9 months left, 300 Societies, 80 Sports Clubs: What Do I Choose?

The University of Southampton has recently launched a video advertising the range of activities their students can get involved in during their degrees. It features several current students, including a couple of my course mates, describing some of the things they have taken part in (skydiving! Woooooo!) and offering advice to new students.

With over 300 societies—including over 80 sports clubs—provided through the Students’ Union, Southampton is a unique opportunity to try out a range of experiences, but the time goes by fast.

I have sought to take as much advantage of this opportunity as I could and I have certainly broadened my horizons, but last month I found myself facing the end of my time at Southampton and feeling frustrated at the things I haven’t done. I have had a far more challenging time at Southampton than other students seem to and I wonder what I might have been able to achieve had things gone more smoothly.

Nevertheless, I still have most of my final year ahead of me and I want to take as much advantage of it as I can while I’m here. I already have the skydiving club (in a social capacity for now) and the surfing club; this year I’ve become secretary of the Gliding club too and we’re starting to get that off the ground again (if you’ll excuse the pun) after a year or so of dormancy. I have a packed schedule in terms of lectures for the foreseeable future along with the Lunar Hopper GDP but I still feel like there’s something else I want to do. Both time and money are going to be at a premium this year though, and there’s more to choose from than I could ever have time for.

I find myself reflecting on what advice I would give my first-year self if I had the chance. Back then I was still recovering from a family bereavement and it was arguably too soon to be taking on something as big as this. The first thing I could have done is seek out help with the transition to living independently, including finding people to live with who I could get on with comfortably at the time rather than just dropping me in with a bunch of random strangers. Finding some time to learn how to cook would also have been good. Finally, getting into counselling sooner would have done me a world of good and helped me to move on sooner, which might have made the following years easier and more successful. Generally, my advice would be to ensure the help I needed was fully put in place as soon as possible, as things would have been so much easier had that happened.

My finances are very tight right now, so whatever I choose is going to have to be cheap. But what do I go for? Have I got enough going already? Should I double down or branch out?

Looking Back on Blogging 101 and Writing 101

Blogging 101 and Writing 101 have now come to a close. Although I haven’t been able to complete all the tasks/prompts I feel like I have learned a few useful things about blogging and the WordPress platform, and I have got my blog going nicely.

I have already attempted Blogging 101 before but there has usually been something crop up that has interrupted me and stopped me from completing it. This time around I feel like I’ve done much better and I’ve completed much more of the course. My main weakness has been in commenting: I haven’t really got into commenting on other people’s blogs at all and that’s something I’m going to have to think about as I continue with my blog. Nevertheless, I feel a sense of completion.

I have not tried Writing 101 before and I struggled to maintain the daily posting routine that it is designed to encourage; more importantly I don’t think I want to be blogging every day as I want to take the time to write something more meaningful (and I don’t always have the time for blogging in amongst all the other stuff I get up to). I also want to write a different kind of material to what Writing 101 seemed to be calling for. I’ve learned a few things here too, but I’m not sure if I’ll return to it as I did with Blogging 101 given how I feel about it. Perhaps I’ll reconsider it once my blog is better established….

Now that I’ve started back at university again I don’t think I’ll have the time for posting frequently but I hope to be able to post once or twice a week. I’ve started to enjoy working on my blog and I want to start writing some more substantial content for it.

Back to University

Last week my lectures began for the final (Masters) year of my degree. This year is going to be packed: I have four 15-credit modules (supposedly equal to 150 hours of study each) this semester, along with a Group Design Project (GDP) worth 45 credits that runs through to the end of the academic year. Next semester I have a further three 15-credit modules, so I’m going to be busy. The full list is:

  • Semester 1:
    • Advanced Computational Methods 1
    • Advanced Partial Differential Equations
    • Spacecraft Engineering Design
    • Spacecraft Structural Design
  • Semester 2:
    • Spacecraft Propulsion
    • Spacecraft Orbit Mechanics and Control
    • Hypersonic and High Temperature Gas Dynamics
  • Whole year: Lunar Hopper GDP

That’s some heavy stuff. It’s a good job I like these kinds of things….

This year is sometimes known as a ‘Masters’ year because it is the final year of an integrated masters programme; whereas someone might do a three-year BEng programme then a separate MSc, my degree programme takes me straight through to an MEng. The equivalent standing of an MEng to an MSc is supposedly debatable, but in theory the MEng programme combines the two into one four-year course.

Fortunately the timetable itself isn’t particularly heavy. This semester I have 12 lectures a week (with a handful of additional one-off lectures through the semester) along with a few hours of tutorials, a one-hour computing lab each week and weekly GDP meetings which are still settling down. This reduces to nine weekly hours of lectures and three 3-hour labs in the second semester. All told, this is going to be a busy year.

Writing 101: Make a Prompt Personal/The Stat Connection

I am writing this post in response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Stat Connection”:

Go to your Stats page and check your top 3-5 posts. Why do you think they’ve been successful? Find the connection between them, and write about it.

I don’t write for the sake of it, I write—when I want to write—to convey something of some importance. I like to take my time over what I write, to develop a point rather than rush out a half-done job. The Blogging 101 and Writing 101 courses, however, have been driving me to write daily and on things that don’t really inspire me the way I want to be inspired about my work.

One of my inspirations for blogging is Steve Pavlina. Steve writes a blog on personal development and growth that, at last count, attracted over a million views a month and earned him over $10,000 a month (he has since stopped counting). He achieved this by focussing on writing posts that delivered some kind of lasting value to his readers, something that would be of use to them years after they were written, and many of them still do. I don’t expect to come close to his level of success, of course, but taking his lead I want to write something that has more meaning and value than I could come up with in just a few hours. (A note of caution: Steve is not shy and some of his work discusses ideas that some might be uncomfortable with, even offended by. He likes to provoke people into thinking for themselves about things and this ruffles feathers sometimes.)

A case in point is today’s Blogging 101 task “Make a Prompt Personal”:

Today’s assignment: publish a post based on your own, personalized take on a blogging prompt.

I clicked through to the daily prompt and started thinking but I couldn’t come up with anything I wanted to write for my blog, so I clicked for another prompt. I had the same problem with that one and clicked through again and again. It wasn’t until I reached the seventeenth prompt that I actually found the prompt that clicked, something that I could write something for my blog with.

When I take a look at my stats I can see something striking. For the month of September, I have accumulated so far 198 views from 110 visitors, having posted 10 posts so far. The top post this month was my One Word Inspiration post; I think the views on this post and the next two were driven by the Blogging 101 and Writing 101 courses. My best month so far, however, is May with 233 views from 154 visitors. The only post I published that month was Levelling Up, and I think that illustrates what I was getting at above.

Levelling Up was my most powerful and most heartfelt post so far. I wrote it with a specific purpose of my own rather than for some course or assignment, and posted links to it in the Facebook groups of the skydiving and surfing clubs at university, which seems to have driven a lot of the views, but I’ve been sharing my posts on Facebook and Twitter since then and not generating the same amount of interest. It’s much more like the kind of thing I want to share than anything the prompts or assignments over the past week have enabled me to do.

I still want to finish Blogging 101 and Writing 101, but I’m going to try to push them more towards what I want to write in future posts. I’m starting to draft some posts and get some ideas of my own together so hopefully I should be able to share something much more substantial in the next few weeks.

Writing 101: A Space to Write

I drafted this the other day at a branch of Costa Coffee. The Writing 101 task that day was to describe how I write and what I write with. I don’t normally find cafes a useful place to write; over the course of Writing 101 I have mostly been working from home, either in the living room or sat on my bed. I can sometimes get some useful work done here though, such as drafting, taking notes on what I want to write, and setting out outlines for future blog posts.

In the past, when working on assignments for university, I have made good use of the university library. Which part of the library I use depends on what I need. There are some airy desk spaces near the lobby, each of which has powering USB sockets for laptops and mobile devices, and I found that space good for research and taking notes as it had a ‘hubbub’ about it that gives it a sociable feel, whilst not being too noisy or distracting. The more traditional desks and bookshelves part of the library can be useful but sockets are less available, and its ambience seems much more suited to focussed head-down study. It has all the journals in it that I could ever hope to use. I spent a lot of time in these spaces over the past year writing my dissertation and I expect to do so again over the next year.

I find I do most of my blogging on my Mac. Instead of typing directly into the WordPress platform, I prefer to draft my posts in a separate app then copy them across and do any final editing I need before previewing, correcting anything if necessary, then publishing. I currently do most of my drafting in Microsoft Word but I’m on the lookout for another app for this. Word is good at what it does, but I think it’s a bit too much for what I’m using and it isn’t very good at handling cuttings and notes. I’ve heard of a variety of different apps but I’m not in a position to spend much money right now, so I’ll stick with Word until a clear alternative becomes apparent.

I do the rest of my writing on my iPad. I’ve been keeping a journal using Day One for years and right now I’m writing into Word for iOS. I have the WordPress app installed so I can either copy and paste to it here, or sync my work to my Mac via OneDrive or Dropbox and finish it off there. I also wrote some of my dissertation on my iPad, before syncing it across to my Mac and pulling it all together there. I don’t use my iPhone for blogging but I have the WordPress app installed there too and it’s handy for receiving notifications, taking down brief notes and checking out comments.

I try to keep an eye out for better tools and apps for writing with but I’m limited to a student budget so I can’t spend much money, especially not to try out something that may or may not work for me. I also need to give my mac an upgrade soon; thankfully it’s old enough that that is still possible (the latest models aren’t designed to be user-upgraded). In the meantime, though, what I’ve got seems to work well.

Thanks for the positive comments the other day; I feel like I’m starting to get to grips with things again. I want to move on to writing something more substantial than Writing 101 seems to allow for, but now I’m getting back on track I feel more confident about completing the course. 🙂

Writing 101: Opening the Floor

One of the tasks for Writing 101 last week was to set up a poll or contact form to source some ideas for a future blog post so I’m opening the floor for some ideas. One of the areas I had originally intended to write on was Asperger Syndrome and how it affects me; I might also be able to offer some suggestions and advice based on my own experience. I have gone from shy, withdrawn and hopeless to social success, scoring consistent 2:1 grades at university and even occasionally jumping out of aeroplanes for fun, so I figure I’ve probably got something useful to say. Alternately, I could share some experiences of the other things I get up to.

I must admit, this makes me a bit nervous as it sets up an obligation to respond. With Freshers’ Week this week, and university term itself starting the week after, I’m not going to have as much free time to write as I have done over the past two weeks (and I’ve already got a bit behind with things). At the moment I’m just collecting ideas for future posts and I don’t want to commit myself until I’m sure I will have the time for it. For now, I’m going to look on this as something to try out and see if it fits in with my life.

I’ve set up a contact form (https://adamelkins500.wordpress.com/contact/); alternately, leave a comment below and I’ll respond if I can. 🙂

Coffee Update

Writing 101, Day 10: Update your readers over a cup of coffee

Mmmmm… Coffee 😉

I’ve let my Writing 101 and Blogging 101 tasks slip over the past few days. I’ve got several tasks to catch up on from both of them and I hope to get through at least some of them over the next few days. Meanwhile, I’ve come back to my Dad’s house for the weekend before term starts and this morning I enjoyed a cup of coffee and some cuddles with our cat, Sassy. Sassy also likes coffee, although apparently it isn’t good for her.

I’m compiling a list of tasks I’ve missed so far from Blogging 101 and Writing 101 and I hope to cover a few of them over the weekend. The problem I’m having is that whereas while I was keeping up I had only one task to do for each, now I’ve built up a backlog I find myself trying to juggle several at once. Although I’m already behind I need to slow things down a bit and take things one at a time or I’m going to get further behind.

So far I’ve got the following to do:

For Blogging 101:

  • Write an ‘about’ page
  • Be a good neighbour: share a few comments on other blogs
  • Write a post based on one of my comments
  • Set up a ‘blogroll’ of blogs I follow (I was hoping to do that anyway)

For Writing 101:

  • ‘The space to write’: on what I use to write with and how (drafted already), then set up a poll or contact form for ideas to write about
  • ‘Expand a comment’: this sounds similar to one of the Blogging 101 tasks!
  • Write an open letter

That’s about five and a half tasks in total once duplicates are consolidated, and it’s potentially a lot of writing. I’m not going to push myself too hard, especially as the start of term is nearing, but I’ll do what I can.