Work Placement – Peer Assisted Learning Leader for 2nd Year Linguistics Module – UWE Bristol

What? PAL Leader (Peer Assisted Learning) for Foundations in linguistics: semantics and pragmatics & syntax module at UWE, Bristol (University of the West of England)

Why did you choose this place? I wanted to get some work experience in teaching/mentoring and this seemed like a good opportunity. I also liked the fact that it was linked with my course.

How did you find the application process? I don’t remember much of it which suggests that it was probably quite easy. There was an online application to be filled out and during the summer they checked my academic results to see if I didn’t fail the module I was supposed to be mentoring.

What do you do here? I mentor a group of 3-12 second year students (depending on how many show up) who are on the same course like me but one year below (I am in my final year). I run a session per week to help them to reduce the workload and answer any questions they might have about the module and the course as a whole. I need to prepare my sessions each week and write a schedule. In the past we’ve done some reading and now towards the end of the term we’re focusing more on essay preparation. My role is not to answer their questions straight away but rather redirecting them towards the whole group and make sure that everyone is involved.

The good things: I get paid for the session which is good because we were told that it is not paid in the rest of the UK. It really challenges me in terms of time management and coming up with new ideas what to do in the sessions. I really enjoy working with the students, it is fascinating to see how everyone has a different style and pace of learning, yet how they all want to pursue the academic goals. PAL has also taken the nervous feeling off me whether I will ever be able to stand up in front of a group of people and try to transmit some knowledge to them.

The bad things: I don’t get paid for the time I spend on planning the sessions, which is about 1-2 hours per week. Even though I mentioned it as a challenge, time management is crucial and sometimes I am wondering how I am going to cope with PAL and my deadlines at the same time towards the end of the academic year. The trainings sometimes seem to be too long.

Anything else we should know? PAL is a really good experience. Even though it is not about “normal” teaching it still involves working with students and preparing a lesson plan. Don’t be put off by the trainings and how formal it all looks; at the end of the day, you will learn how to mentor and enjoy your sessions at the same time in your own way, yet being backed up by the PAL office team.

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Volunteering – Creating UWE Linguistics Society

Contributor: Tom

Which Society?  UWE Linguistics Society

Why did you start the society? I tell people who I want to impress that I set it up because I passionately wanted to spread the good word of linguistics and increase student participation in extra-curricular academic events.

In reality I read this language log post about Edinburgh’s own LangSoc and thought “oh that’d be so cool if we had a society like that at UWE” and got a bit depressed that UWE didn’t have a linguistics society. A few days later I remembered that I was a lazy student who had loads of time to set up a society. I asked some students if they thought a linguistics society should exist, got some friends together to form a committee, a month later we were a proper official society!

What was your position? I was elected as president. To start with this meant I was responsible for nearly every aspect of running a society, but it got a lot easier as the committee grew.

Good things: We had some fantastic lectures and we went on some really fun trips. And I got to work with some brilliant mates and made even more brilliant mates too.

Also, because I ran a linguistic society, I was contacted by David Arnold, a student of the University of Edinburgh, who invited the society to the first Undergraduate Linguistics Association of Britain conference … but that’s another very long story… (click the link to find out!)

Bad things: People kept expecting me to be some kind of linguistics whizz-kid – which was a pity because I’m actually quite stupid. They’d be all like “Tom, you run the linguistics society, do you remember all the rules on Sanskrit morphology” and I’d be all like “no!” then they’d be all like “what about a brief history of marxism in linguistics” and I’d be like “how would I know that?!” then they’d say “oh but you’re the president of the linguistics society, surely you’d know” and then I would have to run away and hide in shame.

Also running a society (*cough* especially a twice-award-winning society *cough*) takes a lot of time – so you need to ensure you stay organised and not let it take over your life!

Anything else: If you’re at university studying linguistics and there isn’t a linguistics/language society near you, set one up! Make sure you’ve got some good people who are just as enthusiastic as you are to work with, and you’re good to go.

And if there is a society near you, get involved in any way that you can – it’s a great way to meet people and have fun, all while pretending you’re only doing it to beef up your CV.

Voluntary Position – Peer Guide for the School of English Language and Linguistics – Bangor University

Contributor: Callum

What? Peer Guide for the School of English Language and Linguistics at Bangor University; 2010 – 2012.

Why did you choose this place? My Peer Guide when I was but a mere Fresher did an excellent job of helping me settle during my first ever week at Bangor. By this token, I felt a motivation to return the favour as it were, and wanted to give back so applied to become a Peer Guide.

How did you find the application process? For what I was required to do it was a pretty standard set of affairs, a basic application form with a required reference too. That was not too hard to get together; after all the “Peer Guiding Scheme” and academic schools are just wanting some competent, helpful people to be Peer Guides; so they wouldn’t make the application process too daunting. Additionally being part of a smaller school, we only usually get twenty or so wanting to be Peer Guides anyway, this is usually about the right number for the amount of Freshers we get (approximately sixty to eighty).

What do you do here? The principal focus orientates around “Freshers’ Week” (or Welcome Week as it’s also known), that time when, as a lot of you will have done, landed at your University and needed some guidance to assist with getting around, and otherwise settling in. Through a lot of planning, our school provides a week of events to help welcome and integrate new students to Bangor, this includes from quizzes, trips around the area as well as the occasional trip to the pub. You get the idea I’m sure, like most Freshers’ Weeks at University the aim is fun with a side of reassurance, however this system allows for students to be well acquainted with their course mates, as well as having someone look out for them, before their first year has truly begun. Of course, the work does not stop the minute Freshers Week ends, it is important to keep in contact with the new students during the year, I, for example, usually invite my Freshers out for a few drinks at the end of their first year of study, then once again a few months later, just to catch up, and check they’re in good stead.

The good things: For me, this is all down to the relationships formed between, firstly, working with the Peer Guides as a unit. A team which have a goal to create a successful Freshers’ Week for all involved, and that in itself is a rewarding prospect. I should make mention here that I came up with a ‘mentoring’ scheme
within the Peer Guides, that is to say the ‘senior’ Peer Guides are paired with a ‘junior’ Peer Guide. The idea of this is that, in some way like with the Peer Guide/Fresher relationship, the ‘junior/senior’ Peer Guide relationship allows new to learn from experienced. Of course, this is a two way thing, new Peer Guides
may themselves bring new ideas to the front which are always welcome, and these can initially be discussed with their senior Peer Guide, before being brought
up in meetings, as an example. I must of course make mention of the Freshers themselves, as this is what the scheme is here for! It is actually a very pleasing experience to aid your Freshers through their life at University, helping them settle in, and everything in between.

The bad things: I won’t go into anything specific here, all I’ll say is you’re working with people, so that’s going to be the main source of anything going wrong. All I’ll say is make sure everyone on the Peer Guide side of things, everyone has planned things out and you should generally be ok. Otherwise, Freshers’ Week can be a little tiresome with a lot of running around involved, but this is what you signed up to, so you can’t really complain. And at the end of the day the positives out-weigh the negatives with this sort of things.

Anything else we should know: If your University does not have a Peer Guiding scheme and you feel it would improve Freshers’ Week, bring it up with your respective school/University and make some inquiries! I have found it a fantastic two years’ worth of experience, working with both Freshers and Peer Guides that will certainly be high up on my written CV!

Choosing University Courses

Contributor: Claire

As so many prospective undergraduates head off to university this September, we must turn back to those who are about to embark on the daunting process that is UCAS, and also those who are about to embark on preparing for postgraduate study for September 2013.

I’m currently looking at postgraduate courses which will train me as a Speech Therapist, there are eight courses and even though I have a good idea what I’m looking for, it really doesn’t get much easier.

I was asked to talk to a family friend’s daughter who is embarking on the UCAS process, this experience inspired me to write this post – while I wait for an influx of more relevant posts. The main advice I gave her: Study what you enjoy.

I was originally going to study maths at university, but ended up enjoying my English Language A2 far more and changed my mind last minute, and boy am I glad I did change. Generally, you’re going to do much better in something you enjoy, mainly due to the fact that you’ll put much more effort into your course, which is seriously needed as there is a very large element of self study in any university course.

So when you’ve chosen your subject, to weed out the right course for you, there are several aspects of the course/university you’ll want to look for:

1. Modules: These will vary so much between university courses, mainly due to staff and their specialities. This is particularly relevant in third year, because the modules will be based upon these specialities. Again, choose what you enjoy/are interested in, for similar reasons above. Most universities will list the names of the modules, try emailing them for more information on the content – makes you look interested in the course and gets your name into the department.

2. Staff: Researching the staff is really important for the above reasons, if you do some reading on your subject outside your course, you might find the author teaches or is affiliated at a particular uni, such as David Crystal at Bangor, though this should not be considered your only reason to get onto a course! Additionally when it comes to writing your dissertation, its great to have a member of staff of which your subject is their speciality.

3. Facilities: Especially if you’re doing a more piratical course, the facilities the university offer in your department can open doors, and really enhance learning.

4. Research: More relevant for prospective postgraduates, but still quite important. The research that is happening in that particular department can give an idea of the sort of area emphases there will be on your course, such as at UWE we have the Bristol Centre of Linguistics – which also gives weekly term time talks from visiting linguists but one of their areas of research is second language acquisition, and within the course during my 3 years, I had the opportunity to take two EFL based modules.

5. Contact Time and Course Structure: This information is the least easy to find, and you will probably have to email the department to find out, but this is very important, especially as university fees have risen, as you want to make sure you get the most from your money. You don’t want to get to the course and find out that you are only seeing your tutors eight hours a week. Additionally if you’re not very good at exams, it might be worth looking at more practical courses with a higher percentage of coursework, or vice versa.

6. Societies and Extra Curricular: As I have endeavoured to express with this website, it’s not all about the study these days, and more about the experiences you’ve thrown yourself into. Having a university with a great subject related society can be really enriching to your studies, help you make friends more easily with your peers. Additionally if you can’t make up your mind what to study, you can join a society relevant to your previous interests, enlarging your social groups, while being able to hold on! There are also many societies which can fit great alongside your course, such as the large number of sign language societies across UK universities.

The most important thing to remember, is if you want to go to university if you throw yourself into life and your course, generally wherever you end up you will enjoy it. Personally, I ended up going through clearing after my previous offers had been declined, and it has been the best thing that ever happened to me 🙂

If anyone else wants to contribute on what they think makes a great university course, or if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to write below!