INTERVIEW with JENNIFER AGBAIRE from the amazing SUSSEX NIGERIAN SOCIETY

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Today we are excited to share a little interview with Jennifer Agbaire, who is about to finish her PhD in Education, in School of Education and Social Work. Jennifer has been involved in reviving of the award winning Sussex Nigerian Society! They do such much great work, it is truly inspiring! follow and share: @SussexNigSoc 

  1. What were your beginnings at the Sussex Nigerian Society?

I became really involved with the Sussex Nigerian Society in 2016 as a first-year doctoral student, but the society had existed from around three years earlier when a few thoughtful and brilliant members of the Nigerian community studying at Sussex had led the initiative. I served as the Media Officer of the society between 2016 and 2017 before I was elected Vice-president in 2018.

  1. Everyone can read about the society on Student Union’s website, but what is it actually like to be part of an award-winning society?

It is a fantastic experience to be part of the Sussex Nigerian Society!    Being part of the society means belonging to an amiable group with a strong sense of community, an inspiring range of skills, a pleasant way of doing things and such a helpful support structure that can make it easy for student members to consider Sussex University home away from home.  For many international students coming from Nigeria, the society has become like some ‘safe hands’ that facilitate blending into an unknown environment and culture without losing a sense of the known. For Nigerian students born and raised in the diaspora, it is a great platform to connect with their roots and have fun doing so. For those who might have no ethnic relations with Nigeria, it is a lovely opportunity to get to know about the country and its peoples while also enjoying the benefits of any needed support with social or academic life.  Since I joined, the society has had the tradition for instance, of running a freshers’ support group on WhatsApp for Nigerian students new to Sussex, providing them with relevant hands-on tips to make their Sussex experience beautiful. From popular demand, the group got expanded this year to include over 100 members from all over Africa as well as a few others from Asia and the Middle East.     You can find nice stories by some of this year’s freshers posted on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sussexnigeria

  1. We often talk about the importance of mental health care during a PhD, how do societies like yours support doctoral community in that respect?

I think societies both directly and indirectly support PhD students that are members or that attend their events in various ways especially when the students can get to unwind.   As a PhD student myself, I would say that I find the activities regularly organised by the Sussex Nigerian Society a much-needed break from the pressure of doing my thesis.  The society’s events are like a mini get-away for me because planning, organizing and participating in them give me something creative, educative, fun and relaxing  to do besides stressing about my research and timelines! For instance, we very recently had our quarterly ‘Jolly Hour’ event which this time, involved a Pidgin English competition and a Pan-African film show with lots to eat and drink. This gave me time away from obsessing about my writing, an opportunity to catch up with friends, including PhD colleagues, and do lots of relaxing and laughing. After an evening like that, I go back to my writing feeling refreshed, ‘normal’ and ready again. In addition, the Sussex Nigerian Society runs a somewhat informal mentorship programme whereby undergraduate and Master’s students belonging to the society can get assigned to PhD students within their school who are also members of the society. This sort of volunteering also contributes to the mental well-being of the PhD students who might enjoy the satisfaction of being in the position to give valuable academic support to others.

  1. Is there an event you organized that you are most proud of?

We’ve organised several events that I’m very proud of and it’s difficult to pick. So, I will just go for the most recent big event which got us the Society of the Month award. It is our Black History and Welcome event themed ‘our identity – exploring culture, heritage and integration’. We had a very exciting time with German-Nigerian Leon Balogun and Nigerian-Indian Olufemi Hughes who both honoured our invitation to come speak about their experiences growing up and succeeding in Europe. Leon is a prominent footballer who is on the Nigerian national team and with Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club.  Olufemi is a Brighton-based poet and writer.

  1. How can students get to know about your society- what is the ‘recruitment’ process?

We mainly recruit members during the University of Sussex societies’ fair held at the beginning of the academic session during Freshers’ week.  But all year round, we do create awareness of our presence by connecting with the Sussex International Students Support Office, the Students’ Union, the Alumni Office and other societies particularly regarding our upcoming events.  We also use our social media pages to get people involved –  many students join us by requesting to be added to our Facebook group, for example.  We equally encourage our current members to tell their friends, classmates and others about us and what we do.

Thank you for the interview and fingers crossed for your viva, Jennifer! ❤

Come to the Hive’s Festive Pub Quiz on Thursday December 6th

Red Festive Leaves Christmas Flyer

The end of term is fast approaching and the weather is cold and gloomy. What could be better than an evening of fun, laughter and good company? We know you said that you’d like more social events so we’ve joined with the Doctoral School to bring you a little festive cheer in the shape of a pub quiz.

So whatever you celebrate at around this time of year, even if it’s just the possibility of a bit of peace and quiet come and join us at the IDS bar from 5.30 on December 6th for our general knowledge quiz. There will be mince pies, a free drink and prizes. We know it’s a busy time of year but everyone deserves the chance to unwind away from the research for a bit.

You can book through Sussex Direct. Hope to see you there.

Doing your PhD part-time

Studying part-time can make it feel like everything’s coming at you from all angles.

There are currently one hundred and 50 part-time PhD students enrolled at Sussex. I had to check this number because, as one of those 150, I’ve been juggling work and study and that hasn’t left a lot of time for looking around and noticing who else is in the same boat. For my first year of study, I was working full time and was generally only on campus to meet my supervisors or to go to workshops and social events, if and when I could fit them in. Hive events were a life-line, one of the very few occasions when I got to meet other PhD students. Through those events, I made friends that I’ve kept in contact with and the help the Hive was in that first year is a major reason why I applied to be a Hive scholar in the first place.

So in this post, I wanted to talk about some of the challenges – and advantages – to studying part-time at PhD level. Of course, there are so many reasons why someone might choose to do their doctorate part-time. It might be because of outside responsibilities – many part-time doctoral students are returning to education after a break, sometimes of many years. In those intervening years, life can get complicated. Families grow and mortgages can weigh heavy. Studying part-time can be an effective way of fitting in study to an already full life. In fact, according to figures from Vitae, the non-profit researcher development organisation, 40% of part-time PhD students are over 40.

Getting a PhD can be something that will enhance an existing career or it can be a way of going in a new direction. I’m here for the latter reason. I was a journalist for 20 years in Ireland watching as the industry changed beyond recognition. I’ve seen so many of my former colleagues take the same route – there’s a growing number of ex-hacks in academia these days and not just teaching journalism either, friends have gone into history like I did, or into sociology, criminology, law. The world is changing and there is definitely something about turning 40 that makes you reassess where you are in life. For those that aren’t planning a career change then a PhD can improve your options in any number of professions. In those cases, keeping a full-time job while you study isn’t just an option it’s the only choice.

Then there’s the money side of things. Funding is notoriously hard to get, especially if you’ve taken a “non-traditional” route to doctoral study. One could argue that there is a strong stereotype of the “perfect” PhD student who starts at around 27, straight after finishing their masters. Certainly increasing numbers of part-time doctoral students are funding their studies themselves. If you’re self-funded then part-time study is in many ways a no brainer – even affording the fees to go full-time puts the option out of reach for many.

So what are the pros and cons of studying part-time? Well, apart from the fact it’s cheaper and it fits around life and work (theoretically), you do have longer to complete your thesis. Part-time doctorates are usually completed in between 5 and 7 years. This is also one of the downsides. When you’re spending double the time researching and writing there is obviously a greater risk that someone else is going to gazump you by publishing first. It can be isolating as well, as the people who started at the same time as you will be long graduated by the time you get to writing up – it’s the old problem of immortality so popular in vampire movies – you will stay the same while those you love wither and die…ok so that doesn’t actually happen when you’re doing a part-time PhD but it can certainly feel like a possibility when the pace feels particularly slow.

It can also feel like you’re out of the loop. Since I started teaching this year and became a Hive scholar I’ve realised just how much I was missing before. It does rather go with the territory but it’s great to have an opportunity to throw myself into life at Sussex even if it is still part-time. But it’s not just the social aspect of things, though arguably the connections you make during your PhD can be important professionally for years to come. Meeting with supervisors gets more complicated and keeping up on departmental events like Work in Progress seminars can be extremely tricky. This study from the University of Exeter might be almost 10 years old but it’s still a good look at the part-time experience.

Do you study part-time? How are you finding it? Do let us know on Twitter at either @sussexreshive or to me directly @abigailrieley. You can also comment on this post or drop in and see me in the Hive. I look forward to hearing your own experiences of doing your PhD part-time at Sussex.

 

Steven Huckle on using Blockchain to tackle Fake News

Ahead of Steven’s talk on Blockchain as part of Digital Discovery Week in the Library later today, we’re republishing the post he wrote earlier this week for the Conversation.

BITCOIN’S HIGH ENERGY CONSUMPTION IS A CONCERN – BUT IT MAY BE A PRICE WORTH PAYING

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Steven Huckle, University of Sussex

Bitcoin recently turned ten years old. In that time, it has proved revolutionary because it ignores the need for modern money’s institutions to verify payments. Instead, Bitcoin relies on cryptographic techniques to prove identity and authenticity.

However, the price to pay for all of this innovation is a high carbon footprint, created by Bitcoin mining.

Fundamental to that mining process is a peer-to-peer network of computers, referred to as validators, who perform Proof of Work. In essence, this involves computers solving computationally-intensive cryptographic puzzles that prove blocks of transactions, which are recorded in a public asset ledger, known as a blockchain. This ledger is publicly viewable by all computers, which helps the system achieve consensus in an unreliable network of participants.

Validators are called miners because the computer, or node, that successfully validates one of those blocks is rewarded with “mined” Bitcoin. Thus mining is also the process by which Bitcoin adds new coins to the network.

But these processes consume a vast amount of power.

In my 2016 article, Socialism and the Blockchain, I estimated Bitcoin mining’s annual energy use at 3.38 TeraWatt hours (TWh), which I equated to the total 2014 annual consumption of Jamaica. Recent estimates show the currency’s annual consumption rising exponentially, currently reaching an incredible 55TWh. Indeed, a new paper in Nature Sustainability suggests that the energy costs of mining cryptocurrencies exceed the costs of mining physical metals. Furthermore, the paper estimates that Bitcoin emitted between 3m and 13m metric tonnes CO₂ in the first half of 2018. A team in Hawaii even suppose that, if Bitcoin’s adoption continues to rise, within a couple of decades, such emissions could help push global warming above 2°C.

The energy costs of mining Bitcoin, it has been estimated, now exceed the costs of mining actual metals.
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However, both the study in Nature and the team in Hawaii make assumptions about the means of energy generation. In the light of the recent disturbing UN 1.5°C Report, humanity would be wise to act on the recommendation for an “unprecedented shift in energy systems”. The hope is that such a shift towards large-scale renewable energy does occur, thus invalidating the assumptions made in those papers.

Nevertheless, concerns over Bitcoin’s energy consumption remain, so Ethereum, another cryptocurrency, is investigating a more energy efficient consensus algorithm known as Proof of Stake. This method differs from Proof of Work because miners on this network use their economic stake to prove transactions and therefore, they are not performing energy intensive calculations.

That introduces some complications – not least, how to ensure that people in this network act honestly, as they would have nothing to lose by behaving dishonestly? Ethereum’s proposed solution is to introduce penalties through measures such as penalising miners for simultaneously producing blocks on two versions of the blockchain. After all, only one of those blockchains is valid.

Bitcoin’s Proof of Work overcomes such problems implicitly because it includes natural penalties since miners have to expend energy to prove transactions.

In economic game theory, a Nash Equilibrium is said to be reached when a system stabilises because no one gains by changing strategy from that which produces the stable state. Since Bitcoin rewards are given to miners only if their blocks help form the valid Bitcoin blockchain, the most profitable outcome, or the Nash Equilibrium, is for each miner to act in consensus with the majority.

As a result, Bitcoin’s Proof of Work algorithm has proven effective, despite the excessive energy consumption.

Bitcoin’s inbuilt energy demand makes it a superior cryptocurrency, for now.
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A price worth paying?

In essence, my work looks at whether blockchains are a rebuttal to the hierarchies of capitalism. If Bitcoin promotes a way of organising that does not rely on capitalist consumption, might that indirectly drive down society’s energy use and help lessen its environmental impact? After all, consider the recent alarming WWF report, which all but blamed capitalism for the dramatic decline in wildlife populations. We need alternatives.

Perhaps, then, Bitcoin’s revolutionary offer, as an alternative to capitalism, means its energy use is a price worth paying? That argument holds some weight if it drives down consumption in other areas of society because Bitcoin mining is not the primary driver behind climate change. However, even then, given the urgency of environmental degradation, if we continue to produce energy in a manner that creates so much warming CO₂, that argument may provide scant consolation.

Perhaps alternative consensus schemes, such as Ethereum’s Proof of Stake, provide part of the solution. However, Bitcoin or not, if humankind is to avoid climate catastrophe, we need to take urgent action and find solutions that produce clean, sustainable energy. If we do that, humanity will benefit, and as a by-product, so will Bitcoin.The Conversation

Steven Huckle, PhD Researcher in Blockchain Technologies, University of Sussex

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If that’s whetted your appetite you can still book a place on Eventbrite here.

Writer in Residence at the Hive!- highlights of the week

As part of Digital Discovery Week (5-11/11/18) we are hosting Zoë Ranson, who is posting flash fiction tweets from the Hive. Everyone is invited to join Zoë, and break our working routine with little pockets of creative thinking and writing- Ha, not that your regular, PhD work is not creative enough!

Join us and tweet with #SussexSpark #SussexDDW

Also, check the rest of the events this week: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/library/about/digital

Zoe’s contributions are too precious to miss, hence we made a little glossary of this week’s highlights:

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Looking back on the 2018 Hive Welcome Event

After much planning and tweeting the 2018 Hive welcome event went off without any major hitches on Tuesday October 16th. The Hive Scholars look back on a fun evening.

Abigail:

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Playing the hashtag game at the Hive welcome event

There’s always a point when you’re planning an event like this when you’re convinced no-one’s going to turn up. That’s how I felt at about 3.30 on the 16th. We’d been getting loads of bookings but you never know until you actually see people arriving. We really needn’t have worried though as it ended up standing room only. It was brilliant to see familiar faces in the crowd as well as well as plenty of new PhDs. Introducing ourselves and welcoming everyone to the Hive did feel a little like doing stand-up but thankfully we didn’t have a hard crowd.

As an icebreaker, we’d decided to invent a game around hashtags or keywords as a way of showing people how many things in common we have rather than what keeps us separate. The best bit for me was seeing the multicolours cloud of words grow on the glass walls as people joined in from so many different schools. It was great to see people come up for a pen and tell the whole room how it related to their research as they wrote it on the wall. There was a lot of laughter and a real feeling of community.

Thabani:

After we finished in the Hive, we then went to what some regarded as the most important part and that is, the social in the IDS bar on campus. The room we booked was filled to capacity and it was great to see people mixing and mingling and having a great time, after all, that was the point of the event all along, to get people from different departments together. There, of course, was a never-ending queue at the bar as everyone tried to use up their drink voucher but that was fine as it gave people more opportunity to chat and get further acquainted whilst waiting to be served.

As we went around, we had conversations with different researchers who had interesting stories about their research and what they would like to and see more of from the Hive. The #hashtag game we had played in the Hive seemed to have worked and had gotten people learning about each other’s research and also realising that we had more in common. We observed researchers from the sciences talking to researchers from humanities and social science. The social was meant to end at around 7PM but some people stayed on to chat and carry on with mingling which was great.

Karolina:

One of the aims of the welcome event was to let everyone know that the Research Hive is for everyone and although its primary function is to be a comfortable place to work in, it also should be a space to collaborate, to create and to support each other.

As new Research Hive Scholars we are just in a process of collecting ideas and planning our line-up of events for this year. Apart from social meetings, monthly doctoral discussions and collaborating on events with our library and the Doctoral School, our goal for this year is to make Research Hive blog more democratic and useful for PhD researchers. Hence, we just came up with an idea of ‘masterclass’ posts/interviews, in which anyone of us, doctoral researchers, could share tips, experiences and ideas. So far it has usually been Hive Scholars who wrote about their experiences trying to give advice to the rest of the hive community. But we are all experts in so many things- starting from time-management and event curating to overcoming mental health issues, organizing fieldwork and designing methodologies! Let’s not waste that expertise! Share it! Let this blog be for everyone but also by everyone! Join us in our tiny, imaginary Hive editorial room! ❤

Come to us, email or tweet!

Settling in The UK As An International Student

Screenshot 2018-10-23 at 16.55.40So you’ve spent countless weeks gathering all the necessary documents to get a Tier 4 visa, applied, gotten the visa, and now you’ve arrived in the UK. This can be something quite daunting for someone who hasn’t travelled outside their home country or has never been to this part of the world. In this post, I will try to share some of my experiences as an international student, and give a little bit of advice on how to go about navigating life and school in a totally foreign land.

It’s possible that you will be overwhelmed by activities around campus, meeting other students, and trying to get used to the constant rain. On top of that, there’s new food, culture, and people. You will be hearing a lot of different things from current students and the new friends that you’ll have made– here is the trick, don’t panic! Yes, there is a lot going on. But try to take a breath and instead learn about everything slowly. It’s important to focus on your studies straight away but it is equally important to learn about the country that you will call home for at least three or four years.

The best way to start is opening yourself up to new friendships. I found it easier to adjust because I made a lot of friends from different parts of the world. That way, you can all commiserate about being homesick, the terrible weather, and even things like culture in the UK. Culture shock happens and some of us do not realise it while it’s happening. So go to as many events as you can on campus, learn, and enjoy the first months of your PhD journey while also paying attention to the fact that you will need to start working on your PhD.

Keep in touch with friends and family back home in case you feel homesick, it helps to have them to talk to! It’s also important to eat well, so do try to avoid the cheeky McDonalds trips when you can. Exercising as regularly as possible has also been hugely helpful for me in keeping the stress levels in check. Many of these things seem very obvious, but you’ll be surprised at how useful these good habits are once you start practising them.

In terms of the things that you will need for your studies, shop around! Don’t just settle for anything that you see first whether it’s a laptop, broadband deal, or even a new winter coat. Ask around and see what advice your new friends have about these exact things. Coming from Zimbabwe, I realised that there is more competition in the UK market than back home. Therefore people will always be willing to offer you a deal. Make use of the International Student Support office on campus, they have a wealth of advice! You can take a look at their website here: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/internationalsupport/livingintheuk

Everyone’s experiences are different, of course, but you will find it very easy to adjust if you take things slowly and remember to stay healthy!

Good luck!

Thabani