Discovering King’s Campus

As a King’s student ambassador, I’ve guided two campus tours. First tour was at Strand, with a group of Chinese high school students months ago. The recent one was with summer school participants from the European continent, from Waterloo to Strand, calling at Maughan library and back to Strand.

Tours were fun, as I learned more about King’s history and anecdotes during the preparation. It was also exciting to meet interesting young people and work hard to “sell” King’s to them. It was often tricky, especially as we were trained not to compare King’s with other universities nearby (and not to tell the truth that they were not as good as King’s in many aspects). What’s more, it was a pity that Maughan library does not allow “sightseeing” inside.

Prospective students asked various questions during the tour, but their major concerns were admission requirements, tuition fee, and living expenses. It was fine to discuss experiences of living in London with them, but a little difficult to know the admission requirements and tuition fee standard for each program. My rule was to give general information according to disciplines, and then encourage them to write to the admission office and / or departments they aimed at for details. I also picked some maps and brochures from the Strand entrance to distribute, so they had contacts that were useful.

King’s Campuses    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/campuslife/campuses/index.aspx

AKC-1

When I came to King’s last September, I heard about a course called AKC during the orientation period. The full name is Associate of King’s College London, and it stands as the course with longest history in King’s. The course is open to all King’s members free of charge, and attendees get a A.K.C. title after passing three years’ exams. I enrolled out of curiosity, and it turned out to be a right choice.

The theme of the AKC course is religion. The first semester focused on more theoretical topics including the development of religion and fundamental beliefs. Contents in the second semester were integrated with modern British history. All the speakers were organised and humorous, so it was not difficult to stick to the schedule and attend a 1 hour lecture per week, although it is not compulsory as recordings would be available in the libraries. That said, it had been quite difficult for me to understand some of the course as a non-Christian. The solution I found was to search online in advance and get a general idea. I also watched series of Yale Open Course on the Bible.

I was very worried before the exam, but fortunately passed. I still get 2 years to go before I can apply for an A.K.C title. However, it is something to looking forward to, not to worry about.

Associate of King’s College London    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/aboutkings/principal/dean/akc/index.aspx

A Five Pound Grant

I’ve been receiving decline letters almost every day from various academic associations and charities, since I tried to exhaust every possibility for funding to support my upcoming fieldwork.

Yet there was one unique decline, which came in as a hand written letter, together with a five pound check. I was quite confused at first, for I’m not good at reading hand writings. It turned out that I was not eligible for the grant, but the secretary of the trust thought I was “good enough to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope”, so he would like to make a small contribution from his personal account. I was touched, and amused at the same time. Thanks to the PGR course Alternatives for Postgraduate Funding, the tutor of which reminded us kindly that we should always enclose stamped envelopes with applications.

I replied, also in a hand written letter, to say thanks, and that I would keep the check as lucky seed money, in the hope that I would succeed in future funding applications. Actually, this kind-hearted gentleman, who represented the honourable British tradition of generosity, inspired me, and I started thinking about academic sidelines. Next time I went to academic conferences, maybe I should bring a beautiful hat and raise money for my PhD fieldwork!

Postgraduate funding    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/study/pg/funding/sources/index.aspx

Alternative Funding guide    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/study/handbook/resources-links/altfund.aspx

Skill Forge (to book PGR courses)    https://training.kcl.ac.uk/kcl/index.jsf#

Exams at King’s

Normally there are no exams to take for PhD students, as all methodology trainings are optional. But I got the rare chance to take an exam as I registered for the Japanese Culture course at King’s Modern Language Centre.

Unlike Chinese universities which always arrange exams on campus, this exam was scheduled at Excel London. It was far away from both Strand and where I lived, which meant I had to get up very early in the morning. The interesting thing was, after changed to DLR, the train seemed to have become a “King’s Exclusive” full of King’s exam candidates. I would feel like going on a school picnic if it was not for the serious looks on other students’ faces.

Candidates were so focused on exam preparation.

Second surprise came when I entered the exam room, which was so big that you might hear echoes (only if it was permitted to talk). Then I realised four different exams were held simultaneously, which seemed to be a creative arrangement that could maximise venue/human resources.

The third point I want to mention was not as amazing- it was so cold but coats were not allowed, and a transparent bag was required if you wanted to bring valuables with you to the exam desk.

I haven’t got the result of my Japanese exam yet, but I did enjoy the process despite the travel on tube, rainy weather, and cold exam room.

There were more happy faces after the exam.

Organising Our Own Conference

There is no need to make a fuss about academic conferences. I have participated in several, as presenter or audience, since I started my PhD at King’s. But how about organising one?

Our European Study Group has been preparing a postgraduate conference since April, and everything goes on quite well so far. It was fun when we first discussed the theme of the conference, then chores came. We sent out the call for papers and arranged room, registration, and catering. Finally, after the review of paper proposals, panels were organised and the conference programme was ready.

There were many anecdotes. Once we cancelled a meeting but failed to notice everyone. And when I sent out the call for papers to IR and Geography departments in U.K. universities and targeted at “real people” instead of departmental emails, to my embarrassment, I received a reply from a department manager, who was forwarded the email by the “real person”, asking why I didn’t send the circular to the correct address. Also, during my correspondence with King’s career centre concerning a short career development workshop to be held as part of our conference, I suggested a title for our career advisor’s talk, which she found too broad to fulfil…

Though conference organising takes some time and unexpected situations occur, I’m happy to be part of it and really look forward to a successful conference.

What is local? King’s Postgraduate Conference 2013    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/europeanstudies/eventrecords/2012-13/pgrconference.aspx

Saving Each Other among Books and Journals

As new PhD students who had been on the track for about half a year, we were all struggling with endless reading lists, when DTC Theme 15 organised an activity on the strategy of literature review.

Several of us volunteered to provide writing samples as the basis for discussion, and many questions were raised concerning the function of literature review in the PhD thesis. Our theme leader illustrated the importance of deciding the focus of the PhD project before constructing the literature review. For example, there may be several approaches to study China’s perception of the Japan-U.S. alliance, including historical, political, social, and psychological ones; the structure of the literature review should depend on the academic direction of the research.

It was a relief for me to know peer research students experienced same anxieties as I did concerning literature review and the 20,000 words draft to be submitted for the upgrade panel. And it was helpful that we gathered to discuss relevant issues, with our theme leader and senior students sparing no effort to save poor first-year students from the mud of books and journal articles.

Shortly after our theme event, I got an email from DTC inviting all research students to a Theme 4 activity on getting research published, and I was quite interested. I hope to see more theme activities growing into cross-theme ones in the future.

King’s Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctor Training Centre    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/study/pg/school/dtc/welcome.aspx

DTC Theme 15 Military & Regional Security    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/study/pg/school/dtc/research-themes/Theme15.aspx

Reaching Out: Widening the audience for your research seminar    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/study/pg/school/dtc/events/index.aspx#reachingoutevent

EIS + DPE Sandwich

The research students’ seminar series jointly held by Department of European Studies and Department of Political Economy provide not only delicious sandwiches, but also “knowledge sandwich” of various topics.

During this academic year, I’ve been listening and learning from PhD projects on East Asia regionalism, African corruption, Middle East elections, European workers’ movements, altruism theory, etc. Though I’m not familiar with most of these academic fields, it’s always nice to meet other research students, fresh my mind with interesting researches, share ideas on research progress and time management, and exchanging information on training courses, especially when I find myself thinking in a more and more academic way.

Then it came my turn to do the presentation, and I couldn’t help growing nervous since it was the first time I presented my PhD project in front of an academic community. But I became increasingly confident as the audience listened attentively, and the presentation went on well. It was amusing that I had to repeat a lot to make it clear that I was not studying the Japan-U.S. alliance, but the opinions about it. Sometimes this seemed quite confusing, even to me. I also received advice on ppt design, which would be useful for future presentations.

The seminar series has been very successful and will carry on. All research students and academic staff are welcome. Hope to see you there!

 

Department of European & International Studies    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/europeanstudies/index.aspx

Department of Political Economy    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/politicaleconomy/index.aspx

KCL European Studies Research Students    http://kcleuresearch.wordpress.com/

European Studies Research Students at King’s College London    http://www.facebook.com/groups/KingsESRS/

 

Improving Japanese with King’s

I did my presentation as part of the final exam of at the Japanese class last week, on Japanese culture of cuteness. It was really amazing that we all felt nervous when delivering our contents yet relaxed when answering impromptu questions from classmates, perhaps we had grown used to chatting with each other after 6 months’ class. We even have a study group on Facebook.

It’s also interesting that my Japanese has improved greatly since I came to London, while my English hasn’t. Before joining King’s Japanese class, which is free and open to every of King’s students, I didn’t have any opportunity to speak the language even though my reading and listening skills were ok. My friends were sceptical of me learning Japanese in the U.K. at first, but it turned out that we would speak only Japanese during the class, which pushed me to gain the language sense faster.

In addition to an experienced teacher, we’re also entitled to make appointments with advisors who are native speakers, which provides precious chance to practice. I’m so grateful for the time and efforts they devoted into my Japanese learning that I want to contribute something myself. I expressed my will to become a volunteer Mandarin advisor, but the language centre said positions would only be open on an annual basis. Therefore, I’ll only be able to work harder as a note of thanks for the moment.

King’s Modern Language Centre    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/mlc/index.aspx

KCL Japanese Study Group    http://www.facebook.com/groups/KCLJapaneseStudyGroup/

From Chicago to London: A Book’s Trans-Atlantic Journey

I was surprised, when I got the book from the librarian and saw some stamp saying “University of Chicago Library” on its title page. I knew I was using Inter-Library Loan (ILL) service, but I wasn’t expecting TRANS-ATLANTIC book loan!

The trans-Atlantic “traveller”

I’ve been using ILL several times because most of the resources relevant to my research happen to be in Chinese or Japanese and difficult to reach. The time it takes for the book to arrive vary according to which library King’s is borrowing from. It may take 2 weeks or so. I requested this book of Japanese Prime Minister’s interviews about a month ago, and apparently libraries in London or even the whole UK don’t hold it. I’m so happy I finally get access to it, because I was particularly interested in one of the articles and had spent much time (as well as much of my Japanese friend’s time) searching for its E-version before I resorted to ILL.

However, the book is reference only, which is inconvenient. And though it’s free service for me, King’s must have paid something (at least the international delivery cost). Maybe King’s library should consider purchasing a copy instead of borrowing one when the loan cost exceeds certain percentage of the book’s price.

Inter-Library Loan    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/library/nhs/e-resources/ILL.aspx

Viva for Viva

A very special seminar took place at Department of European and International Studies’ research room at King’s Strand campus last Saturday. Just like the “Arab Spring”, this event was organized by my good friend, also a PhD researcher at King’s, through the Facebook group called ‘KCL New Thinker since 2012’. Participants were from various disciplines and some hadn’t met each other face to face!

The location was tricky and the organizer was considerate enough to give directions

As ‘What’s your research topic?’ was the most frequently asked question for us first year PhD students, our organizer proposed a different way of self-introduction to avoid aesthetic fatigue, which is to draw a picture and illustrate our research. (I suggested her quitting PhD and becoming a party planner, seriously.) Then the organizer provided useful information about PhD upgrade, including timing, requirements, paperwork, procedure and preparation. Our friend from Department of Informatics made some inspiring comments and encouraged us to be happy instead of worried about the upgrade, and I contributed some tips borrowed from a training course on upgrading. During the exciting Q&A session, two guest speakers who had successfully upgraded recently shared their experience and satisfied our curiosity about external examiner, unfamiliar questions, dress code, result notification…

The seminar closed with a nice group photo which is now the cover photo of our Facebook page. We’re working on group funding and hopefully more activities will come up!

KCL New Thinker since 2012    http://www.facebook.com/groups/360026037422645