before you die

Taking on the "100 Books Everyone Should Read" Challenge

12:00 AM

Recently, I have found reading for pleasure quite difficult. Although I manage to do it most nights and on the majority of my commutes into university, I don't read much in one go and I find my attention waivers incredibly easily; I used to be able to read a whole book in a day! I fear I may have lost a bit of my love for reading due to all the reading I am doing for my PhD and for my obsession with looking on the internet instead - this must change!

This is something I have wanted to do for a while but had never pushed myself into doing it. I have seen several lists and I'm not sure if there is an "official" list that should be followed, but you can look at the one I am doing here. I wanted to share my journey on this blog and to do updates, reviews in the hope that people will come along with me and to motivate me. Without further ado, I am about to take on the 100 Books Everyone Should Read Challenge.

Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker Julia, but soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal.

To my delight, the first book on this list is 1984 by George Orwell. Luckily for me this is actually one of my all time favourite books and I haven't read it in quite a while. I am sure most of you reading are familiar with 1984 or if not then you have most definitely heard of ideas from within the book which have been made into popular TV shows such as "Big Brother" and "Room 101". I would have expected this to have been on the list due to its sheer popularity and the influence it has had both during its publication and straight into the modern day. I'm excited to get into this one - Lets hope for a good start!


a level

I don't know what to do with my life!; Stamping out those worries.

9:45 PM

If you're not from the UK you probably won't be aware of how our education system works, so I will explain it in the simplest way I can:

  • Primary School (age 4 to 11): SATS is the exams in the final year
  • High School/Secondary School (age 11 to 16): GCSE's is the qualification you receive in the final year, you have to chose some of the subjects that you do but a lot are mandatory such as maths, english, science.
  • College (age 16 to 18): A-level (short for Advanced level) is the qualification you receive at this stage. The first year is called an AS level and if you take the subject into a second year then you gain the full A-Level. You generally chose four subjects at this point.
  • University Undergraduate (Generally age 18 to 21 but there are lots of mature students and people who take a year ot two out before doing their degree): This is where you gain a degree. Depending on what subject, most people either get BA (Bachelor of arts) or BSc (Bachelor of Science) after their name. 
  • Following from these you can go onto a postgraduate degree which is a masters and then a PhD or a doctorate. A PhD/Doctorate is the highest level of education.

I have a younger cousin who is 16 and about to venture into college. When she had to pick what GCSE subjects she had to do, she was worried about her future because she didn't want to pick the wrong ones. And now she is also worried about what A-level subjects to do because she "has no idea what she wants to do" career wise.

I think this mistake is made so early on, schools make out like you HAVE to know what you want to do, you have to have a clear path when that just isn't reality. For some people, they may have easily decided what they want to do. They may have always wanted to be a doctor or always wanted to do game design, so then it's easy... You pick the subjects aimed towards this goal. But what if you have no idea what you want to do? I wanted to write this blog post to help people feel at ease; whether you are doing GCSEs, A-Levels or are on your undergraduate degree.

Don't worry. It's okay not to know.
One of the biggest things that younger people worry about is not knowing what they effectively "want to do with their lives". It is put into our heads from a young age that we MUST know what we want to do as a career from as young as 14, which is a difficult ask! It also doesn't give someone much time to find out what subjects they are interested in. I didn't have a chance to try Psychology until I was at college level and even then, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do I just knew the area I wanted to go into. It is okay not to know what you want to do, you may never know and just try a lot of different things until you find what you love. But it is okay and don't let anyone scare you into thinking otherwise.

A lot of Universities only ask for certain grades/points, not specific subjects.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. If you want to go into something like medicine then they will ask for specific subjects and grades. But a lot of the time universities will either ask for grades e.g. you must get 3 A's in your subjects. Or they will ask for what is known as UCAS points. Each grade is worth a certain amount of points, grades of a full A level is worth more than an AS level, but it does mean that you can put the grades of your AS levels towards this. And if you don't get the grades you need there is also what is called "clearing" where universities will have some spaces left on some courses that you may be able to get onto. So don't worry too much about the specific subjects, just try to pick subjects you enjoy or are good at. My A Levels were; AS Maths, AS Extended Project and A levels in History, Graphics and Psychology. A completely random mix, but still got me to where I needed to be.


There is never just "one way" to get to where you want to be.
For some reason, schools tend to make out like there is only one certain path to go down to get to where you want to be and if you don't go down that path then you can't do the career you want. This is not always the case. There are plenty of people who don't realise what they want to do until later in life. There are options called "conversion" courses which can help you get to where you want to be. Yes, it may be easier to go down a straight path but don't worry if you end up changing your mind or having to go a different route.


You can always change subjects if it's not for you. "Taster days" are also a good way to find out.
Sometimes, its hard to tell if you are even going to enjoy a subject, especially if it's something you are going to do for the first time. Often, colleges will give you a certain amount of time that you can change by. I sort of did this in my final year of university when we had to pick specific modules in Psychology. I had originally picked "Positive Psychology" and quickly realised it just wasn't for me so I changed to "Substance Use" and I enjoyed that a hell of a lot more. A lot of colleges and universities tend to give "taster" days or sessions and if you are offered this opportunity I would definitely go for it to save any messing around in the future.

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To all you young people out there, I hope this post has helped you to feel at ease about not knowing what it is that you want to do. Good luck in your future endeavours! 

academia

A Day in the Life of a PhD Student

12:00 AM

I have been told by a couple of people that they have really enjoyed reading things on my blog related to my PhD and what life is like as a PhD Student. One thing that shocked me when becoming a PhD student was how little other people know about it, especially those who have not looked into a PhD at all. I know when I was thinking about doing a PhD I thought that it would be like my dissertation module in my final year of my undergraduate degree but stretched over a longer period of time. In some aspects, I guess you could say that it is, but to make it easier for you to get a taste of what PhD life is like, I thought I would share with you a day in my life.

8am - 9am - Get up.
If I have to go into the university for whatever reason, then I get up at 8am. However, if I am just at home all day I'll sleep in until nearer 9am and start work straight away. But on this particular day I had to travel into my university.

9am - 10am - Get the Bus; Catch up on E-mails and do some Reading.
My journey into university is a 50-60 minute bus ride and I take that time to read through any e-mails and to do some more reading of journal articles. I use my IPad for any reading with an app called Endnote, you can download the articles to it using an account so you can work offline and it links to every device that you have it on so that you can easily edit your articles.

10am- 11am - More Reading, Taking Notes and Teaching Prep.
On this particular day I was teaching, so I like to go over what it is that I need to cover one last time before going into the lesson and then I do some more reading, maybe take a few notes.

11am - 12.30pm - Workshop Teaching.
I had to teach a small class of final year undergraduate students about a programme called SPSS. This is essentially a programme that is used within research to do all the statistics calculations for you so that you don't have to sit working out incredibly complex equations. A lot of people hate SPSS and statistics; but it is probably my favourite type of research to do.

12.30pm - 1.30pm - Lunch and Travelling home.
I will normally get myself some lunch such as a sandwich to eat on the bus journey home and I allowed myself to have a bit of a break here. I always decide to do my work from home when possible because I find it so much quieter and I get a lot more done in the comfort of my own home.

1.30pm - 5.30pm - Work, Work and more Work.
I'll spend the rest of the day doing work, on this particular day, here are some of the tasks that I tackled;

  • Preparation for my presentation at a conference. 
  • Preparation for my teaching the following week which is a workshop on a different programme called NVivo.
  • Some reading for my own Research; particularly in the area of Critical Thinking Assessments.
  • Reading for one of my Side Projects; Risks in Domestic Homicide
  • Dabbled a little into my assignments for a qualification I am undertaking which is due in April.
Evening - Food, TV, Blog and Pleasure Reading.
For the evenings I like to shut off when I can. This is not always possible and I may have to do some extra work, but I do try my best to just allow myself to have some food and relax. It is important to give yourself that time or you may go entirely mad!

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I hope that I have given you some insight into what a day is like as a PhD student. Every day is entirely different and this is one of my busier days due to having to travel into Liverpool. Any questions, feel free to leave down below!


Blog tour

Blog Tour: Burned and Broken by Mark Hardie

12:00 AM

Title; Burned and Broken
Author: Mark Hardie
Publisher: Sphere; Little Brown
Pages: 368
Genre: Mystery, Crime, Thriller

Where to buy:
Amazon
An enigmatic policeman - currently the subject of an internal investigation - is found burned to death in his car on the Southend sea front.

A vulnerable young woman, fresh out of the care system, is trying to discover the truth behind the sudden death of her best friend.

As DS Frank Pearson and DC Catherine Russell from the Essex Police Major Investigation Team are brought in to solve the mystery that surrounds their colleague's death, they're under intense pressure to crack the case without damaging the force's reputation.

When a dramatic turn of events casts a whole new light on both cases, the way forward is far from clear. Were the victims connected in some way? And just how much should Pearson and Russell reveal to their bosses as they begin to unearth some dark secrets that the force would rather keep buried?

I haven't read very many crime books as of yet even though I am slightly obsessed with all the crime documentaries and serial killer books. When I received this in the mail, it had a sticker on the front saying "Love Peter James? Love this or your money back!". My mum is a huge crime reader and one of her favourite authors is Peter James, and as I trust her judgement in books, I was quite excited to delve into this one.

There are three sort of "perspectives" in this book. Even though it is written in third person the chapters focus on three different characters; Donna whose best friend has recently passed away, Frank Pearson and Catherine Russell. This novel is very character focused and very driven by their development rather than focused on the mystery surrounding the death of Alicia and DI Sean Carragher. Depending on your preference, a character driven novel may be the type of reading you prefer. There is a real sense that the characters are real people and that you are there with them trying to solve the crime.

There are a few twists in this story and nothing is what it seems, for a debut novel I think that Mark Hardie has a lot of potential and I think his ability to write characters and develop them is astounding.

films

Must Watch Psychological Films #1

12:00 AM

Year: 2010
Length: 2hr 18min
IMDB Rating: 8.1/10
Summary: In 1954, a U.S. marshal investigates the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane.
The Summary of this film is quite a short one, but I think that's what helps to make the film even more interesting. I would highly recommend going into this film with very little knowledge of what it is about. Whenever anyone asks me to recommend a good film, this is always one of the first ones to come to mind. With amazing actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley, you just know that this film is definitely worth a watch.


Year: 2000
Length: 1hr 53min
IMDB Rating: 8.5/10
Summary: A man juggles searching for his wife's murderer and keeping his short-term memory loss from being an obstacle.
This is a film that definitely requires some amount of concentration. It switches through-out the timeline a lot in the film, supposedly to make you as confused as the main character is as he struggles with his memory loss. The interesting factor about this though is that the main characters decides to deal with his memory loss in an unusual way; he tattoos on his body what he knows to be fact.


Year: 2011
Length: 1hr 33min
IMDB Rating: 7.5/10
Summary: A soldier wakes up in someone else's body and discovers he's part of an experimental government program to find the bomber of a commuter train. A mission he has only 8 minutes to complete.
I love this film for its incredibly unique concept. At first you wonder what on earth is going on, but as the film progresses it becomes more and more clear. This is one that you just need to trust me when I say that it's a good film with a very unexpected ending and that you need to go and watch it as soon as possible.



Year: 1991
Length: 1hr 58min
IMDB Rating: 8.6/10
Summary:A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.
I don't think I could've made a post about psychological films without mentioning this one. Considered a cult classic, this is the first film appearance of the infamous Hannibal Lecter. If you enjoy these films I would highly recommend giving the books a go!




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I hope you enjoyed this post! Feel free to tell me some of your favourite psychological films down below. I'm always looking for new ones to watch.

anxiety

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

12:33 PM

Star Rating: 5/5
Title: A Quiet Kind of Thunder
Author: Sara Barnard
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
Pages: 320
Genre: Young Adult

Where to buy:
Amazon   The Book Depository
Steffi doesn't talk.
Rhys can't hear.
They understand each other perfectly.
Love isn't always a lightning strike. Sometimes it's the rumbling roll of thunder...

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life - she's been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He's deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she's assigned to look after him. To Rhys it doesn't matter that Steffi doesn't talk and, as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she's falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder is the second novel that Sara Barnard has released and is available to buy starting from the 12th, which is this Thursday! Her Debut Novel, Beautiful Broken Things, took the internet by storm with thousands of bloggers, including Zoella, praising it as a must read book. I am yet to read her debut, even though I do own it. When I had the opportunity to read and review her second novel, I jumped at the chance! I wasn't sure what to expect from the author, there is often times where the Debut novel of an author is their biggest success and I think that I am unique in the fact that this is the first time I have experienced Sara Barnards writing.

Just a quick mention to the beautiful cover. It is definitely one of those books that someone is likely to pick up just because the cover looks pretty. The same is true for a beautiful broken things. I think you can tell from the style of the cover that it is from the same author. I really like this kind of consistency with book covers as it takes me back to the days of Jacqueline Wilson where I would see Nick Sharratt's illustration and instantly know it was her.

I have always really enjoyed books that have a first person narrative; I feel like this allows me to connect to the characters more and to understand their thoughts and feelings. I really loved the main character, Steffi. As someone who has struggled with social anxiety I really felt for her in her daily struggle to just be able to talk without feeling like the centre of attention.

Perhaps my favourite part about this book, and something which a lot of other books don't touch on in topics like these is the attitude of Steffi's mum. She didn't quite understand how big of a deal some of the small things were to Steffi and when Steffi had originally become mute at a very young age, I thought her mother handled it in a very selfish way. She cried and shouted at Steffi as though the anxiety was something she was doing on purpose. These kinds of attitudes is something that people with anxiety struggle with day to day and it's something that can even make things worse as you feel guilty for what your loved ones are feeling even though you can do nothing about it.

Rhys was the best character anyone could hope to come into Steffi's life. He didn't care that she doesn't talk and he helped her to communicate in ways that she felt more comfortable and in a way that she felt entirely normal.

I don't want to give any more away about the story in general. But I really enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend that if you are thinking of giving Sara Barnard a try, that you do!

academia

What is a PhD and What is it like to be doing one?: Thoughts of a First Year PhD Student.

12:31 AM

If you are reading this blog post then you are most likely one of two things; an undergraduate/masters student wondering whether they should pursue a PhD or a brand new PhD student who, like me, has googled about a PhD to get some reassurance on the work that they are currently doing.

I am currently just coming into my 6th month on my PhD. Having come straight from my undergraduate degree, being offered the position completely out of the blue with no application and feeling like I wasn't smart enough. I have most certainly come a long way in those 6 months, even though the majority of the time the little voice inside my head says I have nothing to show for it.

When I was offered a position for a PhD, I genuinely had no idea what to expect. I had planned to go into teacher training as I had no idea what I wanted to do a PhD in so I thought that I would teach A-Level Psychology for a while and do my PhD later following from a masters, but to be offered one when I had not yet completed a masters was so incredibly daunting. I was met with a lot of "Isn't that such a huge jump?" from other PhD students on the induction days, to be honest I think it is just as big a jump to come from a masters programme. Yes, you may have more subject knowledge, but a PhD is so specific that you are going to have to teach yourself a hell of a lot anyway.

What is a PhD?

I'm going to start off by explaining a PhD as though you genuinely know absolutely nothing about it, so if you do know the basics then you may want to read ahead. A PhD is essentially the highest form of education that there is, or if you prefer, you can think of it as the start of the ladder to becoming an academic/researcher. At an undergraduate and masters level, you are being given information. You are taught about the knowledge that already exists within a certain field and you are tested on this knowledge. At PhD level you are expected to take that already existing knowledge and add to it. At the end of a PhD you will get the title of "Dr." at the beginning of your name and "PhD" at the end, pretty fancy right?

What is the structure of a PhD?

In the majority of cases you have to do at least 3 years on a PhD. The first year is called an "MPhil" and at the end of this year you have to write a report where you detail how your research is going and what you intend to do for the rest of the time, you also have what is called an "exam" but is essentially just talking to someone about your research and where you plan on taking it. If this is successful you are then transferred to the "PhD" aspect of the course. There are no lectures, coursework or exams as such on a PhD, it is an incredibly independent degree as a way to show your capabilities as a researcher. You do, of course, have a supervisory team of a minimum of two supervisors, but usually three, who will help you along the way. However, you should not rely entirely on them, they will not remind you about work that needs to be done, they will not nag you about setting up meetings, they are just a support system, not something you should abuse.

How are you assessed on a PhD? Do you still have grades?

The only form of grades on a PhD are at the very end which consist of;

  • Pass
  • Pass with Minor Corrections
  • Pass with Major Corrections
  • Resubmit or award a lower degree such as MPhil or MSc
  • Fail

This happens at your "Viva" which is arguably the most important part of a PhD. This is where you discuss and defend your research in front of those who are experts within your research area. It sounds incredibly scary, but you must realise that you are only human and so are those who will be assessing you. You will know a lot by the end of your PhD if you do it correctly, the majority of those who set out on a PhD Pass with minor corrections, it is incredibly difficult to pass with no corrections  and a fail is considered a failure of your supervisory team of supporting you, not a failure of yourself unless of course you do absolutely no work. The only other assessment is the one I touched upon earlier that happens at the end of the first year.

Does a PhD just consist of conducting Research for Three Years?

RThis is what I was expecting from a PhD but it is not the case, especially if you want to make the most of it. There a number of other things I would recommend doing and in some cases you are expected to do, whilst on your PhD;


  • Teaching; Workshops, Lab Demonstrations, Lectures - this can be anything and usually is only to first year undergraduate students, but sometimes you may be able to teach higher levels depending on what the topic is. A lot of PhDs offer you the chance to gain a teaching qualification whilst you are there, I would definitely recommend going for this. In my universities case they offer both a fellowship to the HEA and a PGCE. I am currently in the middle of doing my fellowship and will do my PGCE when I am given the opportunity which will allow me to mark assessments.
  • Workshops; There are always tons of workshops that you can attend on a PhD. I would recommend making the most of them as after your PhD you would be surprised how much they can cost! Take any opportunity you can to further your training/knowledge. Even if you may not think you'll need it right now but will in the future, take notes!
  • Conferences; I had no idea that this is something you are expected to do on a PhD. A conference is essentially a gathering of academics who show posters and give presentations on their research. These are really great ways to network and get your name out there as well as some experience in talking about your research which will help with your Viva later on!
  • Publications; This is particularly important if you want to go into academia (like I do). Get as many publications as you can even if it just consists of a literature review, take up other projects with other researchers/academics. If you collaborate and help them, then you get your name on a publication and you get more experience in research! I knew I wanted to continue with other projects as I have such a wide range of interests my PhD is in education but I am also doing research in Forensic and Health Psychology!
How do you manage your time?

Managing time can be super easy for some people and incredibly difficult for others. The best way to go about it is to be realistic, if you know that you are not going to get any work done whilst you are at home, then go into the office. The general consensus for a PhD is to treat it like a 9am - 5pm work day. Give yourself an hour for lunch, but for the rest of the time make sure you are working.

But I'm not smart enough.

This has gone through my head so often you wouldn't believe. It's actually such a common feeling on a PhD that it's even got a name; Imposter Syndrome. This is essentially where you are worried that people will "find out" that you aren't "smart enough" or "good enough" to be doing a PhD. It's completely normal, but what you don't want to do is let it overtake you, no one can know everything. We are only human beings and you can't be too hard on yourself.

Am I doing enough?

Another one of my daily struggles is feeling like I have never done enough work, even if I have worked solid for a full day I can still feel like it's never enough. It's fine to feel this way, it's fine to feel a bit lost at what you're doing and not being entirely sure. I've found that as long as I do some reading, write some notes then you ARE doing something. It may only seem small at first but it will soon get more and more. And some people will just never feel like they have done enough!

How to stay organised?

This is going to vary from person to person, but I myself use the everything notebook method which was coined by Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega and he discusses how to start one here. I would highly recommend going with this method, you can easily tab things that you need to find again. You only have to take one notebook with you whenever you go to workshops/the office etc. and I bought mine from ASDA for £8 and just labelled it as "Research Journal 1" so I can look back on it when I'm finished.

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I hope this post was of some use to you! Please feel free to leave comments/questions below. Please remember I am a brand new PhD student and I am learning as I go! 

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