Books & Brains: 7 Apps That Will Make You a Better Student

As someone who has just started their second degree, I have the benefit of hindsight when it comes to things that were useful at university. It felt like every year I would download a slew of new apps all promising to make me a better student, but by a few months in almost all of them had gone. So, here is the list of the apps that made the cut, and which I will still be using during my masters degree.

 

Pomodoro Timer

Yes, yes, this is on everyones student app list, but it seriously works. If you haven’t already heard of the pomodoro method, it’s where you work for 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break, and you repeat the cycle until the task is done. Generally I will take a longer break after a couple of hours of doing this, and this way you’re always rushing to cram more in to the 25 minutes so you’re very productive, but then you don’t feel burned out because of the five minute break.

 

Cold Turkey

This one is seriously a game changer. Cold Turkey allows you to block all distraction sites for a set period of time, meaning you can still work on your computer and use your internet browser without the risk of being sucked in to a social media time wasting loop. You can also make your own lists of distractions and blocked sites, meaning you can make sure you have access to everything you need to study, without the access to all the other junk.

 

Forest

This is the only paid app of the bunch, but it’s less than £1.50 and a great investment. Forest is similar to Cold Turkey in that it restricts your access to a distraction – in this case, using your phone. You can set a timer for how long you want to go without using your phone, and you plant a tiny virtual tree, which grows if you manage to complete the timer. If you check your phone in this time, the tree dies. Guilt works wonders on your self control.

 

Evernote

This is such a great all round app, not just because you can sync up your phone and you computer, but it allows you to shove documents, photos, scans, and little notes all in one place that’s accessible from all of your devices. It’s free and comes with a ton of storage, and works great for storing notes and important documents that all come in different formats.

 

Evernote Scannable

The best thing about Evernote is that it even comes with its own scanner app which links directly to your account, meaning you can scan pages of notes or books through your phone camera and they’re stored alongside all of your other documents. This is a lifesaver if there’s only one copy of the book your class needs in the library, or you don’t have time to digitise your notes.

 

Dropbox

This is another obvious one, but seriously, back up your damn work. The good thing about Dropbox is you get a decent amount of storage for free, plus you can access it from your phone or any other computer. You can also set your computer to automatically back up all files and photos to this, meaning you don’t even have to think about saving your work. You would not believe how many times this app has saved me when my computer crashed.

 

Mendeley  

Mendeley is something which just makes research that little bit easier. It’s an app, available for your computer and phone, which allows you to save, share, and read academic articles from around the web. It also comes with a bibliography generator in all major formats, meaning writing up your references is just that bit less stressful.

 

I’ve been using a combination of these apps for at least the past two years, all of which have been useful again and again and been a huge boost to my productivity.

Are there any other apps you would recommend to students?

 

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2017 Autumn Bucket List

I always get a thrill when the season changes, and in the UK this year it feels as though as soon as we hit September the temperature plummeted and we could start hauling out the jumpers.

Although I always love feeling the weather change (especially when Autumn comes around – I can’t cope with heat) I feel like I never fully make the most of seasonal activities, especially as I work weekends so it can be quite difficult to cram things into my week.

After seeing some of these floating around the internet, I thought it would be helpful to create a small Autumn Bucket List, as it won’t only get me excited about the next few months but also gives me a little motivation to get out and do something other than sit in an armchair under a blanket.

Without further ado, here it is (and in cute graphic format, no less)!

 

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Do you have any plans for this autumn?

Why I’m not buying clothes for a year.

This September marks the start of my masters degree, which although is really exciting, also marks the start of a year where I’m going to have some huge financial changes.

Due to the number of hours I can work at my part time job without burning out alongside the very low student loan I receive from the government, although I have some family help to get me through the degree I will be living on less than the UK minimum wage until next September. I’ve already got plans to drastically reduce my food and transport spending for this year (more about that in another blog post), but it never seems to be the essentials that leave me with pennies in my account at the end of the month – rather, it’s the non-essentials that I somehow keep justifying to myself that add up.

It’s for this reason that I’m targeting clothes specifically. Most of the clothing I do buy is either from eBay or charity shops, so it’s not like I’m splashing major cash around to fill my wardrobe, but the fact is, I don’t need more clothes. However limited or unfashionable, I do technically have enough items of clothing to see myself through the seasons without too much of a hassle. The reason I keep buying them, despite having more at home, is because I’m a very self-conscious person. I’m a chronic over-thinker and a plus-sized person, so I use clothes as a substitute for confidence. I somehow convince myself that if I just buy the right outfit, or have the perfect wardrobe, no-one will notice that I have awful social skills or think that I’m actually much thinner and prettier than I actually am.

So, the things I’m hoping to get out of this challenge are this:

  1. To save money. If I’m not spending it on clothes, it can go into savings to help me pay off my student overdraft.
  2. To appreciate what I already own. If I’m not buying anything new I can lose interest in what I already have, plus I will be much more likely to take care of my clothing.
  3. To become more confident. I’m hoping that by wearing the same things over and over again, my thought will be less focused on my appearance and on more important things – namely, my masters degree.

 

Like most challenges, there will be a few rules that I’m going to stick to:

  1. I can buy socks and underwear if the situation gets desperate. I don’t think this one needs too much explaining, plus it would be good to use the money saved from clothes shopping to invest in some more expensive and hardwearing items if needed.
  2. I can get things tailored. I am in the process of losing weight, but I don’t want that to give me an excuse to run out and splurge if I do end up ultimately going down a dress size. I can get some pieces taken if if needed, which is not only cheaper than buying something new, but still means I’m appreciating and caring for things I already own.
  3. I can borrow items from other people/ accept hand-me-downs. In case of emergency (like halloween costumes or cocktail parties) I will be able to borrow items from other people, and if someone (like my mum, who is the same size as me) offers me some of their old clothes, I can accept them, but only if I know I will actually wear them and they will add something to my wardrobe that I didn’t already have.

 

I will hopefully be posting some updates over the next few months about how I’m getting on, possibly alongside some of the outfits that I’ve been putting together with what I already owned. Wish me luck!

Taking a break from the bookish community.

Hi guys, today I wanted to talk a little bit about why I’m making the decision to step back from bookish social media.

I love books. They’re in every room in my house, I wax lyrical about recent reads to anyone who will listen, and obviously, love them enough to run two blogs around them. The issue is that recently I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure and a lot of FOMO from different streams of the community.

I’m not saying that the community is toxic or bad or detrimental in anyway. Hell, discovering the bookish side of Tumblr five years ago is what made me rediscover my love of reading and introduced me to YA and a loving community of other readers. If wasn’t for booklr and booktube, I don’t think I ever would have kept up reading in the same way I have during my degree. I’ve met some amazing friends, discovered books I never would have picked up, and read more than I ever have before.

The issue, if you can call it one, is that the community is so vast, so diverse, and so varied that I’m finding myself constantly feeling under pressure. I watch booktubers who read more than ten books a month, which is just staggering to me, and people hauling upwards of twenty books in one go, talking about how exciting they all are, and all of them somehow find their way onto my Want To Read list on Goodreads. Having this giant, overwhelming TBR at all times that just keeps getting bigger has turned from something amazing to something terrifying, and not being able to read every recent release or recommendation makes me feel like I’m being left in the dust of other readers.

Goodreads itself has become stressful too – although I love having a record of everything I’ve read in any given year, and a place where I can check what other people thought of a book I’ve just finished, feeling like I can’t fall behind with my reading challenge is really affecting the way I read. I avoid long, difficult books, not because I don’t want to read them but because I’m worried I’ll fall behind. Being ‘ahead of schedule’ makes me feel like I’m winning, whereas being ‘behind schedule’ makes me feel like I’m losing – losing what? Reading and enjoying books has never been a competition, but with so many other people to compare myself to, it’s turned into one for me.

Also, because I’m getting so many recommendations at all times, I feel like I’m not discovering anything myself anymore. I go into a bookshop or onto a website with a specific list of things that I want, carefully curated based on other people’s thoughts, and checked against reviews. It’s been years since I’ve wondered into a shop and only bought books I’ve found by chance, going off nothing other than the blurb.

I want to spend some time to reset to zero, as it were, to enjoy reading a book not because it will put me towards my Goodreads goal or so I can post about it on my blog, but because I’m actually enjoying it. I want to feel like I can take the time, unrushed, to work my way through a tough classic, or not worry if I find an obscure antiquarian book that can’t be logged and shared with starred review. I want to get back to reading without obligation, and without stress.

 

Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

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Star rating: 5/5

Synopsis: A young woman falls quickly for a widower she meets in Monte Carlo, and accompanies him back to his estate in the west country, Manderley. There she struggles to fit into his world and feels constantly shadowed by the ghost of his first wife, Rebecca.

Review: This book is hands down a new favourite. The writing is very gothic in style and extremely atmospheric, with du Maurier’s use of repetition descriptive passages making it seem as though Manderley somewhere that I’ve visited many times. There’s excellents twists and turns in the plot, and the journey of the shy and awkward narrator is crushingly relatable. Definitely the kind of book best read under a blanket with a glass of whiskey.

7 Things You Will Actually Need at University

It’s that time of year again when hundreds of posts are circulated around university age people, listing everything from bedding your mum picked out to a colander that your flatmate will definitely steal three weeks into first term. When lists try to tell you absolutely everything you might possibly need, they get overwhelming and (for the most part) unnecessary.

So, as someone who graduated this summer and is heading back to uni next month, here is a no bullshit guide to what things are actually useful at university, plus a few things that really, really aren’t.

 

A damn good water bottle.

A water bottle is one of the best things to have on you at university. Almost every building will have a water fountain, staying hydrated is obviously good for your health (and your hangover), plus taking a tactical sip during a seminar means you won’t get asked to answer a hard question. Get a decent one that won’t crack in your bag (and definitely do not just reuse one from some bottled water you got a few weeks ago). This is the one that I’ve used for the past year, and it’s leakproof, lightweight, and has taken some serious beating from me throwing my backpack around.

 

Comfortable shoes.

If you are a person who wears high heels, trust me, you will not wear them as often as you think you will. Generally if you’re a student you will be walking everywhere, and you do not want to be the one friend limping behind when you’re already late to a lecture. Save yourself from carrying your shoes and stepping on some definitely not hygienic roads on a night out, and pack your trainers. Your toes will thank you.

 

A coat with a hood.

Since you’re probably going to be walking everywhere (see above), a coat designed to withstand shitty weather is a must. Sometimes it’s just gonna be too windy for an umbrella or you left it in a pub in freshers week and you’re going to wish you’d let your dad talk you into that sensible raincoat. You will be at university for the coldest and wettest parts of the year. Love yourself. Bring a sensible coat.

 

Storage boxes and box files.

Even if you start the year with the best intentions, you will undoubtably accumulate a large amount of crap. Some of this will be important crap (like university documents or the syllabus for your course), or not important crap (like the free lanyard you got from Megabus during freshers or a stack of dominoes vouchers), but they both will look ugly stacked on your bedside table. Shove them in a pretty pastel box from Ikea. Et Voila! A less crap university room.

 

USB drive and an external hard drive.

You will need a USB drive all the damn time. Whether for presentations, printing off essays, or getting some episodes of Game of Thrones from your flatmate in a definitely legal way, it will definitely come in handy. Get one with a decent amount of storage, and keep it plugged into your computer at all times. The external hard drive can be used in a similar way, but has the added benefit of being able to store absolutely everything of use from your laptop. I have seen too many friends get everything wiped from a dodgy laptop days before an essay was due in. Get a damn hard drive and back up your files.

 

A backpack.

If you’re gonna carry more than one notebook and textbook around at any one time, get yourself a backpack. Messenger bags kill your shoulders, and tote bags just won’t hold everything you need them to. Make sure you get one that fastens properly (not one of those drawstring ones that mean all of your library books get soaked by the rain) and preferably one with fairly thick straps. Brands like Jansport and Kånken are really hardwearing, and you can pick them up fairly cheaply on eBay.

 

Colour Catchers.

Universities over charge for laundry facilities, and colour catcher sheets are the best way to get the most out of one wash. If you don’t have to separate your colours and whites you’ll save yourself a butt-load of money, plus a lot of brands are starting to make cheaper alternatives to the original brand.

 

Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list, but a lot of these are things either myself or flatmates didn’t think about until much too far into our first year at uni. Let me know if you think there’s anything you disagree with or missed off!

 

 

 

 

Review: The Accidental by Ali Smith

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Star Rating: 2.5/5

Synopsis: A hugely dysfunctional family go on holiday to Norfolk, where a new age hippy type called Amber inserts herself into their home and changes their lives.

Review: I just felt like I needed more from this book. The writing was experimental, but nothing particularly jumped out at me, the characters plot lines were fairly interesting, but never seemed to own up to the consequences of their actions, and there was teasing at some themes around sex and sexuality that I think were just a bit too below the surface that I didn’t quite receive the full impact of that exploration. Usually I love short books but I felt like there was another 100 pages missing somewhere.