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What I’ve learned from a hat-trick of Warwick Weekends!

It can feel intimidating to attend an Open University Psychological Society Warwick weekend for the first time and not know what to expect. Especially if you lack prior contacts there. Naturally, people’s advice of ‘don’t worry’ is as helpful as other classics of the genre such as ‘calm down’, ‘cheer up’, and ‘you’ll be fine’. However, having been to three Warwick weekends and having had some less-than-stellar moments, learn from my ridiculousness. Because the weekends are invaluable and despite my chequered past, I have not wavered in my recommendation of them to all who are able to attend.

This article is based upon my three Warwick weekenders and what I have learned from them. It is to provide some factual, anecdotal, and possibly farcical information about my experiences on my hattrick of Warwick jaunts. In addition to advice for people apprehensive of attending their first weekender or unsure if they can face their perceived stress of it. I am not a shill: I am a shambles – a shill would be more articulate. And sensible. But, despite the ludicrous situations I have Wombled my way into at Warwick, I stand firm that I do not regret my attendance, that I have had academic success directly attributable to OUPS weekends, and that the content of the sessions endures beyond the specific module.

Disclaimer!

Sensible information is on the OUPS website, and you can ask questions on the Facebook page too.

Cost.

The cost of the weekend is good value for money when all things are considered. However, it is obviously not an amount of money that we can all afford in one go, or in certain circumstances. I hold my hands up and say that I cannot provide information on the financial side of Warwick Weekends. Therefore, click the link https://www.oups.org.uk/oups-payplan-faq for the information and frequently asked questions about the OUPS pay-by-instalment scheme.

Travel.

Each of the weekends I have attended, I have been fortunate enough to have been driven by my bro. The OUPS website has travel information and Warwick university is well-served by buses: a fact I have seen first-hand while wating to be collected by my aforementioned brother… If you are a driver, there is parking. If you are a passenger, there are various points you can be dropped off. Your individual choice will be determined by your circumstances. Some people prefer the feeling of their car being available to them the whole time, whereas others have appreciated the bus links offering a potential swerve should circumstances dictate. Nervous travellers like myself have benefitted from the variety of waiting areas. You do you.

Accommodation.

Two of the three of my Warwick weekenders have been held in the Radcliffe Conference Centre. This has been great because it makes the event self-contained and reduces the chances of getting (too) lost. You connect to the guest wifi for the weekend – it has good coverage. The rooms are standard hotel rooms with key-card access, walk-in shower, and, sometimes, good green-space views. My most recent room had squirrels and baby rabbits frolicking outside. It was the closest I’ve ever felt to being a Disney Princess. The campus incorporates nature throughout so you can indulge your biophilic side whether rambling around exploring or going for an early morning run.

The Radcliffe conference classrooms are a decent size and have a range of features. The classrooms are at the opposite end of the Radcliffe building to the rooms, dining hall, and bar, so can involve a lot of walking down identikit corridors living out your music video fantasies or Black Mirror dystopian action star dreams. Bring your fitness tracker.

clara room

Food.

The Radcliffe bar is opposite the main entrance and is the central point as the classrooms are in one direction and the bedrooms the other. You can leave your stuff in your room and just take your phone [or leave it behind and be bold?] and credit card for the bar. It has a mixture of seating arrangements and people watching options. It is close to the dining hall so on the Friday, you can lurk around the bar to get your bearings and then follow the herd to the dining room come feeding time.

Typically, the dining hall has specific tables for each large group, so we are OUPS and had the outside tables in a big L-shape while another function had the inside tables. The hall is sizable enough to not represent a claustrophobic Mean Girls vibe, nor an aircraft hangar of awkward echoes. The Warwick Weekenders are catered so you need take nothing to the dining hall bar your phone [we’re all addicted] and room key.

The food choices are fairly broad and there are options for different dietary requirements. Declare allergies and any intolerances or specific requirements with your booking. The food is well-labelled in the hall and the catering and waiting staff are helpful. There are dining windows of 60-90 minutes so you may prefer to hang back a bit to avoid the crowds or be bold to get in and out. There are cafeteria-style counters as well as help-yourself stations for desserts, fresh fruit, and juice. Tea and coffee stations, and water dispensers are around also. Fresh fruit, juice, and biscuits/baked goods are available in the tea breaks, with a small area near the classrooms so you do not need to go to the bar/dining area each break.

There is a decent shop on the wider Warwick site. It is a convenience supermarket size and includes groceries, Warwick university branded items, and stationery items. It is approximately 10 minutes from the Radcliffe building and a couple minutes away from the bus stops. It has been a respite for me as a calming but small walk away, as well as a chance to get a cold Coke, some pretzels with a peculiar aftertaste, and a chocolate bar. And some quality Warwick swag: bear, magnet, keyring: the essentials!

Learn from my ridiculousness!

In an ideal world, I would be a beacon of authority and common sense. In reality, I am the embodiment of a bad example. I have managed to get lost at different points at each weekend, fell over less than 90 minutes into my first one, and have two different bouts of sciatica. And this is just what I am admitting to…

To feel more in control, to maximise your weekend, and to learn from my omnishambolic history, I would recommend:

  • Packing for reasonable medical eventualities – especially if you have chronic illness/vulnerability to exacerbation due to stress. If you have a history of migraines – even if it hasn’t happened for a while – bring painkillers, sunglasses. Any issue that may arise, such as when under stress, is worth having some preparation. Crying with sciatica pain in the middle of [Weekend 2] Night 2 with a TENS machine living its best life hundreds of miles away was a low Ditto typically having a pharmaceutical wonderland around me, yet no foresight to pack any painkillers. A handful of in-case-of-emergency items is better than the lived experience of NOT having this! 1
  • Think about what would be the most useful to you in the sessions. The presentations are released prior to the weekend. If you prefer to have the slides in front of you and to annotate them, then prin the presentations and bring them to the sessions2. If you want to focus entirely on the screen and lecturer, don’t be swayed by others’ writing. Sometimes recording is allowed, but not always. Based on my experiences, I would print the slides as I’m not a screen-based person and be annotating/notetaking next to them. Not everything useful that is said in the sessions will necessarily be on the slides and so it is prudent to be able to take notes on anything not within the slides, such as interesting points, newer references etc.
  • Think about what the goal of the weekend is and/or what you need to do to maximise your experience. I have been to the DE300 Springboard 2018, DE300 Revision 2019, and Stress & Resilience Workshop 2021. These weekends require different approaches to get the most benefit. For example
    • Springboard: peruse the slides ahead of time and write down any questions you may have from each so that at the end of the session, if it has not been covered or answered, you are prepared.
    • Revision: maximum outcome reflects the preparation. For DE200, that would mean having looked at the exam questions/key terms. For DE300, it is having a solid idea for your report, knowing the EMA questions, and NOT BEING BEHIND LIKE I WAS. When people were talking about their incredible, already-approved, quality projects and getting amazing specialist advice, I didn’t know if my literature review had passed, or if my ‘silly Twitter project’ [my polite name for it] was approved so did not want to waste anyone’s time3.
    • Workshop: meaningful change in daily life. Print and read slides prior to sessions and write down questions. My notes form this weekend have several callback questions to previous OUPS events, but I asked almost none of them because they were jumbled across different pages…
  • NO GUTS, NO GLORY. If you have gone solo to Warwick, you do not have to stay that way if you are feeling lonely. Write your name on your badge and circulate! Many people are going to be there feeling the same way but one person to start a conversation can lead you anywhere. Most recently at the bar Friday evening, I was completely at a loss. I saw someone doing a menial task alone at a tall table, so I offered to help. It was Irene and we got to know each other while separating name tags. The two of us at this tall table at the side of the room was an accessible anchor point for solo people to drift towards us thus broadening our range of people we recognised by sight for the rest of the weekend. Helped to introduce people on the same course. Seeing someone stood alone among pairs or groups, one of us went and invited them to our table if they did not wish to be alone. The isolation is a lot more damaging than the bravery it takes to start a conversation or drift among groups 4. Conversely, if you are in a group chat and see someone alone, anxious or stressed, invite them to your table, or go and start a chat with them alone. If they’re OK eg just come to get a drink to take away, at least you know. But your act of kindness could save a person. Never underestimate that.

The Warwick weekends can be priceless for the course you are on: I resolutely believe I passed DE300 because of Warwick. During DE300 I moved, my colleague died suddenly 18th December and we had to work sobbing… in a supermarket… week before Xmas. DE300 also had the least number of tutorials I had experienced to date, at one tutorial I was the only discourse person, and it was generally a perfect storm of overwhelmingly isolating circumstances. However, the two Warwick weekenders provided resources not otherwise available as well as the social side to them.

Post-graduation, the non-course workshops offer an immersive psychology experience applicable to your life such as the recent Stress and Resilience Workshop. Psychologists are always learning and investigating – that does not end when our degrees do. Our workshop group included reunion(s). The fun among them was palpable and I messaged an OU friend that she needs to come to the next event! It is often said that people meet friends for life at university. We are lucky that our university especially, is for life – nearly all ages and stages of life. We are unique! 2024 will mark the 50th birthday of OUPS. There are exciting times ahead of us. Hopefully many more Warwick Weekends.

Returning to the present, I hope that my brief (?!) tale of a hattrick of Warwick Weekends has reminded people of their own frolicking at OUPS events, and that anyone who is unsure as to whether they could attend Warwick due to anxiety, stress, or other issues, feels more optimistic about a future visit? Maybe dip you toe in, so to speak, and attend a virtual OUPS talk, followed by a day conference - pandemic permitting - in the future? Funny things happen – it’s not all work!

Closing out with two particularly peculiar but comical moments at Warwick will hopefully demonstrate that sometimes, you just have to lean into the ridiculousness of life and laugh. January 2019, I had such a severe attack of sciatica that I was awake nearly all of Saturday night, partly crying. An absolute ANGEL* of a woman, Sarah, kindly got me some painkillers between breakfast and lecture Sunday morning. Gobbling pills on an empty stomach, delirious with pain and no sleep made my work output almost non-existent. I also could not really sit down. So, I was alternating between standing at the back of the room and being sprawled across a table in the manner of a starlet on a piano every so often bleating ideas for other projects such as the discourse of Brexit, including, GAMMON. September 2021, I stress-bought some Warwick branded memorabilia on Saturday lunch break during a Supermarket Sweep-esque dash for stationery. Standard touristy stuff; magnet, pens, keyring, and a surprisingly sizeable teddy bear, which was a great find due both to my nickname being Bear and me being remarkably sizeable. Cut to Sunday and I’ve got my Warwick bear sat on my bags – too big to fit in. I am still not sure if I misheard but essentially someone asked if the bear had a name. I said, I guess Warwick as he’s a Warwick University bear. They appeared surprised and seemed to had thought I had bought this bear with me from home as a comfort? So, just remember that few things could be as embarrassing or bewildering as people thinking your gift shop stress purchase teddy bear was brought from home as a form of emotional support that you have just plonked down on the table on the last day. 

Extraordinary.

If you are ever at an OUPS event when I’m about, come say hi! Look for the sunglasses. And maybe a bear?!

 clara bear

Notes

1 I was helped out by lovely Sarah who went to the shop for painkillers for me early Sunday morning. People are always willing to help, and you are not alone at these events. <3 Do not suffer alone with ANYTHING. Don’t be embarrassed! Someone will ALWAYS have done something ‘worse’ or more embarrassing. Strong possibility it was me…

2 the events are paperless in nature, but people learn in different ways. If you prefer to be on a laptop annotating in a program, there are, of course, plug sockets and wifi available. However, if you need to have printed the slides to hand-write on them, you will not be vilified for having done so.

3 it had and it was. Sciatica weekend so I had bigger problems. However, I still got indirect quality advice through listening to what my fellow discourse crew were being told, plus this weekend involved a lot of advice or opinions between students. Sometimes what you tell somebody else ends up benefitting you later on.

4 few things bring back the schoolkid trauma than the sense of isolation among a group of, ostensibly, peers. Admitting you’re lonely when you feel awful is a lot harder than starting a conversation or inviting someone into your group.  

 

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