Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Back to study!

It’s the morning before I start my first day of my third and final year of my MSc.  It seems only yesterday that I was a newbie, anxiously preparing for my first day at Greenwich.  I have mixed feelings as I write this.  I found my second year really tough and having to complete six or seven papers over four months to June left me feeling pretty exhausted and ready for a break.

I feel a sense of trepidation at the thought of picking all those books to study again … but him-at –home reminded me that, actually, I am always like this!  When I do get back into it I really enjoy all the new learning.  I am looking forward to seeing my fellow third years again but there will be some faces missing and some new ones to meet.  We have a very fertile group as three out of our original 18 have become pregnant! They have ‘interrupted’ their studies for a year to concentrate on their new babies. Our course is designed so that if you exit after the second year having passed all modules and completed 100 clinical hours rather than 80 required for the masters course, you are awarded a post graduate diploma.  This is different from ‘interrupting’ where you take a year out from the course rather than ‘exiting’.  It may not be possible to rejoin the programme for the third year if you have exited but if you have ‘interrupted ‘ and do not return to the programme you can ‘exit’ as long as you have done the extra clinical hours. 
For our third year we can choose between two pathways.  One is the long research pathway where we present a long project while the other is the CBT option.  This is where we have specialist training in using cognitive behavioural therapy.  We have to complete 50 clinical hours using it and 50 using integrative ‘methods’.  We also do a shorter 8000 word project which is a reflective piece about our development as a counsellor.  I have chosen to do the second pathway as I find CBT a really useful tool and would like to become more experienced in its use.  I do not have a passion for a particular research topic and I know that unless I feel pretty engaged with a topic I will struggle to keep going with it.
I have started back in my placement and on Saturday attended a really interesting continuing professional development (CPD) morning there.  Our speaker was Christine Sanderson and her topic was ‘The Dynamic of Memory – Working with Traumatic Memories’.  Her book, published in 2006, is entitled ‘Counselling adult survivors of sexual abuse’.  In those 21/2 hours I learnt so much and I left with my head spinning.  She presented the main theories of memory: how we remember, how we forget, types of memory, the fallibility of memory.  She then moved on discussing the implications this has for us as counsellors working with adults.  Christine spoke of the controversy surrounding the subject of ‘recovered /false memory’ presenting arguments to support the seemingly polarised views.  It was a morning well worth attending especially as it was accompanied by hot drinks and home made cakes!

Well, now time to sharpen those pencils, polish my glasses and hop on Priscilla to get into college on time – back soon!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

My 50th Blog!

It is almost a year since I wrote my first blog and here I am writing my 50th! Back in September 2010 I hardly knew what a blog was.  There was a call for volunteer blog writers and I decided to give it a go for two reasons:

1: I wanted to keep my writing muscle exercised.  I had submitted my last piece of written work in June 2010 and my next would not be submitted until December.

2: I would be paid for four hours work a month to write four blogs – later reduced to two due to the university –wide budget cuts.

As  such an extra mature student, I thought no one  would be interested in reading my blog with people  wanting to read about much more exciting student activities than those I get up to! I would be quite safe to practice my blogging pretty much in private. 

My first blog started thus:

“Well this is a first! I have heard of blogs but never figured out how to do one.  I am still terrified of the Ipod Ian gave me last Christmas and as for twitter… My son Jack thinks it is hilarious and can’t figure out why I just want a mobile that is just a mobile, not a camera, computer or anything else.  However I am determined to move into the 21st century so here goes….

I have been staggered to discover  that I have had visitors to my blog from all over the world – so thank you visitors – you are keeping me in a job!

I have also been surprised at how much I have enjoyed writing it. I have found it an excellent discipline and actually thoroughly enjoyed it.   I was so worried at the thought of writing my first one until I gave myself quite a severe talking to that went something like this:

“Now Alice – no-one is about to die.  It is not going to be marked.  It is only 200 words.  Just be yourself”.
So I took a deep breath and began – and here I am 50 blogs later and too many words to count!!
It has been fun getting to know the other bloggers both personally and through their blogs.  We all work together either at events or on the enquiry unit and the blogs reflect the individuality, quirkiness and humour of the individuals.  Now several them have just graduated and will be leaving to start their new careers.  I am sad to see them go but look forward to welcoming the newbies. We all send our blogs by email to Uzma who checks then and uploads them.  She writes lovely encouraging responses that I don’t dare miss a submission date!  I threatened to stop writing them after I got to number 50 but she wouldn’t let me! So for making me feel so guilty for even raising the issue, I am enclosing a picture of her in her Theme Your Team competition outfit.  Her team beat us into second place with their amazing Uz-man (Pacman) Theme.

Clearing finally closed at midday on Friday.  I was surprised how incredible that felt.  One minute we were taking calls from people still trying to find a place, the next we were telling them we were closed.  It has been an incredibly busy ten weeks and to give you some idea of the number of applications we completed, there are four lever arch files full of the single sheet file copies for people with a surname beginning with “A”. Now our queries include requests for information about applications for next year, accommodation, timetables and registration.

Over the weekend students will be moving into their accommodation and getting ready to enjoy Freshers’ Week where all sorts of wonderful activities are planned around everyone’s course induction days.  As a continuing student I will not start until the following week so I will be in the Enquiry Unit. I started back in my Counselling placement this week.  I was last there in June and worried that I would be terribly rusty. I had two new clients to meet who are booked for six sessions each.  After four sessions I will review the work with my client and we have the option of continuing for up to three more sets of six sessions.  This is quite a luxury to be able to offer up to 24 sessions  in these times as most organisations can offer six sessions in total. After finishing the sessions on Thursday I realised just how much I had missed this work over the summer and how ready I am to get back to it.  However I am very pleased that I chose to take the break from it while I worked in fulltime in clearing because I would have been far too tired to offer my clients any quality work.

I will finish my 50th blog with some lovely news.  You may recall that my beloved Valerie Vespa was stolen in July and I have been grieving ever since, but getting very fit riding my bicycle, running for buses,  and walking miles.  Valerie has never been found and so today we bought her big sister.  Kate helped me to name her Priscilla Lexie Piaggio.  She is gorgeous – a real retro design 125cc silver coloured scooter.  Valerie was only 50cc and I always felt like I was sitting on a sewing machine after my big black 400cc Honda.  I vowed I would never have another scooter that small.  Priscilla feels more like a real bike and sounds far less like a high pitched hairdryer.  After taking her for a test drive I returned to the scooter shop with a huge grin on my face stating to him-at home and the dealer “I am in lurve!”

We are collecting her on Tuesday – I can’t wait!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

I ended my last blog promising to reveal all regarding our plans for the traditional Theme Your Team competition taking place on the last afternoon of Clearing.
We have all worked so hard over the last few weeks and this is an opportunity to come together to celebrate and to say good bye to each other as the whole clearing mechanism is wound down, packed up and moved back to the store rooms in Avery Hill – until next year.  It feels like the end of a summer festival!  I have worked for eight weeks straight as have many others from the enquiry unit team while the newbies joined us for the last four.  We are exhausted. We answered 12,500 calls in A level week and 12,700 the following week.  We had to retain so much information about the complex Clearing process, and about so many aspects of the university system in general, and about our university in particular. As we work so closely with our colleagues we form amazingly strong bonds as we help and support each other through such a stressful event.  In the week just gone, the calls were of a different nature; more people with registration, start date, and accommodation queries and just a few still looking for university places.  In between calls we began our preparations to decorate our bay with our theme of Twister Party. We kept it top secret until the last minute after rumours that our first idea had been commandeered by another team who shall remain nameless!! 
 Everything was covered in spots, feet, and hands while we each dressed in one of the twister colours of red, yellow, blue or green.  We had backboard decorated with ‘twister’ written in many different nationalities to reflect the cultural diversity of our team and the university.

I started cooking my twister fairy cakes the evening before and didn’t finish decorating them until 10.30 pm while Cherie came in early to finish decorating her wonderful cake. Anaum designed our twister hats, beautifully modelled her by team leader Laura, and recruited several team members to get them finished in time.

Each computer was personalised and played a special twister screen saver.

Royalle and I model our spinner hats.  Note we still have our headsets on ready to convert instantly to our professional telephonist mode!

We had a twister game in progress as demonstrated to the  judges as they did the rounds.
Our team Leader Laura gloomily announced that her team never won anything and was known as the bad luck team; undaunted however, we were not prepared to give up that easily!  As we toured the other teams we realised what stiff competition we were up against.  The themes included Pac man, Ghostbusters, Casino Alex, Clearing Superheroes, Clearing bandits, and High Vis party and the standard was incredibly high.  We came close second, losing by only three points to Pac Uz-Man the theme of my old Team Uzma. After stuffing ourselves with cake, sweets and treats we then had to have the whole thing dismantled and tidied away by 5.30pm.
As I left that evening, I looked back, at the bare room. It was as though it had never happened, the only evidence of our fantastic Theme your Team extravaganza being in the many photos we all took.
… and now as the weather turns to Autumn it is time to prepare for my last year of college.  It feels an age since I was preparing to start my first year, yet the time has flown. Last week I took a call from a young woman about to start her degree, who wanted to know whether she needed to come to Freshers’ week and her ‘meet her year group’ event. I encouraged her to attend, trying to explain how helpful it is to meet your fellow students in a social setting, to find your way around the campus with everyone else who is just as lost as you and to begin to form bonds that will stay with you through your three years of university and possibly beyond.
…so to all those readers about to start their amazing university adventure my advice is make the most of it. You can never have this precious time again. Look for opportunity and when it comes along, grab it with both hands. Work hard, stay curious, stay safe and have fun!