Learning London: Four-Day Family Extravaganza

My cousin Kaitlin has been teaching English in Spain this past year. So we (my partner Aongus and I) decided to add a second stamp to her passport and we invited her up to London for an extended weekend

Aongus meet her at the Tube station and guided her home from the airport, with a stop for dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant, Indigo at Richmix. Meanwhile, I sped back via train from my conference in Newcastle and arrived home minutes before them.

We were up bright and early Thursday morning for the start of a whirlwind tour that lasted four days.

On day one, we included:

  • Kaitlin’s first double-decker bus trip, on Bus 8, so as to see St. Paul’s and other prominent sites from the top deck, front row–best seats on the bus!
  • Sir John Soane’s House Museum, full of Roman antiquities and memorable painting and flooded with daylight in every corner.
  • The British Museum, stopping for coffee in the courtyard and visiting the South American and Egyptian sections.
  • Dashing into the Building Centre in Store Street to view the enormous model of London.
  • A relaxing couple of hours in Bloomsbury, for lunch with my UCL colleagues Emanuela and Folashade–our farewell sendoff to Queen Mary University of London for Folashade.
  • A walk to Picadilly Circus and the courtyard of the Royal Academy, with rose petal macaroons at Laudre in the Burlington Arcade, then onward to Green Park, the gates of Buckingham Palace, and a stroll across Hyde Park.
  • Arriving at Westminster Abbey in perfect time to attend the choral Evensong.
  • A walk to Trafalgar Square and up Strsnd Street to fetch tickets at the box office of The Savoy.
  • A quick but tasty dinner at Itsu, where Aongus joined us after his work day.
  • A delightful evening at the West End musical “Dreamgirls”
  • Wrapping up the day with a walk through Covent Garden, stopping at Gelaterino before our bus ride home

Day two was filled with more adventures. This was Saturday and we headed by Tube to the Bourough of South Kensington and Chelsea for:

  • The Saatchi Gallery (modern art)
  • Kale salad and chestnut/almond waffles at a favorite cafe on Sloane Avenue
  • The Natural History Museum, where we focused on the dinasoaur and mammal exhibitions
  • Drinks and tagines at the Comptoir Libanas restaurant on Exhibition Road where we snagged an outdoor table under the awnings and heat lamps to avoid the evening rainstorm
  • Art-till-you-drop and cultural-encounters-of-all-kinds at the Victoria and Albert Museum (we saw several new wings due to Kaitlin’s interest in world religions)
  • Visits to high-end furniture shops and luxury department stores (John Lewis top to bottom, Herrod’s food courts, and Harvey Nichols tour of floors)
  • Pints at the Wilton Arms to again wait out the rain, and chat with some lively Brits
  • Dinner nearby at the Alfred Tennyson to round out the day and a stroll through high-end alleyways en route back to the tube–admiring the pricy vehicles.

Kaitlin spent day three with a friend she graduated university alongside. I’m so impressed with Kaitlin and all she has learned and done. She graduated first in her university class last year and then came to teach in Spain fresh out of college. She has taught both in a school and also private lessons and she even played soccer competitively, on a team in Spain.

Since it was Sunday and she was otherwise occupied, Aongus and I made the most of the day with:

  • A visit to the Imperial War Museum and the Tibetian Peace Garden, located on its grounds
  • A walk over to Trafalgar Square with a delightful Sunday roast at The Clarence
  • Fancy desserts at the sushi place in Kingly Court
  • Bus ride back to Shoreditch to catch up with Kaitlin at a South American restaurant near our home

On day four, Kaitlin and I had specific plans. We headed to:

  • The Churchill War Rooms, also viewing the exhibition on Churchill’s life
  • The London Eye, for a half-hour trip around this impressive Ferris wheel with its sweeping views of London
  • A quick visit to the National Gallery
  • Our second lunch in Bloomsbury at Dim T, since we enjoyed the one wit Folashade and Emanuela so much
  • A walking tour across University College London’s city campus

We gathered our bags from my office at UCL and boarded the tube for Heathrow, where we bid each other farewell–me heading to Dublin for a week’s work and Kait back to Spain to wrap up her teaching.

It was a truly delightful four days, though I admit I was completely exhausted the day after we parted. It was a treat to get to know this first-cousin-once-removed a bit better and to learn how very much alike we are despite having drastically different parental upbringing. I’m so very impressed with the person she’s become and how intelligent and thoughtful and hardworking and courteous she is. I’m glad I’d worked ahead and could take comp days while she was here so I could really get to know her. It was a rare treat to tour the city with her, and one I hope to have someday again.

 

Sharing research at EERN

The Engineering Education Research Network (EERN) for the UK and Ireland met today at Newcastle University. Since one third of the presentations at this colloquium were delivered by DIT’s research group called CREATE (for Contributions to Research in Engineeing and Applied Technology Education), I got to catch up with my beloved colleagues from Dublin.

Yesterday, Emma Whitney, a colleague at UCL asked me to Tweet the events since three of us from UCL were attending. She gave me a few pointers for Tweeting, and I gave it a go.

@shannonchance7 has never had much success with Twitter. But with Emma’s tips I was able to do a respectable job (although I can’t get Twitter working now, on the train back to London, so perhaps I downed the platform!?).

It was great hearing about the #engineeringeducation #educationresearch folks are doing across Ireland and the UK.

This was the first EERN event with specific discussions to help support and guide PhD students and early-career/newer researchers. I actually feel that we’re all new to this! It’s an emerging field of research and were working hard to establish the methods, publications, conferences, and knowledge-sharing networks.

I’m delighted to be part of such a vibrant community, dedicated to improving the student experience and the quality of learning. I’ve uploaded photos of the conference and also of my morning exploration in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It’s a lovely little city and I’ll hope to return again some day.

Able Nyamapfene from UCL.

The DIT CREATE contingent. DIT’s Una Beagon. Rebecca Broadbent from Astin University. DIT’s Darren McCarthy. DIT’s Gavin Duffy. EERN colloquium organizers, Jane Andrews and Roger Penlimgton. Shannon, Darren, Rachel, Robert, Una, Brian (with Gavin MIA for the selfie)

Learning London’s Lengthy Flat-hunt

IMG_7541 2As I peered over my Asian-style crispy chicken burger–the healthiest lunch I could find in the time ticking down to my afternoon workshop on supervising PhD students–I was reminded by my view of my extensive London-flat hunt.  I was enjoying the moment as well as the view and the new-found flavors. It’s not uncommon for burgers in London to include kimchi and I was developing fondness to the new taste. Like these Korean-infused breaded-chicken-fillet sandwiches, London flats have distinctive qualities all their own, I realized.

Flats in zone one and two seem darker, on average, than flats in other cities.

Hunting for a place to live in this massive and densely-occupied city has its own unique joys and challenges. I think it’s helpful to share pointers–I reviewed multiple YouTube videos during my three-month search. This blog explains some of what I learned and experienced during my search to help other roving scholars looking to settle here.

IMG_7544 2As I munched, I observed one of the apartment buildings I visited, across the leafy green Tavistock Square, over in the very far corner. The place was lovely. At the top of the building with a sweeping view to the north, it was served by multiple stairs, elevators, and even a porter. But it had just one room. One very expensive room, at that.

All the places I visited were expensive. Most cost above £1500 a month (that’s $2800), PLUS utilities and council tax. Such was the case for either a room in a shared flat or a studio apartment. In a shared-flat where you live with roommates, there’s a surcharge for having two people in one room. That seems fair enough, but the surcharge goes on top of the publish rate, often catching me by surprise. It can run £300, plus increased council tax (a per-head charge based on the estimated value of the property), and a larger (per-person) share of utilities.

IMG_7552Most surprising to me: (1) many flats had no living room since it had been converted to sleeping space in order to bring in more rent money, and (2) even very expensive flats had no views out. Sometimes the entire flat received no direct sunlight.

One room that had light and views came with five energetic dogs of all sizes but similar make and model. *Five.* Imagine five dogs in a small townhouse… and that townhouse had six sleeping rooms, so who knows how many roommates you’d end up tolerating in addition to the dogs?

I couldn’t imagine. I wouldn’t.

I had searched for months online and I visited London multiple times during my search. I found a number of online search platforms helpful:

UCL’s accommodation site is intended to help incoming staff, and accessing it requires a staff identification number. It was a good place to start, although I found its listings to be outdated. A majority were not available at the time I was searching. (They seem to be listed in perpetuity?) I believe this resource was developed before there were so many other options available for searching online. Nevertheless, I was grateful to have the resource as a point of comparison of what a traveling scholar could expect.

Sabbatical Homes is a great resource–especially for scholars needing short-term lets, long lead-times, and tailored dates. But the listings are very, very costly! We did view one Sabbatical Home that was in our price range, but it was underground. The hosts were super interesting and fun to talk with–an academic set–but the main window faced north (toward the garden wall) and was covered with a decorative iron grate. All the other windows were too small to crawl through. Plus, the furniture was depressingly old-fashioned. I just couldn’t get past that. I could have handled crawling out the end of the bed, since the mattress filled most of the room, because at least the mattress was not in the living room. Overall, we decided we had to find some light. Sun-filled homes on this site would cost at least twice what we would eventually pay.

I found Gun Tree to be too confusing–it’s not designed specifically for property searches and leaves many unknowns. The map locations are not precise and any transaction appeared to have a high level of risk involved. An AirBnB host of mine, who had used it to locate his own place, provided words of caution. If I need to move again when I’m more familiar with the city, Gum Tree might be more help.

I eventually viewed a number of flats in person. The ones I visited had been located using: (1) UCL’s staff accommodation website, (2) Sabbatical Homes, and (3) Spare Room.

I ultimately found our new place via Spare Room.

After uploading a profile about my partner and myself on Spare Room, offers actually flooded in. It appears many people want mates who they can count on to be courteous and pay the rent! Many are looking for older, established professionals with dual income. I’d had trouble early-on since I’d locate a possible flat and later realize the residents were all 20 and wanted young flatmates. You can input your age and other parameters into Spare Room to help with matching.

Spare Room’s matching may have entered the realm of creepy, however. I just today received this email message:

Hi Shannon,

Looking for the perfect flatshare? We’ve got the answer for you: science.

Yep, that’s right. We’ve dusted off our lab goggles, found a few test tubes and even got ourselves some lab coats – all to ensure you find flatmates you really click with.

According to Swiss science boffins at Karmagenes, your DNA influences as much as 60% of your personality traits. So we’re joining forces to create a DNA Flatmate Matchmaking Service – giving you the chance to reveal key insights into you personality that will tell you which characters you’d blend well with in a flatshare.

In other words: your DNA + saliva swab = new BFF.

Sound interesting? We’re giving kits away on Facebook – just head to the page and follow the instructions for your chance to win.

Find out more »

Good luck!

The SpareRoom Team
news@spareroom.co.uk
0161 768 1162

My trouble hasn’t been with roommates, thankfully! I read on-line, though, that various spots such as the nearby Shoreditch Library offer ideal get-aways from troublesome flat mates.

What was hard for me was being able to get a feel for any given advertised flat from its online profile. The actual spaces weren’t at all like the ads seemed.

But leasehold can also be stressful and complex. There’s high turn-over in residence in the London flat market. Young and/or single people seem to apartment-hop (move residence) quite often around London. It’s common for a person, for example my osteopath, to describe living 4-5 different places in as many year.

The market churns. Buildings get sold to the highest bidder, and apparently these situations — of sharing with many, many roommates and renting from the leasehold — are fraught with complications. Adam Smith’s invisible hand lands people out of home and, sometimes, on the street. There’s more non-drug-related homelessness evident here than in Dublin. Overall, though the social support system seems more caring here than in many other places. Doctor’s visits are free (though I had to pay an entry tax to the health system) and the mail gets delivered to my door–up four flights of stairs. Residents of public/social housing are far more diverse than in the States and much less deprecated. Taxes are higher but provide a greater range of housing possibilities, with varying levels of support.

Incidentally, when traveling to London to view apartments, I used AirBnB and Hotels.com. Of these, Hotels.com provided the best value for money. That surprised me as I am a lover of AirBnB. Aongus and I used AirBnB to get a feel for a variety of neighborhoods, which was good in many ways.

However, I have found that quality control related to AirBnB in London is not high enough. we ended up in a very bad situation one night, when I’d needed to re-book due to the host’s change of plans. I selected a cheap place that lacked ratings from past guests. Of the 60 or so places I’ve stayed on AirBnB, this was truly the worst. Apparently, the superintendent of a campus of council flats was renting rooms out between formal rentals. Most likely he was pocketing the money himself.

Come to think of it, the manager of an international student house I’d used with AirBnB, also here in London, was doing something quite similar, by forcing people to book through his personal friend in the Mediterranean rather than through the house directly.

In both cases, I should have known better. The room was cheaper than market rate. To avoid such problems, read the AirBnB reviews carefully and heed the ratings posted by prior users! Do not cut corners when reviewing rooms prior to booking. I only go with hosts who have earned four or more stars from at least ten people.

In searching for flatmates, one perspective host had us over for a night so we could gauge what the experience of living at his place would actually be like. That was great! The host was amazing–such a great connector and a get-it-done, can-do kind of guy who mentors dozens of young musicians and performers. But the room was also very, very expensive (ringing in at £1770/€2000/$2500 per month, youch!). The estimated commute for Aongus from that flat was over an hour. Moreover, the owner’s ex-wife was to conduct workshops from the flat rendering it off- limits several days a month, and the sound system on the TV was extremely loud. And so we continued our search.

IMG_7594Subsequently, we visited a beautiful red brick building at Old Street Station, but the flat received no direct light whatsoever. And we’d have had to be more tidy than we could imagine in order to suit our very refined 23 year-old lawyer host.

In retrospect, the north-facing studio at Tavistock Square presented the most viable alternative to what we found, despite charging NYC rates for a single room. The membership fee for the homeowners association was unknown and the association was in the process of setting new rules. But the place was very clean and provided multiple routes out, in case of fire. What a luxury!

Sitting here, eating my pickled-cabbage fillet-on-a-bun, I felt a sense of fondness for the studio at Tavistock.

Aongus and I did succeed in finding a comfortable and happy home. It has plenty of space to work and read and learn and cook. Nice light, with beautiful views day and night. Friendly hosts who come and go, but travel a lot. It’s a half hour commute for me using the tube–longer than most other places I visited but still far less than the average Londoner’s commute. We’re grateful for our hosts who let us flat-sit here and for the search features provided by Spare Room that helped us connect with them. We found a cozy place to call home.

Seems like filming crews are forever setting up to shoot in the surrounding area. The neighborhood’s timeless charm holds great appeal. In two months here, I’ve observed three multi-day shoots in just four-block leading from our place to the tube. I only learned the name of one of these, to become a BBC TV series here in the UK. Perhaps buying a TV is in order, to view their results?

Learning London: Fabulous February

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Visiting the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels.

I maintained a quick pace of work during month two of my Marie Curie Research Fellowship at University College London.

I have a grant-funded training fellowship and my activities are designed to build skills in specific areas, organized around the six “work packages” outlined below. This blog summarizes my academic achievements from February 2018.

Work Package 1: Qualitative Research

Analyzed data for a policy paper to improve women’s access to STEM education in Ireland. Located relevant policies from Poland to use as precedents and translated them into English with the help of Google Translate.

Prepared and submitted two draft papers to the Association for the Study of Engineering Education (ASEE) with:

  • Emerging Findings of a Longitudinal Study of Middle Eastern Women’s Experiences Learning Engineering Abroad
  • A model for spurring organizational change based on faculty experiences working together to implement Problem-Based Learning

Met with UCL’s Dr. Inês Direito to discuss how I can help with a future qualitative research study of women at UCL.

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Brushing up on research methods.

Collected follow-up interviews in Ireland (with 2 Middle Eastern and 1 Irish student) and connected with researchers in Portugal who will collect interview data to add to the Portuguese data I’ve collected with Dr. Bill Williams.

Reviewed literature relevant to my own research (Perry, 1999; Evans, Forney, & Guido-DiBrito, 1998; MIT case study on UCL’s Integrated Engineering Program)

Brushed up on methods for Qualitative Data Analysis by reading three chapters of Grbich, 2012

(Work Package 2: Mixed-Methods Research will build on findings of WP1, eventually.)

Work Package 3: Special Focus Journal Issue

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Visiting the Institute of the Arab World in Paris.

I pitched the idea for a special focus issue to the Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Education (ToE) on the topic of my current fellowship, got it accepted, assembled an all-star panel of guest editors for the issue, wrote and distributed the call for papers. It’s posted here, in case you or someone you know has interest in the subject of Using Design Projects to Spur Cognitive Development of Students in Science and Engineering.

I continued work on IEEE ToE’s upcoming special focus issue on social-cultural diversity. I saw one manuscript through to completion and worked closely with the Administrative Editor and Chief Editors to help our team of guest editors get the schedule moving forward, since work had stalled. I’m hoping for publication in August 2018, if we can keep our momentum going.

I only promised one special focus issue in my grant proposal–but why not aim to deliver two?

Work Package 4: Outreach (including Peer Reviews)

I drafted and submitted a 1000-word entry for The SAGE Encyclopedia of Higher Education on the topic of Problem-Based Learning and its use in engineering disciplines.

Reviewed ten proposed activities for a new children’s book by Usborne Publishing called “Scribble Engineering” and submitted an evaluation to the publisher.

Peer-reviewed a manuscript for the European Journal of Engineering Education and two others for IEEE ToE.

The Editor in Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Education (ToE) appointed me to the journal’s editorial board, so now I’m a full Associate Editor with a three-year term. In this job, I’m giving feedback to the Editor as to which manuscripts to forward though the peer review process and I’m managing the peer review process for one new manuscript each month.

Working with the Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN) in February involved a sub-committee meeting to edit guidelines and application forms for people interested in hosting a future Research in Engineering Education Symposium (REES, in 2021, 2023, or 2025). Our next symposium will be held in Cape Town, South Africa July 10-12, 2019. I also attend the monthly online meeting of REEN and followed up by contributing to the REEN Discussion Forum on LinkedIn, inviting colleagues to join the discussion.

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Meeting with Civil Service professionals in Dublin.

Work Package 5: Research Training

During this fellowship, I aim to develop skills in supervising PhD students and post-graduate level research teams. This month, I met face-to-face with four of the six Irish Civil Service professionals who I’m sponsoring in the training module they are taking related to policy and research.

Built new skills by attending:

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Hearing Louise Archer (left) and Angela Saini (right) speak at UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education.

I met with UCL’s Dr. Claire Ellul who teaches Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at UCL.

Joined the UK Society for Research in Higher Education (SRHE) and registered for future training sessions.

Met with Prof. Rao Bhamidimarri, VP of London South Bank University, about the engineering education center he runs, the STEM secondary schools he created, and PhD thesis projects I may be able to advise.

Work Package 6: Management

Met with my supervisor, Prof. Nick Tyler, for my one-month probationary review and to keep my Career Development Plan up to date.

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Studying urban design at London’s Building Centre.

Ongoing professional development:

Attended lectures at the Bartlett School of Architecture:

  • Fabio Gramazio of ETH Zurich and Gramazio Kohler Research
  • Jeremy Till, Head of College and Pro-Vice Chancellor at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London
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Transit maps at the Building Centre.

Visited and studied at:

 Other fronts

I had a bit of time left over for fun and adventure. I joined the UK’s Art Fund, which provides free or reduced entry prices at about 240 cultural sites in the UK. I also:

  • Using comp time, I took a three-day weekend in Paris to visit two lovely retired linguistic professors, Prof. Nancy Stenson from the University of Minsseota and Prof. Arthur Spears from CCNY. It was my first time through the Chunnel and my first time to meet Arthur, a friend of Nancy’s from grad school!
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    Professors Arthur Spears, Nancy Stenson, and Shannon Chance in Paris

    Cheered on my partner, Aongus Coughlan in completing his coursework (in health, safety and legal aspects of building construction in the UK) and securing necessary certifications. He found a job after a grueling one-day search—he CVs emailed on Monday, interviewed on-site Tuesday, accepted a job offer on Wednesday!

  • Visited former colleagues and students in their bridge projects class at DIT during my Febraury research trip to Dublin.
  • Kept up my yoga and swimming, and at least 10,000 steps 6 of 7 days per week.
  • Celebrated my birthday with a massage, the play “Beginning” on the West End in London, pints out with my electrical engineering colleagues in Dublin, and a Turkish Bath at Ironmonger Row Baths in Islington.
  • Kept up with the achievements of my former architecture students via Facebook and LinkedIn. I’m thrilled with their achievements—books launched, exams passed, registrations earned, lives well-lived. For instance, I saw both The Shape of Water and Black Panther – the second being a movie to which my former students contributed.
  • We played in the snow on the last day of February, since the “Beast from the East” closed Dublin Airport and prevented a trip over to Ireland for research and speaking.

 

Learning London: University College London

During a recent workshop for development of research skills, the facilitator warned that people from other universities might approach us to work as a collaborator simply because they want to associate with UCL and they might not have genuine interest in actually working with us as individuals.

Funny enough, I was too naïve to have joined UCL just for its reputation. I’m only now beginning to understand the prominence of this institution and understand its very long, egalitarian history. As noted on the university’s website, “UCL was founded in 1826 as a secular alternative to Oxford and Cambridge by prominent intellectuals such as James Mill and Henry Brougham. UCL was the first university to be established in London, and the first entirely secular university to admit students regardless of religion. It was also the first university to admit women on equal terms with men.”

UCL’s surrounding neighborhood, Bloomsbury, hasn’t been portrayed as a center of equality and social reform in the various books, webpages, and exhibits I’ve consulted, but I see roots here. Near UCL’s main/Bloomsbury campus you’ll find the Quaker Meeting House, a symbol of religious tolerance (it has a lovely restaurant underground that offers discounts to UCL staff, and it has a cafe at street level) . You’ll find that huguenots and other religious minorities arrived in this neighborhood as immigrants seeking freedom from oppression in their homelands. You’ll find a former residence of Charles Dickens, whose tales show a deep concern for improving the lives of the oppressed.

IMG_7554As for breaking my naïve on the reputation and standing of UCL: QS’s most recent “world university rankings” ranked this institution seventh… in the world! Up there with MIT, Oxford, Harvard, and Cambridge.

I’d applied to work here after meeting some folks from the  university’s Centre for Engineering Education (CEE) and traveling over from Dublin for the launch of the CEE. Back in the States, I had heard of the Bartlett, UCL’s world-famous school of architecture, but not of UCL itself.

I applied to work here because I wanted to learn from movers-and-shakers and highly-accomplished teacher/researchers like Nick Tyler, John Mitchell, and Emanuela Tilley.

As explained in a case study of Nick’s past work overhauling engineering education published by MIT, this institution encourages quick and decisive action. It behaves more like a business than a typical university, and implements changes swiftly. The results can be impressive, as demonstrated with the increase in grades and diversity of students at intake and at graduation among students in civil engineering at UCL following the implementation of major curricular changes. And, who wouldn’t want a chance to observe in action a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), Nick’s current title? An article in The Sun describes the British ranking system.

Today, I am enjoying learning my way around UCL. The photos in today’s gallery were taken on and near campus, in my adventures seeking out workshop, library, and lunch locations.