February 13, 2012

Final summary of Writing For Arts and Social Sciences Seminar

Follow-up to Follow Up 2 from Matt's blog

Alrighty, so I thought I'd leave this final entry on the writing for arts and social sciences section until I received feedback on the exam I took near the start of this term, to reflect on the progress I have made since starting this process!

I have continued with my emphasis on results sections of journals, to get me more into the scientific writing style. However, the main thing I felt necessary to work on (partially through seminars, involving examination of published papers in journals), is going one step further and criticising/evaluating as I go along. I feel that I have reached the stage where I know enough to not only be learning from other journals, but also imposing my own knowledge on them, and seeing where I feel they are going wrong. Through this, I am learning more and more about what should be included in papers, and what shouldn't, and this is something I aim to continue developing long into the future.

In the examination in january, I tried to put into practice all the action points that I have set out so far. These included being succinct and to the point, planning out an essay before writing it, imposing time limits that I feel will allow me to complete all tasks, as well as general structuring of the essay. In reflection, I feel most of these were achieved to great success. I didn't run out of time, I wasn't going crazy with the asterisks (as I have been known to do in previous exams), and I felt calm in the knowledge that I had an action plan with each question! I recently gained my mark, and this reflection was accurate, as I obtained 68% (which I am very pleased about, considering the number of case studies involved!).

In each of the written pieces of work, I was precise in my analysis of the papers, and really feel like I now know how to write in a critical manner. With one mark in the 60s and the other in the 80s, the progress made through attending the writing seminar (and all the reflection involved) is really beginning to show!

I fully intend to keep developing my writing style, learning from journals containing published articles, and planning each piece of work fully before diving in and writing all parts of it in one sitting!

Many thanks for the seminar, and all the comments made on each blog post :)

January 29, 2012

Final summary of Leadership section

Follow-up to Follow Up 2 from Matt's blog

So here we are, at my final post for the leadership section of the Skills Portfoli!

The skills that I have learned here, through planning how to lead a group project, as well as general skills that can be applied to other areas of life, I think will be useful as I continue through life. I have learned that leadership oppertunities come in all shapes and sizes, and although I am not seeing many clear-cut situations in which to lead a group of people in the formal sense, I can apply the skills to other areas of my life, and these work equally well! For example, setting checkpoints was one of the things I learned in the original seminar, and I am applying this to all my work, hence effectively "leading myself" through it, in a structured way. Furthermore, I really think that through reflecting on social situations, I'm becoming more of an assertive person (another seminar I attended), with regard to looking for circumstances in which I can take charge and make a difference (something which I would rarely do before; leaving these kinds of things to other people was something I was often guilty of!)

I have decided to leave the leadership scheme until next year, when I hopefully have some more clear-cut experience of leading formal projects, as I feel this would be more beneficial to me. However, I fully intend to continue the reflection I have started here, and am always on the lookout for leadership oppertunities!

One final though; I think one of the main things that I have learned through all of this reflection on Leadership skills, is that being a leader is more a state of mind affair. I am no longer of the opinion that some people are born leaders, and others are more about following. I think before I thought of myself as someone who could lead small projects, but would shy away from taking on anything challenging of this kind, but now I have learned the skills to take charge, and the confidence is there to actively take control and aim for something bigger that I can really get involved in!

Thanks for the seminar, and the feedback pieces :)


January 17, 2012

Follow Up 2

Follow-up to Follow Up 1 from Matt's blog

I thought I'd leave the post until back at university (as the whole holiday has been devoted to numerous essays and revising for a methods exam!)

My first action point that I've been focussing on throughout not only my essays but also my revision, has been to split large tasks down into manageable chunks, and effectively "lead" myself to achieve certain milestones with relation to these pieces of work. If we take a look at the first task: revising for my exam. This involved reading nearly 50 case studies, and become familiar with the problems and subsequent solutions that related to the methods. I decided to make a conscious effort to set milestones of reading a set number every day, and make notes, before a certain date on which I would review my progress. In addition, with regard to making notes, I effectively recruited 3 other people and organised which case studies we would each make particularly detailed notes on, and collaborated with them when term began.

I also organised a house meeting to limit the amount of electricity being used, as well as putting a cap on the heating allowance each day. This was completely against how I would normally act (running the meeting) but i feel gave me good experience in effectively running a debate, as well as organising where everyone should meet, and at what time etc.

The team project is coming along nicely - we have lost a team member, but added another to the group, so more organisation was needed here to bring them up to scratch on the ideas. I was thinking about what I learned in the first seminar with regard to setting up mind mapping sessions, to see what everyone's ideas were, and I set up a meeting with this in mind within the first week. We now have the proposal for our project sorted, and I have designated wider reading areas to each person!

In search for new leadership oppertunities, I've applied to be a research assistant for two lecturers in the psychology department, looking to run experiments and lead groups of people through these. I figure, if this teaches me nothing else apart from how to organise when the experiments are run and so forth, it will look pretty good on my CV!

That's about all for now!

December 15, 2011

Follow Up 2

Follow-up to Follow Up Post from Matt's blog

Soooo in the last couple of weeks or so, they've decided to flood us with loads of assessed pieces of work, and we have two more set for when we get back to uni again. I figure the last few have been set in a very condensed time period, so this has helped me practice my writing under time pressure, whereas the next couple (aside from aiding in my time management skills) will be more of a long-term coursework exercise.

With the last few pieces, my results writing skills have been the ones most tested. My last action point was geared towards taking an interest more in the results sections of published journals, and despite the endless chore that is picking apart every little part of every stats test, I really think this has helped me a lot here! By reading results sections from a variety of authors, I've got more of a grasp on the different ways in which results are reported (often varying from journal to journal), and my overall awareness of them has risen. Therefore, I was able to write in a style that was very similar to those I had read. Another winner was being able to condense my writing more (another action point I've been working on). For results sections in psychology, we must only use scientific language, and only write things that are absolutely necessary. Through all the practice I've had with summarising and condensing my writing, this is becoming more and more second nature to me!

Aside from all this, a few new action points have formed. I have two massive assignments in for after Christmas, and these take the form of critical essays. Again, being succinct and to the point is of vital importance here, so I shall continue to look at examples of scientific writing (particularly empirical critiques) to get a grasp on how these are writen by the pros. In addition, from reflecting on the results sections I completed for my previous assignments, I think that my methods of results presentation is something I need to work on - I wasn't sure whether it was conventional to draw one type of graph, or a table, etc etc. So looking up guidelines on this would be very helpful. One final point would be to look at structuring arguments, as this is one of the main parts of my empiricial critique, as well as my exam in January (on evaluating research methods in psychology). Therefore, I have requested a useful book from the lecturer taking the exam, and I'm in the process of borrowing it from my local library to see how arguments SHOULD be structured!


Follow Up 2

Follow-up to Week One – Follow Up from Matt's blog

In the last few weeks, we've been given a ton of assessed pieces of work to do, hence a ton of oppertunities to try out my action points! Okay, so, what have we learned from the previous few pieces of assessed work? First point to note: on none of these essays I've stayed up past midnight on the deadline date to finish them (a massive achievement for me!). Second point: I've been able to manage my time more effectively, and set some time aside each day in order to prevent getting overwhelmed with each section of the essays. Third: I'm not constantly seeking approval for every part of the essays, like I used to (I'm being more of an Activist now). I genuinely feel like I'm making progress on this front, as my work seems to have more shape, and i'm a lot less stressed about it! However, on reflection, there's always room for improvement. I still need to realise that each section of an essay will take a different amount of time, and should compensate for this; the perfectionist attitude is not always used in the right places. In addition, planning is something I'm still not doing effectively (mind maps and such). Therefore, still room for improvement on these fronts, and this can be done for my next two critical essays.

I've been following the action point of diving head first into oppertunities, by getting a job that involves me getting up at 5:30 in the morning, to work before university. I figure (aside from getting much needed money!) this will show employers that i'm flexible in my working hours, and very hard working in all areas of my life. This is aiding my action point of being more proactive towards making my CV look more impressive, and the career appointment has aided in helping me decide what internships I'm looking towards, but I still need to make some applications - the next action point! On the plus side, I have contacted a relative who has informed me about the HR career path, and I've been put off this a bit (out of about 5 career path choices, I find myself down to 4... just 3 more to cut down...!)


Follow Up 1

Follow-up to P8 Leading a Group Project from Matt's blog

Tutor: Mary Sage

So, once again, there has been a distinct lack of leadership oppertunities in my life (not for lack of trying to find them!), so I shall focus on the action points set in the previous blog post.

Alrighty, so the first action point involved splitting large tasks down into smaller ones. In the last few weeks we have been swamped with pieces of assessed work (they seem to spring them all on us at the end of term!) so the silver lining of this situation is that I've been able to put into practice my plans here. I attempted to split many of the assessments into manageable chunks, and with hindsight this seemed to work well at first. However, on further reflection I think the part of this that let me down involved not making these milestones very clear in the first place! For example, thinking back, "I will write the first two paragraphs, and it will be done in three days time" seems like a good target at first, but it isn't specific enough. The problem lies in the fact that more planning is needed to work out what each part of the overall task will involve - not just splitting it into arbitrary sections (and milestones). One to work on there!

Haha, the kitchen project. This overlaps a bit with the assertiveness seminar I went to, but as I mentioned, I'm not very good at making people play their role in a group environment, and often end up doing their work for them so that the job gets done. However, with my kitchen it may be a small achievement, but I have acheived an environment in which people realise what they need to do, especially coming up to the end of term. I organised an informal meeting, and expressed what had to be done (a side note, the sink flooded part of the house the other day, as the sink was too full of dishes - that may have woken people up to the issue!). By drawing up a vague plan of everyone's duties, the room is looking in a much better state, and I feel like I've actually led a "team" of sorts! Reflecting on this experience, I'm going to attempt to keep this up, and attempt to lead a new situation that has arisen - sorting out the electricity bills, as we have been charged an extortionate amount (something I would not normally take a lead on).

With regard to the team project, I've discussed with my potential team members what ideas we have for the project next term. So far, I'm trying to organise a planning stage, but hopefully when we've got some of these ideas down, I can start delegating research to different people, and take more of a leadership role in this!


November 28, 2011

Follow Up Post

Follow-up to A3 Academic Writing for Arts and Social Sciences from Matt's blog

(Side note, sorry Laura - been insanely busy this week with a data project that counts 40% towards one of my modules!)

Alrighty, so my first action point from last week was writing things in a clear, concise manner. As luck would have it, a key task for some seminar work that I had to complete was to analyse an article, and write up a summary of the aims, design, and conclusions in 250 words or less! So, how would I tackle this? I began by sticking down the main key points on a page, cutting out anything that I thought was even slightly off topic. Next, putting it together. Skipping forward a good hour or so, I wound up with around 400 words; 150 over my target. However, I'll take this as a learning experience, as getting rid of those unnecessary words taught me which ones aren't needed. Although all of the evidence was necessary (action point 2), it everything could have been condensed better, so I'll call this a partial victory on the precise writing front! Next time, for the next piece of work for this seminar (something along similar guidelines), I shall aim to impliment this writing style right from the start, possibly using this piece of work as a bit of a template, and hopefully I can learn something from it!

On the journal reading front, I've taken an interest in some topics that aren't on my course (for example, hypnosis), to hopefully broaden my knowledge of psychology in general! Aside from being really interesting, I'm finding I have a better understanding of how they are written, and what makes a journal more scientific, rather than Arts-ey. My next step I feel should be concentrating more on the results sections of journals, along with looking up a book I was recommended by my Methods module lecturer. This will hopefully clear up something I've discovered through the extra reading - results aren't written the same way by every researcher - there's a lot of variation there, and there isn't a clear-cut way of doing things! As I say, hopefully I'm using what I've read in my own work, and it should make my writing style a little bit more professional! That's the aim anyway!


November 22, 2011

Week One – Follow Up

Follow-up to P1 An Introduction to Skills Development and the Warwick Skills Portfolio from Matt's blog

Tutor: Han-Na Cha

So, I was going to wait until the assessment I completed prior to the first blog post, before I started this one. Despite it being over a week, nothing new in the pidgeon hole, so no comment there with the result of that piece of work!

Incidentally, we have had another project to do in the meantime, so this is where our story begins: 1000 words, general essay style, with the title "What are the different types of blindsight and why do they occur?". I decided to continue of my action point to follow my intuition, and be more of an "Activist" (not over-thinking things). Therefore, I ended up letting my whole knowledge of the subject spill out onto the page, without feeling the need to structure my thoughts, or censor them in any way. Through this method of creating mind maps, refining them, putting them in random unnecessary colours, drawing pictures of blind people etc etc. actually really helped me to get everything out there, without me panicking that it wasn't written perfectly, or thinking about where it was all going to fit in later - definite plan for future essays! However, this left me with about 2200 words; 1200 over my word limit. Despite my action point of not putting in unnecessary effort to improve things when they're already perfectly adequate, I figured now was the time to unleash the beast. 6 hours later, and one by one, 1200 words were gone - there's a time and a place for being a perfectionist, and an excessively long essay is definitely the time! (incidentally, the learning grid was the place - irrelevant).

With reflection on this experience, a new action point seems to be emerging - time management. I often end up making sure things are perfect, but put them off (possibly due to thinking the task is too great, it can always be improved etc. - you can tell I take psychology as a degree...). This goal: set time aside to work on the project, don't leave it until the last minute!

Oh, careers society - didn't get the position I was after (grr), yet just as the phoenix is reborn from the ashes of its former self, I've reflected on this experience and learned a lot. The interview itself was a learning experience, along with the general feeling of being proactive and going outside of my comfort zone - something i'm working on! Also, it turns out Ad Hoc clashes Badminton club (another new venture I've undertaken!) So, I've decided to alternate between doing badminton and Ad Hoc each week.

Hmmmm anything else... Internships are another big thing I've decided to be proactive towards (being more of an Activist), and I'm heading off to a career appointment later today to discuss what I should put in my CV and internship applications (which I'm currently working on), leading again to employers liking me, and giving me jobs. And money. In addition, I'm going to loads of talks on how to write CVs, cover letters, which employers look for what, and so on. The next step is to find more leadership oppertunities, and I'm not quite sure where to go for this, just keeping my eyes open and aiming to get involved in anything that comes my way! It's so competitive out there, any actions I can take will help the cause (even if they do involve me having to get out of bed before 7 in the morning..)!

That's about all for this week!


November 18, 2011

A3 Academic Writing for Arts and Social Sciences

Tutor: Dr Laura Davies

Date of workshop:17/11/2011

Weirdly feel like the pressure is on for this blog post, I may have to up my writing style game here..! Anyway, right, so a few hours ago I was sat in a seminar aimed at improving writing style in my field; Psychology. (Possibly incorrect semicolon usage - oh dear). We began by discussing the definitions of analysis and evaluation; two key parts of most academic writing that we will participate in. We went on to talk about referencing, the overall structure of essays, and had a go at discussing the strengths and weaknesses of some example essay sections (including having a quick look at our own work, which is much much harder to analyse; I guess we just can't help but take our own criticism personally!).

So, what strengths and weaknesses do I have? Intending to print off the last essay I did, I accidentally printed off a piece of work I wrote on developmental psychology from my first year. However, this actually had a surprise benefit: I could see the change in the quality of my work up to this point, and the advice I received demonstrated just how far I can go from here! Currently, I'm pretty good at presenting an argument (the benefits of doing an English Literature A level!), and writing with a decent structure. One thing I lack however, is not being able to present information in a clear, precise manner. Having been encouraged to use elaborate language in essays at A level, I find it very hard to switch this writing style off, and go into "nobody cares about pointless adjectives" mode. Therefore, first action point: in all pieces of work I'm writing, make a conscious effort to read over the completed piece, and cut out any unnecessary language.

My second action point ties in with not using unnecessary language. Whenever I write an essay and check back over it, I almost always find myself over the word count. At this point, I begin to see that pretty much ALL sentences can be presented in a much more precise manner. This applies not only to adjectives etc. but also to general sentence structure. So, my second action point will be to start out by structure sentences correctly in upcoming essays. If, when writing the essay for the first time, I can make sure sentences are written to convey the main evidence, and nothing more, then when it comes to exams I will be able to write in this way (as there is less time to check through essays in that context).

Finally, my last action point is that I need to read more journals. The more I expose myself to the subject literature, the more I should be able to soak up their writing style, like a metaphorical academic sponge. I figure that if I pick journals that interest me, I'll be able to maintain concentration and may get through on average one more piece of writing every day, which would be a good start!

I will try to update my progress on this side of my skills development at the end of next week, when I've attempted to put these targets into action. Good stuff!


P8 Leading a Group Project

Tutor: Mary Sage

Date of workshop:16/11/2011

Let's do this. So, the first workshop based on leadership was a few days ago. We began by thinking about what a project is actually defined as, followed by working out what made projects successful. Bingo, straight away hit on my first action point: setting milestones with projects. You see, when I have a project to do with or without others, or any large task for that matter, I generally throw it all into one big category - THE PROJECT. Hence, it always seems daunting, and I often end up avoiding it like the plague. However, when I start it, I really get into it, and end up wearing myself out by working long hours that should have been separated out! So, first action point - aim to split large tasks (not just projects), into smaller ones. I've also noticed this then leading other people; I don't see the overall aim as a series of small goals.

Next, we learned about authoritarian, participative and delegative leadership styles. Authoritarian is the standard "you do this. I'm the boss." style of leadership, participative is more "let's all contribute to decisions and live in harmony", and delegative is "I'm the leader, but you guys decide everything on your own". Thinking about my own style, I definitely have to rule out authoritarian: I'm pretty rubbish att telling people what to do (cue assertiveness skills seminar!). Conversely, I'd say my strengths lie in getting all opinions and making decisions that keep everyone happy; I'm not a big fan of conflict! This leads onto my next action point; delegation and chasing people up. If people aren't pulling their weight in group projects, or anything in life, I'm the last to force them to do things. A polite suggestion is just about as far as I'll go; I find it hard to make people do things they don't want to do. So, since there aren't many oppertunities to make sure people are working in group projects currently, I figure the next best thing is looking outside my academic life. The kitchen in my house (bear with me here) is constantly a complete mess. I'm only really bothered when it's my cutlery etc. that's used and not washed up, but it's getting pretty ridiculous. Anyway, the skill I'm going to try and implement is encouraging people to play their role in putting the work in to keep the room tidy. This skill is obviously transferable to any projects I have to lead in future. I guess you could call it being team leader of "Project Kitchen"! Except maybe not, because that sounds super lame.

Hmm, third action point... considering we have a psychology project coming up, which involves team work, I think it would be wise for me to get the team I'm probably working with together and come up with some ideas about what kind of thing to do a study on. This kind of planning this far ahead isn't normally something I would do, but neither is a seminar on leadership, and both will help me in the long run!

Summary: Break things into smaller tasks, delegate and enforce tasks, and work out an early project action plan to save time later. Sounds do-able, we shall see!


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