August 10, 2014

WSPA Final Summary Blog

Over the last year, I have attended six workshops from Warwick University’s Masters Skills programme which are required for the accomplishment of the Warwick Student Portfolio Award (WSPA). Since the introductory seminar on the WSPA, I have written online blog entries for all my action points from each workshop I have attended.

As an MA History student, I found the workshops particularly helpful in improving my written work and seminar participation. The WSPA has taught me new methods in approaching and completing tough assignments, which I was never taught at undergraduate level.

In the introductory workshop on the WSPA, I discovered that different people have many different ways of learning and processing information. I found out that I was a ‘reflector learner’ as opposed to an ‘activist’ or a ‘theorist’. I learned that this meant I spent a lot of time thinking over work and processing my thoughts on information. Although this was a perfectly fine way of learning, I also found out that this meant I lacked the skills that activists or theorists possessed, namely being assertive and completing tasks effectively. I made action points in order to improve the latter skills such as getting more involved in extra-curricular activities, becoming more talkative and sticking to a planned timetable. Over the subsequent weeks, I found that I was a lot more organized and I was more effective in completing difficult tasks.

In the second workshop I attended, Reading & Note-making, I learned that there are many different types of reading techniques which serve different purposes such as scanning, skimming and close-reading. Although I have always been a slow reader these different techniques have improved the overall speed of my reading. The workshop also showed me effective note taking methods. I also found that reviewing my notes on a regular basis, helped develop my ideas for discussions or written work.

The workshop on Writing at Masters Level vastly improved my time management and organization for writing academic papers. I learned how to condense a question, critically evaluate old work and take a more minimalist approach when collecting vast swathes of information. The most important thing I learned from this workshop was the earlier you start writing the better, as that gives you more time to overlook your written work (an essential part of completing any written MA assignment, which I am currently putting into practice for my dissertation).

In the workshop on Critical Thinking at Masters Level, I was introduced to illogical fallacies and how frequently people use them. An awareness of illogical fallacies has equipped me with an important diagnostic tool in identifying strong and weak arguments. I also learned how to compare and contrast polarized arguments from the same historical topic. The more I compared arguments, the more balanced and well-rounded my written work became. I used the very same technique for political debates I engaged with on tv or radio such as the discussions around UKIP and the EU. I found this method could even unearth flaws within people’s arguments I agreed with. The whole workshop was perhaps the most enlightening session as it related well with my History degree, which after all is meant to be a critical and balanced investigation in to past events. The workshop taught me that engaging in debates drastically improves your critical faculties and your investigative capacity. Our critical tools are essential for evaluating political, historical and moral arguments and assessing why they are good or bad, weak or strong, logical or illogical.

As a relatively shy and quiet person, the fifth workshop on Becoming more assertive showed me that acting more assertively (linking back to the very first workshop) helped me complete tasks more quickly, effectively and even enjoyably. With the help of ‘Transactional Analysis’, this workshop highlighted that assertive behaviour was linked to mature and more adult behaviour. The ‘adult ego-state’ should be used when necessary, to remain calm, composed and most importantly rational when others try to forcibly influence your decision-making, mood or behaviour. I learned that remaining in a calm and rational state was also imperative when suffering from forms of depression or anxiety such as Imposter Syndrome, which I subsequently learned is a psychological phenomenon which makes people think they are inadequate. Having felt inadequate and depressed many times before, I learned that utilizing the ‘adult ego-state’ is an important exercise in putting my negative feelings into perspective and appreciating what I have achieved in my life so far.

Although I attended this workshop after my studies had basically finished, my final workshop on Presentation Skills still helped me put some new techniques of presentation skills into practice. I learned that good body posture through the practice of the ‘neutral stance’ was hugely important in coming across as confident and happy in all fields of life, but in particular when delivering a presentation. Practicing presentations by reading scripts aloud helps enormously with timing issues, confidence and even correcting mistakes, otherwise hidden to the quick reader. Knowing the audience and tailoring your content to what they ‘must, should and could’ know is also an indispensable method in delivering concise, relevant and interesting presentations.

Since commencing the WSPA workshops, I feel I have learned a lot and improved in many of my working techniques. I have also found that the WSPA has improved my emotional intelligence - helping me develop from an undergraduate to a postgraduate student. Furthermore, I have learned that completing extracurricular tasks, such as those from the WSPA blogs, does not distract you from your formal work but in fact can only help improve your work. I found that the WSPA has vastly improved my academic, professional and personal skills and has put me in good stead for the future, whether that be in further education or future jobs.

David Jonathan Walker, MA History, University of Warwick


July 31, 2014

Concluding entry on Presentation Skills

Follow-up to First entry on Delivering effective presentations from David's blog

Over the last few weeks, I have tried to improve different aspects of good presenation skills.

In my first action point, I tried to improve my body posture. I learned from the workshop that good body posture was perhaps the most important component for a good presentation. Having had problems with posture in the past, I tried my best to return to a ‘neutral stance’ as often as possible after communicating. I found that having a better posture helped me come across as more confident and happier to others which in turn made me feel more confident and happier.

My second action point was to practice reading aloud to practice my presentation skills. Althought it felt very strange to read aloud in an empty room, I found the exercise quite useful for timing, confidence and correcting work.

My third action point was to use the ‘must, should and could’ know technique of assembling information in my dissertation work. Althought this was difficult for the purpose of organising a more detailed written work, I found the technique somewhat effective with the help of colour-coding my notes. Thus I was able to re-apropriate a technique for presentation work into a technique for written work.

Despite the lack of presentation opportunities over the last few weeks, I have found that practising the different aspects that make up good presentation skills can be helpful in many other fields of work.

Good posture and reading aloud presentations can be very useful in building confidence in public scenarios. Reading aloud can also help reasses and correct existing work. Using techniques of what people ‘must, should and could’ know about key bits of information can also be useful in organising a large piece of written work like a dissertation. Overall the presentation workshop and the three action points from it have made me feel more confident about public events. I will certainly use these techniques for any presentation I may need to do in the future.


Update to Action point 3 on Delivering effective presentations

Follow-up to First entry on Delivering effective presentations from David's blog

My third action point from the Presentation skills workshop was to use the ‘must, should and could know’ technique behind presentations in my dissertation work.

Despite the lack of presentation opportunities over the summer period, I have tried to use the ‘must, should and could’ know technique in my dissertation research and writing process.

Over the last six to seven weeks, I have found it difficult to attribute the technique to my dissertation work. That said, I believe I have used the technique to the best of my ability. By using colour coding, with highlighting pens, I have found it quite useful in highlighting both what I believe is essential and non-essential information in my Master thesis.

Having nearly finished what I hope to be one of the final drafts of my first chapter, I have found my colour-coded technique of what ‘must, should and could’ be known to be useful in the writing and editing process.

Although the technique is much better suited to presentational work, I believe that it can be appropriated in the above way. After all, my dissertation will be a presentation of sorts which will be judged in a similar fashion to my past presentations. My thesis will be judged on its content and whether I portrayed enough essential information or not and whether I added some interesting extras. This is essentially another way of using the ‘must, should and could’ know technique.


July 26, 2014

Concluding entry on Becoming more Assertive

Writing about web page /walkerdavid/entry/first_entry_on_1_2_3_4/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

Over the last month and a half, since the workhsop on becoming more assertive, I have tried to improve my assertive behaviour.

My first action point was to use a work and exercise routine plan before my holidays in order to act more assertively. Although my exercise plan to go to the gym regularly did not go exactly to plan, I managed to play football and do room exercises as an effective substitute. Moreover, with the use of word quotas and many hours set aside in the library my work routine worked extremely well.

My second action point was to remain in the adult ‘ego-state’ during heated debates. Whenever I found myself in an argument or discussion over the last month or so, I tried my best to remain calm and composed whilst I expressed my view point. Although this did not always go to plan, I made sure I learned from both positive and negative experiences.

My third and final action point was to research into imposter syndrome. I learned that the syndrome was a psychological phenomenon which affects many people’s self-confidence.

Since the workshop on becoming more assertive in June, I have learned that assertive behaviour is extremely useful in completing objectives and becoming a more mature person. Knowledge of the desired adult ‘ego-state’ for example has taught me that remaining calm and composed in heated situations can make you happier and more confident about yourself. Furthermore knowledge of imposter syndrome has put some of my previous negative thoughts and feelings into perspective. The realisation that many people feel this way about themselves is taught me to appreciate who I am and what I have achieved. All in all, I believe that the workshop and action points covered have taught me the importance of emotional maturity.


Update to Action point 2 on Delivering effective presentations

Follow-up to First entry on Delivering effective presentations from David's blog

My second action point from the Presenatation skills workshop was to practice reading aloud over the last 5 to 6 weeks.

Despite the lack of presentation opportunities over the summer period, I have gone back to look over my MA conference paper from May, in order to practice reading aloud. In addition to my old conference paper, I decided to also read aloud the first draft of my first chapter of my dissertation which I have just completed.

Having practised my presenatation for a long time back in May, I found it very easy to read over my conference paper. On the other hand, I found reading over the first draft of my first chapter a bit harder for I had not read over it as much. That said, reading aloud was very useful for I found mistakes in my writing which I would have otherwise overlooked.

Considering I have no presentations in the near future, I found the experience of reading aloud at home very strange. However, I admit that reading aloud, be it for practising presentations or simply assessing your writing, is a very important exercise in revising work.

It is an exercise which most people do not practice, however, I have learned that it is an effective tool in highlighting mistakes.


July 21, 2014

Update to Action point 3 on Becoming more Assertive

Writing about web page /walkerdavid/entry/first_entry_on_1_2_3_4/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

My third and final action point from the Becoming more assertive workshop was to research further into Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter syndrome, coined by Pauline Clance and Tommy Cooper in 1978 and also known as Imposter phenomenon or Fraud syndrome, is a pyschological phenomenon in which sufferers are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Imposter syndrome affects a person in such a way that they are unable to receive praise for their achievements and hold beliefs that they are in some way a fraud.

Although it is not classified as a mental disorder, Imposter syndrome has been the subject of much research for many psychologists. Evidence suggests that the syndrome is not a personality trait of sufferers but is in fact a common reaction to certain social situations.

According to research, Imposter syndrome is predominantly, but not exclusively, suffered by certain minority groups who have achieved success in some shape or form. Research shows that women, ethnic minorities and even graduate students ending university and beginning a new line of work have all reported to have suffered from Imposter syndrome. As a postgraduate student myself, this realisation is particularly telling. Sometimes I feel inadequate to participate in any form of conventional work because I have been a history student for so long. However, if most grad students are in the same position as me, it has become clear that I should really think more positively about my position. After all there are plenty of students out there just like me.

This realisation is also the the exact form of therapy for Imposter Syndrome. According to my research, therapy begins with recognition that the syndrome exists followed by overcoming certain assumptions about yourself (e.g that one mistake is not the end of the world). The final step to therapy is to avoid negative and destructive thoughts which could hamper your emotional progress.

After having recognised the facts, it is then easier to relate your personal situation to reality and to become aware of the flaws in your thinking. It is said that even writing your accomplishments on paper can held one rethink their accomplishments. I have found this and even reflecting on my progress to help. Despite negative thoughts about my continued MA study over the last year, recently I have realised that if I can achieve a Merit in my MA History, achieve the Warwick Award, learn to drive and perhaps apply for as many internships I can, then I can safely say that this year was not wasted at all. Although I have no direct plans for the coming academic year, the fact that by September I will have two degrees from two excellent top ten universities (as well as my extracuricular activities to boost my CV) puts me in good stead for either future study (such as a PGCE course) or work (e.g the civil service).

Researching into Imposter Syndrome has not only made me learn about a psychological phenomenon I knew very little about, but has also helped me realise that thinking positively about my achievements and the future is a very important exercise in emotional maturity.


July 14, 2014

Update to Action point 1 on Delivering effective presentations

Follow-up to First entry on Delivering effective presentations from David's blog

My first action point from the WSPA workshop on Delivering Effective Presentations was to improve my posture over four weeks.

For years, people had always commented that I had bad body posture. This in turn had hindered my ability to come accross as a confident person towards friends, family and strangers.

However, over the last few years, as I have matured and my confidence as boosted, I feel I have made steady improvements to my overall body posture. That said, it has always been far from perfect and I almost always inadvertently slouch or hunch over whether it be when I am sat at a table or desk or even walking around. Over the last four weeks I have tried to rectify these problems by remaining in the ‘neutral stance’.

Over the last few weeks I feel I have done well in returning to a neutral stance after walking or gesticulating. As someone who has always liked to communicate using hands and gestures, over the past few weeks I have almost always tried to return to a neutral positon. I have also tried to keep my head up and as straight as possible when walking around.

As I have been on holiday for the last week and a half, I have been able to look at friends’ photos of me and see if I have improved my posture or not. Likewise whenever a photo was taken of me I tried my best not to slouch and in stead posed with a straight back and with my head firmly staring at the camera. Of course there were times I could not have done this due to my lack of awareness to the camera. However, I feel that on the whole I have remained in a good neutral posture whenever possible which has improved my overall posture over the last few weeks.

Even when talking to people during my travels, whether they were the mates I was traveling with or complete strangers, I felt that I came across a lot more confident and happier than in previous encounters. I have learned that a good posture can help you come across as a confident and happy person which in turn should make you feel like one.


Update to Action point 2 on Becoming more Assertive

Writing about web page /walkerdavid/entry/first_entry_on_1_2_3_4/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

My second action point from the workshop on Becoming more assertive, was to remain in the ‘ego-state of the adult’ during discussions, arguments or deliberations over the last five weeks.

Over the last month or so I have not found myself in many environments prone to arguments or discussions. However, when I have been dragged into potential confrontations, I have found that I have effectively remained in the adult ego-state. Remembering what I had learned from the workshop, I have tried to remain calm and composed when someone has tried to put me, deliberately or otherwise, in the ‘child’ or ‘parent ego-state’.

However, there have been occasions as there always are, when I have found myself slip out of the ‘adult ego-state’ and I have found it hard to rectify my spirited and emotional reactions. As unfortunate as this is, these kinds of mistakes are inevitable when you are trying to improve yourself and I am prepared to learn from both successful and failed experiences.

That said, I feel that even the knowledge of the three ego-states of Transactional Analysis has put me in good stead for the future. I will always try to remember to remain in the ‘adult ego-state’ no matter what others do or say. I am a lot more controled than I used to be in heated debates or discussions, however I know there is always room for improvement.


Update to Action point 1 on Becoming more Assertive

Writing about web page /walkerdavid/entry/first_entry_on_1_2_3_4/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

My first Action point from the workshop on Becoming more assertive, was to stick to a work and exercise plan before going on holiday on June 28th.

This was a work and exercise routine which maximised the amount of dissertation work and exercise I did before going away to Germany and Czech Republic (as I knew I would be neither working nor living healthily during my travels).

However, exercising during my routine did not go exactly to plan. I found it hard to go to the gym as many times as I had planned to. That said, instead of going to the gym regularly, I spent most of my time playing football or doing room exercises. The latter allowed me more time to work, as I did not need to leave my flat. On reflection I could have balanced out football, the gym and home exercises more evenly. However, my exercise routine still functioned relatively effectively which helped my overall work routine.

My thesis for dissertation writing was particularly effective, as I completed nearly 8,000 words of my 20,000 word dissertation. For the three weeks leading up to my holiday I made sure I was in the library every day researching and writing for the first section of my dissertation. With this routine and the use of word quotas to reach for each working day, I found I could write quite lengthily on my dissertation topic without much trouble. Although I will now have to thoroughly look over my work having returned to university, the psychological effect of completing a large part of my dissertation before going away was extremely satisfying for me.

All in all my work and exercise routine, allowed me to act more assertivenly than I had done in the past. I found that by acting more assertively I could complete complicated or long tasks quite quickly and even enjoyably. I will try to remain just as assertive in the future in order to complete my dissertation and remain fit and healthy as I do it.


June 12, 2014

First entry on Delivering effective presentations

Workshop Tutor: Nathalie Dalton-King

Introduction

In the Delivering Effective Presentations workshop, we were taught some basic techniques to improve the way we presented content and in turn, ourselves.

From the beginning we were encouraged to build our confidence in a very interactive and teambuilding environment. Our first task was to present a short 30 second presentation on the different types of presentations and their purposes. My group worked well together and distinguished four different types of presentation (lectures, political speeches, small meetings and sales pitches) and two main purposes (to teach and to persuade).

After the presentation we were taught that body language, eye contact and vocal projection were the most important aspects behind any presenter’s pitch. Posture and gestures are particularly important because they communicate far more to audience than speech. The workshop outlined that during a presentation, at least 80% of communication is through body language. This statistic was particularly enlightening for, having just done a presentation a couple of weeks ago, I did not realize until now how important body language was. We engaged in a few exercises in order to improve our body posture and we were taught that after making gestures we should always return to the ‘neutral posture’.

We were then taken through the structural process of making a presentation. The workshop highlighted the basic structure of introduction, main body and conclusion was imperative for a coherent presentation. Before creating a presentation, content should also be separated from what the audience must, should and could know. This allows a presenter to gauge what is most important about their presentation what is perhaps less significant. Additionally, a presentation should also make the most of multisensory aids such as visual, aural or kinesthetic content. From my own experience I believe that presentations with many pictures or photos and very little text are generally the most engaging and interesting.

Finally, we were shown the key to performing a successful presentation. The key things to remember were: know why your presenting, know your audience, have a plan B and practice as much as possible. Having done my MA conference presentation two weeks ago, I found practicing my performance at home was necessary in order to not exceed the maximum time of fifteen minutes. As practice, I read my presentation aloud for the first time which was a far more productive experience than I had on previous presentations. After delivering my fifteen presentation a bit quicker than I originally wanted to, I learnt that timing is crucial. I found Professor Nathalie Dalton-King’s comment that most people will resent you for going on too far, (particularly around lunch time and at the end of the day) humorously accurate.

To round off the workshop, we were given ten minutes to prepare a presentation on ‘Why I chose History’ before delivering it in front of two people from the group. Being an MA History student myself, I found it quite an easy presentation to create and deliver. However, the presentation at the end of the workshop was still an important exercise that taught us more than anything, that practice is the key to a successful presentation.

Actions

  1. Action Point 1 over the next 3 to 4 weeks will be to improve my body posture.

    Whether it be practicing presentation or simply conversing, I want to improve my posture in order to come across better to both my friends and strangers. I will try my best to return to a ‘neutral posture’ as much as possible.

  2. Action Point 2 over the next 5 to 6 weeks will be to practice delivering presentations aloud or in the mirror in order to improve my vocal projection & pace.

    With no more presentations to do, I will try rehearsing my MA conference paper and perhaps my Dissertation’s first chapter as a practice for future presenting.

  3. Action Point 3 over the next 6 or 7 weeks will be to put the ‘Must, Should, Could know’ technique into practice for my dissertation work.

  4. NA

To write a follow up, go to http://go.warwick.ac.uk/skills//blog


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  • Hello David, Thanks for writing such a reflective final entry for the WSPA – what a pleasure to read… by Lisa Faulkner on this entry
  • David, Considering the lack of presentation opportunities that you have had over the past few weeks,… by Nathalie Dalton-King on this entry
  • Excellent extrapolation of the technique, David. I am pleased that you have continued to use it in t… by Nathalie Dalton-King on this entry
  • David, What a good way to practice when you don't have a presentation any time soon. And then of cou… by Nathalie Dalton-King on this entry
  • Hi David, Well done on completing this module and filling in four blogs for this. I have enjoyed rea… by on this entry

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