How to: write a good essay

Essays. The bane of every student’s existence, one might agree. Me? I beg to differ… to some extent. Honestly, I quite enjoyed the essay-writing aspect of both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees; not only am I a passionate writer, but I was – and am still – deeply passionate about my courses of study, which made the processes of learning about, conducting research into and producing pieces of work based on such a hell of a lot easier. Throughout my studies, I saw every essay, fieldwork study and report – even my 16,000-word master’s thesis, as lengthy (albeit interesting) as it was – as an opportunity to develop my written communication skills; writing is a craft which becomes more easily attainable to master with every piece. Don’t get me wrong: like many students, I often lacked motivation to begin, continue and complete an essay; procrastinated some to the night before (and, in a couple of cases, the day of) its due date; and fought the very real urge to frustratedly throw my laptop at my bedroom wall – believe me. Nonetheless, my best pieces of work – on the basis of their grades and my satisfaction upon completing such – were those that I’d invested ample time into. As a student, it is only inevitable that you might not feel as motivated to produce some essays than others, but for when you are motivated, here are some tips on how to produce a great essay.

Do your research

What good is an essay if you haven’t done your research? The point of an essay is to execute your argument in response to a question or statement posed by your professor in a clear and competent manner, and to acknowledge alternative perspectives to clarify the validity of your argument. Whatever the topic, make sure you do your research; investigate past literature on the subject by various scholars, identify gaps in the literature and consider how the literature can assist in explaining your argument.

Plan the structure

I can ~almost~ guarantee that every good essay ever written was planned. Hell, it was only possible that I achieved a first on the essays I started the night before because I had a plan; without a plan, I would’ve been screwed. Planning doesn’t have to be over-complicated; I planned most of my essays by creating sections and bullet-pointing under each section header the points I wanted to communicate. Be it a list, a mind map or a detailed proposal, whatever works for you – make sure you plan your essay.

Allocate enough time

Again, in my experience, my best essays were those that I spent the most time on. I know, I know – it can be hard to fathom how to best prioritise your assignments. But, once you do, I can assure you that you can make the time to write your essay. As I recommend in my blog about how to be more organised at university, invest in a diary, download a countdown app or even create your own study timetable to not only keep track of your deadlines, but to plan your time around producing your essay.

Proofread it all

When planning your time to produce your essay, it’s so important to incorporate enough time to proofread your essay. I’ve already written a blog on how to successfully proofread your work but, in sum, proofreading is a vital step in the essay-writing process because it enables you to not only identify any errors or mistakes you might have made as to spelling, punctuation and grammar, but also to ensure that you’ve covered everything you intended to. As per my proofreading blog, you can proofread your essay in a variety of ways.

Submit a draft

Most of the time, your professors will offer you the opportunity to submit a draft of your essay and, if they haven’t vocalised it, they will probably accept one if you ask. In any case, take the opportunity to submit a draft to your professors (provided you submit it approximately a week before the deadline) so they can provide feedback on the work you’ve already produced and perhaps offer some suggestions on how to make it even better. From that one draft, your essay could gain just a few more marks which can make a great difference.

Whether you’re heading into sixth form, your first, second or final year of university or your first year of postgraduate study, I hope these tips were helpful on how to produce a good essay!

As usual, I welcome all comments and questions in the comment section below or via the form on my contact page.

Happy writing!

Love,

Soph, Little Pav

How to: build a (modern) CV

I built my first CV at the age of 14. In Year 10, we were provided the opportunity to complete a two-week work experience during term time and the position I’d landed for the second week (I worked at two local theatres in the first week and in the women’s department of Bentalls Kingston during the second) required a CV as an application. I’d booked an appointment with a lady from the work experience department at school to help me build my first CV who was very helpful in explaining to me what information to include, how to format it and how to make it stand out from other applicants. Ever since, I have been keen to remain knowledgeable on how to build a successful CV, especially as what is perceived as such by employers is everchanging. Further, not only did I gain a fair amount of work experience alongside my studies from sixth form through to postgraduate and was therefore eager to improve my CV every time it needed updating, but, as an Assistant Store Manager, I have also assisted in the reviewing of CVs and even conducted interviews upon reviewing such myself. Based on both my own research on CV-building and experience in recruitment, I wanted to share some tips for students and recent graduates on how to build an effective CV.

1.    Keep it simple

According to James Reed, author of The 7 Second CV: How to Land the Interview (2019), a recruiter spends just – in case you hadn’t figured from their book title already – 7 seconds looking at a CV. Why? Think about it: they can have hundreds of applicants to review in a short space of time before they start inviting some for interviews. So, in order to ensure that your CV passes the 7-second test, my first suggestion is to keep it simple so as to not overwhelm the recruiter. By this, I mean:

  • Include a short objective. If a recruiter only takes 7 seconds to scan an entire CV, keep your objective short. In just two-to-three sentences, you can explain a little bit about yourself, your current position and your goals. This information will be enough for the recruiter to know whether you’re the kind of person they’re looking for and decide whether to continue looking at your CV.
  • Use headings. Headings make it really clear to the recruiter where to look for information regarding your personal profile, experience and qualifications. For instance, on my CV under my name, contact details and objective, I have the headings “Experience”, “Education”, “Key Skills” and “Websites”.
  • Keep a uniformed colour scheme. For the modern CV, it is absolutely acceptable to use some colour to make it appear more attractive and to highlight certain information, but try not to go overboard. If you’re going to use a colour scheme, keep it uniform and professional; don’t use neon or unreadable colours, for example.

2.    Use or follow a template

The modern CV is far different from the traditional one; it’s extremely rare that you’ll come across a CV nowadays that uses the Times New Roman font, follows a one-column structure and sticks to one font size. Instead, recruiters love a CV that – as mentioned above – has a bit of colour, includes columns or text box-like sections and somewhat reflects your personality. If you’re unsure on how to structure your CV, there are an abundance of templates available to use or follow online. For instance, when you select the “new” document option on Microsoft Word, a search bar appears which enables you to search for online templates; a simple “CV”, “resume” or “modern resume” search will generate plentiful templates. Likewise, graphic-design tool websites like Canva too have hundreds of templates to choose from; you might be required to sign up, but a free account offers you many benefits.

3.    Keep it relevant

Oftentimes, candidates will try to include as much information as possible from every aspect of life in an attempt to land the interview. However, if you’re applying for – say – a Sales Associate role, is that one cake sale you assisted in setting up in Year 8 really relevant? Probably not. If you’re in such a position where you have no work experience (we’ve all been there), think about what is more relevant and helps to define who you are, such as any qualifications you’ve achieved or any extracurricular activities you’ve committed to for longer than a one-hour cake sale. If you are experienced and are seeking something new, include relevant descriptions of your previous roles to the one you’re applying for; if they’re all similar, you might want to consider summarising your key responsibilities across all your past roles in one place so as to avoid repeating yourself.

4.    Try to keep it to one page

Again, think about it: if a recruiter spends an average of 7 seconds looking at a CV, they’re certainly not going to look at more than one page per applicant. If you use or follow a template, as I recommended above, it is entirely possible to keep all your experience to one page. This is where the “keep it relevant” tip becomes even more relevant for more experienced candidates. Like I said, I’ve had my fair share of roles since I was 16 and have several headings on my CV, but I’ve managed to keep it to one page because I’ve only kept what’s relevant. For instance, under the “Education” heading, when I completed my A levels, I had my A levels and GCSEs on my CV; when I completed my bachelor’s degree, I had my bachelor’s degree and A levels on my CV (I removed my GCSEs to save space); now, since I completed my master’s degree, I have only my bachelor’s and master’s degrees on my CV and have removed my A levels to save space. Also, I removed my first ever job not long after gaining a few more titles; it was important to have on my CV when I applied for my first “official” job, but now, who needs to know that I worked as a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant for three months? (Oops, now the whole world knows…)

5.    Be honest!

We’ve all heard the “everyone lies on their resume”, like when Joey Tribbiani claims that he can tap dance, ride a horse and drink a gallon of milk in 10 seconds which he ~ successfully ~ proves (one thing I haven’t mentioned on my blog yet is how much of a Friends fanatic I am – you’re in for a treat!), but – on a serious note – it’s not worth it. Why lie when you can be honest about your actual skills, hobbies and interests and experience? Once again: we’ve all been in the position where we feel as though we have ‘no’ experience to showcase, but you’ll always have something, like your A levels, extracurricular activities and any voluntary work you’ve completed. If you really have ~ no ~ experience (although you probably have more than you think), there are always opportunities available. If you’ve never partaken in an extracurricular activity, you can join or create a society at university that interests you. If you’d like to complete some volunteer work, you can ask your university or around your local area. If you’re passionate about something like writing, art or textiles, you can create your own portfolio. Anything that presents who you are and why you are right for the role is enough to make you the ideal candidate!

Joey Tribbiani Friends GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Credit: giphy.com

As usual, I hope you found my tips useful and, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask in the comment section below or by contacting me via social media or email (you can find my contact details here).

Good luck and have fun with your CV creations!

Love,

Soph, Little Pav

How to: be more organised at university

Anyone who knows me knows that I am really (and, sometimes, annoyingly) well-organised. After my distinctively short height (which I recently evaluated in another blog), I’d say it’s one of the first characteristics that others notice about me. Just a couple of years back, I remember one of my (many) aunties explaining to me that she remembers how – when I was really young – I used to place everything on my desk at home in a very particular manner, like ornaments facing certain directions and sitting specific distances from one another; still, everything sits symmetrically, orderly and well-aligned on my current dressing table (I could just be mad; I haven’t quite figured it out yet). There is no doubt that I adopted my organisation skills – or madness – from my wonderful yet hyper-organised mother who insists that the beds be made as soon as we leave them, that the washing be put away as soon as it comes off the line and that the kitchen worktops be cleaned twenty-four-seven (all of which, due to having lived with her my whole life, I too have adopted and agree with!). Nonetheless, it wasn’t until relatively recently that I realised that organisation is something that many people find difficult to grasp; it’s so imperative to my everyday life that I forgot that it’s not a trait of everyone. This blog is the first of a forthcoming series on how to be more organised in an array of life situations and is aimed at prospective and current students on how to be organised during their university studies.

Being organised at university

To me, being organised at university was critical to my overall success in my degrees. It allowed me stay on top of my module requirements (which is important when undertaking multiple modules at once), keep track of deadlines (which is vital as assignments are often due in close proximities), and manage a healthy study-work-life balance (which is crucial to stabilise your mental health throughout your studies). I’m not saying that organisation alone will guarantee that first- or second-class honours as many other factors contribute to such, including appropriate studying of your course, the quality of your assignment submissions and your enjoyment of the course overall, but it does play a huge part. For which reason, I have offered a few tips on how to be more organised during your studies below.

1.      Folders, folders and more folders

Again, if you know me, you know that I love a folder. Folders are joy; folders are life (O.K., I might be getting a little too excited, now). The amazing thing about folders is that you can put everything you need in one little place. If I’ve lost you by this point, hear me out: for every subject module I took, I created a folder. In both my second and third years of my undergraduate degree, I took three modules per semester (twelve modules overall); over the course of my postgraduate degree, I took four modules in the autumn and spring semesters and completed my 16,000-word thesis during the summer semester (nine modules overall). That’s a lot of modules. How many modules you take – or can take – depends on your course of study however, everybody I know that didn’t study BA (Hons) English Language and Linguistics or MSc Global Marketing like me had to take many modules too since your overall degree classification is often determined by the culmination of your module and dissertation results. I organised my module folders like so: there are usually twelve weeks in one semester, ten of which are teaching weeks (as one week is usually a “reading” or “independent study” week and the final week is usually designed as a recap or discussion week), so I divided the folder using ten tabs for each teaching week. Under each week’s tab, I would place my lecture notes from that week’s lecture, any handouts that were provided either during the lecture or online that would assist in the completion of my assignments, and any further notes I’d made from relevant readings to that week’s topic.

A sample of my undergraduate folders (the acronyms refer to the module titles i.e. BLU = Bilingual Language Use)

Remember, these are just tips. I’m not saying that if you want to use folders, you must organise them like this. The beauty of folders is that you can organise them however you like and however works best for you. You could organise them by placing all your lecture notes in consecutive order under one tab and all other bits and bobs under another. Or, if you’d rather use one huge arch-lever folder for all your course’s resources, you could simply divide the folder by each module that you take throughout your degree. However, on my university’s online portal, everything was organised by week under each module tab on there also, so my folders corresponded with the portal whenever I needed to refer to a particular module and week.

A sample of my postgraduate folders (this time, I opted for project folders instead of ring binders which were real space-savers)

2.      Folders… again?

If you’re not old-school when it comes to stationery like me and are completely down with technology, you don’t have to use physical folders to keep your work organised; you can create folders on your computer, too! On top of my physical folders (because I’m that organisation-mad), I created folders on my laptop which made it much easier for me to navigate my typed-up lecture notes, assignment drafts and any PDFs of readings I could save. For my master’s degree, for example, I created folders called “Autumn”, “Spring” and “Summer” for each semester (hella creative) and, within those folders, I created sub-folders for each module i.e. in the “Spring” folder were sub-folders titled “Global Brand Management”, “Financial Performance Management” and “Leadership and Change Management”. However, you don’t have to go so far as to making folders upon folders; you could simply create one folder for all your assignments and another for all your readings if that works for you, too.

3.      Use a diary

Ah, diaries. Another key to my heart. Diaries are ~ almost ~ just as brilliant as folders because, similarly, you can keep track of everything in one place: deadlines, meetings and any social events to name a few. If you’re not too fussed about presentation, you can merely jot these down under their dates; if you’re a little more creative, you can use different-coloured pens or highlighters for each event – for instance, red for deadlines (because they are ~ serious ~), blue for meetings and green for personal activities. Or, if you’re – again – anything like me, you might want to buy separate diaries: one for your university-related events and another for your social life. From my experience, the best places that provide excellent diaries for students are TK Maxx and The Works; I had one from TK Maxx that highly resembled my high school planner, and my current ones (yes, I have two for the very reason I suggested, except one is now for work as opposed to university) from The Works beautifully present the day- and week-to-view formats. Again, however, if you’d rather use the calendar on your phone or computer to note key dates, that’s a perfectly practical option, too.

My work diary from The Works

4.      Download a countdown app

Now, not everybody gets on board with these because they can be quite scary when approaching deadlines and it occurs to you that you only have so many days to finish (or, in some cases, start and finish) your assignments. However, for me, a countdown app was really helpful in that it acted as a reminder of my upcoming deadlines as well as a clear representation of the order in which deadlines were due. Throughout my studies, I used an app from the iPhone App Store called Event Countdown where you can customise each event by assigning a relevant icon, colour and description to the event. I used it for both university and personal purposes as the reminder that I had a holiday, birthday or other exciting event coming up motivated me even more.

My events last year on the Events Countdown app

5.      Regularly check your university’s online portal

As I mentioned earlier, my university had its own portal whereby professors would share resources under each module, such as PowerPoint presentations of every lecture each week, handouts and important dates. It’s extremely important – and, ultimately, your responsibility – to regularly check your online portal as deadline dates, lecture and seminar times and professors’ office hours, for instance, are all subject to change. More often than not, your professors will remind you of such in your lectures and seminars or via email however, in some cases, you will only be notified on this platform (especially if you miss a lecture for whatever reason). It’s a good idea to ‘favourite’ the link of your university’s portal on your internet browser so that you can easily access it when necessary. Or, your university might even have an app version of your online portal which, for us millennials, is even easier.

As usual, I hope you found my tips useful and, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask in the comment section below or by contacting me via social media or email (you can find my contact details here).

Prospective and current students, I wish you all the best in your studies, and… happy organising!

Love,

Soph, Little Pav

Living at home for university? Here are some tips from a previous off-campus student

University. When you think about it, what comes to mind? Living away from home, gaining a wealth of independence and having the time of your life as that independent young adult? While that is the traditional notion, living away for university is not for everybody, even when you think it might be (I lived away during my first year and, after encountering an unfortunate experience, moved back home and continued my studies from there). That’s not to say that living away for university is a brilliant experience for many; most of my friends did and loved it. This blog is predominantly intended for prospective students who will be living at home during their university studies and are worried about “missing out” on the true university experience. From somebody who lived at home for three years (second year, third year and master’s) and enjoyed every bit of their experience as an off-campus student, here are 5 tips on how to make the most of university life whilst living at home.

1.    Make a day of your days on campus

What I mean by this is: if, for example, you have only one lecture or seminar on a Tuesday, be it in the morning, afternoon or early evening, try to make a day of it. If the lecture or seminar is in the morning, stay for some time afterwards to study in the library, explore the campus or socialise with friends; if they’re in the afternoon or evening, head to university a little earlier to grab yourself a coffee or a bite, complete some pre-lecture work or meet up with friends beforehand. Likewise, if you have several lectures and seminars in one day, like one in the morning and one in the afternoon, be sure to make the most of the time in between (without forgetting to take a break, of course). While the idea of enjoying a lie-in or leaving early from uni seems bliss (and is acceptable at times as a hard-working student), it’s important to get yourself both in the right frame of mind before entering a lecture or seminar where you’ll be listening to and absorbing a vast amount of information, and used to studying in the library where you’ll be spending a lot of your time when approaching deadlines and working on larger projects.

2.    Join or create a society

Towards the end of our second year, my friends and I collaboratively decided to create our university’s Linguistics Society. Joining or creating a society has so many benefits: if you’re simply joining one as a member, it provides a great pastime and distraction from your studies when you need it; if you’re establishing or joining one as a committee member, it provides an excellent experience to add to your CV. These were the premises to founding this society with my friends: we would all have a reason to meet up at least once a week outside of lectures and seminars as well as another role to further develop our portfolios (I held the positions of Treasurer in my third year and Social Media Manager during my master’s when my undergraduate friends were no longer with me *cries*). If you’re worried that it might take up too much time, know that you really don’t have to commit to much: my friends and I hosted a “study session” once a week where both second and third year linguistics students would gather to help each other with assignments, arranged a “film night” once a month playing a linguistic-related movie, and had the pleasure of occupying our own stall at our university’s Fresher’s Fair. I’m sure we’d all agree that these regular meetups were vital for our mental health during the completion of our degrees.

The Linguistics Society founders after winning “Best Academic Society of The Year”!

3.    Manage a healthy study-work balance

Undoubtedly, this can take some time to figure out, and what works for somebody else might not work for you as we are all different and have our own ways of managing our time. If you have or a looking for a part-time job alongside your studies but are struggling to decipher a good study-work balance, my suggestion is this: work as little hours as possible for your employer in the beginning, then discuss the possibility of increasing your hours once you feel more comfortable and have discovered your limits. During my first and second year, I worked on a 0-hour contract as a Crew Trainer at McDonald’s where I agreed with my manager that I would work only in the holidays (Christmas, Easter and summer); during my third year, I worked on an 8-hour Saturday contract as a Sales Advisor at Dune London; and, alongside my postgraduate studies, I started on a 4-hour contract as a Sales Assistant at FatFace, which increased to 8 hours a couple of months in, then 16 hours as I was promoted to part-time Operations Supervisor once my lectures had finished and I had only my 16,000-word thesis to work on. Further, make sure your employer is fully aware of your situation; I’m not saying you need to provide a copy of your study timetable to them, but kindly remind them of important upcoming deadlines and politely decline overtime when you feel unable to handle it. If you have to book time off around deadlines as holiday, do; at the end of the day, your studies at this point in your life come first and, if your employer can’t understand that, then maybe they’re not the right employer to work for.

4.    Create a suitable workspace at home

A lot of the time, you will find yourself completing assignments from home; whether it’s the night before a deadline and you’re frantically typing away to complete it in time if you haven’t already, or it’s just a day off and you’re not required to attend university, your home will inevitably become a study place. In which case, it’s important to create a suitable workspace to complete your work. If you have a desk in your bedroom or another room in the house that is ideal for working on, be sure to make ample room on it for your laptop or desktop, books or excerpts from readings and your lecture notes (and, of course, the all-important glass of water!). If you don’t have such space accessible, or you’re like me and cannot completely concentrate or accomplish your best work from home (except for those said late nights when you’re on your laptop in bed and you absolutely have to by the following day’s deadline), why not journey to your local coffee shop with your study necessities and complete some work from there? I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent in my nearby Costas, Caffè Neros and Starbucks’ (the Wimbledon branch being my absolute fave; the atmosphere on the second floor, involving an ambient combination of grey walls, subtle lighting and individual tables accompanied by a delicious soya latte was perfect whilst completing my larger projects), as well as in my lesser-known locals.

University reading on my iPad in a local bakery

5.    Make the most of your university’s facilities

There is so much to do on a university campus, and you certainly don’t have to live on campus to make the most of such. Spare some time to enjoy your Student’s Union; mine in particular had a food hall, its own Starbucks café and a bar, where you can enjoy both time alone for lunch or to give yourself a breather, or time with your friends to grab a bite together or enjoy regular pub quizzes. Use your university’s library; it is there for the benefit of your learning. It will have plenty of study spaces to study alone or with your friends, a plethora of books related to your course of study which your professors will more than likely recommend and direct you to, and – like mine – it will probably have a little café where you can comfortably take a quick coffee break (I realise I’ve mentioned coffee a lot in this blog; I am a tea- and hot-chocolate-lover too, I just can’t function without my coffee during the day!). Arrange meetings with your professors during their office hours; they are there to help you! And, if their office hours don’t work for you, you can always arrange another time or a phone call with them via email. Finally, embrace your campus’ surroundings. I attended Roehampton, London’s campus university, which possesses the most beautiful scenery and wildlife; it was perfect for exploring during a hard-earned break. Every now and then, take a walk around your campus and embrace the university that you chose. If it’s not a campus university, there are bound to be local parks and towns you can visit during your breaks. Especially if you’re spending an entire day at university like I said you could in the beginning, this time to embrace your university is crucial to your success and happiness there overall.

Wisteria Walk, Roehampton University campus (taken on my first day there!)

If you’re a prospective stay-at-home student and have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask below or contact me on social media or via email (you can find my contact details here). I hope these tips were helpful and I wish you the best of luck in your studies!

Love,

Soph, Little Pav