So…About Intercalation Year

You’d expect that after several months of radio (blog) silence, I should make up for it with quality content. Well, strap in, boys — here is a real saucy reflection on how intercalation year went for me…

Starting off ~wild~ with a quick heads-up: this is entirely my personal experience and should in no way be extrapolated to what yours is/will be like (I chose to do BSc Physiological Sciences, so that in itself will be different in both the degree you’ll choose, where you choose to do it, and even the units you pick).

So intercalation had its awesome bits, which I’ll dip into, but a lot of my friends have mentioned feeling this sort of ‘intellectual shock‘ — feeling misinformed, and almost even a sense of betrayal, from the people we’ve spoken to before beginning intercalation, who never told us it’d be like how we found it to be. So, I hope to give an honest account of how I found the year, which I wasn’t aware of when making my decision to intercalate.

Also, my creative writing has severely regressed due to the lack of leisure reading in the past term, so forgive my usage of simple terminology. I mean…I can quote a paper pensively speculating the role of aquaporins in the urothelium? Aren’t pathetic redemptions great? Anyway. Enough of me faffing about, and onto the main body.

Let’s start positive.

Intercalation year brutally forced me to learn tedious skills I would’ve never dreamt to sit down and teach myself. Reading scientific papers, then scrutinising their approach? Learning how to use SPSS, a statistics software, to analyse dreary data-sets? If it sounds dry, it definitely felt like that on several (all) occasions; however, they are skills I’m honestly so grateful to have learnt, and can now execute, albeit mediocrely.

When the relief of submitting dissertation is vastly greater than the distress of how awful it probably turned out (yes, that is a mini snickers you see at the side)

So this next pro is highly subjective, but I tremendously enjoyed how much time alone I had. Because my last lectures ended late January, I essentially had no more scheduled teaching for the rest of the academic year, unless you count the revision seminars before exam period. Of course, there were all these tiny niggly things to deal with (like a little something called a dissertation that determines, oh, I don’t know — 33.4% of your entire degree as an intercalator).

But that was what my Term 2 was like: a solid 4 months of however you decided to use your time. Don’t get me wrong — you can most definitely take this time to travel or indulge in other fun social shenanigans. But I’d enjoy early evenings on Brandon Hill wearing out the Irozuku Sekai no Ashita Kara soundtrack, try out little hippie restaurant hideouts for Sunday brunch, and unintentionally act as the most suspicious Geocacher ever. I probably attended a grand total of 2.5 actual social gatherings, but hey, if it counts for anything, hundreds of minutes worth of FaceTiming occurred (time differences still stress me out). So, that’s just my outlook, but it’s totally up to you in the end.

Okay, now onto things that aren’t necessarily negatives, but just general comments to bust in some real-talk.

Intercalation passed by like slime that a kid dumped way too much Borax in. Earlier in September, I volunteered at New Scientist Live and had the privilege of monitoring “The Great Slime Race” attraction (an unfortunate test of resilience. Troves and troves of kids…and me, not a fan of kids. Nor slime). Anyway, one of the games included plopping your personalised slime into a tiny mesh container, and timed to see whose slime would withstand gravity the longest. There were some which splatted down like bird poo in the first 2 seconds (then the dismaying OHhHhh’s from the parents, as they see that dreaded quiver of their child’s lips). Then there was slime which hardly made it past the metal rungs of the container itself — barely moving, barely indented, barely going anywhere. I can’t believe my duty was to stare at this stupidly sparkly amorphous blob for 20 minutes; my contact lenses were absolutely screeching.

I mean, good on you, kiddo – you’re winning the game. But it sure doesn’t feel like it, does it?

That was how intercalation felt to me: an absurdly never-ending, Borax-crazy slime. You’re giving it your absolute all and more, but progress seems microscopic at best. And you ‘win’ by simply sticking it through.

Admittedly mesmerising if they’ve got that Goldilocks’s ratio right, though…

Of course it feels like ‘time flies by’ when I’m comparing this current state of post-cortisol submersion, proportionately greater >10,000 lux days, and shockingly empty seats in Beacon House, to the drawl of introductory “Why are you even here BSc” lectures, 8-month early pep talks (thank you, but not yet), and being the weirdo at Fresher’s Fair who knew way too much about where the freebies were. But it felt begrudgingly slow throughout the year for me, and it was the first time I’ve ever had so many recallable moments of “When will this ever end?” in an academic setting.

Be smart about your revision; you cannot cover everything. “Do not put all your eggs in one basket!” was the prevailing message hammered into us during revision period. So I thought, duh — I’m the kind of person who never wants to leave things untouched anyway; why would I not go through everything!?

…because, sadly, we’re no Spider-Man. Sigh. Teach us, Tom.

It’s really not the same as high school. See, everybody is incredibly bright, but it is utterly unfeasible to cover all the bases in the context of the university’s caliber, and then having to go above & beyond for a higher mark. This, of course, is unsettling if you have a similar mindset to me — having to gamble on topics that will come up in the exam, and selectively revising only half of an entire unit!? What a recipe for anxiety.

I’m so sorry olfaction, but it was an easy decision to selectively avoid you, there’s just way too much content already okay 😦

But you have to trust yourself. It’s not that I hated the topics I didn’t revise, but you’d be fooling yourself to go over absolutely everything and not feel alarmingly overwhelmed. With a bit of deduction, instinct, and hints from the unit structure/lecturers, you can somewhat predict the essay questions. For example, it was an offhand remark by the unit head, “…so because each lecturer set a question…”, that clued us into conducting smarter revision by just looking at the content of 3 out of 5 lecturers, because you’re bound to hit at least one of them even in the worst case scenario. But then other units are not as predictable, so once again, every exam is different even if they’re set-up the same — your revision approach will vary with each test.

It’s a break — from medicine. Not a break in general. So, know why you are doing it. It isn’t an easy year, and everybody has different motivations starting out. You are told to drive by passion, and indeed what you choose to do ultimately stems from some sort of inkling interest — but why intercalate? The reasons vary. Some want the experience of research, some just want a year out before starting clinical years, others find the idea “pretty cool”, or one person told me “I’m not *physically* ready” (yeah, whatever that means). There are obviously discrepancies between courses, with some coming out feeling absolutely lush (I’m looking at you, Childhood Studies — we get you had a great year, okay!?), and some…some looking like they need help.

Nah, but all in all, everybody gets through it one way or the other; the main take-home message is that intercalation is not a break, though how close you lie to this statement on the spectrum will obviously depend on your personal experience. I chose to intercalate for a few reasons, the main one being the challenge it posed and the subsequent experience of resilience. So, just figure out why you’re intercalating and know it isn’t close-my-eyes easy — but not to disregard everything else you get from it.

You become a ‘normal’ student for a year. Initially, I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant when a lot of my fellow intercalating pals cited this to be a positive reason. I assumed maybe this was because of the minimal contact hours per week compared to medicine and the workload flexibility (it boggles my mind that my Thursdays & Fridays were empty during Term 1, albeit meant for dissertation research). But, now having come to the end of this 5-week transition hospital training where I’ve reunited with familiar faces from pre-clinical years, I sort of now realise what this ‘being a normal student’ means: the false pretence in posing as a final year undergraduate student gives you a greater connection to the rest of the university, from the irks of submitting our dissertations in the wee hours of the morning, to the rushing sense of finality stepping out of Coombe Dingle for (what I hope to be) the last time. But, medical school does something different, secondary to this well-established subject isolation when we longingly wave our non-medics good-bye: fostering a strong sense of community in its entirely own misunderstood entity, to feel like a family, because we’re in it for the long-run. Ugh, I know, so wholesome!

Anyhow, here I am, having finished the last day of hospital training. The ratio of panini press to smoothie blender usage has considerably plummeted in the last couple weeks since the weather melted into humidity; the town has gotten as arm-y and leg-y as I’ve ever seen it. Ah, it finally feels like *real* summer has officially begun.

Oh, and about graduation. Well, results were released on Monday…and I’m glad to report that I didn’t order that £45 graduation gown for nothing.


The Introvert (or Extrovert) ‘Hangover’

“Go hard or go home!”

I definitely go home.

In these past couple weeks, I have never felt much more blatantly aware of my introverted self. Having begun my intercalation year in physiological sciences, I’ve essentially become a fresher again, but not without an unattractively scornful attitude. It’s highly likely to have arisen from the premise of “This may be my third year here, but I still want the privileges of a fresher to justify my lack of boldness with”, but boy has it made me ponder. 

The introvert hangover makes such profound sense as to why I feel utterly drained and exhausted after any kind of context involving people, but it’s upon the assumption I’m an introvert myself. I’ve taken those 4-hour long personality tests every Asian tutoring school seems to offer up to the ubiquitously crude Buzzfeed-style quizzes that have tried to bedazzle by defining who I am. Like a ping-pong match, the results cast me back and forth — you’re an introvert! You’re an extrovert! “You are such an extrovert!” “Are you an introvert, too?” And it’s only gotten much more absurdly complex: in parade the ambiverts, the extroverted introverts, the social ambiverts. Typical perennial human obsession flaunting to the world a justification for their attributes.

However, I’m no exception. During middle school, I unashamedly went through an addictive phase of doing online quizzes – but beyond visionary extrapolation, vanity and harmless fun, I was a superbly low self-esteem teen much too worried and much too serious about the future. Personality quizzes were a fork-lift out of the rubble of imploding thoughts; they’d get me out of my own head. See whether my experiences levelled with how others perceived me. And funnily enough, there was almost this sense of awe and wonder to every buffered result – this psychological need for self-reflection, a paralleled OASIS avatar of everything I can be.

Because there, you are assigned an identity, and everybody’s a winner. ESTJ? The performer. INFJ? The advocate. An inborn sense of morality and idealism,” writes. Hogwarts House: Slytherin. “You possess a remarkably unique blend of imagination and reliability,” some random job recruitment service site spews. Because there, everybody wants to believe they possess some remarkable personality trait, as if it grants them VIP access to unlocking the secrets of society and reality.

Because there, you bask in a sense of innate superiority, in which the world simply must acknowledge and validate. It’s flattering, but probably more to do with the Barnum effect.

So here I am, after a whirlwind of several taster sessions, social events, and meeting new course-mates, and I quickly realised how great of a proportion I spent my 5-month summer engaging in serene, single-player activities. And I’ve also become consciously aware of what a convincing pretence I can muster up in the headlight moment somebody catches me cautiously roaming the room’s perimeter to ask if I’m enjoying the party. Too many introvert hangovers have I experienced from the over-stimulation of social environments (and the only kind of hangover I can relate to, for that matter).

But in jarring contrast, I’m a big fan of initiating conversations with total strangers outside of lecture theatres – I despise small-talk, but because I crave authenticity, I’ll tolerate it and can most certainly conjure small-talk with genuine enjoyment when it’s expected of me. At a totally different birthday party, you can find me wildly busting out the dance sequence to “We’re All In This Together” in front of people I just met. And possibly the most convincing example of extraversion for you Bristol medics out there, I auditioned for CLIC last year (and proud to say I did not get in; 10/10 will definitely go again this year).

That being said, I’ve always known myself to be more of an introvert at heart. And despite everything I’ve said, whatever the consensus on the whole introvert/extrovert faff, I experience introvert hangovers all the time. At the end of the day (quite literally), I’d much rather be doing laundry whilst listening to the “Horizon Zero Dawn” soundtrack instead of clubbing with Nick Grimshaw on a Thursday night. Oddly specific? That’s because it is precisely what I did.

Like a brick-load of things in life, ambiversion is a spectrum. I can’t deny having binged on Buzzfeed quizzes, because let’s admit we’re all a little bit narcissistic and need nonsense in this stupidly stressed life; my issue lies with those quizzes or tests claiming they’re the real deal with a prediction of your future career, relationships and goals. We’re all wired to seek out ways to reflect on who we are — and fair enough, yet this vulnerability is exactly what those companies, tuition centres and other organisations exploit. There’s no denying the very real need people seek to figure out the mess of who they are, but who I am is not a calculation, nor is it a summation of what we know. You don’t need some overpriced test result to articulate your own identity as if you were hearing about if for the first time. The way quizzes guide you through with a nurturing hand, as if a momentous self-discovery process?  It’s an illusion of truth; a botched pseudo-science that rarely tells you anything you didn’t know before, but simply articulates who you know yourself to be. 

You know yourself better than anybody, and more importantly, you know exactly what you don’t know. So, Heaven forbid you sincerely believe your complexity of an existence can be contained by four tiny letters, but please, by all means go right ahead and make a pizza to decide if you’d survive a zombie apocalypse.


The Digital Disgrace: This Generation’s Creators & Entertainers

I’m awfully glad I didn’t have Instagram when I was 12. Quite frankly, it terrifies the bejabbers out of me to think of wide-eyed impressionable Holly opening the Insta-dora box (except there is no hope left. No hope at all.). The Internet is built on content consumption, and equally wields services where even the most inept find a way to contribute by adhering to the confines of the tool. “Human expression!”, every new social media platform initially preaches with good intentions. Tumblr, the microblog lowering barriers to scoring coffee-table deals. Twitter, the ability to easily participate in online discussions. Snapchat, the authentic look into personal lives in real-time via visual storytelling. And Instagram, sharing your beautiful artwork almost like an online portfolio. I appreciate social media immensely for bringing endless positive changes, and providing a medium to keep the world interlinked – I most definitely believe it played an essential role in rescuing the 12 young Thai boys & their football coach after 9 days in the caves, where over a thousand people flew from all over to lend a helping hand. For this, I really am forever grateful. However, this post is going to focus more on the dismal side of social media; how the original premises have sadly veered into our currently flawed state of user-generated content. For this, I will be delving into the unfortunate new generation of Instagram comedy as a true testament.

The Instagram explore page is now typically composed of the following: 30% people working out, 40% disastrous memes (“Tag 2 friends in the comments below who also like breathing”), and 30% useless lifehacks. Have a scroll down to look under the “Comedians” section, and you’ll find it is a terribly liberal use of that word. Train-wreck after train-wreck, it’s basically 6.5 seconds strewn across 60 seconds. The premise of Vine was certainly interesting, filling the void with a content medium in accordance with our current online attention spans. Constraint can create marvellous art, but the migration of tanking Vine stars onto YouTube & Instagram only serves to prolong what comedy they couldn’t even make in 6.5 seconds. I know, I know; sweeping generalization. However, I feel entitled to make such a bold statement considering its reckless abundance breeding reckless behaviour in young kids.

I’m no comedian, but isn’t comedy about the delivery and the punchline? Instagram comedy does neither. And if you thought the videos were outrageous, the comments are fantastically worse. Aside the dismayingly profuse use of the laughing-until-crying emoji comments, the complaints are of course about the video production, sound quality, and unwanted censoring of the otherwise R-rated clip – just disregard all the big glaring offences like rape, sexual assault and infidelity, because this is a backward mental sphere we’re in, mind you.

Have we regressed? It’s difficult to think we haven’t, when the steps taken forward to eradicate such pertinent issues have rapidly back-pedalled to zero under the guise of “comedy”. Objectification is an issue being battled as is, and of course Instagram comedians have subscribed to this belief by portraying women in their videos primarily for the thumbnail, because views. Also, just like how the Kylie Jenner lip challenge was so 2015, and fidget spinners are so 2017, isn’t cheating just so 2018? Because you better jump on that unfaithfulness bandwagon so rampant in Instagram comedy – haven’t you realized it’s a staple phenomenon to public relatability? What all these videos have in common, as Daz Game puts, is the predictability.

The worst part must be the amount of production value that goes into each less-than-average skit. A legitimate team of writers and producers, sitting behind the camera crew, elbows on knees, brainstorming – Hey, you know what’s hilarious? Sexual assault! Comedy gold right there!”

Cody Ko so aptly calls this “pepper-spray comedy”there is a time and place for everything, but there is never the time nor place when rape, cheating, or violence is the punchline. Nonetheless, the thrift-shop cloak of humour thrown over these issues draws in millions of views, views that pay their rent, buys their fancy cars, and similarly disguises their greed with altruism by “£10,000 donations to random strangers”. Besides this dark branch of Instagram comedy, Danny Gonzalez also titles another highly popular subset of videos “ab comedy”, which essentially translates to “I’m not funny, but at least I’m hot” (very loosely used term here). Look, if you want to post a shirtless selfie or a sultry bathroom picture of yourself, I would prefer that any day over doing so under the guise of “comedy”. Frankly, it’s quite insulting to our intelligence by doing so.

It must be said, though: props to the Instagram comedians working tirelessly to defy the moral status of the uprising generation; unafraid to severely exploit the vulnerable hormone-fuelled limbic systems, knowingly plugging into their digital lifelines. They’ve figured out the unwritten algorithm of the jamming-the-fast-forward-button nature of social media and consequent hysterical fan response, bypassing the more traditional celebrity framework – a strange, uncalled-for breed of “influencers” who live and die on their approachability, but ultimately, is a testament to their outrageous sense of entitlement and dollar sign eyes.

Where is the sense of pride? Where is the responsibility in reaching out to millions of malleable minds, the responsibility in setting the tone of what passes as humour to an entire generation? Impressionable children will witness “comedians” making light of sexual assault and rape, perhaps even standing up for the insensitive jokes adults used to be able to control through comedy clubs. Instead, this dangerous behaviour slaps young viewers in the face with no caveats through every and any Wi-Fi-connected device.

It’s offensive to creators in the digital world creatively dedicated to what they do – it takes courage and hard-work, of which the latter seems to be forgotten. And after all this, it left me with a couple questions: what does it mean to be a creator these days, and what has entertainment turned into? Having grown up watching YouTube since I was 8 years old, I’ve grasped a little of the ethos of long-standing YouTubers – they avoid drama, or indirectly tackle it in a clever way; their relationship with YouTube headquarters is amusing, to say the least; but, most important, they stay rooted. So, the sheer fact they’ve felt strongly enough to comment on the shifting online entertainment speaks volumes to me. Ryan Higa talks about the powerful politics behind-the-scenes of award shows, how we perpetuate the vicious cycle by treating such entertainment with much more value than it should have. PewDiePie so aptly says the number one rule in becoming a popular content creator, especially in the vlogging community, is a simple equation: flexing = views. He goes on to expand that vlogging has become the new clickbait window-shopping going beyond the materialistic behaviour, repeatedly begging the question, how far will you go, hitting the nail on the head describing the behaviour as pathetic & Neanderthal-like. Smosh have comedically parodied Instagram comedy several times pretty accurately. Wong Fu recently launched a Patreon page, and Phil talks about having watched the digital space & industry change immensely, how click-bait videos these days overwhelm the few channels creating original scripted videos. He spoke about their company never wanting to comprise quality & integrity because they care about their artistry and the fans, and it’s something so realistically addressed in their 3 million subscribers video. And, honestly, it makes me sad.

I’m not saying all Viners who migrated to YouTube are terrible; neither am I saying YouTubers these days are just money & fame hungry. Amazing creators are born all the time on YouTube and I’m struggling to keep up with my subscriptions because I have over 500 (I wish I was kidding). I’m a loyal member of the meme economy just as any other millennial. However, Instagram comedy was simply the trigger that made me step back and wonder, this can be detrimental to younger kids. What irks me is that it’s not those high quality content channels trending, but instead, ridiculous stars scamming money off gullible pre-teens are. I’m lucky to be able to step away and macroscopically see the situation as a 20-year-old, that I can put myself in the right frame of mind. Unfortunately if I was 12, this post could just’ve easily been a Wattpad tribute defending the #TanaCon disaster.