Author Archives: Lucy

Book Review: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? By Alyssa Mastromonaco [Audiobook]

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Twelve (Hachette Book Group) 2017

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco with Lauren Oyler (Twelve, 2017).

Brilliantly narrated by the author, this political memoir come ‘help guide’ was perfect to listen to when walking to work each morning. At only five hours and 53 minutes this audiobook is shorter than most biographies I have listened to before (I tend to prefer listening to autobiographies, particularly when they are author narrated) but nevertheless it was packed with anecdotes and lessons from Mastromonaco’s life and political career. As someone who is only vaguely familiar with the US political system it also helped to answer some questions which, no matter how many times I re-watch The West Wing, still remained unanswered.

Alyssa Mastromonaco is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Vice Media, but the book focuses on her position as the former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama and how she came to into that role, becoming the youngest women to do so in the process. The narrative is not chronological but anecdotal, jumping from working for Obama, to her time at college and her first experience of politics interning for Bernie Sanders, and campaign scheduling for John Kerry. Nothing is off limits, but Mastromonaco’s aim is not to cement her legacy of her time in the White House (apart from the tampon machine in the ladies toilet – she’s taking credit for that) but to be the wiser and more experienced older sister of the reader, offering advice and guidance to women who want to be successful in their chosen field. This is evident in the subjects covered in the book, or rather what it doesn’t shy away from – periods, IBS are just two topics that spring to mind. The more glamorous side of politics is covered (dinner parties with high profile guests), as is the less glamorous side of a sector that is still predominantly male (bleeding through your trousers at said dinner party, because of the lack of tampon dispensers).

The anecdotes are hilarious and sometimes cringe inducing, but these asides give Mastromonaco a solid grounding as someone you should probably listen to. The relaxed narrating style makes the book easy to listen to, and adds to the big sister/best friend feel that at many times had me smiling to myself as I was listening. What comes across most often however, was just how ‘normal’ Mastromonaco appears in this book. She didn’t have a route to politics mapped out for her from birth, but threw herself into anything and everything she was required to do, learning from her mistakes along the way. The honesty and humanity included in each story and anecdote makes it stand out from any other political memoir I have read, and in my opinion is where the book really comes into its own.

As a (fairly) recent university graduate, listening to this audiobook made me feel like I can take on anything and be ready for any professional situation, political or otherwise. I’m compiling a small talk list of fail safe t.v shows and films, working towards a ‘fuck you fund’ for those times when I just have to get out or move on, and keeping in mind that forward motion is better than standing still – even if it’s not immediately obvious that I’m going in the right direction.

 

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Review: Make Gentle the Life of this World: The vision of Robert F. Kennedy

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Throughout the 1960s, Robert F. Kennedy kept a private journal of favourite quotations, recording the philosophies of great leaders and thinkers throughout history. Thirty years after his father’s tragic death, Maxwell Taylor Kennedy has culled the highlights of this journal, along with inspiring portions of Robert Kennedy’s most memorable speeches, to create a passionate, immortal voice for his father’s vision. With passages on freedom, democracy, civil rights, education, justice, tragedy, and peace, Make Gentle the Life of this World speaks powerfully to America’s unstoppable drive for a better world. Complemented by poignant photographs of Robert Kennedy, this is a moving tribute to an extraordinary hero, whose dreams for America has never been extinguished.

Published in 1998 and compiled from Robert Kennedy’s day book by his son Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, this book is a great addition to any collection. Thoughts and speeches from R.F.K himself have been collated and interspersed with passages from Abraham Lincoln, Aeschylus, Edith Hamilton, and many others whose words inspired the late Senator and Attorney General. The book is divided into sections covering broad themes such as ‘America Spirit’, ‘A Citizen in a Civil Society’ and ‘Personal Knowledge’. These sections each cover more specific topics such as civil rights, education, poverty, and courage, and also contain images of R.F.K throughout his life and career. The passages are inspiring and thought provoking, and could be considered even more poignant considering today’s political climate in both the US and the UK.

The book offers a unique insight to R.F.K., and his personal and political thinking, and therefore is a must read for anyone who has an interest in American political history or the Kennedy family. For readers less familiar with Robert Kennedy’s political career the introduction by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, and handy time line of events, brings everyone up to speed with a brief overview of the man who was the US attorney general at a very turbulent time in American politics. Maxwell Taylor’s introduction explains his motives for publishing the book, and offers a more personal window into the life of his father.

Outside of the introduction, the main bulk of the book is simply a curated selection of quotes categorised thematically. There is little information surrounding the quotes (apart from the author’s name) which doesn’t allow for full understanding of the quote in its original context. However the lack of context does create a smoother reading experience, which could have otherwise been hindered by chunks of bulky factual information. Furthermore, as the purpose of this book is to gain a glimpse into the life and mind of R.F.K, allows the reader to situate the words into their vision and interpretation of the public political figure.

At only 188 pages long, Make Gentle the Life of this World is a perfect book to carry with you for the opportune minutes of reading. There is no plot or narrative, so I do not know how well it would read cover to cover, but as a dip-in-and-out or a quick ‘I’ve got five minutes before work/school’ it is ideal. Get your pencils and sticky notes ready, as this book practically begs you to highlight and annotate. Full with inspiring and meaningful text, to readers will come back to its pages again and again, to find their favourite lines and passages, and to interpret them in relation to their own lives.

Favourite R.F.K passage
His speech on the death of the reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Favourite non-R.F.K passage
‘Civilizaton is a race between education and catastrophe.’ – H. G. Wells

 

Cross Stitch Update #1

I am currently working on two cross stitch projects. The first I have been working on since August, the other I started in February this year. Below are some photos of my progress.

The Weasley Family
This is my first ever cross stitch project, and I’m really enjoying the process! Although it was a slow going to start with, I am really enjoying stitching this design (unfortunately I don’t have any progress pictures). In my opinion it’s a great pattern for learning how to cross stitch, as there is satisfaction after completing each character. I only have Charlie and Bill left to do, as well as ‘The Weasleys’ text above the family, so I’m hoping to finish this project soon. After completion, the next challenge will be removing the mystery stains that have appeared and framing the design!

 

Sherlock
I only began stitching this design in February, but I’m working to a deadline as it will be a gift for a friend. I still have a long way to go but already it’s starting to come together! The hair and coat will probably be the most challenging to stitch due to the number of colours, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. Next step – finish the face!

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Design by Colleen Carrington in Benedict Cumberstitch

Top 5 Practical Tips for your History Dissertation

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Whether you are a second year student preparing to start your final year dissertation, or a final year student in the midst of your research, below are my top five tips to completing your project. These aren’t tips on how to conduct your research or how to write coherently. Instead they focus on the more practical side of the dissertation experience, and are all things that I learnt and put into practice during my final year.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I had a an absolutely amazing time at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter last summer. Universal Orlando Resort was a great holiday destination before the addition of the two Potter Parks, but now it has become the prime destination of many Potterheads around the globe!

I went on the holiday with my mum, and we enjoyed the sites, sounds, and incredibly oppressive heat of Orlando for just over a week at the end of May/beginning of June 2016. Below are some of the pictures that I feel best represent the Harry Potter part of my time there (which lets face it, was pretty much the main bulk of the holiday). You might say it’s a review in photos…

 

There are so many memories that I will take from this trip and not all of them are captured on camera. Encounters with other lovers of Harry, talking to the people working there about living in the UK and using my interactive wand. These are just some of the things that I will hold on to forever. I am particularly thankful to have shared this experience with my mum, who first read Philosophers Stone to my brother and I all those years ago.

Graduate Chronicles: first five months of my internship.

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Below is account of my first five months as Project Assistant for a widening participation programme. The first few weeks were a steep learning curve, which I chronicled at the time, the rest of the post is a reflection of the five months so far. Every day presents a new opportunity to learn something about myself, my technical abilities, and the world of widening participation in higher education. (Long post warning: bonus points if you make it to the end!)

Week One 

My first week as a graduate intern has been completed and I have not made a single cup of tea! One week on the job and I can already tell that this is going to be such an invaluable experience in so many respects. We’re still in handover at the moment so it’s been lovely to have my predecessor around to show me the ropes and answer any questions I may have. Within this first week I have had a catch up with each member of the team, compiled and sorted data, managed communications, and begun to take control of the social media accounts. Looking to the next coming weeks, I will expand these duties and begin project planning, which I am really looking forward to!

Week Two

Settling in to my new role well, and I’m looking forward to the challenges the job will bring. It’s the last week of handover, and I’m kind of sad to see Michelle go because we get on really well! I’m working with spreadsheets a lot, and although I’m not a whizz-kid-genius, I am getting the hang of excel (which is something past me would never believe). Also this week, I moved into my official desk. Facing into the office is much better than facing the wall, and after adding a few pictures and photos it looks pretty cool.

Week Three

Busy is the word of the week! I really feel like an integrated part of the team, and like I’m putting my mark on the role. My latest project has been the launch of the Snapchat account, which I believe will improve student engagement with the programme. To mark the occasion I hosted two giveaways using the Snapchat account, both of which were successful (although one campus did greatly outperform the other!) Also in the social media side of my job, I proposed a solution to the lack of engagement on the programme’s Facebook page, which I will continue to work on behind the scenes into next semester. Away from social media, we’re taking thirty students away on an Adventure Weekend this week and not only will it be a fun experience for students and staff alike, but it also coincides with my birthday!

Five Month Reflection 

Wow. The months are passing quickly. Social media and comms remain a crucial part of the role, and I am learning the best way to connect and engage students via different platforms. What works for our Facebook content doesn’t necessarily work for our Twitter or Instagram profiles, and another approach is needed again for Snapchat and newsletters. There’s also a difference between our public Facebook page, and private groups were we communicate only with the students we work with, the key to this being understanding the audience. Different students engage with different communication platforms, and the platforms themselves require different approaches.

Away from social media and comms, I have been developing skills in the project assistant side of the role by developing and promoting a series of events and opportunities for mature students and student parents. This section of the student body has different priorities and needs to the ‘typical’ student (18 y/o straight from school), and it is important to recognise this when attempting to engage this demographic of widening participation students. So far we have made pantomime tickets available for student parents who wish to take the their children to panto over the Christmas and New Year period, rebooted a previous attempt at a Mature Student Cafe (where students can meet others in a similar position) and ran a trip to Bayfordbury Observatory for mature students, student parents and their children. This demographic of students has their own targeted comms, and ‘priority booking’ for events which may be more difficult for them to attend due to factors outside of their university lives. This allows arrangements to be made in respect to those factors, giving these students more of a chance to attend the events, due to advance notice.

Data analysis continues to be part of my role, and I am feeling much more confident with the tasks I am given and take on through initiative. This includes things such as identifying new students for the programme, and maintaining and updating databases with student information and event attendance. I have also been involved in creating reports from data from events for the outreach team in our department, and reformatting previous reports using an online report and infographic software, to create an annual report for the team for the year 15/16. Use of this software is something that I helped to research, and has been a benefit in many ways. As well as reports I am able to use my skills (which I first developed for my blog graphics!) to create infographics for our students and for the public. Examples of this include a recap of first semester events, and graphics for the launch of the international opportunities and mature student programme. This has really improved the look of our social media pages, and I am taking on the task of putting forward a re-branding of the programme to foster a unity and identity among the students.

I initiated the programme’s first mini ‘social media campaign’ to get students involved, excited and engaged in our international opportunities. The mini campaign across social media (snapchat, Facebook and instagram) encouraged students to like/screenshot the photo of the opportunity they are most excited for, raising awareness of the opportunities and encouraging them to apply. We also streamed the launch event on Facebook for the first time, allowing students to follow along at home or catch up on the information later if they were unable to attend. This was particularly successful with around 60 students tuning in at the time, and over 220 students viewing the video in the week following the event. For our communications I created a specific graphic to use with all email communications and some social media posts. Although the graphic itself is very simple, it helps student to identify which posts/emails/newsletters contain information about international opportunities at a glance, which improves engagement on social media and read/open rates of emails and newsletters.

On another note, another part of the first five months of my internship has been office experience. It sounds really unimportant, but I have been rejected from a few jobs in the past because I lacked experience in an office environment (my previous jobs having all been in retail or service/hospitality). I really enjoy going to work, and I am learning so much from being in this environment and from working alongside, and with, members of the department, who all bring their own skills and knowledge from various sectors and experiences. I love this internship and don’t want it to end!

Graduation!

On Wednesday the 7th of September I graduated from the University of Hertfordshire with a First Class Honours degree in History with French with a Year Abroad.

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I was lucky to have my family attend the ceremony with me and it was great to spend the day with friends and course mates celebrating our achievements.

Usually I’m not a fan of ceremonies. For me they fall into the same category as public speaking and presentations, and therefore are usually a great source of anxiety and fear. While I was still incredibly nervous walking across the stage, the fact that I was one of hundreds helped to calm my nerves slightly. It also helped to keep reminding myself that four years of hard work went into this moment, and that I should enjoy it!

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A couple of weeks ago, I was notified that I had been awarded a University Prize for outstanding contribution to the humanities programme. This was a proud moment for me, as I have loved every single moment of my degree and want to continue my studies further. The graduation ceremony helped confirm to me what I want for my future, and now it’s about finding the path to get there.

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