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Warwick TV a winner Daniel Cope Chris Hackett Warwick TV won two awards at this year’s National Student Television Awards. The awards were for campus-made short films, including ‘Zing’ for Best Light Entertainment and ‘Spare Parts’ for Best Drama. They were judged by producers whose past work has been on popular TV serials and events such as New Tricks and Comic Relief. ‘Zing’ is a seven-minute production made with no budget, a minimal crew and headed by Comparative American Studies finalist, Clare Stone. It features a pair of bemused students coming to grips with their new found ability of teleporting. Clare told the Boar: “I was ecstatic about Zing winning, especially when there were so many short-listed in that category. I’m still so grateful to the cast and crew who gave up their time and made it smooth-gliding to make and to all the help I’ve received from Warwick TV this year in accomplishing various projects.” ‘Spare Parts’ is a short film written and directed by English Literature Warwick student Abdul-Rehman Malik. The film tackles the serious issues of suicide and its impact on those who are left to pick up the pieces. Abdul-Rehman said: “I was abroad when I found out (I found out through Twitter) and was pretty shocked. I had looked through the competition online and thought that Spare Parts had a good chance at qualifying for an award, but of course you never know what a

judge is looking for, especially given the subject matter of suicide has been done many times before, so it was a great surprise.” Warwick TV said that the win was a “phenomenal achievement and a testament to the people who worked on those shows and with the society. “Well done to everyone involved with the society for all their efforts!” The good news continued for Warwick TV when it was revealed that over this year, and out of the whole country, they attained the best student TV viewing figures for live broadcasts.

“I’m absolutely delighted... WTV have really raised the bar over the last year” Joe Shennan This was largely owing to live broadcasts such as the coverage of the Students’ Union election night and numerous events from the Varsity competition with Coventry. Warwick TV was also nominated in other categories. Amongst the nominations for Best Comedy Warwick TV’s sketch show ‘A Conservative Appeal’ was featured. Other entries submitted included ‘Warwick in a Day’, an ambitious collaboration with students and staff to document a typical day on campus in January 2013. Station manager Joe Shennan said next year he hopes to match or even better next year. He said: “Obviously I’m absolutely delighted. I think WTV have really raised the bar over the last year and what we saw at NaSTA was just a culmination of those efforts of a really talented group.”

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Warwick student drop-out rates hit a high Maths fared better than other subjects whilst French Studies had one of the highest Rozina Sabur Warwick currently ranks at 29 for the number of student drop-outs in the UK. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Boar revealed a comparatively low number of drop outs from the Maths department at the University when compared to other subjects queried. The figures, which show the numbers of students who left the University in their first year from the academic year 2009-2010 to 2012-2013 reveals that a total of 0.8 percent of first year students from Maths did not complete the year. This is compared with 1.6 percent from the Law School, 2.6 percent from French Studies, 1.3 percent from the English department, 2.8 percent from Classics and Ancient History and two percent from Chemistry. From the data available, French Studies seemed to have an anomalous six percent drop out rate in the

academic year 2010-11. One student of the French department that year told the Boar that she was surprised that the level was so high. She said: “I really can’t think of any reason why that might be other than for personal reasons. “The staff, in my opinion, are very good, and the French department on the whole is very supportive. “I don’t know anyone from that year group, but I know there were a few people who dropped out in my first year just because they didn’t like the course, or found it really difficult.” Fourth-year English and French student Eleanor Stanford also commented: “There are definite significant differences in management and administrative styles between the English and French departments (the only two I’ve come into contact with), but I am surprised that that was the case. “I know people sometimes drop out of language degrees - or parts of degrees - because they don’t fancy

the year abroad, and because studying a language is challenging in a very different way from other humanities degrees...” Despite the fact that Maths fared better than other subjects, one Maths first-year student commented on internet forum The Student Room: “I was quite surprised to know that only a few people drop out in this course, even though the work is so tough and still no one

Figures are in line with dropout rates nationally which are reportedly ‘soaring’

gives up.” Figures from the Guardian suggested that for the academic year 2010-2011 the number of students dropping out of university nationally had fallen steeply, possibly because students are facing tough competition for employment. The statistics – from 2010-2011 – show 7.4 percent of full-time

undergraduates quit their degrees within a year of starting their courses. The previous year, the figure was 8.6 percent. The figures also revealed a wide discrepancy between universities. At the University of the West of Scotland the drop-out rate was 23 percent, at London Metropolitan it was 16.6 percent and at Cambridge it was just 1.3 percent. Prof Les Ebdon, an official for the government’s university access promotion, said universities and colleges were working harder to ensure students completed their studies. “It is encouraging to see that rates of retention are already moving in the right direction,” he said. However, the Telegraph last year reported that the rate of drop outs was “soaring” in 2011-2012, with the number of students dropping out increasing from 28,210 to 31,755 across Britain – a rise of almost 13 percent. It was the first time since records began a decade ago that the number had crept above 30,000, fuelled

by an increase in the overall student population. A table compiled by Student Beans last year placed Warwick 29th for universities with the best drop-out rates, with 4.3 percent of all students dropping out. The University and College Union warned that the drop-out rate would soar in coming years following a decision to increase the cap on student tuition fees to £9,000. Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said: “Sadly, [the] figures show that too many students, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, are still failing to complete their studies.” A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “Although our student completion rates compare well internationally, we want to reduce the number of students who don’t complete their studies. “We are improving information for prospective students so that they can make more informed choices and we are committed to a better overall student experience.”


theboar.org

Science & Tech

25

 ot neuroscience on the mind? G H Jessie Baldwin speaks to world-renowned neuroscientist Oliver Sacks about his life and works

e’s written 12 best-selling books, inspired a play by Pinter, had his story adapted into an Oscar nominated film, has been awarded a CBE, and holds more honorary degrees and fellowships than I can count on the fingers on both of my hands – which is why I was surprised at how humane, gentle and warm Oliver Sacks was when I met him. The world-renowned neurologist visited the University of Warwick to give a lecture on the importance of case studies in medicine; the most attended lecture the university has held during its Distinguished Lecture Series with around 1,200 people in the audience. I was lucky enough to catch him for half an hour to talk about hallucinations, neurological advances and his love of swimming. As a 79-year-old physician specialising in neurological deficits (such as a man who mistook his wife for a hat), Sacks is no stranger to physical impairments himself. He has prosopagnosia, which means that his ability to recognise people by their faces is impaired; a factor which he says has contributed to his shyness. He is also blind in his right eye due to ocular cancer and has tinnitus, a type of auditory hallucination in which one hears a constant ringing or hissing sound which may be intolerably loud. Despite this, Sacks

“The brain is the most interesting thing in the universe, because it is essentially what makes every person who they are” Oliver Sacks seemed extraordinarily bright and on-theball, and answered my questions insightfully and intelligently. I began by asking him what he was currently working on, and he told me that he was writing a book about memory, imagination and consciousness. Unlike much of his other work though, many of the case studies in this book will be historical figures that have not been his own patients – the likes of Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, dramatist Brian Freel and the first deafblind person to earn a degree, Helen Keller. This excited me: Coleridge is my five times great-uncle and I was fascinated to find out what Sacks knew about him. I could not have anticipated such an answer – Coleridge, apparently, was an accidental plagiarist! He suffered from cryptoamnesia, which is when one falsely thinks that someone else’s material is their own. In his case, he incorporated lengthy passages originally written by German philosophers into his own work, believing he had generated such ideas. Helen Keller suffered from the same phenomenon, when as an 11-yearold child she wrote a book of delightful short stories that she believed had been a product of her own imagination. Unfortunately the stories turned out to be extremely similar to ones that had been published three years earlier, and she faced a barrage of abuse for being a ‘plagiarist’ and a ‘liar’. We moved onto hallucinations. Regarding the most surprising illusions he has come

» Sacks has written many books, including ‘Awakenings’ photo: Monica Mylordou across, he told me: “one can have hallucinations of themselves, and see a mirror image of themself dressed the same way, mirroring their posture – it’s very peculiar.” Realising his own experiences with hallucinations, I timidly asked him if he had ever experienced such a phenomenon. “No, it’s something I have always hoped to experience, but never have,” was his enthusiastic answer. “I also hope to experience the so called ‘out of body’ hallucinations, where one is floating somewhere ‘up’ there and looks down to see oneself. Normally we feel that we are so firmly ‘in’ our own bodies, but in such an experience one feels vividly disembodied.”

He went on to enlighten me on the existence of dramatic ‘out of body’ and ‘near death’ hallucinations that can stimulate non-religious people to believe in an afterlife and become spiritual, chuckling that he would be extremely interested to know how such an experience would affect a “hardboiled atheist” like himself. We then proceeded to discuss Sacks’ proudest achievement – to which I received a startling, but humbling response. “I don’t feel proud of anything,” he said, “the most I feel is not ashamed. If I can write anything that I’m not ashamed of, then I’m happy.” I assured him that he should feel proud of his work,

and he revealed: “Well, the book that came from the deepest experience is Awakenings, but the one which I like the most is my Island book (The Island of the Colorblind), because it’s about travel and exotic experiences. It has a license which none of my medical books have.” We then conversed about Sacks’ own time as a student of Biology and Physiology at Oxford sixty years ago. The best thing about it was making new friends and experiencing new opportunities – “the world opening up in all sorts of ways”. He chose to specialise in neurology because he passionately believed that the brain was the most interesting thing in the universe, because it is essentially what makes every person who they are. Whilst psychology or psychiatry were alternative options, the physical basis of neurology was what appealed to him. Undoubtedly, Oliver Sacks has been a huge inspiration to many scientists, both young and old, but who inspired him? A Russian neurologist called Luria, he told me, whose book about a man with a remarkable memory The Mind of a Mnemonist he read as a medical student. It was only twenty pages into the book that he realised that it was a case history, rather than a novel, as he had assumed due to the inherent detail, beauty and drama presented on the pages. He was profoundly inspired, and has since taken on the approach of describing the individual at the very centre of a clinical story in his own writing. When I asked him what advice he would give for students who are considering getting involved with neurology, he said, “go for it! Fifty years ago I might have warned that it will not give one anything in the way of therapeutic satisfaction, as most neurological damage is irreversible and most neurological diseases are incurable, but that is less the case now.” What has changed to make this possible? According to Sacks, vital technical discoveries like fMRI scanning and single unit recording (when the response of a single neuron is measured) have allowed us to record activities in different areas of the brain and understand neural connectivity. And where does Sacks see neurology progressing in the next fifty years? Hopefully we will get a better idea of consciousness, he said, though some feel that such a finding will always be infinitely far away. With the interview drawing to a close, I couldn’t resist asking Sacks about his passion for swimming. “Do you swim every day?” I asked. He told me yes: “I am clumsy on land and very much like to be in the water. I find in a long swim I can often get into a sort of trance-like, meditative state, which is pleasant.” But for Sacks, neurology is always on his brain: “Sometimes when I’m swimming I start writing case histories in my head, and then I have to land at intervals and write them down.” I laughed, and told him I was going swimming that day. “As am I,” he said, “I wear a green swim cap and fins – see you there.”

@BoarSciTech science@theboar.org theboar.org/science Helena Moretti


Issue 11, Volume 35 - 1st May  
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