Placement blogs

Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences' students share their placement and year abroad experiences.

Topic: Psychology

Submitting Ethics

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📥  2016-17, Psychology

Hello all!

With March having just rolled in, signs of spring are everywhere. We have rain that never seems to end and rows of pretty daffodils covering just about every patch of soil and grass you can see.

bath uni daffodils

But, the beginning of spring marks the beginning of your official preparation for your dissertation. At the Psychology Placement Conference they suggested you should try to have your ethics submitted in March or April. Some people even had their ethics accepted before the Placement Conference! But DON'T WORRY if this isn't you, they were definitely in the minority. You should aim to try and start thinking about your dissertation before your Dissertation Topic Choice Form (late November) is due, having a general idea is really helpful when your department try to pair you up with a useful and relevant supervisor. I got my idea through a five minute brainstorm with colleagues when I was helping them with their research. It then developed by talking with my Placement Supervisor in our weekly supervision settings. Thinking ahead can help ease any anxiety of leaving things last minute - such as when your friends who didn't go on a placement are already talking about collecting data and ask you what you are planning.

Once you have your supervisor, try and book an appointment straight away. Most Dissertation Supervisors are really busy and so will not be able to see you if you drop in for a chat unannounced. Supervisors do have to put aside time on the day of the placements conference to see you, don't let this time go to waste! You have to be on campus anyway so put aside half an hour, it is a great way for you to start getting the dissertation ball rolling and to ask any questions you may have from the dissertation talks at the placement conference.

If you can, try to go into that meeting with a more concrete idea of what you would like to do and an idea of what literature exists in your research area. I found my meeting to be the perfect time to run through what I had planned and talk about some questions I had about the ethics form. We came up with some ideas for improvement, such as performing a power analysis to find out how many participants you need (this sounds scary but with help from MASH it was easy -they can even do online Skype support for placement students) and the possibility of doing a mixed methods study. You can find out more about maths and stats help at uni here:


If you have a Dissertation Supervisor who isn't known for communicating well with students it might be a good idea to send them an outline of your ideas and how you want to test it before you meet, this way they are more likely to help you out as they will have already had a look at your idea and thought about what can be done to improve it. It also makes you look super organised and avoids any awkward silences where you might say 'ummm I have no idea how to test it, I just thought it was interesting' 'umm I hope it hasn't been done before as that would suck'. If this sounds like too much, go in with a brief list of what you want to talk about and with any questions you might have. This gives you something to work from as opposed to going in blind.

Anyway, I came away from my first dissertation meeting feeling a lot more positive than I thought I would feel because I had made that effort before hand. It is difficult but worth it.


After finalising details of my study with my placement and dissertation supervisor, I started my ethics application in the second week of Feb. This wasn't too hard as I had already gone through most of the information with my supervisors. The hardest part is writing the short background section on why this is an important area to research - which is where looking at articles before your first dissertation meeting comes in handy. But the most fiddly part is designing your information, consent and debrief forms which take a lot of time and tweaking before they are ready to send off. It took me a good two weeks to get everything in a good enough state to submit. It was a frustrating process as the tiniest of details were changed - such as saying psychological wellbeing instead of just wellbeing.

Some tips for writing the debrief, information and consent sheets -look at other studies, like questionnaires online, what have they done? What have they covered? Should I provide helplines for people if my study is about wellbeing or a similar topic? You can then use those ones as a basic template for what you need to talk about. Different Universities can also provide a really easy checklist and examples of what to include in these -I used Nottingham University and The University of Kent.

The next key part of the Ethics form is getting your dissertation supervisor to sign it. Give them plenty of time to do this, especially if you haven't been keeping in touch with them. It is better that they have the time to read it thoroughly and give you feedback on what to improve then just send it back to you in a rush and you have your application rejected. Try and send it to them two weeks before the ethics deadline. If you change anything whilst you are waiting for a reply, send them the updated version of the application immediately!

My dissertation supervisor didn't give mine back until two days before the deadline, even though I had been talking to him about my ideas for a long time, had been keeping him informed of how my planning etc was going and had sent it two weeks before. So, your department are really not joking when they say you need those two weeks.

When it comes to actually submitting your forms, triple check you have attached all of the questionnaires, information sheets and anything else you may need. Make sure your ethics form is as detailed as possible. Most importantly, make sure you have signed two copies and have had your supervisor sign both too! Give yourself at least two hours (if you are submitting it in person) to find the submission box, check through, print and change things if needed. If you are not doing this in person then aim to send it to the appropriate member of staff the day before after checking it through, this gives the person who is printing off your form plenty of time to receive your email and print the form off. If you send it on the day, you might just end up waiting another month to submit as the staff member might be off sick or too busy to make time for the application- a huge pain if you are eager to start collecting data.

And finally, do not be put off if, after all this work, your ethics form comes back to you asking you to make changes before they can accept it. This is really common, my friend said she doesn't know one person who got theirs accepted straight away. If you make these changes quickly, you might not have to wait for the next ethics deadline either. So, please don't feel disheartened as it is completely normal to be asked to make changes with your first application. Don't forget, this is the first time you have ever filled out an ethics application!

Best of luck!


Return to Placement

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📥  2016-17, Psychology

After a much appreciated Christmas break, I am now back working  as an Assistant Psychologist for the Lifetime Service. For those of you reading this blog for the first time, the Lifetime Service is based in Bath and offers support to children who have a life-limiting or life-threatening condition and their families.

Going home for Christmas was so nice, especially after two months apart from my pets. My cat was so pleased to see me, she ran up to my room and meowed at me as soon as I arrived, as if to say 'Where have you been? How could you come all the way up here without saying hello to me?'. Who says cats are heartless?

What I enjoyed most of all though was having absolutely no work to do over Christmas for the first time in FIVE YEARS! That's right, after years of revising for GCSE's, A-Levels and University Exams or doing coursework, I finally had a chance to experience a stress free Christmas. You have no idea how much you will have missed this! So make the most of your Placement year, it really is a year like no other. It is a wonderful chance to have a bit of a break from the stresses that have consumed your life for the past few years, whilst still doing something worthwhile.

Now I am back at work, after the sleepy first week after new years day, things have picked up once more. I have been allocated my dissertation supervisor, which was great news as it meant I can really start thinking about one of the aims of a Psychology Placement, collecting data for your dissertation. Unfortunately, the supervisor was not the one I hoped for, however I hope they will still be useful for my topic! They have already agreed to meet me for a first meeting about the dissertation. But if things really do not go well, they will be retiring at the end of the year, giving me the opportunity to start anew with someone else.

I am now busy planning for my dissertation and having a brainstorm of ideas. At first, I really wanted to do something with the people that Lifetime works for, however trying to do research with patients is very difficult. There are so many precautions and rules for patient contact, especially in a service involving children who are not well, even in a service not tied to the NHS; this idea was quickly forgotten. In its place came a new area of research using an easier to reach population: Staff. I am now hoping to do my dissertation on staff wellbeing in a paediatric palliative care setting and how this may compare to other Health Care Staff who work with children. Surprisingly, despite there being a legal requirement for organisations to look after their staff and research showing that staff wellbeing directly impacts patient care, no one has really looked into what staff wellbeing is like (Hill, Dempster, Donnelly, & McCorry, 2016). Moreover, very little has been done with paediatric staff, despite many staff saying that working with ill children is harder than working with ill adults; especially when they are not likely to recover (Mukherjee, Beresford, Glaser, & Sloper, 2009). I am so excited for this new research topic, especially as so little has seemed to have been done in this area giving me lots of room to explore. The best moment was when Hill et al. (2016) said we need more research in this area doing this, giving me a great starting point to think of the aims of the research. So do not be put off if your first ideas for dissertation do not work out, you will most likely find something else even better!

Since the new year, I have also had the opportunity to have some patient contact. A Trainee Psychologist and I ran a stall at a diabetes transition event, teaching young people with diabetes about how stress can influence your diabetes and what they could do to help manage their stress. This was a great experience as I got to see the practical side to being a Psychologist, something I have missed by being behind a desk for the past few months. All the feedback from the event was really positive! All of the young people said they had enjoyed the event and would come again. Some people even asked questions, showing they weren't just there for the free food!

Last week, I also got to visit Charlton Farm Hospice, a hospice in the South West that offers end of life and respite (yearly support from diagnosis of a life-limiting condition) care to under 18's who are unlikely to live into adulthood. This was such a awe-inspiring visit, I would encourage everyone to visit a hospice during their life. The work the nurses do is absolutely amazing, and it really is not what you think!

Contrary to popular belief, hospices are not a place where people come to die. They are a place people come to live. The South West Hospices offer holidays to families who have a child with a life limited condition, complete with farm cottages for families to stay in. There are art rooms, swimming pools, gardens, special baths and showers with specially designed equipment so that everyone can use it. For many children, coming to the hospice may be the first time they have ever been able to ride a bike or take a bath or go swimming as everyone else has told them 'You can't do that, it's too dangerous!'. At the hospice, their motto is 'We will make it work'. The hospice truly felt like a happy place to go for a great time, where you could meet people similar to you and try new things. Each of the rooms were decorated with a different theme, that was specific to the visiting child - for example if a child likes Star Wars, their room will be filled with Star Wars games and bed covers. The staff do everything they can to make the family's visit a happy and fun one. End of life care is such a small part of what they do. it is time everyone finally learnt the truth about hospices.

During my time at Charlton Farm, the only time I felt sad to be there was when entering the beautiful 'Starborn room'. Where the child is placed after they have passed away. This room was filled with sadness but also beauty, as the staff explained all that they did to support the family and how death was not treated as a taboo here, but that parents and children were allowed and encouraged to think about what they would like to do when that time came. They were encouraged to remember their child, hosting special 'remembrance events' for families who had experienced a loss through a long-term illness. I left the hospice feeling happy and so appreciative towards the staff who had looked after the families for so long.

So please, break the taboo of death, learn more about what a hospice is and support the amazing work that these professionals do. They provide opportunities to children who, without them, may never have experienced life to the full. Placement is a time to embrace new experiences and learn more about Psychology.

You can learn more about South West hospices here:





One Month In of a Lifetime.

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📥  2016-17, Psychology

This week marked one month since I started working at the Lifetime Service at the Royal United Hospital in Bath. The Lifetime Service aims to support children and their families with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions through an amazing team of Clinical Psychologists and Nursing staff.


In my first month here I have learnt so much. I have learnt how to conduct an audit and have since analysed the psychology referrals to Lifetime. I have also started to carry out an audit from scratch, looking into how many complex cases the staff manage through designing a questionnaire to see what types of complex cases are most common in the service and also the use of mobile tablets to enter patient records. This has taught me really valuable research skills which are great for providing experience for my Clinical Psychologist application in future.


I am also helping to run a research project by the Lifetime Clinical Psychologists which is looking into the psychological impact of having a child with a life-threatening condition on parents and how that impact is influenced by having a care package in place. I have created drafts of the consent, debrief and risk assessment, giving me a solid grounding for when I start organising my dissertation.


I have also learnt that working with children promotes a whole different range of therapeutic techniques than you would see in an adult. Instead of trying to work it all out in their heads the team use apps on tablets and diagrams to help the child make a picture of their thoughts that they can then explain and be treated. In children you would also be more likely to use a family focused technique, such as systemic therapy. Here you do not see the individual person experiencing difficulty as the only one who needs 'fixing', instead you look at how the family functions as a whole and how they might exacerbate or worsen the individual’s issue. Together they work towards creating a better environment and well-being for the whole family. Creating long lasting change and addressing issues that might have arisen in other family members as a result of the individual's behaviour or concerns. An amazing alternative to person focused therapy.


In addition to this I have learnt more about the variety of ways Psychology is used in the health service, it is not just used for treating mental illnesses! Did you know that Clinical Psychologists are also involved in the diabetes service to encourage children and adolescents to take their medication, even though they are terrified of needles? Did you know that Clinical Psychologists help to support families as they come to terms with the loss of a child? Or when they find out that they will likely bury their child?


I have discovered that Clinical Psychology is so much broader than I thought possible, with endless applications. I am finding out about areas of psychology that are less in the public eye but just as important to the well-being of their patients. It has made me so pleased that I decided to choose a placement that was not directly in the area I felt most interested in, if I had I would probably have never discovered the wide range of things Clinical Psychology has to offer.


But perhaps the best experience this has given me so far is the time away from constantly studying, so I can see who I am as a person and enjoy some of my early years before continuing the long slog to being a Clinical Psychologist. The most memorable event: Taking part in RAG's Zombie Apocalypse for the first time in three years. Update.... I probably would survive a zombie apocalypse (it must be all The Walking Dead training).

And this is why placements in Bath should never be underrated!


Here comes the work!

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📥  2016-17, Psychology

I have now been at my placement with the Lifetime Service, supporting children and families with life limiting illnesses for three weeks.

I have accomplished so many tasks that I scarcely know where to begin. However, what I soon learnt from this placement was that there was not always another task to move onto once one finished and I would need to take initiative to find something else to do with my time. This is common during the first weeks where your supervisor and the team are learning whether they can trust you and how good a worker you are. So keep trying your best and try to think of how a task could be done even better than how they suggested it.

For the large part, occupying my time after tasks has meant reading chapters from books to learn more about palliative care in children. A sad topic but one that is really important to understand  for this role. Palliative care occurs when there is no cure for the illness and it is life limiting (whether that be a few weeks or months), the aim is to give the person the best quality of life possible during their remaining days. This might be through discussions about whether they would like to continue treatments or psychological therapy to help them come to terms with their own death, which is where Lifetime comes in! Although reading doesn't seem like the most interesting thing to be doing on placement, it is really important to understand how everything works and the theory behind what the staff do.

Onto the more exciting tasks!

Despite the slow beginnings, things have really begun to pick up over this last week. The tasks they gave me when I arrived at the placement have started to be completed, such as setting up weekly Mindfulness workshops for staff members with a fellow clinical psychologist. I have also been designing 'take ten' meditation cards that have now been distributed grateful staff.

I have also carried out my first clinical audit on the type of psychology referrals Lifetime receives, preparing me for a much more thorough audit of the transition services (moving from child to adult services) which they hope I will carry out in the coming months. I found this really intimidating at first as I was worried that I would mess up such an important task, but that wasn't the case! The audit I carried out went really well, it took time and a lot of research into how to use excel (I am technologically challenged) but I was pleased with the first result and hope to keep developing these skills.

I have also been meeting with a clinical psychologist in the diabetes department, who offers support to families and young people who are struggling with a diagnosis of Type One diabetes or other issues, such as needle phobia or treatment aversion. For example, your typical teenager will want to rebel and one of the ways some teens do this is by not administering their insulin or eating correctly, risking their health. Part of the role I have been playing in this is helping the clinical psychologist to create a list of online resources and apps that might help the family or individual improve their well being. This was so well received that the Lifetime Service also asked for a copy and asked me to expand my current list of resources to include ones specifically aimed at supporting families with an Autistic child. Finding apps that clinicians could use to asses an individual's emotion awareness and websites for parents to turn to for reliable information about Autism and treatments. I felt so pleased that something I had done was so useful to the organisation that they asked for more things designed in that way.

So far on placement, I have learnt that there is always something to be done. Sometimes you just have to look for it using your own initiative.


Training Commences: Placement is Real

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📥  2016-17, Psychology, Uncategorized

Ever since I was 11 years old I can remember being dead set on becoming a Clinical Psychologist, someone who helps those with mental health problems. For the past few years I have been collecting as much experience as possible, volunteering with Suicide Awareness For Everyone - raising awareness of mental health in secondary schools and at university volunteering with Student Minds to help run a support group for students with low mood and depression. All of it leading up to my placement.

SO I am living the dream, or at least I hope to be.

This year I am working as an Honorary Assistant Psychologist with the Lifetime Service at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, helping to support children and their families with life limiting illnesses. I hope it will give me the opportunity to learn if I am suited for such an intense and emotionally demanding job as a Clinical Psychologist.

I have just finished my first week! Yay! I thought it would never arrive after having problems with checks and induction training dates. But here I am!

Most of this week has been taken up by training courses. There is so much to learn about the company and how I can help support others. I have learnt about Dementia and how people with the condition are eventually robbed of their latest memories, often becoming trapped in a past time so that they no longer recognise their loved ones. We watched a harrowing video entitled 'Darkness in the Afternoon' where a beautiful 20 year old woman in a red dress strolls down a street and ends up being chased and harassed by an old man. In reality this woman is actually 80 and is wondering around the town in her nightie, the old man is her husband who is trying (poorly) to get her home. For me this was shocking, especially as two of my family members have now been diagnosed. It taught me that you should try to live with their 'mental time' and not assume they remember what actual time period it is. With the lady in the film clearly believing she was 20 and not 80 years old.

I also learnt about delivering first aid, such as choking, to individuals with learning difficulties. For this group they often do not understand that if they are choking their carer is trying to help them by delivering back blows, all they think is that it hurts. So it was really interesting to learn strategies that will help me to apply my knowledge to this group, taking into account their disability.

I have only had two full days at the Lifetime Service so far! In my first I learnt about delivering Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which aims to help improve an individual's well-being by mindfulness and making small actions that aim to help the individual reach their main value in life, i.e. to be social or healthy. This was fascinating as so many other types of therapy may overlook the need to personalise therapy, for example one individual might feel their main value is to get a good education, not necessarily to recover from depression -the doctor's value. ACT is all about working towards this value through small actions, which here would include addressing the depression so the person can go to school or university. By taking the individual's main value into account the therapy seems so much more engaging to the patient.

I was then told about a research opportunity I can take part in, which aims to investigate the impact of having a child with a life limiting illness on the parents mental health and how the support provided by Lifetime and other care packages impacts the parents well being. I am so excited to be a part of research that hasn't been investigated before, I can't wait to get fully stuck in.

As cliche as it will sound I have found myself feeling truly grateful for all the opportunities I have been given to take part in so far at placement. Although a lot of it has been training, meetings or organising work, it has all been so eye opening and informative. In the coming weeks I am sure it will become more challenging and hands-on.

Here's to another good week!


Planes, Trains and Automobiles


📥  2014-15, Psychology

I made it back into America! Jubilations! Not that I was worried for a second…

A few days ago I took my third and final trip to Montreal, so that I could then come back into the States on a tourist visa and extend my stay by 90 days. A bit of a faffy situation, but it did mean I got to spend time with the Scottish friend I made on the October visit, then stayed with in January, and was able to check out Montreal’s famous Jazz Festival – days on days of free live music in the downtown area of the city. I also went for my first run in the outside world since June 2015, something ridiculous about discovering new places while on holiday and being healthy spurred me on. I have not been able to move properly since.

With my success crossing the border, I now feel safe enough discussing my upcoming summer plans. Soon my sistah from another mistah, Liv, will be meeting me here in Boston and we will be heading off on a bit of a cross-country excursion. I have not been this excited about something cross-country related since I prepared myself to tell the P.E. teacher at school that I would be quitting the running team.

This map took me two hours to construct and highlights not only my abundance of skill in Paint (not Photoshop, I’m not made of money), but also the places Liv and I will be venturing to on our month-long trip. For an added bonus, I have also included the other places I have visited since being on placement, indicated by my over-pixilated but euphoric face (New Hampshire, Vermont, Montreal, Vancouver, North Carolina and soon, New Orleans). Each “Point” on the map has been subjected to serious research, i.e. Liv and I watched some TV shows set in these cities.

USA Odyssey map


At Point (A), Boston, I will show Liv the revolutionary sights of American Independence and my favourite place to get a hot dog. We may also do a day trip to Salem, because historic witches are sexy and Salem was the best character in ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’. Television-based research: Salem.

Point (B) is New York City; we have both already done the enjoyable but expensive tourist attractions so I imagine we will mostly end up walking around markets and eating when we are not too hungover from the city that never sleeps. Television-based research: Sex and the City/Girls/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Point (C) is Philadelphia – a new city for both Liv and myself. So far our itinerary involves mostly food and drinks places, but to my credit I have not yet done any proper research. Television-based research: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Point (D) is Washington DC. I hope to run into Obama or Kevin Spacey there, either will do. Television-based research: House of Cards.

Point (E) is Pittsburgh – come to think of it, the interary at the moment is much like that for Philly. We are primarily stopping here to avoid a 33 hour bus ride to Chicago. Television-based research: Dance Moms.*

Which leads us onto Point (F) – Chicago. Not only will our faces be buried in deep dish pizza, but we will also be taking in our first music festival of the trip – Lollapalooza. As well as being extremely excited for the festival, I am also very thankful for the reasonably relaxed working environment that allowed me to snap up tickets at my desk before they ran out. Television-based research: Chicago Fire.

All of these points thus far will be reached by bus – the people’s carriage. After basking in Chicago’s glory, we will be swapping shakey wifi and even shakier on-board loos for a plane to Point (G) – San Francisco – where we will be scoping out an American club that plays Britpop and a fun tour of Alcatraz. Prisons are so in right now. Television-based research: Sense 8.

We will also be heading to our second music festival of the trip in San Fran – Outside Lands – where I fully expect to die of happiness in front of Elton John.

I have done some dramatic things to prepare for this trip, including cutting off all my hair. I was getting increasingly more stressed, trying to plan out when the best times would be for me to whack out the hair-dryer and straighteners while balancing travelling frivolities and levels of socially-acceptable personal upkeep. I will inevitably need to wash my hair a few times due to swimming/sweating/general grime, but the whole process usually takes about an hour and a half per go and becomes more and more necessary the fizzier east coast humidity makes it. Plus, doing so also requires about seven difference pieces of equipment and products, which is not what you want when you are trying to fit your life in a backpack. Cutting it all off has made looking after my hair joyfully easier, and while the main reason for doing so was to get rid of the relaxed hair and start growing it again with its natural texture, the timing could not have been better.

Because we will be so over buses by this point and deserve to travel in some degree of style (domestic flights can be gloriously cheap), Liv and I will then fly from San Fran to Portland, Point H, where we will go on a safari of hipsters in their native habitat. Television-based research: Portlandia.

The final leg of the trip will see us hopping on a double-decker train (???) and crossing the border over to Vancouver – Point I. This will be where I’ll either spend any money I have left on maple syrup, or where I will end up busking on the street to earn enough dolla for food. Television-based research: Orphan Black.*

Every means of transport has been worked out meticulously to ensure the cheapest ways to travel (hence all the buses and only one train). Our motto while planning the trip became “every little helps”, born from deciding between getting a bus at 8.30am instead of 12pm to save $2.50 and flying with no checked baggage because who needs stuff really? I believe the total for all the planes, trains and automobiles came up to about $600 (not including the flight home), which is outrageous really. Accommodation will be interesting – we are relying largely on the kindness of friends and family to give us places to stay, as well as that of strangers on ‘Couchsurfing’ and a couple of hostels.

Our flight back from Vancouver to London (well, Vancouver to Iceland, then London) is on the 21st August, which means not only will the trip last exactly one month, but I will have passed my year long mark of vacacement by two days. That doesn’t really mean much, but it is oddly satisfying.

Just in case anyone is wondering, I will be 21 by the time the odyssey begins. It is actually my birthday in TWO DAYS and I am so ready to have my first taste of alcohol in the United States; ten and a half months of sobriety has been awfully challenging. It is excellent timing, as I will also be going to New Orleans this weekend and there is absolutely no point in going to a place called “Bourbon Street” when you are under 21.

Looking back, I am so glad I chose to do my placement year in Boston, even taking into account the mentally destructive winter and challenging living costs. It is pretty obvious that I have used it as an opportunity to travel around and have fun, but the placement itself turned out to be exactly what I needed and I even find myself.... a bit excited (?!) by my dissertation topic and the research I have done for it here. Fourth year remains a robust barrier between myself and the real world, which is something I imagine I will savour come September. As for now, I welcome a summer of little responsibility and much vitamin D with open arms.


*I did not actually watch “Dance Moms”, as I am not that basic. “Salem” remains on my to-watch list and there does not seem to be anything set in Vancouver that is worth watching, so Toronto stepped in as a substitute.


Happily Unemployed

📥  2014-15, Psychology

It has now been over 10 months since I hopped over the pond and re-located to Boston, but most importantly it has been almost a month since I finished my work placement at the Child Language Lab.

I now find myself in the very enjoyable position of unadulterated summery freedom. I have finished working/my third year of University; if I were in England right now I would most likely be finding some sort of summer job to earn some cash – babysitting, retail, bar work, that sort of thing. However, my “nonimmigrant” status means that it is against the law for me to get a job here, so alas I must spend my mornings having daily lie-ins, dedicate my afternoons to being “productive” on my laptop (I watched the new series of Orange is the New Black in two days) and use my evenings to better myself in the gym/pub. Speaking of the gym, I now have a visible ab and am one step closer to becoming Beyoncé.

Unemployment suits me well, I think. Considering how much I love the last-minute lifestyle, I have surprised myself by making a start on my dissertation, which is due in APRIL and I have managed to read an entire book.

Despite having to pretend to be an adult for ten months, working at the lab was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and saying goodbye to everyone I had worked with was a long and bittersweet process. I would be lying if I said I missed the 9 – 5 routine, but the days whenbroody-inducing toddlers came into the lab for studies did help soften the blow. It turns out I am very interested in child language development and can kind of do science – who knew?!


    (Cheerio Boston University)

My sister came to visit at the start of June and we got to spend some much needed quality time together. We spent most days in Boston wandering around, looking at sights (and by “looking at sights” I mean eating – visiting IHOP for the first time together was truly a bonding experience), as well as visiting New York. She spent a week with our cousin in Brooklyn and I went to the Governor’s Ball solo. No one else fancied going to the music festival with me, but who needs friends, right? Lana Del Rey may have been painfully quiet (her voice soaked up by hundreds of 15 year olds’ top buns) and some idiot in the audience continually demanded Noel Gallagher played Wonderwall during the High Flying Birds’ set (he didn’t, probably because it’s not even the best Oasis song), but it was a pretty damn good way to spend a Sunday and New York music festivals draw in some excellent artists.





The next couple of months are going to be spent in the same sort of fashion; generally enjoying life and summer with no real responsibilities and telling myself I can afford to travel. Tomorrow I will be heading back to New York for a few days with a friend and next week I take another seven hour bus journey to Montreal (I just cannot get enough of those Greyhounds). This time I am going for business though, not just pleasure. Somehow I have managed to get myself in an awkward position, planning a cross-country trip with a friend that will last a month but will also go over the date I “technically” have to leave the country by, as stated by the terms on my J1 student visa. I had two options: pay $290 to change my visa status so that I can extend my stay by 6 months, or cross the border over to Canada and re-enter the USA as a tourist with a $14 ESTA. Since my bus to Montreal was $100, I went with that option and sadly now I have to take another mini-holiday, terribly unfortunate. I have been assured by my foreign scholar advisor that this is all totally legal and will 100% work, but I will still have all my fingers and toes crossed when trying to cross back over the border.

In fact, just for superstition purposes I will hold off on talking about my post-Montreal plans, because if I do get refused entry back into America I will have to cancel all my travel arrangements and will feel like a right numpty.

Since this blog post does not seem to have any sort of real theme, I am just going to go ahead and give a few more updates on what has been going on in my life.

A few months ago I fostered a cat from a shelter – he was officially adopted a couple of weeks ago, but for two months I shared my bed with the largest and most uncoordinated cat ever to have graced this planet. “Supercat”, as someone comically named him, was “slightly” overweight, snored as loudly as my dad and liked to wake me up each morning by my sitting on my face and slowly suffocating me. If getting a pet is something you want to do, but you know you will only be living somewhere for a short period of time, fostering is definitely the way to go. They only stay with you for a short while, until the shelter can find them a “forever home” and all the medical expenses are taken care of. The only payment required by you is in the form of tears when you have to say goodbye.


Speaking of saying goodbye, I am now living with two new people, as Alex and Beth have both moved out (Beth has gone back to England and Alex is currently on a three-month stint in Central America) and are subletting their rooms till the end of August. Emma is moving out of the flat in a few days too – it all feels very strange as it is hard to get away from the fact that this year is coming to an end very quickly.

If all goes to plan (touch wood), I will have just under two more months left before I fly back to England. Here’s to hoping border control decides I’m worth letting back in…


In Sickness and in Health Care – A Love Letter to the NHS

📥  2014-15, Psychology

The results of the UK General Election and subsequent discussions over what the future holds for the National Health Service has inevitably lead me to reflect on the huge differences between the American and British health-care systems. For the last nine months, I have had one nagging feeling in the back of my mind – for the love of God, Jessica, do not get sick. Look both ways three times when crossing the road, do not drink expired milk, even if it is only one day old, and say a little prayer before every bike ride. Yes, I have health insurance, but I am in no way shielded from America’s privatised healthcare system. If I miss anything as much as I miss my family, friends and cat, it is the NHS.

You know that phrase, “absence makes the heart grow fonder"? Well it is 100% accurate. Living in Boston has made me realise how much I took the NHS for granted. No, it’s not perfect, but it is a hell of a lot better than what Americans have to contend with. When even getting through the door to talk to a doctor or nurse can cost $80, and a single antibiotic prescription can amount to about $20 with insurance (and $70 without), the idea of falling ill is more unappealing than it has ever been. On the plus side, I am less hypochondriacal than ever. A child sneezed into my mouth the other day (an occupational hazard of working in a child development lab) and I felt like an ancient deity had put a curse on me a few days later. However, instead of looking for a medical remedy, I went with what the nurses at my old school used to consistently prescribe: I drank some water and waited to see how I felt after lunch (I felt awful).

Of course, the NHS is not the only one of its kind. Most of the developing world has some form or another of universal health care, as this fancy map shows (green = universal).


However, despite spending more money per capita than many of the countries in green, the access to healthcare is hardly an even playing field for the different socio-economic classes. As British people, I think we tend to take it for granted that we do not have to pay to be seen by a doctor or receive important test results. Unless we choose to go private, we will always have access to a form of free medical care. Our annoyance at the NHS effectively comes down to threats to our convenience. When the question is whether or not you can afford the care you need to stay healthy and alive, having to wait for an appointment may not the biggest concern.

Alex – flatmate no.1 – went to get some vaccinations for his upcoming venture through Central America. He ended up spending $500 on getting two injections – $170 of that was just for turning up. It would have been $70 cheaper if he had cash on him to avoid paying by card, but unfortunately for Alex, he does not carry that much on him because he is not, in fact, a drug dealer.

Everyday I walk past Planned Parenthood on my way to work. On most mornings, I have to barge through the anti-abortion pensioners taking up pavement space, brandishing “ABORTION EXPLOITS WOMEN” placards and trying to force foetus-starring leaflets into my hands. Planned Parenthood does not solely perform abortions though – they also deal with various health needs, providing STD checks, UTI treatments and cancer screenings. Planned Parenthood is also where you can go to get the pill. However, unlike the free contraception goldmine we have in the UK, avoiding getting pregnant here can be very costly. The first consultation, before you are even handed the pills, will cost about $80. Then you will end up forking out about $20 per monthly pack of pills (it varies depending on health insurance and brand of contraception, but I am led to believe this is the standard cost). You almost wonder if just having a kid would be cheaper (JUST KIDDING MUM).

When I briefly returned to England in February, I brought back 23kg worth of food, tea and toiletries. I also took advantage of our health service and stocked up on seven months’ worth of pills. Rule Britannia.

food       (I wasn’t kidding about the food)

I will not pretend to know all the details of how health insurance works – it is all a bit too depressingly boring for me and one of those things I have always thought I would learn about when I need it, like getting a mortgage, ISA saving accounts or checking the water level in a car. What I do know is that we have an amazingly good deal with the NHS. The way I see it, America has a huge problem with its healthcare system (republicans, feel free to disagree), with the whole thing appearing geared towards making money like any other business, rather than helping sick people. Coming from an outsider’s perspective, having TV shows interrupted by adverts for numerous different insurance companies, dry eye medication and viagra is a tad intrusive. Beautiful models display this that and the other like any product for sale, expect instead of wearing shiny watches or driving flash cars, they are holding nasal sprays and pill boxes. These adverts are then always followed by some sort of ridiculous legal statement – “Supercureyoufabbocilin may result in a lower heart rate, high blood pressure, bleeding eyes, cancer, broken knees and death. Check with your doctor if supercureyoufabbocilin is right for you.”

Consequently, health in the states is effectively seen as a commodity, practically on the same level as designer shoes or iPhones. When each drug is just another bill and the quality of care comes down to which plan you can afford, you cannot help but wonder who exactly is being prioritised here – the patients or the economy.

I do not wish to jinx myself, but if I can get through the next few months in the USA without needing to see a doctor (12 months without an appointment for some sort of ailment would be a personal record), I will be nothing but relieved. My wisdom teeth are coming through at the moment, but if any real pain starts to appear I would rather self-medicate with gin than even think about getting into the economic shit storm that is American dental care.

Dear Tory government: The NHS is a precious precious thing, please look after it.


I Have Walked Through the Gates of Hell

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📥  2014-15, Psychology

I joined the gym this month.

Apparently after eight months of witnessing the seams on my jeans get increasingly threateningly strained, I have decided to “get into shape”. I really don’t think that is an appropriate phrase though – I am in a shape already and have always been in one, but it is admittedly a more rotund shape than the one I had in England and I can’t afford to buy a new pair of jeans. So I joined the gym. Not the expensive Boston University gym ($50/month), but the smaller, more modest gym directly across the street ($20/month), meaning I can still afford to buy food for dinner. If you pick the right machines, you can look out the window onto the fancier gym and think about what you could have had, if you didn’t have to pay rent. It may be cheaper, but it’s still a hell of a lot better than any gym I have ever decided to pay for and attend (which is one – the gym at the secondary school near my home, which is simply a small room with two functioning treadmills and cross-trainers, a bike machine, an ambiguous step contraption and an exercise ball).

The first thing I noticed about the gym was the men. Not in a voyeuristic way, but it is hard to ignore the huge ripped bodies sauntering around from weight to weight. The really serious ones wear gloves while they “pump iron” (do people still say that?), which I didn’t realise was a thing. They want to look big and strong, but lord forbid they get a callus while working on their biceps! I have also found that no one really smiles at the gym. It is like you have to look permanently serious, otherwise you won’t burn any calories. Either that, or no one is genuinely happy to be there. Maintaining a po-faced look is something I find quite hard however, as I am usually listening to my “gym playlist”; effectively a collection of Destiny’s Child and Ke$ha songs and nothing makes me smile more than hearing my girls defiantly sing “I’m inhaling” in “Survivor”.

Approaching a new weight machine for the first time is a bemusing affair and about as stressful as trying to work out how to buy a train ticket from a machine in a foreign country. The intricate drawings of muscled bodies instructing you on what to do are never that helpful and really only show where they are supposed to help with whichever part of yourself you are trying to change. You don’t want to do it wrong and look silly, better just let someone else use it first and learn from observation. I have a tendency to decide to use a weights machine that a body builder has just left, meaning that I have to move the dial from the very bottom to the very top. Occasionally I move it down a little when I’m done, so that the next person will respect me/won’t have to see how puny I really am.

Finding a cardio machine that I don’t hate was tough. The cross-trainer is insanely boring, the treadmill makes my shin splints flare up, the obscure step machine is disappointing as I cannot shake the feeling that I am not really going anywhere (I already dislike climbing stairs and am an avid supporter of the taking the lift up one floor) and the rowing machine does not face the TVs. Consequently, I have decided that the bike machine is the least awful of the group, as I can sit back, peddle a bit and watch whatever film is playing on the big screens reasonably easily (or “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”, for some reason it’s always on).

My horizontal expansion is, quite frankly, a little surprising. I walk to and from work every day, which takes a collective 80 minutes and is more walking than I ever did in a week at Bath, I have been training and playing with the Harvard Club Lacrosse team twice a week and I have not bought cheese since 2014. My suspicion falls upon the fact that I have gone back to eating white bread – I have not found an American version of “half and half” and brown bread is obviously the worst, so it had to be white. The bread here is also full of terrible things (it takes a worryingly long time to go stale and is unusually sweet), so I’m blaming everything on my morning toast.

To be honest, the main thing I hate about the gym is that working out makes my hair go frizzy at the roots. As a mixed-raced girl with relaxed hair, I do not have the luxury of being able to get sweaty and gross, then hop in the shower, dry off and look fantastic again. Going to the gym the day after doing my hair would basically be throwing away an hour’s worth of hard work spent using my blow-drier and hair straighteners to heat my roots into submission. Additionally, there are far more enjoyable things I could be doing for an hour than being at the gym, like watching an episode of any show on Netflix, scrolling aimlessly through my Facebook timeline or napping.

The vast collection of people in Boston who go jogging and have great legs is likely to have impacted on my decision to breach the doors of doom and get a membership. This is a toxic environment where everyone seems to love the outdoors and exercising. In no way am I trying to be like those sick people, but I would not mind being fit enough to be able to walk to the supermarket without getting a stitch.


Greek Life West of the Mediterranean

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📥  2014-15, Psychology

Last week, I hopped on a plane and made my way to Duke University in North Carolina to visit my sister from another mister. Seeing her again after eight months of separation was the primary purpose of the trip, obviously, but experiencing a temperature above freezing was a much needed perk. For the first time since October, my legs and arms actually saw the sun and I even developed a stylish sock tan-line after only being outside for about four hours (which either suggests the sun was really shinning that day or just that before I got there, I was beyond the mixed-raced version of pale, i.e. dusty grey).

My mini-break ended up being quite the cultural awakening. I had visited Duke before in 2013, but my experience this time was a tad different. On that occasion, I did not venture outside the campus and experienced the phenomenon of frat parties for the first time. I was overwhelmed by the americanisms, the red solo cups and the free drinks provided by fraternities, but this time around I was more prepared and even habituated to the red cups. My beer pong and flip cup game was on point (not fallacious whatsoever) and I wisely avoided the worst of the worst: Aristocrat vodka. I was not, however, any less amazed by Greek life...

On my second day, we went to Duke's first day party of the season (or "darty" as they are more comically known). We hopped on one of the many yellow school buses the fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, had arranged for transporting all party goers to a field, half an hour away from campus. FYI, yellow school buses are incredibly questionable. The suspension is horrendous and there are no seat belts... no wonder Rebecca Black preferred to let her thirteen year old pals illegally drive her to school instead of getting on one of those death traps.


The bus pulls up and everyone on board is buzzing at seeing what lies ahead of us - a live band setting up on a stage, bouncy obstacle courses, giant beer pong, multiple bars and just your average pirate ship to complete the buccaneer theme.

Something I have noticed since being out here is that American colleges do fancy dress a little differently to us Brits. This first became obvious around Halloween, when I realised the students - mostly the girls - do not tend to go in for the "scary" (I prefer "convincing") look, instead opting for a pretty sailor or a stylish rainbow fish (while I decided to be "Rosie the Riviter, back from the dead" this year). At college parties in the US, a slightly edgy T-shirt, jeans and red headband is sufficient to transform oneself into a pirate. Hell, if you don't have those, a white top and denim shorts will also do. Pirates wore Daisy Dukes, right?


    (In Bath)


(At Duke - maybe the pirates are coming later?)

They also do parties very differently. Think you've been robbed, having to fork out £30 to join your university sport club? Just contemplate how much you would be spending on fraternity "dues", that go towards covering socials where live music, ice sculptures and a legitimate ship for DECORATION is expected. The whole day was free for the rest of us, from the transport and entertainment to the drinks and ice cream. At one point, a huge delivery of pizza arrived and I am not remotely ashamed to admit that I bounded towards those boxes like an infection-ridden zombie running head first at Cillian Murphy's edible face.*

The other main difference between my two visits was that I actually left Duke's campus and saw some of Durham, most importantly, the restaurants. We went to a restaurant in town that I have decided is what I shall blame any early on-set atherosclerosis on. The founder of Dame's Chicken and Waffles clearly had no time for ambiguous restaurant names, nor for time-wasting by asking what the menu speciality is. Down in the South, it is considered normal, nay a delicacy, to eat waffles accompanied by deep fried chicken, maple syrup and sweetened creamy butter (also known as a shmear, which is now my second favourite word, beaten only by moist). As a dedicated explorer of different cultures, I gallantly agreed to take part in this southern ritual.


Chicken and waffles takes bacon and American pancakes to a whole new level. Eating it, I felt confused as the salty meatiness of the chicken cutlet was rapidly followed by the soft sweetness of the maple-soaked waffle, but I did not feel the need to stop eating and instead, wondered why I had left it so long to mix the two counterparts together and call it dinner. In between readily filling my body with cholesterol and calories, I looked around the room at felt at one with the fellow faces of satisfaction and joy.

My time in North Carolina was rather short, but very sweet. Skype is all good, but actually getting to hang out with a best friend, lie on the sofa in front of the TV and watch Disney movies until my eyes ache, is a simple pleasure I had really missed. Not having to wear a coat outside was also very freeing and waking up post 11am every day reminded me of the good old student days way-back-when, as well as making me look forward to another year shielded from adult life.

I finish my placement in just over two months and have already planned a helluvah lot of other trips. Now I just need it to stop snowing in the North East so I can even up my tan.



*I have been informed that the Boston University's social scene is not so extravagant, but then there aren't that many farms or decorative boats lying around here.