Taking care of your Mental Health and Wellbeing on a PhD

This week, one of our PhD students Charlott shares her insights into approaching the challenges of a PhD in a way that promotes a healthy body and mind.  If you’re not a PhD student, do keep reading, as there are plenty of tips and insights applicable to all academic programs and for life after study too. 

We particularly like Charlott’s point about reaching out and talking to someone if you’re struggling, especially with national TimeTo Talk Day just around the corner on the 1st of February! 

Thank you Charlott. 

I have always wanted to do a PhD. During my undergraduate I was taught by inspiring people who showed me the magic of research and after skipping a Master’s degree due to financial reasons, I started my PhD at King’s College in January 2016. At this point I was so full of excitement and confidence from the undergrad exams I had aced, that I was certain I would equally breeze through my PhD. I knew it would be a challenge, but this knowledge was more of a vague notion, rather than my own conviction.

Fast forward to the Upgrade Proposal, several months into the program:

My supervision circumstances had changed, I moved to another lab and was scrambling to prepare a decent upgrade proposal. Despite the efforts of my supervisors all those things combined took a toll on me.  I felt overwhelmed by the amount of work I was expected to do, unsure if I had done enough reading, if I understood everything, if I was good enough, if I was a failure after all. I never had to deal with not being successful academically. The uncertainty, the loneliness, the not-being-top-of-the-class-anymore, I wasn’t prepared for. I stopped going out as much, I ate badly, I slept badly, I worried all the time about every aspect of my life and my work suffered.

I am telling this story not to discourage anyone from doing a PhD, but to point out how important it is to take care of your mental health. While I have come a long way from the anxious student described above, I admit that doing a PhD is still not always easy. This is why I have created a list of things that can help to keep you sane until your doctorate (and hopefully beyond):

Expectations vs Reality

Many people have unrealistic expectations when starting out on a PhD and that’s perfectly fine, even necessary. To embark on a big task like this you need confidence, a strong believe in yourself and maybe even a little naivety. Those things are great to have, but familiarise yourself with other people’s experiences, and be aware that when things are getting difficult, it’s not you, it’s the very nature of a PhD to be a pain in the buttocks from time to time.

Talk to someone

I decided to add this point quite early on, because whoever you are and whatever your situation is; if you feel you’re not coping, you’re lonely, or you just have an off day: talk to people. Obviously, this can be to friends, family, your pet, random conversations in the office kitchen or corridor. Talking to other students about their messed-up experiments can put everything into perspective again.

Portrait of two beautiful young girlfriends sitting in modern coIn addition to this King’s College provides counselling services (including same day appointments with a Mental Health Advisor), which helped me a lot when I first experienced anxiety and didn’t know what to do with myself. The NHS offers counselling services, which usually require a longer waiting time, but have helped me immensely. Note, that those things might take a while, but you can always contact charitable organisations, such as the Samaritans, at any time of day (more details below).

Meditation

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When someone suggested meditation to me, my first reaction included heavy eye rolling. I couldn’t really picture myself sitting in an incense filled room going “ooooom”, when my anxiety barely allowed me to sit still as it was. But then I stumbled across the Headspace app and it helped me massively. I would recommend trying it out for anyone who ever felt that their heads were full to the brim with thoughts, worries or anxiety. The app offers a huge range of different guided meditation sessions, including 1-3 minute emergency ones, anxiety related mediation or just sessions that you can listen to before a nerve-wracking presentation. I know that this won’t be for everyone, but give it a go before resorting to eye rolling.

All the things you know already

I know, I know, healthy eating and exercise are being shouted from the rooftops everywhere. And I am the first to admit that I am not great at following my own advice here. BUT, eating in a way that provides you with enough nutrients and getting some movement in are huge mood busters for me. I will never skip all the biscuits or go running every day of the week, but having comforting home cooked meals, rather than pizza every night and going for a walk during your lunch break do make a huge difference. Don’t overdo it with the good intentions if you’re a bit of a lab bench potato, just try and incorporate some movement throughout your day, get out into the fresh air and eat an apple here or there. Healthy body, healthy mind and all that.

Don’t overdo it!

I think this is the most important lesson I’ve learned: don’t overdo it. Sometimes, when I felt just overwhelmed with work, I would react to it by staying in the lab for 12 hours a day and spending my weekends thinking about work / actually being at work. A PhD IS hard work, however burning yourself out is not going to help anyone. Try to make a plan of the work you have to get through, treat your PhD like a job and go home when you’re done for the day. It seems obvious, but a lot of students feel peer pressure to basically live in the lab and you really really don’t have to! Yes, there might be the occasional weekend or late shift, but always make sure to get enough free time and do something nice for yourself.

Summary

  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, you’re doing great
  • Make time for yourself, friends and family
  • Have a plan, but don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t all go smoothly (it never does!)
  • Treat yourself with whatever makes you feel good
  • Stop and actually listen to your body and brain, they have a lot of clever things to tell you
  • Just try to enjoy it, remember: it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience

Useful contacts

 

 

New Year New Start: The KCLSU Advice Service

NYNS_Materials_WebpageFooter (007)We hope that you’re enjoying New Year New Start!  If you’ve been to one of the chill-out zones, you might have noticed that one of the KCLSU Academic Advisors was on hand to deal with exam-related queries and concerns. 

This blog entry comes from Adina Bernstein, Advice and Support Outreach Coordinator for KCLSU who fills us in on how their advisors can help with academic concerns and even shares how she looks after her own wellbeing at busy times of year. 

A day in the life of KCLSU Academic Advice

KCLSU Advice supports more than 1,300 students each year, many at exam time. We provide confidential, independent, impartial advice for all King’s students on plagiarism, exam misconduct, complaints, appeals, and when their fitness to practice is called into question.

Here’s what a typical day might look like in our office:

 I get to the office at 8.30am and log on to my emails straight away to check the Academic Advice inbox. Things can get quite busy during the exam period as we aim to get back to every student within two working days; this can be an anxious time for students one of the best things about the job is being able to reassure people at a difficult time.

 Most of the people who get in touch during exams have some sort of Mitigating Circumstances (or “mit circs” as we usually call them) which affect their ability to study and sit exams. Mental and physical health really affect students’ ability to study, as do family and personal circumstances. If there was one thing I could tell students it’s that we really do welcome them contacting us even if they’re not sure whether they have mit circs. We will never judge you or tell you what to do and can advise by email, phone, and Skype as well as face-to-face.

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 When a student comes to me with mitigating circumstances, I usually help them by going through the form they have to fill in and letting them know what evidence they need, such as a note from a doctor. This is usually a simple process once you know how to ask for it, and we can empower students with the knowledge and confidence to ask for what they need. It’s really positive to know I can help students get their mitigating circumstances granted at this stage as this usually means they won’t have to go through an appeal.

The  exam period is certainly one of our busiest times, and one of our most rewarding in terms of the work we do with students, but all of our other work still continues at the same time.  It’s really important for me to take care of my own wellbeing at this point in the academic year, so I work hard to balance new and existing cases and remind myself to take the advice I give my students and take a break!

You can speak to one of the KCLSU academic Advisors this week at the New Year New Start chill-out zones.  More information here

They are also contactable all year round in term time by telephone and email.  More information here

New Year New Start – My Experience of Coaching

Welcome back and a Happy New Year!  As 2018 begins some of you may be heading into exams and even more will probably be thinking about goals and resolutions for the new year.  To help you start the year in positive style and offer some moral and practical support during exams, King’s Wellbeing and KCLSU are running a New Year New Start campaign with a variety of activities.  More details available here

This week, we also have a testimonial from one of our coachees about their experience of wellbeing coaching and how it helped them to set and reach positive goals.

My Experience of Wellbeing Coaching

I think I speak for everyone when I say that we all want to be the absolute best versions of ourselves. In our ever-changing, fast-paced and competitive society we ceaselessly strive to be better and do better. While this is an admirable attitude to have, it can come at a cost.

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Over the past few years, there has been a lot of movement towards wellbeing – you may have even heard the words wellness and mindfulness being thrown around. There are so many ideas on what this entails and how you should achieve it in your life that it can all get a bit confusing! It is time to demystify it and show how simple yet important it really is.

What is wellbeing?

In a nutshell, wellbeing is a physical and mental state of being happy, healthy and comfortable in your surroundings/career/studies/life!

How does this coaching service differ from counselling?

When recommending this service to a few friends, one of the most frequent questions was: is this a counselling service? The answer is no.

Whilst both services aim to help you move forward positively in life, counselling provides a deeper level of emotional support to help you better understand your current emotional state and find coping strategies to deal with the challenges in life.  Depending on the approach, it may also look in more detail at past events for a better understanding of the present.  Wellbeing coaching looks to the future and allows you to build tangible, attainable goals for personal development  in order for you to achieve your happiest and more successful self.

As well as this, wellbeing coaching is for everyone – you can be happy and healthy and still benefit from this service! When I started using the service, I wasn’t unhappy or struggling with anything in particular.

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Going into my final year at King’s, I wanted to make sure that I was maintaining a healthy work-life balance and making the most out of my time. This is exactly what the service has helped me to achieve! Rather than telling you what to do and how to manage your life, the highly-trained wellbeing coaches engage in conversation with you and help you to come up with actionable solutions and tools that will ensure you reach your personal goals and positive change. For example, I wanted to make sure that I was getting enough study-time in during the weekdays whilst still allowing time for myself to rest, exercise and socialise. Keeping up with my studies and still getting enough sleep and me-time is so important to me, and having not been so good at maintaining this balance in the past, I knew that this was an area that I could definitely improve in.

pexels-photo-261909 (1)What wellbeing coaching has allowed me to achieve is identifying my optimal studying hours and making the most of these so that the workload is manageable rather than daunting. What’s more, coaching helped me to feel more confident in my present self and to look to the future with excitement rather than worry.

How can YOU benefit from this service?

University life comes with its challenges for every student – managing academic study, being in control of your finances, and maintaining healthy and happy relationships to name a few! Having to juggle everything can get a bit much sometimes, and every once in a while you need a bit of support and guidance.

Wellbeing coaching is all about setting goals for your future – emotional, physical, academic or professional! This service is incredibly empowering and eye-opening as it helps you tap into your inner resources in order to elicit positive and healthy change in your life

To find out more about wellbeing coaching click here

To find out more about the KCL Counselling Service and Mental Health Advisors click here

There’s an App for That! Part 2

It’s the first day of Winter Well-being Week, with a number of resources, events and activities designed to promote self-care during the winter months.  This can also be a financially taxing time of year (no pun intended!), with heating costs, warmer clothing and the festive season stretching our budgets that little bit further.   As promised, here is a second helping of financial well-being from our resourceful and tech-savvy money mentors Claire and Stefanie as they review a number of money saving apps.  King’s is committed to supporting all students to make the most of their money.  If you missed Claim It Week last week, you can still check out this page of resources and don’t forget that the money mentors are here throughout the academic year to offer advice on budgeting, discounts and deals, with the Student Advice team available for more complex queries.  

 MONZO

Monzo is a bank that allows easy tracking of your expenses. It means it does require you to apply for a Monzo account. This usually requires you to queue, but here’s a fast-track link to get a Monzo card – http://www.savethestudent.org/student-deals/free-stuff/monzo-queue-jump-link.html.

There are many perks of using Monzo as it:

  • Gives you instant notification and tracks it on the app according to the different categories when you use your Monzo card. You can even add a receipt to your expenditure

Monzo1      Monzo2

  • Allows you to analyse what you spend on your expenditure
  • Freeze your card immediately from your phone if you lose your card
  • Send money instantly to others (as of now it is only to other Monzo members, but they are working to create a current account too!)

Monzo3

  • Top up your Monzo Card with a debit card

Handy tip! – load a certain amount into your Monzo Card per month and challenge yourself to only use your Monzo card for your purchases, forcing you to keep to your budget!

  • Use your card abroad – there are NO fees and you get the wholesale MasterCard exchange rate (meaning less stress on finding a money exchange)

It also tracks your spending when you’re abroad and gives you a summary of how much you spend when you get back to the UK!

monzo5  Monzo4

This card also allows you to withdraw cash at most cash machines for free like any other debit card. Additionally, the app can also be password protected making transactions safer.

There is also a Monzo Forum, where you can meet and ask questions to other users when you are in need of help.

BIG OVEN

Have you been in the situation when you are left with a lot of mix and match of ingredients and don’t know what to do with it? I certainly have. Rather than throwing it away or trying to randomly experiment (we have to owe up that some of us are just not cut out to be innovative culinary masters) and end up with inedible food, why not try using the Big Oven App!

Big Oven1    Big Oven 2

All you have to do is insert in the leftover ingredients that you have in your fridge/ cupboard, and it will recommend up a few recipes. OR you can even add in your own recipes into it, or browse through their numerous collection of student-friendly recipes to get inspiration from!

Afterall, waste not, want not right?

So these are 6 of our money saving apps tips! We can use anything around us – even our smart phones – to help us save money. If you have any other Money Saving App that you would like to share, don’t hesitate to contact us at money@kcl.ac.uk or our message FB page: King’s Money Advice! We would love to hear your input too so that we can share YOUR money hacks to our fellow students!

 

 

Claim It Week 2017: There’s an App for That!

This week is Claim It Week at King’s; helping you to stretch your money that little bit further by making sure you claim everything you’re entitled to.  In this spirit, our thrifty Student Money Mentors Claire and Stefani were only too happy to contribute to the blog this week, with a review of money saving apps for everything from the best supermarket deals to making the most of the leftovers in your fridge!  Check back this time next week for part 2. 

There’s an App for That

Apps, apps everywhere, click them here, click them there. On your phone, on the go, where they’ll stop, no one knows!

Modern technology has brought us contactless so we can pay with the tap of a card, or even Apple pay, where we can spend money with the tap of a phone! It seems that modern technology is out to get us to spend spend spend rather than save.

But, do not fear, some apps are designed to help us save a penny here and there.

We have filled up all the memory space on our phones with multiple apps and tested them, so you don’t have to:

1. MY SUPERMARKET

supermarketYou may have heard of the MySupermarket.com which compares the price groceries across different supermarkets, but you don’t really want to bring your laptop to Tesco with you while you are scanning the shelves. Luckily, they have developed an app!

If you create your weekly shopping list on your phone, they will immediately tell you which supermarket is cheapest and if there is a special offer going on. You can even scan barcodes in store and the app will tell you if it is cheaper somewhere else instead. Sneaky I know. It almost feels like cheating… But with less of the drama and more of the discounts.

2. OLIO

olio2This is a personal favourite of mine. It is an app whose aim is to reduce waste and enhance community spirit. Cafes who would usually throw away perfectly good food at the end of the day instead donate it to Olio volunteers who advertise it on the app. You can then collect the food at a time arranged between you and the volunteer, and thus reduce food waste.

There is also a non-food section where anything from sofas to candles are donated and you can agree to pick it up. If you are in need of something, you can post it on the ‘Wanted’ list and if someone else has that item, they can contact you.

3. HAPPIHOUR and DRINKI
DrinkiEvery hour is happy when you know you are getting a bargain so download these apps to maximise discounts. The former gives 50% discounts off food and the second *free* or half price drinks.
HappiHour is available at several cafes and restaurants and the deals vary depending on the day and time. Sometimes they will throw in a free meal if a new branch has joined the app, but mainly it is a buy-one-get-one free app.

Drinki2Drinki gives you a free drink if you share your location on social media to advertise the lucky venue and you can claim one every night. Again, check before you head out as the offers are valid at specific time on specific days, but if they don’t give you a free drink, they will usually give you an offer instead

4. SPENDING TRACKER

This is a budgeting app that allows you to input your expenditure and income daily. It also has a budget mode where it allows you to input how much you plan to spend and track how much you have left of that budget. There is the option of carrying over the unused budget to the following month. The expenditure portion is broken down into common categories (e.g. holidays, shopping, books, etc.) and it allows you to create your own categories.

The picture below  left shows the display of the accumulative balance (income and expenditure broken down to categories) and the balance per month. The picture below right is how to input an expense or income.

spending tracker1  spendingtracker2

It does require dedication and discipline, as you do have to input everything manually. However, it is very flexible, as it does not limit you to merely cash or card spending and you are able to change the dates of the transaction meaning if you forget to input expenditure from last week, you are still able to do so.

There is also a summary view of your current spending and it creates a report by charts of your income and expenditure, allowing easy visualization of where your money goes.

The picture on the left below is the overall summary of the month. The pictures on the right and below are more visual representations of expenses in a pie chart according to categories and a graph visualizing your cash flow across the different months.

spendingtracker4 spendingtracker5 apps graph

Another feature that would be worth pointing out is that the app can be password protected.

The Student Money Mentors are available on campus to give guidance on budgeting, discounts and deals to help you to get the most out of your money.  For more complex queries that require specialist and detailed advice, you can contact the Student Advice team for support. 

Anti Bullying Week 2017: Interview with a KCL Harassment Advisor

Jack-KilkerAs you probably know by now, this week is Anti Bullying Week 2017.  Throughout the week, we’re focusing on the importance of recognising, respecting and celebrating our diverse identities and experiences and empowering ourselves and others. It’s also crucial to know how to seek out support when we need it. Earlier in the week, we sat down with Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator and Harassment Advisor Jack Kilker, who explained to us how he and his fellow advisors can support KCL students on campus.

Can you explain to us what a Harassment Advisor does?

As a Harassment Advisor, it’s my role, as part of the Harassment Advisor Network, to provide information and guidance to students who make contact with us through the It Stops Here portal. Our aim is to be supportive and non-directive, and we work to provide a confidential service, meaning that we do not share the details of anything discussed with us with anyone else, unless we have to for the safety of others. We are there to listen, to understand, and to provide students with a number of options which they can follow in order for them to choose what they feel is most appropriate for them.

What type of issues can a student come to a Harassment Advisor with and how can they reach out?

Anything! It’s not a Harassment Advisors job to tell a student what does or does not constitute harassment or bullying, or to tell a student how to feel. If you feel that you’ve been in any way harassed or  bullied, (if you don’t know what those terms mean, here’s a handy guide) then please do speak to an Advisor, even if you decide that you don’t want to take your report any further.

You can speak to us by making an appointment through the It Stops Here portal.

Help, support, advice, guidance signpost.What can students expect when they meet with a HA?

We have a service users agreement which we all work to, and this sets our clearly what a student can expect from us, but also what we expect from a student using our service. We’re not a professional support service, nor are we the people you make a formal report to, and we cannot advocate on your behalf. We’re a first point of call, and someone with a lot of information to provide, who can help you work out what it is that you want to happen next for you, and how to go about it. At our most basic, we’re also just someone to listen and to help you decide what to do next

 What made you want to become a Harassment Advisor?

When I was at university, Harassment Advisors weren’t a thing. Even in just a few years, higher education has started to make so much progress and become so much more proactive about educating students and staff on what harassment is, and what we can do to try to stop it happening. Being a Harassment Advisor really appealed because I’ve been working in roles like this for a few years now, and I’ve collected a bit of knowledge about harassment along the way, and I think it’s important to use that and give it back, to try to make sure that we’re all working towards a society where harassment doesn’t exist anymore.

I also think it’s important that students who want to speak to an Advisor have as many options of people to speak to as they can, and can always be seen promptly. As a gay man, it’s important to me that if a student should specifically want to speak to someone like them about what they’ve experienced, that I can provide that for them. I’m also a Harassment Advisor for staff in the School of Law.

The theme of this year’s Anti-Bullying Week is ‘All Different, All Equal’.  What does this mean to you and how can we best ensure an inclusive campus?

alldiffallequalThis is such an important theme. Difference has always historically been seen as a bad thing, a reason to divide, a reason to other. Thankfully, in some parts of society, this is very much starting to change – difference has become, or is becoming, something to recognise, something to celebrate, something which can make us powerful. The idea of equality should not be far behind this. It’s something which is central to my work, to my politics and to my identity, and it’s something which we should all have a shared interest in working towards.

I think education is central to inclusivity. That could be through having a diverse curriculum and a diverse range of perspectives presented, so that individuals can learn about their own history and identity, but also about those of others, and recognise how the two differ and interact. It could be education in terms of naming harassment, bullying and discrimination, naming differences and naming our own experiences. If we understand systems of power and oppression, and if we have ways of naming, identifying and recognising this oppression, as well as our broader experiences, then we can start to call these out, to educate others, and to dismantle these systems. Education can give all people the power to recognise inequality, and understand the reasons behind it, and then enable them with the tools to work against this inequality. This is why education, in its many different forms, is so important.

Last year’s theme was ‘Power for Good’.  What is yours and how do you use it?

I love the idea of ‘power for good’, and the ownership that places on each individual to use their skills and experience to try to make a positive change. I think my power for good could be that I’m a good listener, I like learning from others and hearing what they have to say, challenging them, and using their knowledge to develop my own.

Any diversity and inclusion-related book recommendations?

Oh, I could go on, I have quite a few favourites at the moment!

To read, I have to say two. Fiction-wise, I would recommend ‘Call Me By Your Name’ written by André Aciman. It’s a love story between two men in 1980s Italy, one in his mid-twenties and the other in his late-teens. It explores romance, maturity, bisexuality, coming out, acceptance, and eroticism, and is absolutely beautifully written. It also doesn’t focus around some sort of ‘shock-horror he’s gay’ narrative or moment, it exists in world in which the characters understand themselves and their sexuality and work within that, rather than focussing on the reactions of those around them, which is really refreshing for anyone who’s read a lot of queer literature.

In terms of non-fiction, it has to be ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge. This is a powerful, challenging and incredibly honest account of Eddo-Lodge’s experience of race as a black woman and feminist. With an understanding of intersectionality at its core, this book accounts for the several years since Eddo-Lodge wrote a blogpost of the same name (‘Why I’m No Longer…’), and the responses she’s received to this from people of all races across that time period. It also builds on the original blogpost and discusses the emotional labour placed on people of colour, and especially on women of colour, when justifying and explaining racism to those who do not experience it.

Thank you Jack!

Remember, if you feel that you are experiencing bullying or harassment in any form, you do not have to tolerate it and there is a wealth of support on campus, both practical and emotional.

Anti Bullying Week 2017: Diversity and Inclusion at KCL

nicole walshTo kick off Anti-Bullying Week 2017, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant Nicole Walsh helps us to reflect on this year’s theme of ‘All Different, All Equal’.   In this interview, Nicole considers how her role intersects with the aims of Anti Bullying Week, the value of diversity on campus and things that we can do to build a safe and inclusive community at KCL.  

Can you tell us a little about your role, Nicole?

I am a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and work as part of the central Diversity & Inclusion team which sits in HR. As part of this, I lead on the It Stops Here project, which is King’s campaign to promote King’s as a space that is free from sexual violence, bullying and harassment, and am further reviewing and developing our work on BME Student Success. My role primarily involves collaborating with various faculties and departments across King’s to support them in their work on diversity and inclusion for students and staff, which includes providing technical expertise around our legal compliance to the Equality Act 2010 but also supporting them to embed the values of diversity and inclusion into everyday practice.

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How do you think this year’s theme relates to diversity and inclusion and your role in particular?

Anti-Bullying Week is directly related to my work on It Stops Here. It Stops Here is a collaborative campaign by King’s College London and KCLSU to build an environment for all of our community so that they feel welcome, supported and safe regardless of who they are. This means ensuring that our staff and students have a shared understanding of consent and are adequately equipped to respond and intervene safely in situations where they see someone experiencing sexual violence, bullying or harassment.

As we know that bullying is often related to an intolerance of difference, particularly in regards to individuals who possess some of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, it is important to understand the relationship between diversity, difference and bullying. As an institution, we need to ensure every member of the King’s community is treated with respect, and their whole, authentic self can contribute fully to the university.

What are our responsibilities as members of the KCL community in creating a campus free from bullying and harassment?

I think we all have the responsibility to take the educational opportunities provided, and create our own, to challenge our own views and perspectives, and become aware of our own behaviours. We should intervene when we see peers or colleagues experiencing unwanted behaviour or attention and ensure to interrupt conversations or jokes that promote a culture of bullying and harassment. One way to get involved at King’s is to take the It Stops Here Pledge and undertaking some of the training we offer.

Why is it so important to celebrate difference and diversity within the university community?

As a global university, difference and diversity is a heart of King’s and the work that we do. Celebrating difference allows us to challenge preconceived ideas of who gets to go to university, and who gets to succeed at a university such as King’s. The more we are able to celebrate and centre difference, the better we will become at creating an environment where people feel they can bring their whole selves to our community.

How can we do this as an institution?

As an institution embedding diversity and inclusion into all of our work and decision making is key to being able to celebrate difference as well as to regularly challenge not only ourselves as individuals, but our institutional structures and processes. The way we work, sometimes just by unquestioned routine, can perpetuate institutional bias and disadvantage or marginalise certain staff or students that we work with.

We need to question how we’ve come to the decisions we have and where something doesn’t work- we need to have the courage to speak up and challenge it, in order to create an environment that enables everybody to not only be themselves but also allows them to thrive.

Last year’s theme was ‘power for good’.  What is yours and how to you use it?

Working in the D&I team is my power for good. It allows me to partner with teams and departments across the university and access the wealth of knowledge that we have available here at King’s, both in the research that is developed here and the brilliant professional services we have behind the scenes. Our team, with the support of the King’s community, is taking action to prevent bullying, harassment and sexual violence, creating a safe environment for staff and students which is something that I am incredibly proud to be a part of.   

 Do you have any top tips for reading around the theme of D&I?

As someone who is a huge fan of audio books, The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla is a book I would highly recommend. In the audio version, each essay is read by the respective author which brings the struggle and humour to life in a personal and powerful way.

Thank you Nicole!

Anti Bullying Week is a national campaign run each year by the Anti Bullying Alliance.  Please see the King’s Wellbeing website for a summary of Anti Bullying Week 2017 at King’s and sources of support if you  are concerned about bullying and harassment. 

Four Ways to Boost Wellbeing during Placement

Managing competing priorities is certainly something that all university students can identify with.  As the semester gains momentum, with academic work, social events, extra-curricular commitments and everyday tasks such as laundry and financial management, it can feel like a lot of plates are spinning in the air!  When we’re busy, especially with deadlines and placements, it can be so tempting to let some of our self-care activities drop to recoup some time for time-sensitive commitments.  However, if we want to be at our best, perform at our best and stay well in the long-term, it’s wise to prioritise our self-care.  This week, one of our Positive Peers share their four tips for wellbeing on placement.

As a disclaimer: I’m not a wellbeing expert, I’m a fourth year medical student who is making it up as I go along. . . but bear with me here, because in this blog I want to show you (and reassure myself!) that that’s okay, because maintaining wellbeing is something to be continually striving for and adapting in order to cope with what’s thrown at you.

When I began clinical medicine last year, being on placement myself and having conversations with friends about our experiences made me realise that although we were mostly enjoying ourselves and loved sharing anecdotes, it is also a strange and often difficult time. I became involved with Positive Peers because I wondered if anyone else felt the same way, and because I firmly believe that it makes no sense to follow a career aiming to improve other people’s wellbeing if you don’t think about how to maintain your own. As I enter my fourth year, the distance from the hospital I’m on placement at from the central London campuses means I am having to adapt how I am involved. . . welcome to this blog!

The reality is that being on placement has changed how much I can be involved in things that I love doing and has affected my wellbeing. As well as being a Positive Peer, all the other clubs, sports team, societies and events which provided such a well- needed break from medicine for me (and were a big part of what I enjoyed about university in the first three years!) are also more difficult to get to and commit to being involved with regularly. Long travel times and long days (hello, waking up at 6am, 45 minute journey and 7.45am start!), as well as the usual nasty transition back to university, learning things after a lovely lazy summer, the shortening days and cold weather have left me feeling exhausted, and really needing to focus on things I do to look after myself. Here are just a few:

download1. Reading! I would love this whole blog post to be about what I’ve been reading and recommending books I love and why*… suffice to say reading is something that always makes me feel better and there’s nothing better than having a good book to look forward to finishing at home.

images2. Good food cheers me up, and experimenting with new dishes and ingredients always feels like an accomplishment. Dedicating some time to cooking a meal is relaxing, as it requires your entire focus and gives you a tangible end result! Meal prep is an over-discussed phenomenon on the internet… but it cannot be denied that pulling out yummy, pre-made lunches out of the fridge is so satisfying!!

mloda-kobieta-cwiczenia-fitness3. I never fail to be amazed how much better going for a run or a gym class makes me feel…even if finding the motivation to do it is a huge struggle, it is worth it every single time!     (If you’re interested in the benefits of exercise, this is a great read: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/oct/03/exercise-depression-disease-death-sit-less-move-more)

people-2567915_960_7204. Last and most important: get things in perspective! When I’m feeling overwhelmed I find that it’s nearly always helpful to talk to someone else. I’m incredibly lucky to have an amazing group of friends; one friend in particular never fails to cheer me up over a good phone chat. I can moan a little about my day, but conclude that it’s really just “all the usual stuff”, and reassuring her that actually I’m fine made me realise I’m fine too.

Do you find any of these things helpful? What changes have placement made to you, and how have these affected your wellbeing? I would love to know whether any of this strikes a chord with you; questions, comments, thoughts and suggestions are all so welcome! Maybe one of your comments will even inspire my next blog post J

*Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: 10/10

 This post was written by a Positive Peer. The Positive Peers are health students who support other health students through wellbeing initiatives. Find out more about them here!

Student Society Spotlight – The International Students’ Rights Campaign

In the first of our Student Society Spotlight series, Robert Liow, law student and President of the International Students’ Rights campaign group shares how he overcame initial feelings of isolation and loneliness to create a campaign group to promote the rights and welfare of international students.  In so doing, he established his own social support network and found his own way to well-being.

How I Started a Society And Beat International Student Loneliness

Sometime in early 2016, I decided to fight for international students.

At that point, I was feeling a sense of international student loneliness. It started in winter, when my student halls emptied out. Most of my friends returned to their hometowns or countries, and with the shortening days affecting my mood, I fell into a routine of sleeping at weird hours, waking up early and spending most of my time on social media or playing video games.

This wasn’t what I came here for. As an international student, I had come to London wanting to get involved in something bigger than myself. There had been poetry and the occasional rally, but I hadn’t found anything so far. International students already had to endure the horrible visa application process and increasing restrictions on post-graduation work in the UK, but the tipping point was when an allegation of widespread fraud in an English-language test resulted in the wrongful deportation of thousands of international students by the British government, including a fellow writer from Singapore. I went from shocked, to angry, and finally to deciding that I would no longer stand for this. Over the next few months, I gathered a team and began to build the International Students’ Rights Campaign, spurred on by Brexit and the rapid growth of xenophobia around me. I joined up with campus activists organising against borders, met key members of the Student Union and built a small network of friends and comrades driven by the same purpose that I was.

Through all this, I slowly began to realise something: I was no longer alone. Even when nobody else was around me, I had something concrete to occupy my time; I was constantly thinking and planning for the cause. By finding something to care about and engaging with student society, I had found my way out of international student loneliness.

As a campaign society, the International Students’ Rights Campaign is still growing. Our big initiative for 2016/17 was #Immigreatness, a photo exhibition that aims to remind everyone that just like them, migrants and international students are just trying to achieve their dreams of a better life. (The #Immigreatness exhibition is next to S0.12.)

davThe #Immigreatness exhibition next to room S0.12, Strand Campus 

In 2017/18, we hope to launch campaigns and collaborations with larger pro-immigrant organisations and encourage international students to engage with the lively student politics in King’s and beyond. By joining us, new members will get to meet other like-minded, purposeful students, work alongside them in defending international students’ rights, and have fun at social events like student mixers and performance nights! I believe that by bringing our members together as activists and giving them a chance to be part of something bigger, we can help overcome international student loneliness.

At the very least, I know it helped me.

To find out more about the International Students’ Rights Campaign, please click here

If you are an international student and are feeling lonely or isolated, please reach out for support.  You may also find some of these links useful:

Being In Your Mate’s Corner – Momin’s Perspective

As we launch our ‘In Your Corner’ mental health awareness campaign, current KCLSU President Momin Saqib shares his perspective on mental health, how the people around him help him to safeguard his wellbeing and how we can be there to support a friend in difficulty. 

Mental health issues, a phrase that might sound scary to some, unknown to others and neglected by some, but is a topic that remains in the dark for the masses. In many societies, even till date, this topic is considered a “taboo” topic, very, unfortunately. The significance of mental health in one’s well-being is a topic which is yet to receive due importance in today’s day and age.

Being involved with the KCLSU over the past two years has given me insight into this particular topic and on a deeper level has stirred my interest in being further involved to share this knowledge and help my peers learn about mental health so that we can help each other and those around us in need.

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From my three years at university, as a student and as a student officer I have learnt that mental well-being is a pre-requisite for succeeding at university, however, success is subjective. But how can one excel in academics or extra-curricular or even their daily chores if one isn’t feeling “mentally well”. We all have remedies for physical ailments- fever? Sore throat? Let’s just pop in a paracetamol and there isn’t anything wrong in doing so. Medicines are after all a source of recovery. But what about our mental well-being? We all have days when we do not feel like getting out of bed, attending lectures, doing our daily chores, meeting people or even eating and that’s completely fine to “not feel up-to the mark” on some days, but when those some days start becoming most days, is when we seem to be developing a “problem”, which in most instances goes unrecognised by majority of students. It isn’t  a question of mood anymore, but it becomes a condition, which worsens each day if it goes untreated just like any other medical condition and this is a fact which is not known to many students, as a result of which they do not seek out for help, thinking it would get better eventually. Many students suffering from such conditions live in the fear that if they talk about their mental state they will be laughed upon or they would be burdening others with their problems. However, they are not completely wrong in their thinking, as there is lack of awareness about the importance of mental health in our society. However, we can work together to change this.

University is a period when one is finally independent, away from family, home and old friends. This can be a challenging period. Speaking from my personal experience so far, university has been good.  But, there is no denying that there have been days that I have questioned myself and my existence. In simple words, university can be a mind-wrecking puzzle. Getting through university itself is a great achievement and it may sound strange coming from the KCLSU president. Those who have known me, whether through my social media or in person, will perceive me as an overly-energetic, passionate, happy individual who is extremely content with life, but I am like any other individual who worries a little too much and gets anxious about exams. But having said this, I would also say that I have always been an expressive person and have spoken about my fears and worries with those I am close to. I have been lucky enough to have understanding people around me who have guided me and supported me and have been there for me in times of despair.

As a part of KCLSU and King’s, we strive to build a community where students can easily address their mental-health issues and communicate with those around them for help. All students at King’s should adopt a proactive approach to recognising such mental-health issues and support each other in seeking help for the same. King’s “In Your Corner” campaign is specifically designed for this purpose and is aimed at improving the health and well-being of all students at King’s.

As the president of the union, I would just like to let all students know that I will go out of my way to ensure that every student has the best university experience at King’s. KCLSU along with King’s has are committed to the mental health of the entire student community. They will be providing support services for all students. Students are always going to be encouraged to talk about their mental health, like all other problems

All students should know that they are not on this journey alone and we are all in this together

If you’re experiencing difficulties with your mental health, don’t feel you have to keep it to yourself. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member or the University for support.  The links below outline some of the different peer-led initiatives and professional support services:

If you would like to learn some basic skills in supporting a mate experiencing mental health difficulties, sign up to one of a Student Minds ‘Look After Your Mate’ workshops on campus here.