Tag Archives: University of Northampton

Do you want to help find out what happens to coffee capsules?

Do you use coffee capsules? Do you wonder whether they decompose fully? The University of Northampton is looking for volunteers to take part in a project that will focus on examining the compostability of selected coffee capsules. It will run from July – November 2017. Participants will be provided with a free composting bin and the coffee capsules. They will be tasked with monitoring the process over the period of about three months, and providing researchers with the data. Support will be provided throughout the process by the research team, if required. Participants will be chosen on a first come, first served basis.

If you are interested, and are not UoN staff, please email Louise or Terry via louise.maxwell@northampton.ac.uk or terry.tudor@northampton.ac.uk.

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Work experience in journalism – an essential part of training for all or an outdated concept only accessible to the well-off?

University of Northampton journalism students grill Saints players at Frankins Gardens. Pic © HScott

University of Northampton journalism students grill Saints players at Frankin’s Gardens. Pic © H Scott

GAINING work experience before getting a career may be the trend for many jobs today, but for journalists it has been a standard requirement for decades.

There are few editors or broadcasters who will not have started out their career on the bottom rung of the ladder as a cub reporter, and to get those traineeships you always needed to show enthusiasm by volunteering in your ‘spare time,’ as a ‘workie,’ willing to type up sports results, proof village correspondents’ copy, shadow ‘real’ reporters and make the tea.

It made for some loose equality and understanding in an industry that often means more than just a regular hard day at the office. Most pre-internet journalists, even those who climbed the ladder into management, will have experienced a death-knock, a murder scene, a grim sexual-abuse court case and several missing-kid stories.

It is only in recent years, since the traditional ‘prof-test’ training route has been overtaken by university journalism degrees, that would-be hacks are now also expected to be graduates. But they are all still expected to get at least one stint of work experience on their first CV.
Many undergraduate courses now include work experience as a compulsory, assessed element, which means more and more student journos looking for fewer places in newsrooms every summer.

But with the huge changes in modern newsrooms, and often far fewer staff available to supervise a terrified newbie, (not to mention the paranoia about HR policy and procedures), are workies still getting the chance for hands-on experience they need to show their commitment and ability to do the job?

Despite a tacit agreement by employers not to exploit volunteers (goodness, there’s even laws against it) and to sometimes pay travel expenses, placements might still cost hundreds for the workie in train fares and accommodation.

Our Northampton-based students may only be an hour by train from London, but to take up a placement in the city they need at least £132 for five day-returns (and that’s only if they use London Midland’s pre-booked weekly season ticket, if they don’t it’s 300 quid).

If they need to head north, to say Media City in Salford, then they need pricey accommodation or a Mancunian relative with a sofa-bed. Even locally, they often need a car due to the lack of reliable public transport.

Many regional papers and broadcasters simply won’t take work experiences anymore because they don’t have the manpower. Some are forced to refer locally-based students to nationally-administered placement schemes that might send them anywhere. These organisations seem to have little interest in their workies having local knowledge and contacts, which seems bonkers.
Anyone who grew up on their paper or station’s patch will usually nuke the opposition when it comes to genuine exclusives. They went to school with that woman who’s up in court, or played football with someone who gives them a great tip-off. Their aunties will always know what’s happening around the community.

Even if the student journo gets a place at a media organisation, is there much for them to do? There are few opportunities to shadow different departments if they are no longer all based in the same office.
A day on newsdesk, a day with the snappers, a day on sport, in court and with subs isn’t possible if they are all now working in ‘hubs’, often in different counties, let alone different towns.

If they come in with their own stories or leads, as we encourage them to, is anyone going to have time to go through it with them? Will they be trusted to go to a job on their own, like we make them do during university newsdays?

But those who do get placements, and working journos who can spare the time to guide them, can get priceless experience. Some of our students have gained full-time jobs as a direct result of their work experience while at university. Newsrooms and PR agencies have sent glowing feedback about how useful it is to have a young, enthusiastic workie in the office, and many reveal that they in turn end up being taught new ideas on multimedia and mobile by the students. Everyone benefits; the workie gets a real-life view, the newsroom gets a new perspective, and an extra person on the tea rota. And that means it must still work, right?

I’m very keen to hear your views. Please feel free to comment and most importantly, please take five minutes to fill in the survey below, aimed at people who have undertaken media work experience, even if their careers took them elsewhere. You can fill in the survey by clicking here. Please feel free to share too.

Work experience survey 2016

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Wearing silly hats and waving a very formal goodbye to the class of 2012 – University of Northampton graduation

IT’S a funny old week for the staff of a university when graduation comes around.

For the students, finishing years as students and about to step tentatively out of the world of lectures and daytime TV, it’s very exciting. This is when they finally get to wear the funny hats and show their parents/family where the money went.

For the staff it comes a few weeks after the students have actually left. They’ve probably been marking piles and piles of papers solidly for four weeks and quite possibly cursing the students whose work will, or perhaps won’t, have earned them the piece of paper declaring them a graduate.

Three years is a long time to be seeing someone almost every week. And naturally most lecturers develop relationships (not THAT sort) with their charges. You see the first years arrive, nervous and eager, who then proceed to doss their way rather too casually towards year two. This is the serious year, when it starts to dawn on them university work is nothing like A Levels, and they need to get their finger out to get better grades which will reflect in their final degree grade.

Then if they make it to the third year, there are far fewer lectures and kicks-up-the-backside. They must start to actually use what they are meant to have learned to prove their academic worth.

For the last three years I’ve been teaching BA (Hons) Journalism students and have joined my academic colleagues on stage at graduation to see my final year students collecting their gongs.

The terrible toilet mirror shot, just to show you the silly hat

There’s quite a lot of pomp and circumstance involved, with lectures having to don gowns and silly hats and parade onto the stage to sit and clap as hundreds of students collect their awards. We all wear the ‘colours’ of the university which gave us our degrees or the level of our academic magnificence (mine is a very boring, bottom-rung-of-the-ladder affair), while some of the PHD doctors and higher ‘Profs’ have some very elaborate garb. I envy those who have a squishy hat rather than a mortar board like me. They are a devil to keep on and can leave a delightful indentation on your forehead for the rest of the day.

This year’s summer event was at the Derngate theatre, rather than in a marquee at Park Campus. As we waited in the wings for our fanfare to signal our entrance, we were given the instruction by an usher “may I remind you ladies, to keep your knees together while on stage. This ceremony is being live streamed on the Internet and we’d like to look dignified.” Apparently another group of academics were also told not to pick their noses on stage.

There’s a lot of clapping; really a LOT. Every student has their name read out and a few weeks before the ceremony we lecturers have to fill out forms giving the phonetic spelling of the names of students with hard to pronounce monikers. It’s a wise move. The students prefer their big moment if it sounds like you at least know their name.

Perhaps because I’m a newish lecturer, or maybe because since having my own children I’ve become a teary old wuss who wells-up at the slightest hint of sentimentality, I always get a fizzy nose and a lump in my throat when my students come up for their moment of adulation. Even, or perhaps especially, the ones who have driven me mad with laziness, inane questioning and unfulfilled promise over three years. The ones who at times I thought wouldn’t actually make it to the end. (Not so much the ones who by some bizarre twist of mathematics have managed to scrape a degree with very little attendance, effort or submitted assignments. But I clap them too).

And by the way, while it’s pretty hard to fail a degree, it’s also pretty hard to get a decent grade. We had a first-class award on our course this year, thanks to the hard-working Miss Farida Zeynalova, BA (Hons), and lots of ‘two-ones’. Then there are ‘two-twos’ (nicknamed, the ‘Dessy’, as in, Desmond ‘Tutu’), and a ‘third’. You can even fail quite a lot and still chose to pick up a ‘non-hons’, or an ordinary degree, with the honours. Those who fail completely have a last chance to re-sit and potentially graduate next year.

Some of the class of 2012, with Dr Jon Mackley (floppy hat); Farida (who achieved First Class Honours), Tamika and Simon.

Afterwards there’s usually a glass of fizz and a chance to Meet the Parents (this is where you see cocky students become models of civility). It’s a form of closure as we wave off our charges and hope to goodness they will get a job or at least a sense of achievement and purpose from the university experience.

It may surprise you to know we must be doing something right as despite the fees, the numbers are going up. Three years ago there were only five graduates on my course, last year around 18 and this year around 30, with only three having to resit exams or final projects to graduate in February. Next year’s Northampton journalism graduates are likely to number over 40, assuming they knuckle down and keep taking the metaphorical kicks to the derriere. And yes, despite the rumours of the media being a dying beast, there’s plenty of jobs out there for the ones who want them.

The new graduates can get quite emotional as they leave, despite often doing nothing but moan about all the assignments and essays they’ve been forced to do. It’s a mixture of sadness at leaving friends and familiarity, and fear of the unknown.

What comes next? My advice is usually to live a little, for a little while. The conventional new graduate will be in their early 20s, and while already with some debt, without the responsibility of a mortgage or kids. It might be their last chance for a while to see the world, or pursue a dream. But they must also remember they will only be the new-blood; the keen and fresh faces in their field, for a short while, until next year’s graduation ceremonies.

Meanwhile, as I guess all teachers do, we wave off the leavers and get ready for the next batch of undergraduates, with their quirks and excuses, promises and potential.

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Students ‘home’ for the holidays need carrot and stick

HAVE you found your usually tidy home strewn with wet towels and dirty dishes, and been unable to find the remote control this week?

Then you may have a student home for the holidays.

Yes, you tearfully waved them off to university and then yo-yoed between great sadness at your baby flying the nest and great joy at having your weekly grocery shop last longer than a day.

But now they are back, genuinely happy to see you and make the most of your great generosity.

If you have an undergraduate home for the holidays you’ll find them a different beast than the one you had back for Christmas – this one has Work to do.

Try not to question them too vigorously about why all their work appears to be due now, while they could/should have been studying all year. It’s a fact that universities’ assignment dates all come in around May because they should have been progressively learning throughout the year, ready for assessment at the end of the teaching year.

So they may not be willing to admit to you that they spent most of the year recovering from hangovers or watching back-to-back episodes of Keeping up with the Kardasians or Made in Chelsea, when perhaps they should have been in lectures or the library.

But hey, they’re young, they’re students, and you can be pretty confident that they don’t need reminding that they really need to get their head down and get studying while they are at home.

It’s always been a universal truth that students aged between 18 and 25 and in full-time education have the most time on their hands and the least worries, when you compare them with those who have to juggle work, paying a mortgage and childcare. But don’t think they have it easy these days. Those debts, already a whopping three and a half grand a year just for tuition fees, do make today’s students feel far more pressure than our generation did.

And they’re not daft, they know there’s more of them graduating than there were in our time, and fewer jobs to go around. They know if they fail that assignment, or worse still, the year, they may have the embarrassment of having to sit a module or even a whole year again, PAYING again, just to make it through the three years with a piece of paper that calls them a Graduate.

These days they are far less likely to scream “you don’t understand ANYTHING about me,” but now they have been out in the big wide world, and had to fend for themselves, you may actually be starting to believe it yourself.

They might, possibly, be panicking enough over Easter to tell you they can’t do anything but study; but it is important, mentally, that they have at least a day or two with no books and just relax. Take them for dinner, pay for a hairdresser/barber appointment, but just temporarily take their mind off the deadlines.

But once that’s done, leave them alone and don’t distract them. Be the exasperated parent you used to be and make them get to work. This may be tough, as you’ll want to spend as much time as possible with them because you know in a week or so they’ll be gone again. Back to the place you painfully have to hear them refer to as ‘home’.

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I’m NoHo, fly me. (Or welcome to Northampton and please stay a while)

IF 2,000 new people moved into Northampton this week, you’d think we’d notice, yes? Well, they have.

OK, quite a lot of them may already live here, but nonetheless there will be over 2,000 new faces arriving at the University of Northampton to start their higher education.

Meanwhile, many of our native offspring will be leaving, flying the proverbial nest, to start their studies at universities elsewhere.

It’s a week that would give the most seasoned population statistician a headache. And parents a weird mixture of pride, relief and heartache.

Bizarrely, despite hundreds of new Northamptonians arriving, we hardly seem to notice. Parking spaces become even rarer. Estate cars loaded with anxious parents bearing pot plants and boxes of baked beans might ask for directions.

But are we aware of more people in town? The doctors surgeries? The nightclubs? (If you’re a parent reading this you probably haven’t been near a nightclub for years).

Yet there are three times the students starting some Northampton courses compared to two years ago.

I was a newbie myself at the university last year, but unfortunately it wasn’t to start a three-year pub-crawl and get myself into yet more debt. I am a part-time lecturer.

And it’s been an eye-opener.

Student life has changed drastically over the last couple of decades. No doubt many of you will be feeling the extraordinary pain of financing your child/childrens’ three-year rite of passage. This will be at least £3,000 a year, for three years, for tuition and possibly the same for living expenses.

However, if you cough up for everything, you may not be doing them the massive favour you think you are.

From personal experience, both as a student and someone who teaches them today, it’s the ones who feel personal financial commitment who appear to get the most from their university life.

It’s not a universal truth, nor is it a gross generalisation. But most of the students I know who work part-time seem to be the most attentive. They know that every second costs.

Sometimes those students whose parents pick up the tab are easy to spot: they have the shortest attention spans, the worst attendance records, and hand in the poorest work.

In short, they are enjoying the cliched uni-experince without putting any knowledge in the bank. They have iPhones and MacBooks, they drive new cars and have sat-nav and therefore never actually have to explore the town they live in. It’s sad to how little they grow.

There have always been students who were helped out by their parents, from every background. None of us wants to imagine our kids living in a slum with nothing to eat.

It’s all very well for us, whose education was grant-funded by the Government. No guilt about missing lectures due to a chronic hangover, living on cornflakes for every meal until the grant cheque arrived.

Today’s undergraduates have to remember what it costs. I reckon, roughly, that every lecture missed by a student will have cost the parent about £24. It will probably be their only lecture that day.

We want our children to go to university. We’re proud of their exam results and the fact they got a place. But these days, its no longer enough that they got in. There are thousands of students and over 150 UK universities. It’s how you use your three years that matters.

The students I teach actually taught me a lot last year. I now have a far better understanding of the multitude ways anyone under 25 communicates. They might not be tub-thumping radical thinkers, but they can email, text, Twitter, Facebook, Bebo, Myspace and publish your startled expression on YouTube faster than you can say “a cider and blackcurrant please.” And the less said about chatroulette the better.

If you are new to Northampton this week, welcome. Don’t feel nervous, we’re really quite nice if you venture off campus and get to know us. . .

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