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What My Final Year at University Has Taught Me

4 years over and University is finished.

I have very mixed emotions leaving University; sad to leave great friends, student life and unique opportunities. Not so sad to leave academic life, lectures and exams!

As I have done for each year completed so far, I’m now sitting down to reflect on what I’ve learnt this year. It’s a strange one, as I feel like this year has been the start of new kinds of learning, yet without as many ‘conclusions’ or ‘lessons’ to share. Regardless, here are 3 things I do believe I can pass on from this final year of University life.

1 – The world isn’t binary

I think University is a place where many people begin to formulate their ideas and views of the world – me included (as is evident in this website!).

One thing that struck me this year is the number of binary opinions people have. A topic has answer X and not answer Y. It’s easy to see this in political discussions; “are you left or right wing?”

I always like to have an opinion on something and, perhaps through the naivety of youth, I thought a lot of my views were good ones.

This year I’ve really started watching and listening to more ‘thought leaders’, for lack of a better title. Podcasts from Joe Rogan, lectures from Jordan Peterson, debates with Stephen Fry and so on. Some are very political, others religious, and some intellectual. It’s been a bit of a marathon of idea exploration and thought development.

The number one thing I have taken away from these – the world isn’t binary and it is foolish to have opinions that also are (unless you fully understand why!). I found my opinions being pulled to pieces when listening to podcasts and suddenly realising why I might be wrong. Then suddenly another interview would agree with my original belief. Who’s wrong? Well, maybe neither. Context matters, added levels of understanding change outcomes and situations evolve. Meaning, we shouldn’t have categorical opinions because the world is too complex for them to hold true all the time.

If you’d like an example of what I mean, check out this video (38:20). Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan discuss the phrase “it’s not winning, it’s taking part that counts”. I guarantee many, many people are on one side or the other, but they couldn’t explain why or how it holds in different situations. Just listen to the break down from Jordan Peterson. I know my opinion changed several times just watching this video.

2 – Fake it ’til you make it

University is one big experiment in the Dunning-Krueger effect.

The 4 years are a journey of confidence, shock, worry, hope and then ending with competence. The whole experience is a summary of mini Dunning-Krueger effects, whether that’s for a new module, joining a society or going to an event. Ultimately most people realise they are capable and personally I feel many people were capable from the start and their worry and stress wasn’t needed.

I think back to a lesson I was taught early on by a friend who at the time was in their fourth year. Act with confidence that is above where you feel it is because, in reality, your ability exceeds it all.

Imagine how much better it would be to have a more consistent view of your ability. You’d be more productive, happier and achieve more through higher belief. It’s having the confidence to say yes to projects or to join executives or take on a harder topic for a piece of work.

Now, there is the pitfall that if your confidence exceeds your true value it can end badly. I guess a lot of people will have read the above and alarm bells of being perceived as arrogant start ringing. For me, the solution is through external checks from those around you. Do people trust you? Do they show faith in your abilities? If so, then your confidence is justified. However, if you don’t have the respect and faith of others, then maybe you need to consider why.

“Fake it ’til you make it” is somewhat of an extreme way of putting this view. In fact, there is nothing fake about it if you do actually have the underlying ability.

3 – University was the right choice for me

Amongst my friends and I, towards the end of our time at University, we actually spoke quite a lot about whether University has been worth it. Not just the cost, but also the time; could it have been better spent?

There’s a whole world of opportunities prior to University; degree integrated apprenticeships, going straight into a job, or even starting your own company. I’m meeting more and more people from varied routes and it isn’t clear that one option is better than another. University gives you a stepping stone into graduate roles, yet apprenticeships could get you to the same level after 3-4 years and you’ve been earning from day one. I have friends who would not do University again if given the choice, not because they haven’t enjoyed it or found it beneficial, but because they value the 3-4 years of work experience that could have been gained otherwise.

I am certain that University was the right choice for me. Not because of the degree gained or what I’ve learnt from my course, but because of everything else. People I’ve met, experiences I’ve had, and endless life lessons learnt. I was once told that our Vice-Principal says to new students “if all you do is leave here with a first class degree, then we have failed you. University is so much more than a degree.”

 

 

Year 4 Term 2

I’m just about the start my third term of fourth year. Yes, this will be my last term at University. Not sure what’s more upsetting, knowing I’ve nearly finished or thinking about all the exams I still have to come…

Anyway, first, as is tradition, I want to look back to the previous term and remember what I’ve done and learnt. Here are 2 things I learnt last term.

1 – Design is important

Last term I completed the biggest piece of coursework in my degree; a business plan and presentation. What’s more is that it was group work.

Normally you hear those two words and panic – not this time! We had a fantastic group and we smashed the work to get a fantastic grade. I learnt lots from the module, but one key lesson was taught to me by the team… design is important!

I remember, it was maybe a week before the deadline and we were 95% finished content-wise. Two of the team kept talking about how they were going to give it a nice design. I saw no changes in our google docs file as the week passed and I assumed they were going to touch up a couple of graphs and other small details. Another meeting passed without seeing them or any design changes, just messages saying they were working on the design and had to use the library computers for it. I had no idea what was going on. We completed the content and sat back, proud of our work.

Then it hit me. One of the guys sent across the first draft of the newly designed business plan. Within a split second, I suddenly realised how naive I had been regarding the actual look of the plan. It had never crossed my mind that we might want to take it out of the boring document structure and add some flare. Thankfully, this was group work and our team was ridiculously talented in many ways. Here’s the front cover of our final plan…

2 – To learn more you need to understand ideas you disagree with

I was introduced to Jordan Peterson.

At this point, you’re either horrified, in love, or have no idea who I’m talking about. He’s been the centre of a lot of online debate and the guest of choice for a lot of controversial conversations. Now, if you don’t know him, DO NOT google his name if you aren’t willing to commit the next few hours to watch videos of him speaking. A lot of online media are taking quotes and categorising him. He holds some incredible ideas and some I disgree with, as with everyone, but his thought process, his logic and his understanding of structure and conversation is incredible.

I watch his videos to see how he gets from point A to point B. Interestingly, a lot of his opposition share the same goal of point B but they can’t see past where they disagree with point A. What he does so well is to break down opposing ideas and discuss the logic at each stage. Confirming the validity and not making assumptions. Only after doing this will he form an opinion and you can see exactly why he agrees or disagrees.

By doing this he is teaching himself more, he is validating certain thought processes and he is able to draw parallels across topics. All sounding a bit confusing? Watch his videos and then read his book “12 rules for life”. Agree or disagree with him? Let me know. The whole point is to encourage intellectual debate.

Year 4 Term 1

I’m back at University for my final year of Undergraduate study…. and after a quick re-design, I’m back blogging!

I’ve returned to Lancaster for the start of term 2 and before I get back into the full swing of the new term I’ve come to my favourite coffee place – shout out to Pizzetta – and decided to think back to term 1. Here’s what I learnt.

1 – Crypto’s are crazy

I remember talking about Bitcoin in A-Level ICT! Our teacher had us reading articles about the currency and then discuss it’s potential for future use. It never crossed our minds to invest… I’d probably rather not think about it but if I’d invested £100 back then, today (well, maybe a week ago) I’d have had around £75,000!!!

I say “well, maybe a week ago” as if you follow the currencies you’ll see they’re starting to fall…. just a bit.

I have invested this year. I doubled a bit of money and left the game – good timing! It’s introduced me to the world of trading a bit more and it’s been a source of enjoyment for a lot of people here, debating whether to sell or to HODL. (Another shoutout to Manni for being my teacher, Yoda style).

Image result for yoda bitcoin

The ridiculous ups and downs are a bit worrying, however I’m glad I joined the game as now I’m learning about other forms of investing, so far with some good success and I can’t help but wish I’d looked into it earlier!

2 – I’m going to miss University Sport

I probably did already know this, but being away for a year and then returning back to University sport has made me appreciate it even more. The morale and spirit of a team of people in such similar situations is unique. You share common goals within the sport, but you also have the same academic aims, you’re going through the same process for jobs and so on.

It probably helps that we are having another successful year and therefore spirits are high. However, you can quickly make friends that you see outside of the sport too. The routine of training and matches is the perfect break from work and of course it keeps you active. I quickly realised whilst on placement that I’d need to put in effort to stay active, choosing to go to the gym or travel to club badminton. Whereas, at University, it’s somewhat built in, you do it all without thinking and with very little effort of travel and time commitment.

3 – “Close your eyes until you’re 29”

Don’t worry, there’s no right answer for where to go or what to do next. As long as it’s a positive move, it’s value will be what you make it.

That’s what I’ve been telling myself. I’ve had a dilemma and many conversations about what to do next. I’m really happy to say I have a  job secured that I can’t wait to start. However, it’s fair to say that I felt that this next decision had to be perfect, almost with no going back. That’s stupid, I’m young with plenty of time to either continue down this path, try new things or change my mind. What I do now may or may not be my future, but as long as it seems to be a good stepping stone for learning and enjoyment then it is one of many ‘correct choices’. Once again, I’ll let Gary Vee explain this one.

What My Placement Year Taught Me

Last Friday I finished my placement year with 3M, working as a Marketing Assistant in the Separation and Purification Sciences Division, basically we filter stuff – it’s cooler than it sounds, especially when you realise some of your customers are whisky distillers and your favourite breweries ?

It’s been a very fast year, but certainly one of the most interesting and educating I’ve ever had. With that in mind, I’ve tried to decide on 3 things I’ve learnt this year. It’s not easy to just select 3 and the following aren’t necessarily the 3 biggest lessons learnt, but certainly 3 that will help me in the future.

1 – Work with good people

All employees praise 3M’s culture – they do a good job of hiring ‘good people’. I can’t think of a single argument I witnessed over the year, I can’t think of any people I met that I actively disliked. Everyone in the company has time for you, are good to work with and easy to get on with.

All this creates a culture like no other and it is one of the big pluses for 3M. A year in an environment like this has really highlighted the importance of working with good people. Whenever something wasn’t working, you felt a bit stressed or down, or you had a tight deadline that relied on others, the people around you would help you in any way they could.

It’s a reminder that recruitment processes need to evaluate the person for who they are and not just their skills – hire the wrong people, no matter how qualified they are, and it could threaten the sense of community within teams. A bigger issue than you might realise.

2 – Be busy

This is a lesson I’ve always known and may have already written about, but this year has emphasised it even more.

The more I take on, the more productive I become.

I was by far at my laziest when I had little to do. I’d think I was busy and hesitate if more work was passed to me, although I’d still take it, but a day or so later I’d find I’d finished most things with ease. The extra workload boosted my productivity and helped me to work smarter, reducing the need to increase my hours.

3 – I love numbers

When it comes to ‘Marketing’ as a role, there’s a big variety. Just within 3M placements, your type of work as a Marketing Assistant varied depending on your division. For some, it was more of the stereotypical marketing; communications, promotions, events. Lots more creative and design work. For others, it was more product management; pricing, sales analysis, market research.

Many of the other placement students spoke about how they preferred the creative work and disliked excel. This year taught me that I’m the complete opposite. I’ll happily design and structure the creative work, but don’t get me to be the person creating, amending and implementing it. I’d much rather number crunch, research or communicate strategies due to product changes.

I will also add, I don’t believe this doesn’t mean I’m not ‘creative’, I found I was constantly improving processes in a creative way. I have ended the year able to say that some of the prettiest things I’ve made are some lovely excel files. Files that needed a lot of creativity to get to the end solution in few steps.

It’s an indication for the roles I’ll want to look for in the future.

 

Overall, it’s been an incredible year – if you’re looking to do a placement year, 3M is the hidden gem (you may be reading this having no idea who they are). Look them up and apply, trust me.

Election Day’s Gone: Can I Return to Social Media?!

Yesterday was election day here in the UK, it has ended in a hung parliament. Whether that’s good news is up to you, so please keep it to yourself too.

I can’t quite believe this… but I’m about to quote Frankie Boyle (humble brag – I was in the audience for episode one of his new show, New World Order, this quote came from that show).

The media is a huge obstacle to meaningful democracy.”

Ok, I’ll be changing his meaning a bit. His argument was that mainstream media’s coverage is either biased or only scratches the surface – that’s a different debate.

Why do I think the media is an obstacle? I begin to wish we didn’t have a vote (thus democracy) purely because social media becomes a no-go zone, unless you want to be bombarded with fake news, one-sided arguments, abuse for you views, “you’re wrong, I’m right” status’, videos exposing all the bad of the opposition, and memes that turn the ruling of our country into a joke…. all of which does make the whole experience one big joke.

It’s very easy to shout from the rooftops on Facebook and preach about how you know what’s best for everyone, without much backlash, if you just delete any comments that disagree with you. The ease of stamping your authority and showing the world that you’re doing ‘the right thing’ leads people to do it hour by hour. But, in an election, there are many sides. There ISN’T a best party, there is not one correct manifesto, not everything the opposition does is evil and people forget that others will disagree and that they are allowed to disagree.

I strongly encourage political debate and conversation, but in a forum that allows for an even discussion, on a level that’s educated and not riddled with fake headlines and detrimental quotes that really don’t matter.

I’m not surprised Labour had a strong backing from the younger generation as the social media feeds for this generation were full of pro labour and anti-conservative posts – which side is better I will not say, what I will say is that it isn’t correct that at least some of the younger generation voted Labour, purely because “they look like the good guys according to Facebook”, and without any consideration they go and vote. Yes, fantastic that they voted, but please allow for an even education of the situation.

Rant over. It is great to see more engagement with politics, however, for now with a hung parliament, I think I’ll stay away from social media feeds for just a little longer…

Titles Mean Nothing

Last week I was asked to present at PlaceNet17, a conference for University careers teams, about my experiences on placement. I spoke about my time with 3M so far and reflected back on my applications. I ended with some advice, one part being “titles mean nothing.” This particular piece of advice was very relevant for me and my application, yet it was a statement that made many in the audience pause and think (or at least that’s how it looked).

What was I on about?

I had no intention of going into a marketing role for my placement. I didn’t want to work on adverts and communications all the time. Yet here I am, 9 months into a marketing placement. So what happened? I realised ‘marketing’ can mean something very different in different places. In some companies, it means working on promotion and communications, at others it meant product management, customer interaction and even a bit of operations. I found such varied job descriptions when applying that I ended up ignoring job titles and only read descriptions and spoke to previous interns. Getting drawn into the ‘ideal title’ is dangerous because it doesn’t determine if you’ll actually like the day to day work, it doesn’t mean you’ll get the responsibilities you want and it might not align with your skills.

The same goes for the company you choose.

I’d never heard of 3M until, by chance, I attended a mock interview with them and found out what they did. If I’d only looked at the companies I recognised I would have missed out. There are many fantastic companies and programs available that probably don’t get the credit they deserve. The reverse is also true, just because your favourite company offers a program, it doesn’t mean it’s right for you. You don’t want to be 6 months in and hate the work, no amount of love for the company name will save you from a role that just isn’t right.

I’d say this is probably accurate for a lot of other scenarios – take the time to realise what you want and what will fit. But perhaps I can write about that in the future with a few more years of application experience to find out 🙂

Quantity Makes Quality

“So, how common are badminton schools in Malaysia?”

I was referring to education institutions that are in place to educate up and coming badminton stars, whilst they would get an education, continuous badminton training ready to be the nation’s next best is by far the priority.

I posed this question whilst visiting the University of Malaya, a University well-known in Malaysia for its sport science program. The recipient of my question was their deputy director and member of Malaysia’s Olympic Committee.

“What do you mean badminton schools?” She replied.

I explained how I had always imaged kids being sent to sporting schools from a young age so that badminton would be a priority for them.

“We don’t have any here in Malaysia, perhaps in other Asian countries, but here everyone plays and trains at their local clubs and if they’re good enough they’ll move to the National training center.”

Another person in the room spoke up to explain how they got into badminton and that many start out socially and if they’re good enough they seek coaching, but really there is very little in terms of a National structure for grassroots development – essentially because everyone is already playing!

This shocked me as Malaysia is seen as one of the powerhouses for the sport, year on year they produce world class athletes and yet many countries with strong set-ups will suffer each year, perhaps getting one or two stars rather than a big squad.

After spending two weeks playing in Malaysia (it was actually my second visit to the country in 6 months) and speaking to many former state representatives that were on the edge of elite and national training I believe the way they get their quality is purely from a very, very high quantity of players and facilities. The campus we stayed on had a badminton hall, the adjacent campus also had one, behind the campus was a 10 court badminton hall, jump in the car for 10 minutes and you’re at a 22 court hall, head in the other direction and you’ll probably find the same. The number of badminton courts per square mile must be a ridiculous ratio, and what’s more is that the courts are always booked!

The same is true for clubs and teams, our campus had a team, the adjacent campus (which is for the parent University of where we were staying) had a team, we played against numerous local clubs and at a local academy. Every time the teams were made of very high standard players that were just playing socially. The volume is atonishing.

It makes sense that if so many people are playing so often then by probability you will get lots of stars – it’s the constant and ease of exposure to high-level badminton that increases all their levels rather than the need for a clear national structure.

What’s the point I’m getting at? Sometimes you just need a high quantity to achieve the quality you are after, repeating things over and over for practice is perhaps the best comparison for day to day life. It doesn’t have to be fancy to work!

The Spaghetti Challenge

Today I had the pleasure of assisting at a STEM event, this time helping run the workshop – as the group was coordinated around an engineering theme, we decided to put them through their paces with the spaghetti challenge.

 

With 3 groups of 20 children, I think the main thing I learnt from running the workshops is that even with only two items – spaghetti and marshmallows – kids manage to create a huge mess!

That aside, this is actually a fantastic exercise to observe. Take one group, split into 5 teams and each team will follow different tactics; build fast, plan a lot, work individually and so on. The variety is huge, yet when you repeat with group 2, the patterns repeat! Again, one group will build fast, another will plan for half the time and another won’t talk to one another.

I’m not sure I can say that just one tactic was proven to be the best as each winning team behaved differently. However, as an outsider is extremely interesting to watch to see the teamwork behaviours, to see how they react when the tower falls and to see how keen they are to win or if they just want to eat the marshmallows.

As an overall study, it has been used time and time again to good effect. I will let this video explain that side of it 🙂

 

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Today I helped with a school visit. Primary school children coming to 3M to learn about our technologies, try some challenges, and learn about careers. The latter is where I came in; sat down ready to talk about school, education, and how it all leads into careers.

I started with the usual; “how’s your day so far?”, “what are your favourite subjects?” etc. These were soon followed with the classic “what do you want to be when you grow up?”.

I was shocked by how quickly this question stood out as something ridiculous. What was I expecting them to say? Of course, they had answers, but they didn’t have a set plan or know what the job even involved sometimes. It’s a question we always ask children, sometimes far too seriously. Here’s the good and bad side of that question.

Bad – They felt ashamed when they couldn’t answer

Their heads dropped and volume lowered as they timidly said they didn’t know. They said it as if it was an incorrect answer, as if they would get in trouble. They believed they should know and be able to tell me exactly what they wanted to do in 20 years time. It’s obvious how ridiculous this is, yet for some reason they felt that way.

Those that knew spoke proudly about it.

Good – They still dare to dream

“Either a doctor or an 800m Olympian”, “a DJ”, “a robot builder”, “a world famous engineer”.

These were some of the answers that greeted me. I was shocked by the number of kids that wanted to be the best in their future career and actually thought they would be – and why not think that!

Ask them in another 10 years time and the answer might be a similar field but with less ambition or purpose, and that annoys me.

They don’t fear big ambition or dreams, they know they have a big future ahead of them and they are willing to say it! If only more of us could continue with that trait.

 

Perhaps it is good to ask the question, to people of all ages. But support uncertainty and encourage ambition. Nothing is certain, nothing is unachievable. The more we can encourage children to dare to dream, the more that actually will when they do eventually grow up.

I Don’t Care What You Think About President Trump

Today Trump became president. Whether I like him or not is not my topic for this blog, I have my view and I will share them if asked, but I don’t want to express them for no reason, politics causes lots of debate and we’d be a lot better off if we actually listened – that is in part what I want to share with you.

It has been a frustration to see the constant back and forth in the election process, with lots of aggressive views (mainly on social media), in fact this applies to many other ‘hot topics’. The frustration is that people refuse to believe their opinion is wrong and that the opposing people are stupid. Always keep in mind, people always think they’re doing good. Rarely to people act to extreme lengths with the motive to promote what they think is wrong. Both sides think they’re right.

So ultimately I want to use this blog to get you to watch this video and to pause the next time you see an opinion you disagree with. They think they’re right and so do you, so how can you actually work around that to make progress rather than forcefully tell someone they’re wrong even if they actually are.

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