Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Why study a postgraduate?

Name: Jessica Stokes
What course are you studying/have you studied?
I started off studying a BSc in Biology at Swansea University before doing a Masters by Research in Veterinary Parasitology at the University of Bristol. I’m currently doing a PhD at the University of Liverpool on Schmallenberg virus (a disease of sheep and cattle that is spread by midges), as part of my BBSRC funding I was required to do an MRes in Clinical Sciences at the University for my first year.

What or who inspired you to study for a postgraduate qualification?
I’ve always been fascinated by diseases, so studying them after my undergrad seemed the perfect thing for me, but it was my mum that inspired me to carry on to a PhD. She completed hers in marine zoology not long before I came into the world.

What was the application process like?
There are a lot more people applying for PhDs in my field than there are funded. I always hoped to go straight into a PhD from my undergrad, however I found a lot of the other applicants at interview had been in industry or had completed a Masters. After a few interviews for PhDs I was offered a Masters by Research at Bristol- this was 1 year of research, with a thesis and viva at the end - a perfect test for deciding if a PhD was for me. The next year I got the PhD I had previously applied for. It required a lot of resilience, but it was worth it.

What was your course like?
My undergraduate course was a standard taught course, with a mixture of coursework and essay exam. We could choose some of our modules, and the degree was more ecology orientated than molecular biology (which suited me). We also had lots of opportunities for extra learning, and I was able to get involved with some carnivore post mortems (road traffic accidents) and bird surveys.

My Masters by Research at the University of Bristol was a project evaluating the risk of Echinococcus multilocularis to the UK with pet travel. This is a parasitic worm of dogs, cats and foxes which exists in Europe, if you ever take your pet abroad you have to deworm them before you re-enter the UK to prevent the spread of this worm. There was no taught element of the course, as it was 100% research. However I could elect to take courses, such as a week long course on statistics. At the end of the year I had to write up my research in the form of a mini-thesis and then defend the work through a viva. You had to be in charge of your own time as the only deadline was the final one! I really enjoyed being in charge of my time and project, which really spurred me on to the PhD.

The MRes in Clinical sciences was a mixture of taught modules and 3 individual 10 week research projects. I could choose my 3 mini-projects, but none of the taught modules. The taught modules included lab skills, statistics and journal clubs, all of which had a write-up. You had to be very organised and on-top of your work, as the deadlines were short and often all came at once. I found this course more structured, but also a lot more intense. It definitely helped teach you productivity and how to think critically.

My PhD is my own research again. There are no taught courses, but I have the option to sign up to some short courses. I can also undergo training in areas useful to my research- for example I now know how to handle sheep. I also hold a Personal Licence to allow me to collect samples from sheep to test for immunity to Schmallenberg virus. I have to plan my projects, apply for ethical approval, collect the data and write up all under my own steam. This freedom to undertake and oversee my own work really suits me and I really enjoy what I do. My research is a combination of field work, lab work and desk work. I love fieldwork, so try to get out as much as I can; the best part of my research for me is interacting with farmers. I’ve learnt so much over the last 2 years, and it has been constantly changing and challenging. I feel proud of what I have achieved already and really enjoy my work. As a PhD student I can also take on teaching hours and my own students, which is a great opportunity. So far this year I have taught on undergraduate courses, overseen Nuffield (AS-level) student projects and acted as a tutor on the Realising Opportunities course, encouraging AS-level students into university. Encouraging a passion is really rewarding and it’s a great experience.

Did you move away from home to study, or did you commute?
For my Masters by Research at Bristol I worked from home and commuted in from time to time. I found this quite isolating having lived away from home for my undergrad.
Knowing that I was going to be at Liverpool for at least 4 years (1 year masters + 3 years PhD) I decided to buy a house not too far away from campus. I commute in everyday (all 10 minutes of it) which allows me to have my own space at home and also interact with other postgrads at work and at home (most of us live nearby). I have the option to work from home if I am not in the lab or the field, but generally I work from my desk so that I can benefit from problem solving with other PhD’s.

Are you currently employed? How do you fit your work around your studies and vice versa?
When I was at Bristol and working from home I took up some extra hours at the job I kept throughout the summer of my undergrad. I also volunteered 1 day a week at Slimbridge Wetlands Trust as my research and hours of work were flexible.

My PhD is funded so I effectively ‘get paid’ a stipend quarterly. I can also get paid for teaching some courses, but this is just the odd hour here or there. I don’t think I would be able to fit my current research in around a job as my hours depend on the project (and quite frequently the weather). Some of my research requires me to be away from home for weeks/months on fieldwork so I don’t tend to have a structured routine like some other student projects.

How do you/did you fund your studies?
I’m lucky enough to be funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Doctoral Training Partnership (BBSRC DTP). This means I receive a quarterly stipend and have a pot of money to spend on my research (consumables, equipment, travel, etc.).

Do you have any regrets about your course choice? Did anything surprise you?
Having done the Masters by Research at Bristol I came into the PhD knowing what to expect. This has suited me very well. However having to do a second masters before I could start my PhD surprised me. I felt I already had a lot of the skills I needed having already completed one, and although I did hone some important skills, it did feel unnecessary. I know I was not alone, as one of the other girls that started at the same time as me had also completed a prior masters beforehand, but I guess this just shows the level of competition in our field.

For my Masters at Bristol I regret not spending more time with the research group. I feel that by working from home I missed out on some of the community spirit and support I could have benefited from during that year, and at times I became quite isolated.

Is there anything you wish you’d known before you applied?
How fast the time goes. Three years, or in my case 4, has flown by. I think it’s important to know there is a plan in place at the beginning, and at least 2 back-up plans for the project, as research doesn’t tend to be straightforward. Schmallenberg virus- the disease I am currently studying- disappeared whilst I was doing my second masters, which means I have had to come up with new research projects for my thesis.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about postgraduate study, what would it be?
Make sure you can time-manage. If you need to have someone set you deadlines, then a taught course might be more for you. If you are organised and thrive when left to undertake your own work, then you are likely to really enjoy undertaking your own research project as a Masters or PhD.

More information
For PhD students it is always worth meeting your supervisor to make sure you are compatible. They are your support, so if you are on different planets and can’t communicate with each other efficiently, then your relationship and ultimately your work is likely to suffer.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Share Your Story: Sophie Lea

What course are you studying/have you studied?
BA Hons Primary Degree 5-11

What or who inspired you to train to become a teacher?
I have always wanted to work with people and feel that I am doing something worthwhile and positive.

What was the application process like?
When I trained, there were lots of applicants so I can remember that it was competitive. It was good to hear from current students/teachers during interview days. My interview involved a presentation and group discussion.

What was your course like?
Placements in school were by far the most valuable part of my training to prepare me for the job. There were lots of practical tasks in seminars, as if we were the children. Guest speakers were the most exciting part of lectures, I remember a lecture by a children’s author being really interesting.

Did you move away from home to study, or did you commute?
Moved away from home

What age group(s) and/or subject do you currently teach, and where?
I teach year 4 at Cam Hopton C of E Primary School and am the English subject leader.

In your opinion, what is the best thing about being a teacher? What is the worst?
Being in the classroom with the children is the best part of the job. Having feedback from the children, after a lesson they really enjoyed, feels great!

Marking and planning is the worst part of the job but just has to be done! You do get faster at it!

Do you have any regrets about your course/route choice? Did anything surprise you?
No I was pleased with my route choice, having completed a three year degree.

Is there anything you wish you’d known before you applied?
Teaching is most definitely a challenging career but a very rewarding and enjoyable one too.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about training to become a teacher, what would it be?
When you start placement/your career, you must prioritise. It’s very easy to get caught up doing unproductive tasks. Every night I ask myself ‘What do I need to do for tomorrow to run smoothly?’ I would also say it’s important to keep things in perspective. When you’re on placement some lessons go well and some don’t go so well. It’s the same when you have your own class too!

I love teaching because… the children I teach say they enjoy being in my class.
Having school holidays is also a massive bonus! If you have aspirations to travel you have lots of opportunities to do so, there aren’t many careers that have as much holiday.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Private renting for students

Taking the leap into private accommodation comes with more freedom but more responsibility.

Here’s how you can protect the deposit you pay at the start of your tenancy.

Before you move in

After you find a property, you need to do the following:

Pay your tenancy deposit and any letting agent fees.
Sign a tenancy agreement with the letting agent or landlord, and keep a copy for yourself.
Get a copy of the property inventory and the keys on the day you move in.

What is the tenancy deposit?

It is a one-off payment you make at the start of your tenancy when you rent a property.
It works as a security deposit that your landlord could use to cover any damage caused to the property while you’re living there.

Your deposit doesn’t go into your landlord’s pocket – instead, your letting agent or landlord must put it into a Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) scheme run by the government, within 30 days.

Check your property

Before you move all your stuff into the property, go around and make a note of any visible problems you can find in your inventory.

Look for issues that might cause your landlord to deduct money from your deposit at the end of your tenancy, such as damaged furniture or marks on walls.

Complete an inventory

If the letting agent/landlord provides an inventory, but it doesn’t include photos of the issues, take some yourself. This gives you more proof of the condition of the property to help you settle any disputes with your landlord at the end of your tenancy.

If you don’t have one, make one yourself using this printable inventory checklist.

Your inventory should list all defects and damage to the property, including any furniture or white goods (such as a fridge) your landlord has provided the property with.

When it’s time to move out

Use your inventory and your photos as a guide to how your property should look when you move out.

Check your tenancy agreement to see if you need to pay for professional cleaners to come in, or if you can do it yourself.

This guide tells you exactly what to expect when you’re moving out so you don’t get caught out.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Share Your Story: Hannah Taylor

What or who inspired you to train to become a teacher?
I’ve always loved learning and education. History has been my passion since I was very young, and I wanted the chance to not only be immersed in a subject I love every day, but also to encourage young people to enjoy it as much as I do.

What was the application process like?
It was fairly straightforward. You apply through UCAS using one of the assigned codes, depending on the route you want to take; you get essentially the same training regardless of which route you take, so it’s about choosing the route that best suits your needs. Once my application was sent in, I was called for an interview day where I had to do a basic numeracy and literacy test and teach a 15-minute lesson to a small group of pupils, which was followed by a formal interview. It seemed daunting before I got there, but the staff involved were all very supportive. You also have to take an official literacy and numeracy test, which you have to pass to be accepted onto the course. You get three tries of each, so it’s best to get these done early in the process in case you need to do them again.

What was your course like?
The course was hard work, but I enjoyed it. GITEP is excellent at getting you into the classroom quickly – you only spend 3 weeks in lectures before you start attending your placement school. That might seem daunting, but teaching really is something you learn practically. You are well guided by your mentor (who is directly in charge of your training in the classroom), training manager (who looks after all the trainees in a school) and subject leader. Your training is split into three placements at two different schools (at least one of which must provide A level experience), and each placement sees an increase in teaching time. This means you slowly build up the workload, which helps to stop you becoming overwhelmed. You will spend a good period of time initially observing lessons, so you can get to know your classes and pick up some tips from more experienced teachers. Once you begin teaching for yourself, classroom teachers will fill out a weekly lesson observation form to highlight things you are doing well, and advise on 1 or 2 areas you could try to improve on. As you complete each placement, you create a Key Evidence File (K.E.F) with evidence to support your progress and to show that you are meeting the Teaching Standards set by the government. It sounds like a lot of work, but you put it together across the duration of a placement, so there’s plenty of time to get it done. You also complete three assignments across the year, based on research into teaching styles and your own research conducted in the classroom. These are excellent ways to develop and broaden your teaching style – you’ll never get as much time to research teaching again in your career so make the most of it! Alongside the school placements, you attend weekly Subject Pathway sessions with your Subject Leader, where you will work on subject specific tasks and themes. These are also a great opportunity to share ideas and worries with your other subject trainees.

Did you move away from home to study, or did you commute?
I still lived at home. I don’t drive, and was lucky with my placements. GITEP and the University of Gloucestershire work very hard to make sure that you aren’t on placement somewhere you cannot reach. However, you have to be prepared to do some travelling.

What age group(s) and/or subject do you currently teach, and where?
I am currently the History KS3 co-ordinator at Pittville School, an 11-16 school in Cheltenham. This year I will also be a History PGCE mentor.

In your opinion, what is the best thing about being a teacher? What is the worst?
The best thing about being a teacher is having an impact on pupil’s lives. There is nothing better than seeing a young person finally realise their potential in front of you. Sometimes it’s more than academics -  in school, teachers are also responsible for the emotional wellbeing of pupils, and helping someone when they’re having a difficult time is hard, but really rewarding.
The worst thing is that during term time, there will always be something you could be doing. It can be a very demanding job. There is more to teaching than just being in the classroom, and there will always be times when other tasks will get in the way of what you signed up for.

Do you have any regrets about your course/route choice? Did anything surprise you?
I have no regrets at all – I think I made the best choice for me. My only surprise was how little time was dedicated to lectures, but the course is all the better for it.

Is there anything you wish you’d known before you applied?
I wish I’d known that it’s okay to get things wrong in the classroom. It’s never nice to have someone criticise something you’ve worked hard on, but your PGCE year is about taking risks and trying new things. Sometimes they won’t work, but the only way you learn is through making mistakes and correcting them. It’s about making progress, not being perfect.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about training to become a teacher, what would it be?
Think of training as a job, not as a university course. Be professional, be punctual and remember that you are training around teachers who have a job to do, and pupils who need to learn. If you approach it in an organised, professional way, you’ll be successful.

I love teaching because… no two days are ever the same. Young people are some of the most free spirited, imaginative and rewarding people you could ever hope to work with. It beats being stuck in an office!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Do you need to take an English test to study at university in the UK?

In 2015, the UK’s Visa and Immigration service (UKVI) changed its rules affecting the language tests needed to work or study in the UK. Many students have found the new rules complicated and are not sure if they need to take a Secure English Language Test (SELT) or another kind of English test. This quick guide outlines the key facts about who needs to take a SELT and, more importantly, who doesn’t!

What are the different types of English test?
There are broadly two types of English test for applying to study in the UK:

SELTs – these are usually taken for visa applications. The UKVI decides which exams are accepted, and approves the test centres. Some SELTs can only be taken inside the UK, while others – such as IELTS for UKVI – can be taken in your own country.
Non-SELT language tests – some tests not on the UKVI’s SELT list may still be used, depending on the type of visa applied for. Some tests assess a wide range of ability, while others are in-depth exams at one level.

So, who needs to take a SELT?
Some people applying for a UK student visa will need to take a SELT, and some will not.
Students currently living outside the European Zone (European Union, European Economic Area, or Switzerland) are required to take a SELT if they intend to:

take a course below degree level – CEFR level B1 SELT or higher.
study at a university or college not recognised by UKVI (most universities and colleges are recognised) – CEFR level B2 SELT or higher.

Who doesn’t need to take a SELT?
Many people applying to study at university in the UK don’t need to take a SELT. UK universities are allowed to accept other tests and qualifications, but they are only allowed to do so for courses that are at undergraduate level and above if the student needs a visa.

Examples of when a SELT is not needed include:

students who live in the European Union (or don’t need a visa for other reasons) intending to study at any level
students needing a visa and are intending to study at undergraduate level or above (unless the specific university asks for a SELT)
students who are nationals of an English-speaking country listed on UKVI’s website (or have a bachelor’s degree or higher from one of these countries) may not need to take a SELT

Even if you don’t need to take a SELT, your college or university may still ask you to prove your English ability as part of your application. They can choose which exams they accept and set the level of English necessary for entry to your course – this may be higher than the level set by the UKVI.

On the positive side, because a wider range of exams is accepted, you may be able to use the result of an exam you have already passed – Cambridge English: Advanced, for example, is commonly accepted for UK university applications.

Find out more
Check your visa requirements on the UKVI website, but remember the rules can change.
Contact your chosen university to find out what the English requirements
are for your course, and which exams and grades they accept.

If you do need to take a SELT, two exams are currently accepted by UKVI:

IELTS for UKVI – available in the UK and overseas
Integrated Skills in English – available in the UK only

About Petra Olsson
Petra is Stakeholder and Key Account Manager (UK & Ireland) for Cambridge English Language Assessment – a not-for-profit department of the University of Cambridge.
Cambridge English provides qualifications for learners and teachers of English, including exams widely accepted for applications to UK higher education providers, such as:
Cambridge English: First; Cambridge English: Advanced; and Cambridge English: Proficiency.

Cambridge English, together with IDP IELTS and British Council, are the producers of IELTS for UKVI.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Make sure you get your student finance payments!

Now that results day is out of the way, you’re likely to know which university or college you’re headed to later this month – but have you made sure your student finance is sorted?

Student Finance England has some words of advice to help make sure you get paid on time.

If you’ve applied online, log back into your student finance account and check that your application has been approved. You also need to make sure you’ve sent in any supporting evidence that we’ve asked for.

If you’ve done all of this, you shou
ld have had a letter from us by now telling you how much support you can get. This letter will tell you how much your payments will be and when these are due. But before we can make these payments, you must register at your university or college.

We pay loans in three instalments – one at the start of each term. The Maintenance Loan goes directly into your bank account, while the Tuition Fee Loan goes directly to your university or college.

To make sure the money arrives on time, you need to check that your bank details are up to date. You can do this by logging into your account. You’ll also be able to check payment dates and the status of your application.

You should allow a few working days for the money to reach your account – and if it’s still not there, you should contact your bank before you contact us.

Our ‘Getting paid’ playlist explains how easy it is to make sure you get paid on time.

Our student finance zone also has some tips on how you can make sure you get your money in time for the start of your course.

You can also follow us on Twitter – @SF_England – and like us on Facebook for important news and updates.

Good luck!