Archive for October, 2008

national insurance: british social security

October 31, 2008

National Insurance (NI) was something I didn’t know about until a couple of weeks ago. National Insurance is not to be confused with the National Health Service (NHS), NI is basically a social security tax. In order to work, you must have NI. International students have to apply for National Insurance.

According to the Career Services at the University of Edinburgh:

“You can apply for a National Insurance number if you have the right to work in the UK. Contact the National Insurance Number Allocation Service by telephone to apply for a number. Please note, this is a very busy number, so you may need to persevere to get through.

National Insurance Number Allocation Service: 0845 6000 643

When you call, state you are an international student needing a NI number for work purposes. You should have your postcode and passport with you when telephoning, as well as the contact details of your employer if you already have a job offer.

In addition to a brief telephone interview you may be required to attend a further interview in person at a local Job Centre Plus office. The face-to-face interview will last a maximum of 30 minutes. It is important to arrive 10 minutes in advance – late arrivals will lose their appointment.

You will need to take recommend documents with you to confirm your identity. Recommended documents to take (if you have them) include:

  • passport
  • ID card
  • driving licence
  • police registration document
  • student card
  • proof of offer of work
  • confirmation of your address (eg lease or utilities bill)

Within 2-3 weeks of your appointment you will receive a letter containing your NI number. After another 6-8 weks you receive your NI card.”


vote overseas, vote absentee

October 30, 2008

Poster Courtesy of AIGA Get Out the Vote campaign

Poster by the AIGA Get Out the Vote campaign

Being overseas doesn’t exempt you from voting, it just means you have to sign up for an absentee ballot. It’s too late to register as absentee for the November 4th Election, but make sure to do so for the next election. Check out Go Vote Absentee to figure out how to register as or change to absentee.

Even if you’re at home for the elections, I strongly recommend you vote by absentee ballot. Voting by absentee means you get your ballot mailed to you a couple of weeks before the date of the elections, so you can avoid the lines at the polling place and fill out your ballot at place and time of your convenience. I find voting by absentee especially helpful since I can research candidates and issues on google with my ballot right next to me.

If you are abroad, you can either mail your ballot or drop it off at the US Embassy. Yesterday, I dropped off my absentee ballot at the US Embassy in Edinburgh, and it was surprisingly quick and hassle-free.

free films and documentaries!

October 29, 2008

I just discovered the Film and Documentary Library at the University of Edinburgh Language and Humanities Centre (LHC), located in the basement of David Hume. If you are a 4th year or postgraduate student you can borrow films and documentaries for home study. The library has over 5,000 videos and dvds, with many hard-to-find titles. I just reserved When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, Spike Lee’s documentary on New Orleans.

If you want to host a film screening, you can reserve one of the seminar rooms. Some classmates and I just started a weekly film and documentary screening. We just watched two fantastic documentaries: Lost in La Mancha and A Brief History of Errol Morris.

Most universities have resources like the LHC, so ask around if you’re interested in watching dvds for free!

snapshots of edinburgh: leith mural

October 27, 2008

Andrew and I stumbled upon this fantastic mural while wandering through Leith. It can be found on the corner of Ferry Road and North Junction Street.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Spitz

Photo taken by Melissa

Photo courtesy of Andrew Spitz

zotero: a free and easy way to keep track of sources

October 26, 2008

This entry is borrowed from fellow Idealist grad school blogger Laurie Moy, a mother of three and second-year masters student in the International Media Program at the American University in Washington, DC. Her fabulous blog “Mom goes to Grad School” is specifically geared towards students balancing motherhood and grad school. Her blog is filled with great info, such as this entry on Zotero:

Zotero is a FREE web browse application that is part of Firefox, and it’s like Christmas! You will never again have to type out your bibliography ! You will not have to have create a separate folder for all those sources that you save to your computer, and can’t remember which one you want to use and why. You can add a source to your list with just the click of your mouse!

Seriously, this thing is awesome. Maybe you’ve heard of Endnote- a software that does pretty much all of the things I’ve described. Its pretty popular and respected- in fact Google Scholar has a button next to its search result entries that will “add citation to Endnote.” The only problem is Endnote isn’t cheap.

There are some websites that will take your source information and format it for you (in MLA, APA, Chicago, etc) and that is nice. But you have to manually enter it, and one you are done, its lost forever- these don’t save your source list.

But Zotero is always there, keeping track of whatever you ask of it. And it “senses” when you are looking at a source and with just one click you can add all the source information to your list. You can add notes to each source (and then search those notes), you can organize your sources in any way that is helpful to you (I have a folder for each course, a folder for each paper/project within the course, and then any subcategories I might need within those projects). And, I just discovered an awesome feature- you can create a time line and sort your sources chronologically! This is such a great way to visualize what information was known about your topic and when it was known! AND, you can manipulate the time line to show only certain sources, times, etc.

Can you tell I’m excited?

I’m telling everyone I know about it- I love it! It has completely changed the way I do research. Well, I take that back- I’m still researching the same way, but now when it comes time to write my paper, I’m not spending hours sorting through index cards or pdf files on my desktop, and I’m not spending mind numbing time away from the kids formatting my bibliography!”

I agree with Laurie, Zotero is fabulous!

a snapshot of edinburgh: home

October 24, 2008

Thanks to the perseverance and housing efforts of my boyfriend Andrew, we have a cozy flat in Holyrood Park, one of the most beautiful parts of Edinburgh. The photo below was taken from our bedroom window.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Spitz

lending your brain to science: how to make a quick pound

October 24, 2008

If you’re too busy to get a job or still searching for one, an easy way to make a few pounds a week is to participate in research projects. The University of Edinburgh’s employment website SAGE usually has one post a week calling for research participants. These projects range from Alien Language Learning to Psychology Memory Test to Joint Task Eye-Tracking Experiments.

Since my arrival in September, I’ve lent my brain to science five times. Each session usually takes no more than hour and you get paid 3-5 pounds for participating. Sometimes you’ll get more, this week I participated in an experiment that took about an hour and a half and got paid ten pounds. Sometimes the experiments are tiring, but generally, painless and interesting. Plus, the research coordinators are willing to work around your schedule, so you don’t have to worry about missing class or any appointments.

international student centre

October 20, 2008

The University of Edinburgh’s International Student Centre (ISC) organizes events and trips to give international students the opportunity to meet other people and see a bit of Scotland. I haven’t participated in any of their events or trips yet, but next week I’ll be going on their Edinburgh Castle trip. Normally, the cost of admission to the Castle is £11, but with ISC, the price is only £2. ISC always has great trips and deals like this.

finding a part-time job in edinburgh

October 19, 2008

Before I arrived in Edinburgh, I thought I’d be able to get a job working part-time at a library, a departmental office, or student organization. In my final year of undergrad, I worked as the Research Coordinator for the Associated Students of the University of Washington Experimental College, a non-profit organization that provides alternative classes to the Seattle community. I assumed I’d be able to get a similar job in Edinburgh.

The job market turned out to be a lot tougher than I expected. I don’t know if this holds true for all schools in the UK, but the University of Edinburgh has few campus jobs. Edinburgh is about the same size as a large public state university, but it doesn’t have as much funding, hence, as many libraries, offices, or organizations. In addition, the UK doesn’t have a Federal Work Study Program. This doesn’t mean you can’t find jobs on campus, but you have to look harder and act quickly.

Your best bet is to look outside the university. There are several ways to look for jobs off-campus. One place to start is your university’s career center. Make an appointment with a career counselor to talk about potential employers and come up with a plan of action. Also, check your university’s employment website for job listings. The University of Edinburgh has a wonderful vacancy and employer database called SAGE that allows you to search for part-time and full-time work all over the UK. You should also check Gumtree, which is basically the British equivalent of Craigslist. You might also check Idealist to see if they have any interesting non-profit openings. You can also take a more hands-on approach. Print off a bunch of generic cvs, walk around the city, and drop them off at cafes, restaurants, and other potential employers. Talk to everyone you know about job openings. Lastly, remember to follow up on your applications.

Getting a part-time job in Edinburgh isn’t easy, especially as an international student. You know the job market must be bad if you’ve got over three years worth of retail and customer service experience and are rejected from H&M, when they are looking for new employees, without so much as an interview.

But it’s not much easier for UK Nationals. I have classmates who are British with BAs and work experience who have spent about a month looking for a job in a cafe or restaurant with no success.

Of course, if you have specialized skills or experience, your chances of getting a job are much higher. For example, a Chilean classmate of mine recently got a job working as a radio producer in Glasgow because she has over five years of experience in television and radio, having worked for companies, such as Paramount, Comedy Central and Fox News.

I am only on week 1 of my job search. I have applied to about five jobs in retail and customer service and I am still waiting to get callbacks. Although I don’t have my classmate’s breadth of experience, she gives me hope. Applying to jobs in Edinburgh can be very discouraging, but you just have to remember to be patient, resilient, and maybe, a little less picky.


October 15, 2008

The University of Edinburgh has one of the most important libraries in world, housing original antiquarian manuscripts and rare books. However, due to underfunding, their collection of contemporary works is limited. For example, I had to write a bibliographic essay on W.G. Sebald, a highly acclaimed contemporary German novelist and could not find any of his books at the University of Edinburgh. This came as a surprise since I completed my undergrad at a heavily-funded university with an extensive collection of contemporary literature and never had problems finding the books I wanted.

Fortunately, I was able to find some of Sebald’s books at the National Library of Scotland (NLS), which has a broad collection of past and present works. The NLS is the largest library in Scotland and is located less than ten minutes from the university. If you pursue your graduate studies in Edinburgh, the NLS will be an important resource. As a postgraduate, you are entitled to the general reader’s ticket (i.e. library card), which is valid for up to three years.

The NLS is a closed-stacks library, meaning that you cannot check out books and bring them to your home. You have to read them in one of the five Reading Rooms. Fortunately, you can pre-order books and reserve them for up to seven days.

I find the NLS too strict, cold, and cavernous. In addition to being unable to check out books, you aren’t allowed to bring backpacks, bags, pens, highlighters, or food into the Reading Rooms. And of course, no talking is allowed. I prefer studying at home or coffee shops. However, some of my friends and classmates like the quiet, scholarly ambiance and really enjoy working there. Your perception of NLS obviously depends on what your study preferences are.

Your experience in the UK may be completely different. You may attend grad school in a place with an open library system and a large budget. Just don’t expect things to be the same as home.