24 Feb 2014

Student Accommodation: Mould, Slugs & Dodgy Flushes

So my days as a student haven't come without their fair share of problems. Let me enlighten you with the daily struggles my comrades and I must face:

1) Mould. As I sit here writing this, all I can see is a nice thick trail of mould going up my wall. My landlady calls it "condensation" - I call it mould. Call it what you will, but it's black and speckled. Not the sort of thing I want to be breathing in on a daily basis.  She's tried painting over it, but I'm not  fooled in the slightest. It's also on the kitchen walls, too. Mmmm.

2) Condensation (real condensation this time). I was having such serious problems with condensation forming on my windows, that I'd sometimes wake up to a small pool of water flowing along the windowsill. Apparently the only way to avoid this was to keep the window open; something which I was loath to do, given the extreme antarctic conditions outside. Thankfully after multiple complaints, they put in double glazing. Only wish that would sort the mould out, too.

3) Whoever installed the radiator in my room is a retard. The radiator is right next to the door, and couldn't be further away from my bed. Plus, it's physically impossible to put my bed nearer the radiator, given the layout of the room. #fail

4) Water bills. So South-West water is notorious for being painfully expensive. Before having a meter installed, we would have been paying £130 per month for water. We were told that with a meter we'd be spending more like £70 per month, which seemed far more reasonable. Recently, however, we received a bill for £3000. Yep, you read that correctly. £3000. My housemates shed a few tears, and our landlady threatened to dig up our kitchen (she was worried we had a leak). Turns out we only owed £30...South West water don't do decimal places very well.

5) Fridge. On multiple occasions we've had to put a chair in front of the fridge because it refused to close. And not because we had too much food in it, but because the hinges were dodgy. Our freezer is also a little too cold. You could make icy snowballs out of the amount of ice that accumulates.

6) Slugs. We haven't seen many recently because it's been too cold, but last term they were arriving practically daily. These grotesque creatures would leave slime trails all over the floor (which we initially mistook for "glitter"). These bad boys have been found in kitchen drawers, inside cereal boxes....you name it. We tend to throw salt on them so that they explode, but I have on more than one occasion stepped on one of these trespassers, and it wasn't a pretty sight.

7) Dishwasher. OK I know I shouldn't be complaining...we have a dishwasher, lucky things! BUT, I tell you...when most of the plates come out half-clean, you have a problem. We've been blamed for "not knowing how to use the dishwasher", but we're not idiots. Even with the best tablets money can buy, our dishwasher needs replacing. It may be the "best brand of dishwasher out there", but not when it's a few decades old.

8) Bathroom. The lock on the bathroom door is broken, until you master the technique. I've walked in on too many people peeing that it's no longer PG 13. Next, we've been told that we simply CANNOT get the bathroom floor wet, otherwise the tiles will loosen and we could risk falling through the ceiling. I also managed to considerably injure myself the other day when trying to turn on the tap, which decided to gorge out a hunk of my skin.

9) Toilet flush. So in one of our bathrooms we have a "modern" toilet flush. I say "modern" because this is what we've been told, but I'd rather go with "temperamental". This involves slamming a couple flush buttons into the wall at the same time, with just the right amount of pressure. There's an art to it, that not even the most skilled amongst us can manage. We've been given toilet flushing lessons from our landlady since day 1, but we're almost positive that this modern piece of technology is a failure.

10) TV. So we decided to fork out just over £100 on a second hand TV, but we needn't have bothered. The colour contrast is rubbish. I was trying to watch "Legally Blonde" the other day, and I couldn't make out anyone's face. It was like watching a horror film set in an underground basement in the pitch black.

11) Washing Machine. The washing machine has a habit of refusing to open after the cycle has finished. This has ended in our clothes being literally "trapped" inside the washing machine for days on end. Recently, however, I mastered the technique. It involves kicking the door aggressively with my foot until it opens. That's what I like to call "taking the initiative".

So there you have it - the trials and tribulations of student living.

23 Feb 2014

How To (Maybe) Get A Grad Job

So you may want to take everything I say with a pinch of salt (I'm hardly a know-it-all, and I can't really vouch for the fact that my methods  work)...but I've been applying for a few grad schemes recently, and this is what I came up with:

1) Don't play it safe. When an employer is receiving 700 applications for a job, you want to stand out. My first approach is to be a little wacky. They're either going to love it or hate it. But then again, you've got more of a chance of being "remembered", and that's a good thing, right? For one of my applications, I was asked to explain why they should hire me in 140 characters. Characters, not words. I suppose I could have reeled off a list of adjectives, but that's incredibly boring and unimaginative. So instead, I went a little off the beaten track and mentioned my notorious haircut from "magic fingers" twitter man, and how it was all part of a social media experiment. Apparently it worked, or maybe they were just intrigued to see the haircut. Either way, they invited me for a telephone interview so it clearly didn't put them off that much.

2) Never tell them you're "creative" in a boring way. Writing "I'm creative" is in itself a boring statement. Showing your creativity is so much more powerful than stating it matter of factly. 

3) Triple check for errors. I've committed the faux-pas of leaving applications too last-minute, and not having enough time to read them through properly. Better yet? Get someone else to look over it for you. If you're spending hours and hours on an application, it's easy to miss obvious mistakes. Misplacing an apostrophe could be the difference between making it to the next round, or not. Especially if one of your so-called strengths is "writing". You don't want them getting out the red pen...

4) If you're unclear about anything, email them. Most grad schemes will have an email account specifically for the application process. Don't ask them anything you can find online (that shows you haven't done your research), but if you're genuinely unsure about something, let them know! It will show you how keen you are to succeed. 

5) Research, research, research. It sounds obvious, but the more research you do, the more credible you'll sound. There's nothing worse than freezing during a telephone interview or one-on-one interview, simply because you didn't do some basic research on the company. Make sure you're familiar with their clients, any recognition they've received for their work, their values etc. Make sure you know the sector inside out, too. OK, so they're not expecting you to be experts in the field, but showing a bit of initiative and going out of your way to dig deep for information must count for something!

6) Swot up on current affairs. Don't want to be a journalist? Doesn't matter. An awareness of current affairs, and being able to evaluate how current events might be impacting your sector is crucial. It also shows your engagement with the world, and that you're switched on. When an interviewer is trying to talk to you about the latest scandal and you have no idea what they're talking about, that's when you know you're underprepared. My favourite way to scoop up news stories at the moment is through the app Flipboard, which pulls news from a variety of sources, allowing you to literally flip from one exciting story to the next. 

6) Spell their name right in the email.  Sometimes you'll just be writing Dear Sir/Madam, but if you're messaging someone specific, make sure you spell their name correctly. This might sound simple, but the number of times I have received emails saying "Dear Gerry", instead of "Dear Montana", just goes to show how careless people can be. I may not be employing you, but I can say right now that if I were working in HR and someone emailed me saying "Dear Gerry", they'd go straight into the rejection pile. Even with a first from Cambridge.

7) Don't be TOO schmoozy. So a bit of schmoozing can be great, but it's about quality over quantity. You don't want to overdo it. Imagine walking into a room and someone told you non-stop for 2 hours how amazing you are. Initially you'd be flattered, but eventually you'd become suspicious. Make sure you're being genuine at the same time. Flattery can go a long way, but only when executed tactfully. 

8) Don't lie. We all like to embellish slightly (and this isn't always a bad thing!), but please, there's a limit. I remember once in a French practice oral exam for GCSE, making up an exchange student called Elena who I went to visit in Spain. Safe to say, this Elena girl didn't exist. I suddenly became entangled in a web of lies, and didn't know how to get out of it. Ends don't meet, and you end up sounding like an absolute muppet. Frankly, these situations are embarrassing, and should be avoided at all costs. Unless you're a world champion at lying, leave it to the experts.

9) Don't be TOO humble. Humility is a fantastic trait, but can often end up with you refusing to acknowledge your skills, achievements and potential. There's a difference between arrogance and being persuasive; you need to persuade them that you're right for the role. Simon Cowell's favourite phrase may be "I don't think you know how good you are", but you should never, ever, "dumb down" your achievements. Because that achievement was seriously awesome. Obviously there's a way of phrasing things so that you don't sound in love with yourself, but it's important that you SELL yourself. And that won't happen if you're eating humble pie all the time.

10) Be yourself. Is that really cringe? At the end of the day, you want your future employer to like "you", not a persona. Don't pretend to be someone you're not - it's important that you keep your integrity, because this will be really important if you end up getting the job. You don't want to have any awkward "by the way, what I said in the interview wasn't true..." moments later on in your career. People-pleasing can be dangerous if you don't put yourself and your values first. So remember that!

15 Feb 2014

My Spotify Playlist

So my most recent procrastination method has been discovering new (female) artists on Spotify (well, new artists to me, but not necessarily "new")…and this is what happened. There’s a bit of jazz, and indie folk mixed in there with a splash of alternative music, too. Click on the links to listen to the songs on youtube and let me know what you think. Have any cool artists you want to share?  Let me know in the comments below!

The Staves

Lia Ices - Love Is Won

Banks Waiting Game

Thao & Mirah - Little Cup

Bat For Lashes - Laura

Kat Edmonson - LuckyI Don’t Know

God Help the Girl
- Come Monday Night

Hannah Peel - The Almond Tree

Lucy Rose - Night Bus

Molly Nilsson
- Hey Moon!

Scout Niblett - Kiss

Lisa Mitchell
- Neopolitan Dreams

Jenn Grant
Agnes Obel - Dorian

Haley Bonar - Bless This Mess, Candy Machine Gun

Jenn Grant - Paradise Mountain

Alice Boman - Waiting

Soley - Smashed Birds, Pretty Face

Alessi’s Ark - The Horse, On The Plains

Polly Paulusma - She Moves In A Secret Way

Over The Rhine
- Born

Soko - First Love Never Die

Stacey Randol - Fragile Forest

Katie Costello - Stranger
Stacey Randol

Sweet Talk Radio - Dotted Lines

Orla Gartland - Devil on my shoulder

Natalie Holmes - Backwards

Rae Morris - Don’t Go

Nina Nesbitt - Selfies

13 Feb 2014

First Year vs. Fourth Year

Yes, we fourth years do exist, much to the surprise of "the fresh". The number of times people have gazed at me quizzically when I tell them "no, I'm not a Masters student",  and "no, I didn't fail my third year", is frankly, embarrassing (on their part, I might add). I also feel shockingly old. '91 babies are a rare breed in Exeter, and I'm starting to feel like I'm already on the shelf. My youthful days seem to have flashed by me; I've already passed all the exciting ages like 13, 18, and 21. 30 can only mean the first signs of grey hair, and a considerably slower metabolism. Don't even get me started on 40…that's when the mid-life crises kick in. Yes, I meant to pluralise crisis - it's all about the multiples. Multiple chins, multiple tummy rolls, multiple children….Then I'll have to teach the children how to multiply for their maths homework, which will cause multiple problems, because I still count with my fingers.

Everyone is asking about plans for next year. Family members, friends, your friends' parents, professors, strangers, strange professors….the list goes on. Grad job or travel? You tend to give a different answer each time the question is thrown at you, or find yourself regurgitating the same sketchy response which you know for a fact to be untrue. But it sounds good, so why not? Or maybe you're one of those lucky buggers who did an internship at a bank one summer and got a training contract under your belt. In which case, go away and stop rubbing it in my face. 

People warned me that final year was going to be a step up, but they didn't warn me how much. First and second year studying English and French was nothing short of a doddle. I remember my Dad skyping me mid-afternoon a couple times, and I was still in bed. Peering out from beneath the covers, sporting outrageous bed hair, and still wearing pyjamas, I must have looked quite the show. I was probably watching funny animal videos on youtube, as we students are prone to do. Sadly, bed has become a rare pleasure in fourth year. No more lethargic lie-ins. No more mid afternoon naps, or crawling back into bed after a greasy fry-up breakfast in halls.

I'm the first to admit that the word library seemed alien to me in my first year. I'd often take a few books out before an essay (to trick my brain into thinking I was ahead of the game), only to return them, unopened. Who needs a library when I can get so much on Jstor and Google books? But now, the library has become second nature to me. It's practically my second home, and the breeding ground for all my essays. But the silence in there is painful. A rumbling stomach sounds like an earthquake. Eating a packet of crisps will incur the wrath of people around you. And munching on anything pungent is sure to earn you a few evils. I need not mention the culprits who "bagsy" spots in the library, only to disappear for hours, or sometimes even days at a time, to the anger of other students. If you fit into the latter category, shame on you!

Back in the youthful days of first and second year, I was indifferent to the library; I didn't care much for its existence. But now, I've developed a love-hate relationship with it (leaning more towards the latter). Yes - I'm starting to hate on the library even more than usual. First, the horrendous library fines (although I did manage to sweet talk a librarian into halving my fine the other day, because I thought it was unethical to charge me £5.50 for forgetting to hand back a locker key on time…especially because this was a first-time offence, and I didn't even receive a warning email). Secondly, the library gets outrageously busy. Every hour is a peak hour. Unless you fancy sidling in at 4am. I find myself weaving in and out of bookshelves to try and eye up a free desk, but alas, nothing. Unless you plan on arriving at the crack of dawn, you might as well forget it. I awkwardly walk into rooms to see if there are any seats free. People look me up and down, silently saying, "HAHA, that's what you get for rocking up at 10am, lazy fool!"

On the other hand, the library brings fear, and fear is what I need to bosh out a good essay. In first and second year I would write my essays in bed, propping up a mountain of pillows, and spreading heaps of notes out across my bed. I'd write the essays half dozing, in my jimjams, holding onto a hot water bottle, mug of black coffee in one hand, typing furiously with the other. I'd then run for my life to campus in my oversized hoodie, sans bra on one occasion, to hand in an essay at 3.57pm for a 4pm deadline. It's at times like this that I'm grateful my fitness exceeds that of a slug. I highly doubt I could get mitigation for running out of breath on my way to handing in an essay. Now with the new online 10am submission deadline, no exercise is involved. And no printing, either. I, like many a student I am sure, find printers exceedingly temperamental. Just when I need it to work, it decides to run out of ink. Just when I need it to work, it decides to get a paper jam. It's like the printer can feel the tension mounting up inside of me, and takes the opportune moment to break down and crush my sanity. So off to the print shop I would run…but oh wait, there's a queue…and the computers there take 5 minutes to log on. Splendid. So yes, I am indeed grateful that I can now send off my essays from the comfort of my bed.

One thing that hasn't changed? I still pig out in the final stages of essay writing. We're talking chocolate caramel digestives, crisps, gallons of iced tea….Anything that can take my mind off the task in hand. And usually food does the trick. Yummerz. Although I'm slightly worried my essay-food relationship will become problematic when I'm writing my dissertation. The plan is to graduate with a 2:1, not love handles.

But fourth year far exceeds first year in many ways. I know who my great friends are, I'm going out less (that's good right?), I'm tee-total (not as boring as it sounds), training for the Rock Solid Race (nothing like a good challenge), and applying for grad jobs in PR (I actually know what I want to do with my life, which makes a change from my 18 year old self!) Life has forward momentum - everything I do is leading up to something. First year was fun, but I felt like a small fish swimming around frantically in a big pond. Now, I feel like a big fish, ready to enter an ocean of opportunities.