Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Interview: Ellie Birch

Ellie Birch

In today’s working world, everyone and their cat seem to have a degree. We are regularly told to make University into so much more than a flimsy certificate, serious debt and some good memories, but how? University, especially Leeds University, throws numerous opportunities at us to do amazing things with our time here, day after day. It is the individuals that grab hold of these opportunities that really set themselves apart from the rest after that inevitable graduation day, learning invaluable skills and getting genuine experience of the ‘real’ world outside our campus bubble. One student who has seemingly made the absolute best of her time at Leeds is Ellie Birch. Ellie is Vice President of External Relations at AIESEC Leeds, a society set up to help students develop their leadership skills. I asked Ellie what exactly she does in this position, and why her AIESEC experience will leave her with so much more than a degree certificate.

AW: Hi Ellie! The first and perhaps most important question, what is AIESEC?
AIESEC is an internationally run organisation made up completely by students for students, and is the biggest student-led organization in the world! We help develop leadership ability by running an exchange program for Leeds students to work abroad and getting overseas students to work for companies here in the UK. This involves teams of AIESEC members approaching local businesses and local students to promote the opportunity to go on a trainee scheme abroad. These are often summer placements, though they can be as long or short as the student and company wishes. Aside from this, we also run various events and workshops for students around campus throughout the year.

AW: You are Vice President and Head of External Relations at AIESEC Leeds; what does this role involve?
As External Relations Vice President I don’t tend to get involved with the work abroad programme; this is left to other teams within AIESEC. I provide the portal between the society and the students themselves, so I run various employability-based events throughout the year. This includes creating and organizing three week marketing campaigns prior to the events I run. I manage a team of three to be able to do all that; I have two events managers as well as a media co-ordinator who writes all of our media publications and gets the AIESEC name out there onto campus.

AW: What sort of events are we talking about?
Overthe first term, we have been running an event called ‘Give It a Go: 5 skills’. This is basically a course of five skills sessions set up for students to attend in order to ultimately improve their soft skills. The sessions have been on things like ‘marketing yourself’ ‘communication’ and ‘innovation,’ all with the hope to improve students employability on completion of the course. We’ve managed to secure various sponsorship deals from various different companies to run these sessions. This year, for example, we’ve had Jaguar-Landrover, IBM and BMI Baby all running sessions for us.  It’s great because setting up these events has meant we have had good contact with future potential employers, and anyone that gets involved with AIESEC and the running of these events gets fantastic exposure to corporate companies.

AW: Fantastic. Why did you decide to get involved with AIESEC in the first place?
I decided to get involved because I saw it as a massive opportunity to develop and grow as person. It was basically the next step for me in terms of deciding my future career and improving my C.V. It has fulfilled all my expectations and I’m so glad I joined. Working in a business-like structure and a professional environment has given me managerial and communication skills that just can’t be taught or learned without hands-on, practical experience.

AW: What has been your best experience with AIESEC?
There’s been so many! I’ve been to two huge national conferences with all the other AIESEC local committees throughout the UK, there’s over 25 committees so there are lots of new people to meet. The conferences really help AIESEC members improve their skills in order for them to fulfil their roles back in Leeds to the best of their ability.  I’ve also been to lots of fancy formal dinners and fancy dress parties. My best experience has to be last year at the Annual Review awards ceremony, where we had a massive boat party in London on the Thames, and won three awards!

AW: Who would benefit from a joining a society like AIESEC? Is it just for business students?
No. I can easily say absolutely any student can benefit from joining a society like AIESEC, or in fact any society at Leeds. Societies are just such great opportunities to develop yourself, gain contacts and make good friends, let alone everything else. Personally, through the connections I made through AIESEC, I managed to land a summer internship to work for the airline company BMI. I worked as a project co-ordinator and managed to do some amazing stuff with them; I went to meetings in Munich and Frankfurt and met some incredible people, most of whom I’m still in good contact with.

AW: You’re a third year Geography and Geology student, what do you plan to do in the future?
Through AIESEC and BMI I’ve worked on quite a lot of projects and managed to gain some good experience, so I would love to go on to do project management if possible. Luckily I’ve made lots of contacts in the last two years - I’m hoping that one of them could help me make my career dream possible!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The ‘Dukan Diet’: Another Fat-Free Fad or a French Revolution?

The student party season, although painfully premature, is fast approaching. For the more body conscious of you that may be considering trying to shift a few pounds this winter, let me introduce you to the ‘Dukan Diet’; invented and brought to the UK by Dr Pierre Dukan, loved by countless celebrities, numerous French women, the royal in-laws and my very own mother!

For many of us, the wild and care-free frivolities of Fresher’s week seem like only yesterday. Memories of hurling our loans at Topshop cashiers, falling out of taxis, spending numerous drunken hours in McDonalds and chundering before, after and during Fruity still seem fresher than a Bodington Common Room. (un)Fortunately it’s all about to come around once again, whether we like it or not.

For numerous female students, the inevitable prospect of an upcoming society/hall/work Christmas social means hunting down, or perhaps more importantly fitting into, that killer dress. While some may be blessed with a ridiculously enviable metabolism (I hate you), others will be hitting the gym harder than a rugby-tackled Varsity streaker. For the rest of us exercise-phobic individuals desperate to shift a pound or two, we may end up resorting to one thing, that oh-so-menacing ‘D’ word: a DIET.

So have you heard of the recently-famed ‘Dukan Diet’? As something I have tried, tasted and witnessed thanks to a very dedicated (and now very slim-line) mother, I share with you my thoughts and observations:

The ‘Dukan Diet’ Guidelines
The diet is based on a list of over 100 allowed foods, as well as four specific phases known as: attack, cruise, consolidation, and stabilization.
The initial attack phase is designed to enable dieters to rapidly lose 0 to 3 kilograms (up to 6.6 lb) in 2–7 days by kick-starting their metabolism. Dieters are allowed to eat as much as they want of 72 protein-rich foods. Tea, coffee and diet drinks are allowed, but no alcohol.
The cruise phase is designed to allow dieters to more gradually achieve the weight they aim for by eating protein-rich foods with the addition of 28 specific vegetables. The length of this phase is usually calculated as 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of weight loss per week, but this is based on specific personal conditions. Tolerated foods are also allowed as per the programme, but any weight gain will ban some of these
The consolidation phase is designed to help in preventing any future massive weight gain. During this phase, fruit, bread, cheese and starchy foods are reintroduced into a normal diet, leaving two celebratory meals a week as directed by the plan
Finally, in the stabilization phase, dieters can essentially eat whatever they want without gaining weight by following a few rules: protein day once a week, eating oat bran every day and making a commitment to "take the stairs". According to Dukan, dieters shall follow this last phase for the rest their lives to avoid regaining weight.

All phases fully explained here: http://www.dukandiet.com/The-Dukan-Diet/4-Phases as well as in this short video...

In short, the diet is all about enduring an ugly few days of protein, protein and more protein and then gradually introducing the somewhat more exciting food groups as time goes on.

Having begun the plan with my Mum in January after a slightly over-indulgent Christmas, I have acquired pretty mixed feelings about the diet. I ashamedly lasted all of two days in the ‘attack’ phase. As serious bread, cereal and general carbohydrate addict I crumbled, literally, to freshly made bread and a pack of chocolate digestives.  The thought of another lunchbox brimming with ham and eggs after a measly bowl of Oatbran porridge made with skimmed milk, aka water, was all too much for me. I inhaled the calories I had missed out on in two days in the space of fifteen minutes. My Mum on the other hand heroically stuck it out and saw through every single protein-packed phase. She reached her target weight within eight weeks and has managed to keep it off ever since in the 'stabilization' phase.

When I ask myself if the diet is student-friendly I would definitely have to say no. It’s expensive (meat is not cheap), doesn’t condone alcohol (definite no then) and leaves you with a breath so bad you most definitely won’t be pulling on Friday night. Health-wise it’s also very questionable and has faced its fair share of media criticism. Surely no diet advocating copious amounts of diet coke and artificial sweeteners but limited fruit and veg can be healthy?

Nevertheless, there are some positives I have taken from my brief encounter with Dr. Dukan’s plan, some of which I feel have left me at a more stable weight throughout the year. In truth, I have found one of the diet’s super-foods, Oatbran, a god-send for good digestion and for making low calorie but delicious snacks (http://mydukandiet.com/recipes/chocolate-oat-bran-muffins.html). Health benefits have also proven fruitful for my mum, who has significantly lower cholesterol, blood pressure and has shed 1 ½ stone.

So if you are planning on dieting this season I'd urge you to research a little more into Dukan's method and have a real think about whether this sort of strict regime is really suited to you and your’ lifestyle. I wouldn't advise starting it and then giving in after 2 days as I did, but if you love nothing more than a whole chicken with no sides at Nandos, it could be worth a try.  I think it is a manageable diet for getting weight off quickly and potentially keeping it off, you just have to be extremely dedicated, and really really like meat.

Although I’ll always maintain the mantra that diets do not work, who am I to argue with the likes of Carole Middleton, Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz, Gisele Bundchen and my very own flesh and blood, who are living proof that they do!