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I have now passed a year of being exiled from my office, separated from people for most of the time. A couple of weeks before the first lockdown I was working in another university and we had just a day or two notice to switch to online teaching. As a doctoral candidate I valued the flexibility of being able to work from home, in the office, and in overpriced coffee shops in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The weather helped with the first lockdown. I would have virtual office working sessions with my colleagues in the criminology department in my garden. I thought I was coping but the reality was I was masking any fear, sadness and the effects of having no human contact. I was training two or three times per day, counting every calorie I ate. I lost a few pounds, got stronger, fitter and felt physically amazing.
We got some respite in the summer when lockdown restrictions were lessened. However, I lost a family member to Covid-19 and still felt unsure and anxious about going out so I didn’t make the most of it. I did have a couple of work sessions in my local library which was a welcome change of scenery. This was short lived as I currently live in Manchester and we have been in either lockdown or tier 3 restrictions for most of the last year. My saving grace was my gym. We had outdoor sessions, new members joined, and I got to see real people, albeit in socially distanced marked off squares of territory on the gym floor. Life was much better then. I left the house most days.
By December’s lockdown I was starting to struggle. With dark mornings and nights there would be days when I wouldn’t leave the front door. I went from training daily to training once or twice per week and some days I wouldn’t get any more than 2,000 steps in. For my, training is my anti-depressant. It keeps me sane, it keeps be focussed and it keeps me connected to a community of people who value it too. For me, this was a worrying sign.
Fast-forward to today, a year on from lockdown 1. I sit here in front of my laptop day in, day out, trying to concentrate, trying to find the perfect playlist to make me concentrate, taking nootropic supplements (legal, not the drugs), brain vitamins and high caffeine supplements to make me concentrate. I sit here researching symptoms and self-diagnosing ADHD. But really, I just need my office. I need an over-priced lemon and ginger tea, I need a commute, I need people, I need to get out of my living room. But I don’t need it at a cost of losing more lives to Covid-19 so I’ll sit in my living room and wait.
For now, as difficult as it is to focus, I manage. I just have to work harder than ever at it. So for all of our students who are also struggling, I will finish with some of my top tips but bear in mind we all learn differently so find what works for you.
Amy’s top study from home tips:
- Host virtual study sessions with colleagues. I have at least 2 sessions per week with a colleague. We start the session by saying hi and having some human interaction before stating our goals. We keep each other accountable by asking if our goals are achievable within the 2 hour frame and suggesting more specific goals. We then mute and work, coming back at the end of the 2 hours to hold one another accountable and share how we have done. I cannot emphasise enough how much this has helped me!
- Write a to do list each day and week with SMART goals. You’re better off having smaller goals that are achievable than bigger goals that are not
- Use the Pomodoro technique. Ordinarily this is 25 mins work followed by a 5 or 10 minute break. There are online tools and apps or you can set a timer. One of my supervisors recently suggested to me to reduce the working session to 15 minutes to account for my reduced concentration span. This is helping!
- Don’t have the same expectations on yourself as you ordinarily would. These are not ordinary times
- Work with your own mind. My brain works well early in the morning so sometimes I have my laptop open at 5.30am. I have friends that work late in the night. I also know I read well in the afternoon and I do my best thinking when I am on a solitary walk in nature
- Set yourself little goals with rewards. Currently, if I finish editing 5 pages I get an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or a cookie (bad idea) or a 10 minute browse on Instagram
- Lean on the resources available to you. At UoN our students are lucky to have a tonne of informative resources on Skills Hub (see the section on ‘How to Study’), our Learning Development team to help with academic skills, a mental health team who can help support mental wellbeing, and a whole host of other services. Ask for help and accept it when it is offered (this I need to work on)
- Listen to a focus playlist. My go to Spotify playlists are here and here
In March 23, 2020, the UK went into lockdown. The advice given, albeit conflicting in parts, was clear. Do not leave your home unless absolutely necessary, banning all travel and social interactions. This unprecedented move forced people to isolate at home for a period, that for some people will come to an end, when the WHO announces the end of the pandemic. For the rest of us, the use of a face mask, sanitiser and even plastic gloves have become modern day accessories. The way the lockdown was imposed and the threat of a fine, police arrest if found outside one’s home sparked some people to liken the experience with that of detention and even imprisonment.
There was definite social isolation during the pandemic and there is some future work there to be done to uncover the impact it has had on mental health. Social distancing was a term added to our social lexicon and we discovered online meetings and working from home. Schools closed and parents/guardians became de facto teachers. In a previous blog entry, we talked about the issues with home schooling but suffice to say many of our friends and colleagues discovered the joys of teaching! On top of that a number of jobs that in the past were seeing as menial. Suddenly some of these jobs emerge as “key professions”
The first lesson therefore is:
Our renewed appreciation for those professions, that we assumed just did a job, that was easy or straightforward. As we shall be coming back eventually to a new normality, it is worth noting how easy it will be to assign any job as trivial or casual.
As online meetings became a new reality and working from home, the office space and the use of massive buildings with large communal areas seemed to remain closed. This is likely to have a future impact on the way business conduct themselves in the future.
Given how many things had to be done now, does this mean that the multi occupancy office space will become redundant, pushing more work to be done from home. This will alter the way we divide space and work time.
During the early stages of the lockdown, some people asked for some reflection of the situation in relation to people’s experiences in prisons. The lockdown revealed the inequality of space. The reality is that for some families, space indicated how easy is to absorb the new social condition, whilst other families struggled. There is anecdotal information about an increase on mental health and stress caused from the intensive cohabitation. Several organisations raised the alarm that since the start of the lockdown there has been a surge in incidents of domestic violence and child abuse. The actual picture will become clearer of the impact the lockdown had on domestic violence in future years when comparisons can be drawn. None the less it reveals an important issue.
The home is not always the safest place when dealing with a global pandemic. The inequality of space and the inequality in relationships revealed what need to be done in the future in order to safeguard. It also exposed the challenges working from home for those that have no space or infostructure to support it.
In the leading up to the lockdown many households of vulnerable people struggled to cope with family members shielding from the virus. These families revealed weaknesses in the welfare system and the support they needed in order to remain in lockdown. Originally the lack of support was the main issue, but as the lockdown continued more complex issues emerged, including the financial difficulties and the poverty as real factors putting families at risk.
Risk is a wider concern that goes beyond personal and family issues. The lockdown exposed social inequality, poverty, housing as factors that increase the vulnerability of people. The current data on Covid-19 fatalities reveal a racial dimension which cannot longer be ignored.
During the lockdown, the world celebrated Easter and commemorated Mayday, with very little interaction whilst observing social distancing. At the end of May the world watched a man gasping for breath that died in police custody. This was one of the many times the term police brutality has related to the dead of another black life. People took to the streets, protested and toppled a couple of statues of racists and opened a conversation about race relations.
People may be in lockdown, but they can still express how they feel.
So, whilst the lockdown restrictions are easing and despite having some measures for the time being, we are stepping into a new social reality. On the positive side, a community spirit came to the surface, with many showing solidarity to those next to them, taking social issues to heart and more people talked of being allies to their fellow man. It seems that the state was successful to impose measures that forced people indoors that borderline in totalitarianism, but people did accept them, only as a gesture of goodwill. This is the greatest lesson of them all in lockdown; maybe people are out of sight, appear to be compliant in general but they are still watching, taking note and think of what is happening. What will happen next is everyone’s guess.
The other week, I went for a meal with a friend. The food was lovely, the staff and environment welcoming and friendly and company, fabulous. A couple of days later I was thinking about that evening and I wondered why I had not felt the need to write some positive feedback on google, or similar. The answer was because I felt that I and my dining companion, had expressed our pleasure both in word and deed (the plates were clean!). Thus, the relationship between diners and restaurant staff had been overwhelmingly positive and this had been expressed by both.
However, wherever we go nowadays, we are regularly confronted by requests for feedback; “how is my driving?”, “did you enjoy your meal?” “would you recommend our services to others”? Often these questions are accompanied by Likert scales, so we can record our opinion on almost everything. Sometimes we might take some time to consider the options, other times we might just tick random boxes, more usually (if I’m anything to go by) I just don’t engage with such requests. Despite their often-jolly appearance, these questions are not harmless, they have an impact, most usually to measure individuals’ performances.
Whether we engage with such requests or not, we do not question whether we are well-placed to judge. So, for instance, as a driver of probably one of the smallest cars on the market (that’s me!), I’m expected to be able to mark the driver of a lorry. Or someone, who has the cooking know-how of a small child (I speak for myself again!) is expected to form an opinion on a dish prepared by a trained chef, these questions are hardly fair. More importantly, my answers are meaningless; whilst I might respond “the lorry appeared to take the corner a bit wide”, I have neither knowledge or understanding of the turning circle of a 32-tonne lorry. Similarly, my thoughts about the heat of a Bangladeshi biryani or the sweetness of a mille-feuille is neither here nor there. Given I can neither drive a lorry nor cook these wonderful dishes, who am I to voice an opinion?
Of course, there are times when it is necessary to voice an opinion, the lorry driver is behaving in a dangerous manner liable to cause an accident, or the restaurant is serving rancid or rotten food; both scenarios likely to involve serious harm. However, these concerns would need to be raised immediately, either by alerting the police (in the case of the lorry) or the management of the restaurant. In the case of the latter, you may also feel it necessary to contact environmental health if you felt that your complaint had not been addressed or you had concerns about the hygiene of the restaurant in general. However, these types of problems are largely outside the feedback requested.
In many of the scenarios/environments we are asked to comment on, we are in a relationship with the other party. Take the restaurant; if I am friendly and polite to the staff, I can expect a reciprocal relationship. If I am rude and aggressive, is it any wonder staff behave in a different way. They are constrained by their professions to focus on customer service, but this should not lay them open to abuse. Whilst the old adage “the customer is always right” might be an excellent baseline, it is not possible for this always to be the case. As someone who has spent a previous lifetime working in retail, sometimes the customer can be obtuse, rude or even downright, ignorant and abusive. Adherence to such an adage, at all costs, can only open the way for abuse.
But what about those feedback forms? On a bad day, in a rash moment, or because I’m bored, I decide to complete one of these forms. The waiter kept me waiting, the food was too spicy, I didn’t like the feedback I was given on my job application, my essay was critiqued, my teeth haven’t been flossed regularly, I didn’t like the book recommended to me by the librarian or the book seller, I can’t believe my line manager has turned down my application for annual leave. I can easily demonstrate my unhappiness with the situation with a few judiciously placed ticks, circles or smiley/sad faces. Can I say the waiter, the chef, the HR professional, the lecturer, the dentist, the librarian, the book seller and my line manager are performing poorly? Can I say they are unprofessional, unprepared, untrained, lacking in knowledge or skills or just plain wrong? And if I do, is that fair or just? Furthermore, am I happy to be subject to the same judgement from people who do not share my experiences; professional or otherwise? Remember too much of this bad feedback, however flippant and lacking in evidence it may be, may lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal.
There is an oft-cited, albeit crude, truth: “Opinions are like arseholes; everyone has one”! Ultimately, whether we choose to share (either) in public is up to us! Think carefully before ticking those boxes and encourage others to do the same. Who knows, someone may well be ticking boxes about you!
As we go through another welcome week it becomes quite apparent in conversations with new students that their motivation for coming to University and joining a course is not singular. Of course there are some very clear objectives that are shared across like the interest for the subject and the employability afterwards for underlying those there are so many different personal motivations and aspirations attached.
In the eyes of our new cohort, I can see a variety of responses, the eagerness to learn the joy of studying, the expectation of belonging and the anticipation of ordering their lives across the University life, just to name but a few.
In conversation, I see these attributes in a different light. “I want to belong but I am shy”, “I wish to learn but I am worried about learning” “I want to engage but I am concern with my writing”. This is the soft underbelly of becoming a student; because in education our own insecurities are playing up. These little devils, who rest on the back of the head of many people who doubt themselves and worry them.
One of the greatest fears I hear and see been rehearsed before me is that of intellectual ability. This is one of those issues that becomes a significant barrier to many people’s fear when joining a University course. Of course the intellectual level of study is high. There are expectations of the degree of knowledge a student will build on and the way they will be able to utilise that level of knowledge. After all a University is an institution of High Learning. The place where disciplines are explored in totality and subjects are taught holistically. Nevertheless the University is not the end of one’s education but rather the door to a new dimension of learning.
For myself and many of my colleagues what makes this process incredibly exciting is to see those eyes of the new students across the years brighten up, as they “get it” as the penny drops and they connect different parts of knowledge together. Once people reach that part of their educational journey realise that coming to University was not simply an means to an end but something beyond that; the joy of lifelong learning.
As this is a early session, I shall address the intellectual fear. The greatest skills that any student need to bring with them in class is patience and passion. Passion for the subject; this is so important because it will sustain during the long cold winter days when not feeling 100%. Patience is equally important; to complete the course, needs plenty of hours out of class and a level of concentration that allows the mind to focus. Any successful student can testify to the long hours required to be in the library or at home going over the material and making sense of some challenging material. This ultimately unravels the last of the requirements, that of perseverance. It is through trial and error, rising up to a challenge that each student thrives.
So for those who joined us this year, welcome. The door to an exciting new world is here, to those returning, we shall pick up from where we left off and those who completed, hopefully University has now opened your eyes to a new world.
Whilst sitting at my desk at work recently I realised just how much I took away with me in my toolbox from my time studying Criminology. I wanted this blog to be about exactly how this discipline has helped me in my personal and working life and the transferable skills I acquired without even realising I was using them.
In 2011 I came to University an 18 year old with a very closed and one sided mind set and this is something I will openly admit to! A memory that I feel will stick with me forever is from a Crime and Society seminar in the first year with @manosdaskalou. I remember openly saying to him that I felt prisoners should not be allowed to have televisions whilst in prison and that they were there to do their sentence and not watch this week’s Hollyoaks (@manosdaskalou you may remember that sour faced girl sat in front of you, although the sour face is still very much there!). I am sure those of you reading will be cursing BUT my self-righteous opinions did change and the more I attended various lectures and seminars, the more I became open to listening to and respecting the opinions of my peers and became further educated about the impact rehabilitation and second chances have on lives.
In my second year I volunteered for an organisation focusing primarily on helping individuals who had been in the Criminal Justice System with gaining employment and education. As soon as I walked through those doors I saw first-hand the positive impact this organisation had on the lives of those using the service.
I had an opportunity to assist on a healthy living course for individuals recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. Some of those attending the course had never taken an exam before or even been in an educational setting and others struggled with reading. I quickly realised the privileged position I was in to be able to even be at University and do things I feel we all take for granted sometimes such as reading. I also provided some advice to a young female who completely freaked out at the idea of taking a multiple choice test. I gave her some tips before that I had acquired from my own experiences. She was so very thankful to me and I will always remember her.
In terms of the other skills I now have in my toolbox, the thought of standing up and presenting in front of my peers at University terrified me, however in doing that I can now confidently stand up in front of my colleagues and bosses to present information and contribute in meetings. I can also provide evidence in court thanks to learning about the criminal process.
Having the opportunity to debate certain issues within the criminological world and society has taught me to have a voice and provide my point in a professional manner whilst listening to others. From the assignments set, to working within a timetable, it has all enabled me to build upon my time management and organisational skills. Working to tight deadlines also does not daunt me especially when I now have work to them daily.
I think we can all be truthful here and say we did groan a little bit when we were given extra reading to do at home and to critically analyse various pieces of text for the next seminar (heaven forbid!). However, being able to analyse a piece of text is a skill I use every day in my job with Northamptonshire Police especially when building court files and reading the fibs and fairy tales that some of our customers can provide. Criminology taught me to be critical of everything around me, take on board criticism and ask questions. I now ensure I stick my head above the parapet and often put the police officers in their place, as they do need it sometimes!
On the whole, I am thankful for the transferable skills I acquired from studying Criminology despite using them daily and not realising until my desk epiphany! I graduated in 2014 with a toolbox of skills ready for the big wide world and I will cherish them always. Who knows, it may even help me with becoming a parent in November!