

Well I was wrong. Michealmas term taught me that my definition of hard work was flawed. Also, I not only felt overwhelmed with the amount of work (even if I tried to prepare myself psychologically), but I also felt like I hadn’t learned anything before coming here. Let me explain: in my bachelor’s degree I was a very ‘organized’ (or control freak) kind of person. I had my personal timetables and would really stick to it. First week of work at LSE, I threw away four times my once beloved ‘timetables’. I gave up on that. Instead, I would work endless hours in the library until I was done doing what I was required for the upcoming week. At this point, I thought to myself that I wasn’t sure anymore if I wanted to continue in academia later on.

Then the unimaginable happened. During the famous Cumberland lodge weekend, I met what is now my dissertation supervisor. He is, as many other LSE students who had this kind of experience would describe, an academic soul-mate, or a life revelation. I finally found a respectable, knowledgeable, kind and extremely interesting academic who shared the same research interests I had. From that moment on, I realized how oblivious I had been: I thought I hadn’t been intellectually challenged enough? Ha! I still laugh about it! I’ve been intellectually challenged from the moment I met my peers at LSE. But I was ready to accept it only at this point.

During Lent Term, personal research was emphasized due to the fact that we were required to write essays, and pushed to have very high critical thinking. My intellectual thirst was in its apotheosis! I kept on meeting lovely academics and other smart students that have changed my life and my way of thinking like never before. I wanted to do a PhD more than ever, but not for the same reasons as I cited before. I wanted to continue in academia for the love I have of learning, of doing research, of being intellectually stimulated, and because I just…can’t get enough of all of this.

I’ve met some people who told me recently that I appeared to be a confident person, a person that is made for academia. Truth is, I wasn’t like this before, at least not this much. LSE has played a huge role in the way I think, the way I act, the way I interact with people, the way I understand the world. LSE has changed me entirely, and for that I am more than thankful.

Marina Leban

Marina Leban

MSc Organisational and Social Psychology

Posted by: Posted on by Marina Leban Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

Jun 16 2014

Learnt but not taught

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Having spent almost four years in higher education, there can be no denying that I have learnt a lot. Amongst other things, I have been taught the Foucauldian perspective on power and knowledge, the limitations of democracy, the metaphysical possibility of zombies (fun fact: they are metaphysically possible) and that everything, or virtually everything, is problematic in some way.

Yet, to cater to the cliché, the most important things that I have learnt at university are not what I have been taught. I don’t mean to undermine my education at all: the countless lectures and seminars that I have attended have left an indelible imprint on me, of which I am obviously extremely grateful. However, there is no doubt in my mind that when I reflect on my days at university in the years to come, it will not be the string of notes that I took or the wise words from academics that I absorbed that will be the main body of what I remember. After all, I sit writing this blog a mere few days before my final exam – that says something in itself.

Much has been written on this topic already. Countless articles will tell you of the importance of finding out how to pay bills, realising the difficulties of living with friends or even developing a deeper appreciation of your home life. These accounts are all true and, without my time at university, I doubt I would have been able to manage my life as well as I am currently able to. However, I would like to employ a slightly different approach. I want to discuss not only what I have not been taught, but the lessons that I have come to understand in the hardest ways. Without getting too intimate, this is a very personal account of my journey and whilst discovering these things has certainly not been easy, they have had a permanent impact on me.

1) Appreciate similarity, respect difference

When you think of the word ‘difference’, what comes to mind?

This is a question that I recently contemplated given the varying and contradictory images that can be illustrated by the word. Difference can, very basically, be described as a point or way in which something or someone is not the same. It indicates some sort of change, an alteration. However, when you think of difference, is this positive or negative?

My first instinct, being the idealist that I am, was that ‘difference’ can be synonymised with ‘making a difference.’ This resonates with the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi, who told us to “Be the change you wish to see in the world” or John F. Kennedy, who said “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Yet, difference is more than about making a change. It is also about the existence of change. As a master’s student at the Gender Institute, I have become familiar with the term ‘intersectionalities’, a word I am sure many of you would have heard before too. Appreciating intersectionalities involves appreciating that differences can result to differing experiences and that these distinctions should be respected as best as possible. Race, class, sexuality, religion – in a university context you will undoubtedly meet individuals who do not share such common ground with you but it is essential to respect this regardless in order to ensure that the world remain a place of stability and harmony.

This certainly has not always been an easy task for me. If someone’s fundamental beliefs are antithetical to my own, trying to accept their view is not necessarily possible. On most accounts, though, I have tried to respect our differences and understand that agreement on everything is not strictly necessary. However, similarity is something that I found equally difficult to grapple with.

The term homophily refers to our tendency to associate with those who are similar to us. To me, this makes sense given that similar interests give friends something to talk about and common ground can bring comfort and validation. As a British Indian who has lived in Nigeria, Malaysia and England, when I went to university, I believed that I would have a lot of common ground with a lot of people. I was not wrong. I could relate to both local students and international students in some ways, whether it was discussing the television shows that we enjoyed as children, our favourite restaurants half way across the world or mutual friends that we shared. Naively, I assumed that this similarity would only churn positive results but I was proved very wrong. I soon became exposed to the judgement that existed amongst a significant amount of my peers and I was stuck in the middle. ‘Your other friends – they’re so stingy.’ ‘Your other friends – they’re so snobby.’ I was hearing these things from all ends, and this was not only frustrating, it was heartbreaking to see condemnation as so pervasive.

This is not to say that I have not been guilty of such judgement. You would be hard pressed to find an individual who has not criticised someone who is not like them. Yet, I was forced to come to terms with how I felt about the situation. It may seem somewhat obvious a lesson to learn but I have consistently found that whilst people know to appreciate similarity and to respect difference, it is not practised as well as it is preached.

2) Context is often everything

My undergraduate experience was at a campus university, not far from London but incomparable to the LSE in so many ways. Everything was much closer: it did not take long to travel to see a friend, it was inevitable that you would run into multiple people you knew in the library on any given day and you were unlikely to be introduced to someone who did not already know someone that you did too. During my time at the LSE, I have met a fair few people but this has generally been limited to the people on my course. Having previously lived in London, I already had friends that I was able to spend my time with. Whilst the tube and buses facilitate movement, distance is often still a concern. Perhaps this is also where postgraduate and undergraduate life differ. Space is a problem, but difficulties arise with available time too. Whilst I was doing my undergraduate degree, I was still able to maintain a relatively healthy social life. Postgraduate life tells another story at times.

I came to realise that context often defined a situation and the part of my life that I have felt this most is in friendship. I consider myself lucky given that I am still very close to my school friends, as I have often witnessed others around me lose touch with theirs. Perhaps what was keeping them together was proximity, perhaps it was something else altogether, but that the change of situation and environment had such a detrimental impact is indicative of the effect of context. A similar phenomenon has occurred for me with the difference between my undergraduate and postgraduate experiences. I have already lost touch with many and, though this saddens me profusely, it is something I will just have to accept. As my mother always reminds me, we have different types of friends in life: friends for a reason, friends for a season and friends for a lifetime. Unfortunately, not all can fall in the latter category.

3) Don’t undermine mental health

A few months ago, I wrote a blog on depression. I discussed the pervasiveness of depression amongst students and how there is no sole reason that is responsible for this. Depression, anxiety and self-harm are among the many mental health issues that occur in a university setting. Mental health might be invisible to some but it exists, it is very real and this is, in my opinion, not acknowledged enough.

I became aware of the gravity of the occurrence of mental health in a number of ways, but how this came about is unimportant in relation to what can be done about it. I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate some of the information I have previously mentioned. Whilst I am certainly not an expert on depression, professional forums do exist where such issues can be discussed within a university context. The misunderstanding and stigma that surround mental health can often act as a deterrent to those who might benefit from help. It is imperative that we ensure the discussion on mental health only continues to grow and in the right direction.

The LSE Student counselling service offers a free and confidential service for LSE students and runs specific workshops on depression. Appointments are available through email or in person and details can be found here.

Students Against Depression is a website which provides advice, information, guidance and resources for those affected. More information is available here.

Alternatively, London Nightline is a confidential listening, support and information service for students in London. The phone service operates from 6pm-8am every day during term time and the number is 020 7631 0101. Further contact can be done through email, instant messaging and Skype calls and details can be found here.

4) Perspective.

As Oscar Wilde once said, “The optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist sees the hole.”

This is the age-old conundrum of how one looks at the glass: is it half full or half empty? Perspective encapsulates our attitude towards something, perhaps how it makes us feel or think. Awareness that perspective can alter an entire situation is imperative but is often overlooked. Perspective is taught in class continuously. In essays, for example, one is usually expected to survey at least two different sides of an argument. However, sometimes, as I came to realise, we need the help of others to see things in a different way.

A very simple story summarises how exactly university gave me a situation to understand perspective. I did my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. After my first year of university, we were allowed to drop one of the subjects if we wished to. I had a very mathematical background and, since the age of 14, I had decided that I wanted to be Prime Minister. The natural decision for me seemed to be to drop Philosophy and continue with the other two.

However, I had serious doubts over this decision. I simply was not enjoying Economics and I had not anticipated how much I would grow to love Philosophy. I sat in a Philosophy lecture two days before I was meant the make my final decision when, during the class, our professor said as a passing comment that ‘Economists rule the world.’ This swayed me. At this point, it seemed like I had been given a sign so I turned to the friend next to me and announced my decision to carry on with Economics for this reason. She looked at me, confused, and asked the question that would entirely change my perspective and consequent decision: ‘But have you seen the world today?’

As Rory Sutherland said, “When you can’t smoke, if you stand and stare out of the window on your own, you’re an antisocial, friendless idiot. If you stand and stare out of the window on your own with a cigarette, you’re a philosopher.” The way we look at things can change how we feel about ourselves, others and the world around us and the power of changing perspective should never be underestimated as a consequence.

5) Never stop asking questions as you will stop receiving answers

‘Keep asking questions.’ I was told this on the first day of my undergraduate degree, I was told this on the first day of my postgraduate degree and I was told this throughout university. As I am writing about things that I have learnt but not been taught, you might then question why this is on the list, given that I was advised to ask questions continuously. The truth is, although I was told this time and time again, it was only until I figured questioning out for myself that I truly realised how important it was.

At school, in preparation for any kind of assessment, I would read through my textbook, learn significant amounts off by heart and regurgitate it in order to do well. University told a different story and, as a consequence, for the first time in my life I found myself struggling in an academic context. I was at a loss, I didn’t know what to do and I was becoming increasingly frustrated. I decided to change my approach. Instead of trying to figure out the answer, I went to the root of the problem: the question. In order to understand the question, I needed to dig deeper. I asked what it meant, what were its causes, what were its consequences and, like the buried treasure in the depths of the earth, I gained some clarity.

I have felt wildly out of my depth on more than one occasion throughout my university experiences. In fact, it is frequently the case that the more I know, the less I understand. However, although it took me a significant amount of time to realise this, I eventually came to terms with the fact that this did not matter. For me, answers became only as important as the questions that they followed and, even then, were just the icing on the towering cake of knowledge.

Advice has never been my forte: giving or receiving. As John Steinbeck once said, ‘You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.’ However, as I share these lessons with you, I have in mind one overlapping theme that I hope you have been able to learn at some point as well: the importance of listening.

Listening allowed me to realise how I differed from others and to value their lived experiences. Listening made me aware of the common ground I shared with not only those I felt were already like me, but even the most unexpected of people. Listening forced me to come to terms with how change is very real and to understand circumstances. Listening opened my eyes to the impact and magnitude of mental health and taught me the instrumentality of empathy. Listening offered me the opportunity to try and understand things from a different point of view. Listening educated me on how to ask the right questions. I listened others and others listened to me. I listened to myself and I have never understood who I am better than I do now.

For everyone who is graduating this year, I wish you the best of luck. Education has been quite a journey. Whilst I will deeply miss certain elements, I am excited to see what the next stage of my life has to offer. As the late Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.” Never stop learning.

Posted by: Posted on by Kaammini Chanrai Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

Jun 16 2014

A MOMENT IN THE SUN

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Exams are over (well, mine are) and summer is here (well, sort of)! Ah, the blissful relief. No more burning the midnight oil, trying to pack three months’ worth of course material into a two-page summary. No more waking up in a cold sweat after dreaming you’ve slept through the exam. No more irrational anxiety, no more looking like the “before” side of health product adverts. But there is little respite. A morning to sleep in, an afternoon in the sun, and by evening, the mind is already clocking back to work, and once again, time is measured by productivity. You don’t dare relax too much, for fear of losing the momentum. Now that exams are done, there’s the dissertation to think about. And after that comes the mother of all questions: what next? And as the “next” inches into the “now”, the question becomes ever more significant.

Reading all this, you would be forgiven for thinking that it’s a singularly depressing outlook on life: a list of tasks to be ticked off, one after the other, no sooner than one goes out, new ones pop up to take its place.  Such a dour metaphor: life is a to-do list.

Except it’s not.

London is truly beautiful at this time of the year. The distance between dawn and dusk has decreased, and the days are longer than they have any right to be (in my very Kenyan opinion).  The bunnies and squirrels are out in force, the flowers are in bloom and the skies and grounds are painted with the colours of summer. The city is flooded with tourists, and the parks are full of families spending quality time together. (Is it just me or do children appear out of nowhere in summer time? There seem to be so many more of them these days!) Frappes and smoothies are on offer at all the coffee shops and of course, strawberries are in season.

Can anyone truly be immune to all this? I think not.

A bite into a plump, red, juicy strawberry. A sip of a cool iced mocha. A moment; just one, when the sun emerges and shines down bright, as a gentle breeze musses your hair. Small things, insignificant things even, but tiny little reminders not to take life too seriously. Deadlines will come, deadlines will go, and we will meet them, as we always have. But that golden moment in the sun; fragile, ethereal and fleeting, that, I’ve realised, is something we all deserve to enjoy, no matter what our pressures may be. After all, as the saying goes, we all deserve our moment in the sun.

 

 

Posted by: Posted on by Vaishnavi Ram Mohan Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

May 29 2014

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER CELEB (well, sort of…)

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I am acutely conscious as I write this that it is exam season; ergo any moment not spent poring feverishly over stacks of reading material is considered a moment squandered. Still, I plunge on, in the hope that you will squander a few minutes to read on about another wonderful talk that I recently attended.

On 21st May, Prof. Gerd Gigerenzer delivered a public lecture at the Old Building titled Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions. This was of supreme importance to me, because one of my optional courses was on Organisational and Social Decision-Making, and we drew extensively upon Prof. Gigerenzer’s work in both our lectures and for our essays. The chance to meet the celebrated author and scholar whose works I’d been reading for months was extremely exciting, and the talk itself did not disappoint. Gigerenzer started things off with a really powerful opening statement:

He then went on to debunk several myths, especially about excessive trust in statistics and systems. His main argument was that in a 21st century technological society, risk literacy is necessary. We can all be risk savvy, and are very much capable of making decisions without being nudged. Above all, he distinguished between risk and uncertainty, and the need to view experts as part of a problem rather than as a solution.

What really stood out for me was Prof. Gigerenzer’s consummate skill at communicating his point concisely, yet effectively. You could easily see that there was tons of material on the subject and that his arguments were based on a solid wealth of scientific research, yet his arguments never strayed into the abstract or the vague. Bayesian statistics and complex models were eschewed for clear, tangible examples that in no way missed out on the deeper theoretical perspectives. It is often said of psychologists that we make our research inaccessible to the public by shrouding it in unwarranted complexity; Prof. Gigerenzer certainly kept it simple.

Another highly refreshing aspect, was for me, the incisive and open way in which Prof. Gigerenzer delivered the lecture. His critique was simultaneously ferocious and refined, and he certainly took no prisoners when pointing out flaws in the banking systems and the NHS. And of course, all of us behavioural economics and psychology aficionados were thrilled by the several veiled references and critiques of Daniel Kahneman’s work. It’s not every day that you hear Nobel-prize winning scientists criticised, after all! I confess, the callow tabloid writer in me was constructing headlines for a heated academic war, before I realised this wasn’t quite going to be the front page of The Sun.

Tabloid fantasies notwithstanding, it was a most illuminating lecture and one I’m so glad I attended. It is hard to pick a single highlight about the LSE Experience, but I would certainly say the public lectures or special lectures are a major winner. I really enjoy the chance they afford me to “think” about topics or ideas that we could not possibly explore in class. The writer in me was thrilled at the LSE Litfest and the lecture by Binyavanga Wainaina, while Amartya Sen’s lecture on poverty was an experience to remember. Also, it’s a rare opportunity to get the chance to meet the authors of classic texts, or listen first-hand to scholars whose works you have cited in your class essays. That is why I feel so fortunate to have listened to Prof George Loewenstein earlier in the year and now to Prof Gigerenzer, who are so well-known and respected in the academic community. After all, these are the celebrities of our disciplines!

See you at another public lecture soon!

PS: I would certainly recommend that anyone who has even a remote interest in this topic (or is looking to procrastinate by creating one) download the podcast, which is usually available a few days after the event, from here: http://www.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/videoAndAudio/channels/publicLecturesAndEvents/Home.aspx )

PPS: Good luck in the exams :)

Posted by: Posted on by Vaishnavi Ram Mohan Tagged with: , ,

May 19 2014

Exam Season

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Those who have been following this blog will find this post familiar. In December, I wrote a post on essays, entitled Essay Season. In it I got away with comparing essay writing to Bugs Bunny, and President Eisenhower to Elmer Fudd.

Now, in an exercise in self-plagiarism, or creative recycling – depending on the point of view – I will repeat my guiding principles but apply them to exams. In a way it is a sequel.

As before, I should mention that these are merely guidelines. I am not an expert in these matters. So if you follow my advice and your exam results disappoint you, do not come running after me, a lawyer at your side.  I will probably be out of the country.

Here are my five suggestions for getting through exam season.

Breathe

This may seem self-explanatory, but a lot of people tend to forget to breathe while revising for exams, and in consequence, go blue in the face. No exams are as important as to warrant failing to take a breather.  Always remember to take a big breath every once in a while to calm your nerves. Oxygen is quite pleasant.

Eat

This is in fairly similar to my first suggestion. The fact is we tend to forget the simple things when we are engrossed in revisions.  By eat I mean sitting down to a meal three times a day without any textbook propped up as reading material, or notes used as napkins. Your brain needs fuel. A good meal is always good for morale.

Sleep

Now you might think me a tad facetious. Yet it is my personal opinion that sleep should never be compromised. It is probably the most important element in success, aside from the actual studying. You need sleep to assure all the information you have rummaged through during the day stays memorized and is in order. I suggest adopting a regular sleep schedule.  If what makes you fall asleep is a teddy bear, favourite pillow, or a copy of the Tax Code, so be it. Find what is right for you.

Study

You might say study is implied. I am not going to suggest any particular method because each person has their own which works best for them. What I will say is whichever method you choose, have a plan and stick to it, and remember to target what you retain. You do not need to know everything in every detail.  Target your subject matter and be precise.

Practice

We work best when we are prepared. Most courses have previous exams available. Use them. Pick a few questions and take 15 minutes to plan a rapid outline of how you would answer the question. An exam is an exercise in coherent reflection. Training yourself by writing these questions is the best preparation.

I realise that three out of five of my tips are related to body functions. “What a disappointment!” you might say, having read this article to procrastinate from studying.  However my suggestions affect you (if they affect you at all), I wish you the best of luck for your final exams.

Breathe, eat, sleep, study and practice. Be confidant, stay strong, and all will be well.

Posted by: Posted on by Matthieu Santerre Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

May 14 2014

Preemptive Nostalgia

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I’ve been a bit M.I.A. recently, and by recently I mean the past two months. I assure you this is simply due to the fact that I have been fully engaged in the trials of being a twenty-year-old LSE exchange student.

Once upon a time in…

Early March

Let’s Dance: After months of meetings, rehearsals, e-mail/Facebook exchanges and other logistical shenanigans, my astounding co-director Alice Baudry (LSE ’15), LSE Dance Club president Lucy Jiang (LSE ’14), and myself put on the LSE Dance Club’s annual show, “Through the Ages.” It was a riveting evening of performances ranging from Irish Dance to Wracking and Romantic Ballet. I was fortunate enough to perform in and direct the show, giving me great insight into the versatile and sometimes hidden talents of the LSE community. It was an overwhelming privilege to witness the power of dance forge new friendships and collaborations.

An image of the LSE Dance Club on stage

LSE Dance Club

Please be alrightThat was the phrase running through my head when I heard that my friend from Columbia on a year-long exchange at Oxford had suffered a terrible accident. She fell from a roof and hit her head, leaving her unconscious and with several internal injuries. Thanks to a mix of modern medicine and miracle, she is well on her way to a full recovery. However, as someone who has dealt with a lot of trauma in her own life, this was nothing short of a harsh reminder. You  Only Live Once, so please everyone — take care.

Late March/Early April:

Provence, je t’aime: With the a five-week long pause from classes, I set off to Marseille and Martigues, where half of my genes originate. No seriously, the Baret side of my family has been in Marseille for generations, with Place Felix Baret named for my not-sure-how-many-greats-grandfather, the city’s former mayor. The sunshine was such a relief from London’s eternally grey skies. It was remarkable to reconnect with family I hadn’t seen in far too long, to be in such close proximity to my favourite body of water in the world, the Mediterranean Sea…luckily I’m returning in June.

An image of Marseille

Marseille

Paris, encore une fois: and of course after a week in the south of France, the city of my birth summoned me to its quarters. I stayed in Versailles with my aunt, and embarked on the 20-minute train journey to Paris every day to meet one of my nearest and dearest friends, Samantha. While in Versailles, I paid tribute to Le Roi Soleil at his dazzling palace, which by the way, worked out quite well since he is one of the revision topics for my European history course. During some solo-time in Paris, I ventured to Musée D’Orsay to satisfy my craving for impressionist paintings and went to see the film “Her,” just because.

The Rest of April

Welcome to Londontown: I returned to London for a week of revising followed by a visit from Sam, which largely consisted of frolicking in the Royal Parks and admiring the blooming flowers.

An image of Venice

Venetian Wonders

“Buona Pasqua a tutti!”: Samantha and I left London for Verona, to reunite with our dear friend Patrizia for the Easter holiday. We spent nearly a week in the north of Italy, on the Lago di Garda meeting some of Patrizia’s closest friends and family. We attended a graduation ceremony in Padova, punctuated by unique rituals — for example, the cracking of eggs on the head of the new graduate while she reads an embarrassing manifesto and takes swigs of bubbly every time she fumbles. Sam and I spent a day in Venice indulging in gelato and avoiding tourists at all costs, mesmerized by the picturesque canals and pastel coloured buildings. This trip was memorable for many reasons, perhaps because it was my first time in this region of Italy, but more likely because I was in good company.

An image of LSE friends at Lago di Garda

Friends at Lago di Garda

May

Revision, Revision, Revision: That’s what I’ve been up to lately.  At LSE you have nine weeks to revise for all of your exams, each of which count for most, if not all, of your mark.  Of course nine weeks seems like a lot of time, especially for an exchange student like myself who is used to having exams all year round and a three-day reading period to revise for finals. Aside from the occasional revision lecture, there is no more classroom time. Instead you can expect to find any LSE student in the beloved/not-so-beloved library. Everyone has their own routines and exam-coping mechanisms. I’ve developed my habits over three years now, though this year I must admit, is slightly different. I’ve found the most important things for me are maintaining excellent eating habits, sleep patterns, exercise routines, and have a laugh now and again to fuel the soul.

Preemptive Nostalgia is the syndrome I’m currently suffering from. Transitions are daunting, and with less than a month left in London, I am doing all that I can to appreciate the wonders of this fine city I will soon no longer call home. I’ll save the goodbyes and eternal gratitude for my final post, but it must be said that I have met some damn good people here who I am sad to leave behind. For now, it’s back to revising…

Rose

Rose

Bonjour! I was born in Paris, France and raised in Cambridge, MA, USA by a French mother and American father. Consequently, I am a dual citizen and fully bilingual. I study sociocultural anthropology at Columbia University in New York City, and have a special interest in medical anthropology. I am also pre-med; after earning my bachelor's degree, I will attend medical school and become a surgeon. At LSE, I study anthropology, English literature, and European history. As a city-slicker, a year in London is nothing short of ideal! My interests outside of scholarly pursuits include, dancing (ballet and modern), watching the world's dancers and choreographers pour out their souls on stage, long-distance running, creative writing, reading, film, socialized medicine, peer-mentoring, observing surgeons in the operating room, and volunteering in the Emergency departments of urban hospitals.

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May 13 2014

Spring Break Sightseeing

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Most of my friends in the US have completed their school years, but at LSE I am just starting exams. I actually have just recently returned to London after a five week spring break. I spent roughly four of those weeks back in the US spending time with family and friends, but I was able to explore a bit of Europe for the last one!

First, I visited Paris. I was able to see some of the traditional tourist attractions, such as the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe. I studied French in elementary and middle school, then re-visited the subject a bit during my time at Allegheny, and I was impressed by how much I could remember! Some taxi drivers didn’t understand English very well, and many were happy to help me practice my French skills.

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It was very interesting to compare Paris and London. Both of course are historic and have beautifully ornate architecture, but the styles of the cities are a bit different. Paris is very linear: all the hedges, buildings, etc. are aligned and very carefully planned. London doesn’t share this lovely symmetry, but I am a bit more partial to its historical architectural and interior designs.

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While in Paris, we also visited the palace of Versailles which is a breathtakingly beautiful place. My favorite is the famous hall of mirrors, mostly for its ornate ceiling and numerous chandeliers.

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I also got the opportunity to take a day trip to Normandy. Looking back, this was my favorite part of the trip. We visited German bunkers, Omaha beach, and the American Cemetery in Normandy. Since I am very interested in WWII history, it was incredible to actually experience the locations where history happened. It’s unbelievable to stand on Omaha beach (see picture of me below doing just that) and to imagine the horrors of D-Day happening on that very spot. This was one day trip I definitely won’t soon forget.

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Next we spent a couple days in Amsterdam. My favorite part of the visit was our trip to the countryside where we got to see Holland’s famous tulips and windmills. I even got to sit in a giant clog!

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However, now all of my fun travels are over and it’s time for me to buckle down for finals. These exams are very stressful, and my last one isn’t until June 17th so I’ve still got over a month left! Better get back to it, but I hope you’ve enjoyed a snapshot of what I’ve been up to.

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