What is the UCU strike about? – A student’s viewpoint

This post is aimed at everyone, who is as confused about this situation as I was few days ago.

While I am writing this post, there is still 50 hours left for Universities UK (UUK is an advocacy organisation for UK universities) to change their minds and continue the negotiations with UCU (University and College Union – a British trade union) about the academic’s future pensions schemes (more precisely USS -Universities Superannuation Scheme, one of the largest private pension schemes for universities).

I was informed by the university staff about the plans of starting strike action a week ago. The lecturers simply said their pension is going to be significantly decreased and they are not happy with it. Some briefly mentioned about this fact during their lectures, one of them even put a poster up during the coffee break. Unfortunately, the information showed to us was very vague, the poster hardly readable from a projection and I still knew almost nothing. Shortly after, I realised that the action will take 14 days in total over a period of  four weeks. Two days in 1st week, three days in 2nd, four days in 3rd and a whole 5th week. Lecturers are requested to not reschedule any sessions, check work emails or do any academic work related to teaching.

Take a look at the amount of stress this country is putting on foreign students throughout the last couple of years. Firstly, we had the whole unpredictibility of Brexit which has been followed by the requirement of additional insurance for EU students, together with the rumours about not being able to come back to The UK from summer holidays without it… followed by the increase of already high university fees, followed by the complete chaos regarding the terms of application and funding for postgraduate studies of EU students. And now – we are facing a whole month of no lectures or any kind of academic support.

No lectures most days. No meetings with the supervisors regarding my 3rd year project until a week before the deadline (which I hope is a joke). This is what I paid my £9k this year for.

It’s utterly shocking that when I do not come to compulsory lectures or seminars, the university has a right of kicking me out of the course. Why? Because without attending lectures we do not use the full potential of what the university course and we are (supposedly) not able to learn the material ourselves. Nevertheless, in case of a strike – a month of no lectures is not a problem, we can prepare for upcoming exams ourselves. Apparently ‘our education won’t suffer’ they said. Strange.

Despite paying for my course I am forced to attend all the lectures. The same rule is not applied to the academics who can cancel their lectures whenever they want.

So what’s the deal?

After doing some research, I found out that the USS has an unsustainably high financial deficit already (£7.5bn). If nothing is done – the estimated deficit will grow to £17.5bln. That’s why UUK proposed changes, which have been opposed by the trade union.

Basically, UUK wants to swap a current so-called post-employment defined benefit plan with a defined contribution plan. The existing one requires employer to promise a specified amount of money on academic’s retirement based on their earnings, age, academic performance and other factors. The newly proposed plan works in a way that both employer and employee contribute towards a pension fund, so the employees get whatever amount they collected over the years of work + the returns on pension scheme investments. (1, page 207)

Academics calculated that the new option is likely to leave them with less money – so they did not agree on the new plan. UUK refused to negotiate and in return the union voted in favour of a national strike.

The real reason for starting a strike action is cleverly hidden on UCU website (2). The pages are full of FAQs with no valuable information, cute videos and colourful posters. It took me ages find out some useful facts, which to be fair do not sound as bad as the media and academics are showing it to us. I had to go through a long pdf version of RS 102 The Financial Reporting Standard to find out what is really going on with those dramatic pension cuts.

Time for a bit of reflection. I pay a ridiculous amount of money to be able to study in The UK. It was my conscious decision to study here, I knew if I applied for a good scientific course, the possibilities and opportunities opening in front of me in future will outweigh the initial costs of my studies. I took a risk of investing into my degree (always something may go wrong and I will end up jobless with -£27k + interest on my account) hoping that one day it will pay off. I know already that if I want to have some money left for my pension, I need to work twice as hard – firstly, to repay by student debts, secondly to save or invest.

I believe, that academic members of university staff are very wise people and their decision to work at the university was also their own, conscious choice. They understood from the beginning of their career that going into academia will delay their start of salary-based jobs. They were completely aware of the fact, that on average they are going to work for fewer years that their peers pursuing other carrier paths. I also assume, they know that the population is getting older in The UK, thus there is less people to work for the older generations which results in deficits in pension schemes. It’s worth highlighting, that they do not strike because someone takes their own money away (this would be a fraud, legally charged). They strike because someone is telling them: there used to be some additional money to be given to you as a benefit, but this money is now gone and we cannot give it to you, so we suggest a new way of saving for your pension.

A fair and completely legal way, which is the best possible option so far.

What was trade union’s answer?

They put their suggestion forward that the university should contribute a bit more to their pension, so the decrease in their benefit is not as significant.

UUK did not agree on UCU’s proposal.

Yes, this is it.

In my own opinion, this strike causes the most damage to us – students. Nothing was discussed with us. We would like to be involved in such decision-making process, since we pay for every working day of university at least £60 (calculation based on: 1year = 3 terms, each about 10 weeks long, thus ~£900 lost over 3 weeks of strike). Even if some academics are not technically the members of the union, they still support their colleagues, so practically whole uni is going to malfunction for a month. We probably won’t find out until last moment if our lectures happen or not, which will cause a massive confusion over the period of 4 weeks. If the lecturers have an issue regarding not the teaching but their own pensions they should resolve it on legal terms with their employers – so thousands of students, who paid thousands of pounds for this semester are not going to be affected.

Let me know, what is your view on the strike?


The News: Declutter your brain.

Hi everyone! Today we are going to talk about… The News!


For many, maaany years the first thing I would do after waking up would be to check the news. My idea of a well-informed and wise person was of the one, who always follows the current situation of the world. My perception has changed dramatically when I entered my second year of university studies.



Let’s start with the fact that most of the news is not new. In the past, the newspapers were the only sources of new information. People would buy them daily to get a snapshot of what’s happening not only in the world, but also around their neighbourhood. Because the pages and columns were so ‘precious’ at the time, the editors could not allow themselves to sell unattractive, badly written articles. Nowadays, the news have a completely different function to what used to be an informative mean of communication – it is to manipulate. In 2018, we are bombarded with information with no mercy. Radio news every hour, multiple newspapers, news apps in our phones and TV channels with news presented non-stop.



Have you ever noticed the order of the news presented to us? We are being shown the saddest events, such as murder of a child or a drastic car accident first, followed by some political news. Why? Firstly, to make us think, that the everyday life is miserable and fragile. Then (when our minds are still mourning the deaths of the people who we have never met), we are being given a daily catch up on world’s politics. The party leaders arguing with each other become less of a problem, when our perception of our existence is under consideration.



Children get killed or die because of health problems in all countries, under different circumstances practically all the time. Being reminded about it will not help either us or the affected people. What media should actually do is show us statistics (a real piece of evidence, without drastic details impacting our imagination) and educate us on what to do to avoid these things happening. We shall be educated on what to do when we are witnessing child’s abuse (in a shop or in our neighbourhood) and where go to report it. This is an example of a good journalism, not trying to make salad out of old lettuce.



Accidents, crashes, catastrophes. All of these are our favourites. People love catastrophes. They happened in the past, they are happening now and will definitely happen in future. We read about the details of them only to get more scared of flying or driving. What’s more useful, we would rather know how to behave in the moments of danger. Or even more likely, how to avoid danger in first place. The emotional hole which is left inside us after finding out about another tragic car crash is not filled with mindfulness and eagerness to drive safer. It leaves us confused and not able to understand the rest of the news correctly, because we will always compare the next piece news with the most emotional one.


Have you ever had this painful feeling of pure sadness after watching evening/morning news? This is not a good start (or end) of the day. Especially, when the people tragically affected are not related to us.



The people responsible for publishing the news, know very well the psychology of our minds. They are aware of the fact that they manipulate us in order to get more clicks or views and what follows – money. Our brains will follow the next plane crash like flies attracted to a bulb. It requires a lot of self-control to stop reading the top tragic stories.



The main problem of the news is that they dump on us tonnes of information every day. Without filtration and (which concerns me the most) without any sort of digestion of the topic. We face the information without the explanation of what is the impact of the event or what is the outcome – unable to learn anything from it.



If journalists could connect the current news with the philosophical aspects of human behaviour, historical background, technical facts and grasps of logic, we would be having completely different first pages of the newspapers.



And no, we do not need to become a more clever society to read better news. Our base level is high enough to digest the information with a guidance of a journalist. What is more difficult, is the creation of our own point of view, which comes after the article is presented. This is a skill to be learnt.


The correct way of presenting and understanding the news:

facts, evidences -> discussion -> conclusions -> our own judgement


Currently, we are given the news in reverse order. First comes a prepared already judgement (the journalist’s viewpoint), then the information itself. At the end, often omitted, comes the ‘digestion’ or a discussion part of the story. This is what makes us a passive reader.



Is isolating myself from the news a good idea? Not necessarily. Obviously, the news is needed. We want to know the weather forecast, the traffic information, the new laws established by the government etc., so we cannot easily escape the whole emotional wrapping surrounding these pieces of information. What we can do is try to control our greed for tragedy by skipping the manipulative news. Try not to follow every story which hits us. Respect ourselves as the audience and filter the incoming waves of the information.


Being informed does not mean knowing everything. Having much of workload at uni already, I realised that additional information was cluttering my mind. I was carrying the thoughts of a stabbed teenager with me to the lecture theatre losing the focus on what I meant to learn on my course. At that point I started separating myself from the daily news habit and to my surprise I became more focused and happier.



R e c o m e n d a t i o n


If you would like to find out more about what news do to our brains, one of the best books describing my today’s topic is “The News: A User’s Manual” by Alain De Botton. The author, together with his team used to create very thoughtful reports on basis of philosophical and educational context of the current news. The website still exists http://thephilosophersmail.com/ , nevertheless some time ago it was replaced by their new project – The School of Life.

Wiadomości: uporządkuj swój umysł.

Witajcie, dzisiaj porozmawiamy o… newsach!


Przez wiele, wieeele lat nie wyobrażałam sobie poranka bez sprawdzenia wiadomości. Miałam wrażenie, iż bycie zorientowanym w świece znaczy to samo co bycie na bieżąco ze wszelkimi światowymi nowinkami. Moje odczucia uległy drastycznej zmianie niedługo po rozpoczęciu drugiego roku studiów.



Zacznijmy od tego, że większość ‘newsów’ nie jest wcale niczym nowym. Kiedyś, gazeta lub dziennik były jedynymi źródłami informacji. Kupując je codziennie, ludzie pozostawali na bieżąco nie tylko z tym, co dzieje się na świecie, lecz z tym co dzieje się w ich miejscowościach. Ponieważ ilość stron i kolumn była ograniczona, redaktorzy nie mogli pozwolić sobie na niedopracowane, nieinteresujące artykuły. Teraz sytuacja wygląda nieco inaczej, ponieważ funkcją gazety nie jest o tyle informowanie czytelnika, co jego manipulacja. W 2018 nie musimy czekać na poranną prasę, media dostarczają nam informacji bez przerwy. Jesteśmy bombardowani ‘newsami’ bez litości. Radio prezentuje wiadomości co godzinę, ilość gazet, magazynów i dzienników przekracza nasze oczekiwania, aplikacje w telefonach wyświetlają raporty kilka razy dziennie, a dodatkowo mamy możliwość wyświetlania programów telewizyjnych z wiadomościami 24/7.



Czy kiedykolwiek zastanowiłeś/łaś się w jakiej kolejności media ukazują wiadomości? Na początku dowiadujemy się o drastycznych wydarzeniach, na przykład o śmierci dziecka lub tragicznym wypadku. Upewniamy się wtedy w przekonaniu, że życie jest kruche i nieobliczalne. Dopiero później, kiedy w naszych głowach nadal gości smutek, po śmierci osoby, której widzimy informacje polityczne. Gdy rozważamy kłócący się ze sobą liderzy ugrupowań, w porównaniu z innymi tragediami, wydają się nam o wiele mniejszym problemem.



Niestety większość wiadomości to zwyczajnie odgrzewane kotlety pewnych powtarzających się sytuacji. Przypominanie nam o tym, że dzieci są zabijane lub umierają z przyczyn zdrowotnych nie pomaga ani nam ani osobom poszkodowanym. Takie sytuacje z różnych powodów dzieją się w każdym kraju. Media mogłyby na dobrą sprawę pokazać nam roczne statystyki, zamiast bawić się w opisywanie drastycznych scen z życia obcych ludzi. Dziennikarze powinni edukować nas jak reagować gdy widzimy bądź słyszymy o maltretowaniu dzieci i znęcaniu się nad nimi. Czy powinniśmy zwrócić uwagę, kiedy jesteśmy świadkami takiego zajścia w sklepie, lub gdy nasi sąsiedzi atakują płaczące za ścianą dziecko. Takie informacje byłyby o wiele bardziej wartościowe niż czytanie o kolejnych tragicznych zajściach w domu Państwa X.


Wypadki i katastrofy. Nasz ulubione. My kochamy tragedie. Te które stały się w przeszłości, dzieją teraz i jeszcze nie nadeszły. Czytamy wszystkie szczególiki zajścia, komentujemy wpisy innych komentatorów i podgrzewamy atmosferę przy okazji dodając sobie nieco adrenaliny przed kolejnym wejściem do samochodu lub samolotu. Bardziej użyteczne byłoby przestudiowanie informacji o tym, co zrobić w momentach nadchodzącego niebezpieczeństwa lub jak jemu zapobiec. Emocjonalna pustka goszcząca w nas po przeczytaniu o następnej tragedii nie zostaje wypełniona rozwagą i postanowieniami, iż będziemy kierować bezpieczniej. Niestety. W zamian ta pustka pozostawia w nas uczucie zagubienia i zmienia sposób w jaki interpretujemy resztę prezentowanych wiadomości.


Czy kiedykolwiek miałeś/łaś uczucie niesamowitego smutku i żalu po obejrzeniu porannych lub wieczornych wiadomości? To z pewnością nie jest dobry sposób na rozpoczęcie a co gorsza zakończenie dnia. Zwłaszcza, iż ludzie biorący udział w tych wszystkich negatywnych wiadomościach nie są w żaden sposób z nami związani lub spokrewnieni.


Osoby które publikują wiadomości w mediach bardzo dobrze psychologię naszych umysłów. Oni są świadomi tego, iż są w stanie zmanipulować nas do kliknięcia i obejrzenia jakiegokolwiek artykułu. Dzięki temu zarabiają na naszych emocjach. Niestety tragiczne wypadki wabią nas jak żarówka komary w lecie. Dlatego potrzeba w nas wiele samokontroli by zaprzestać czytania rozsiewanych wokół negatywnych newsów.


Największym problem jest fakt, iż media zrzucają na nas tony informacji każdego dnia. Bez najmniejszej filtracji, a co gorsza bez żadnego merytorycznego opracowania tematów. Zderzamy się z informacją bez wytłumaczenia dlaczego tak się dzieje oraz jaki jest tego efekt. Nie jesteśmy w stanie wynieść z tej sytuacji wartościowej nauki.


Gdyby dziennikarstwo zostało przeniesione na wyższy poziom, aktualne informacje ze świata połączone byłyby z filozoficznymi aspektami ludzkich zachowań. Podane zostałyby tłem historycznym i technicznymi faktami, objęte logiką oraz doprawione wysoką jakością języka ojczystego. Wtedy pierwsze strony gazet wyglądałyby zupełnie inaczej.


Uprzedzam Twoje myśli. Nie. Aby takiego rodzaju dziennikarstwo miało miejsce, poziom IQ społeczeństwa nie musiałby wcale wyższy. Jesteśmy krajem wystarczająco inteligentnym by przetrawić informacje prowadzeni przez umiejętnego dziennikarza. Trudnością byłoby kreowanie własnego światopoglądu, co przychodzi po przeczytaniu lub obejrzeniu wiadomości. Lecz jest to umiejętność, której można się nauczyć.


Poprawny sposób prezentowania wiadomości: fakty/dowody -> dyskusja -> konkluzje -> kreowanie poglądu, jeśli potrzebna – ocena odbiorcy


Aktualnie wiadomości dostarczane są do nas w odwrotnej kolejności. Najpierw odkrywamy czyjąś ocenę sytuacji, później właściwą informację. Dyskusja jest często pomijana, dzięki czemu stajemy się pasywnymi odbiorcami.


Czy całkowita izolacja od wiadomości jest dobrym pomysłem? Niekoniecznie. Informacje są nam potrzebne. Chcemy wiedzieć jaka jutro będzie u nas pogoda, czy są korki na trasie, jakie prawa wchodzą w życie i wiele innych. Niestety wyszukując tych szczegółowych informacji, nie jesteśmy w stanie uciec tej całej emocjonalnej otoczce. Dlatego musimy nauczyć się sortowania newsów, trenując łaknący tragedii mózg, by skupiał się na bardziej przyziemnych problemach dnia codziennego. Postaraj się nie ulegać manipulacji i sprawdź jak się z tym czujesz. Filtruj jedynie te nagłówki, które są Ci potrzebne, szanuj się jako odbiorcę.


Być dobrze dobrze zorientowanym w świecie nie oznacza zaśmiecać sobie głowę wszystkim, co wypływa z mediów. Zrozumiałam to dopiero wtedy, gdy ilość przychodzących informacji ze świata zaczęła wykradać miejsce wiedzy z wykładów na uniwersytecie. Uświadomiłam sobie, iż myśli na tematy zupełnie nie związane z moją osobą szły za mną na zajęcia, nie pozwalając mi w stu procentach skupić się na skomplikowanych naukowych treściach, które powinny być dla mnie o wiele ważniejsze, ponieważ musiałam je przyswoić w bardzo krótkim czasie. Wtedy zaczęłam odseparowywać się od dzienników i porannych wiadomości. Ku mojemu zaskoczeniu, nie tylko stałam się weselszą osobą, lecz nastąpiła u mnie znaczna poprawa umiejętności skupienia się nad wykonywaną czynnością.



R e k o m e n d a c j a


Jeżeli zaciekawił Cię temat funkcji wiadomości w naszym codziennym życiu, jedną z najlepszych książek, jakie mogłabym Ci polecić jest “The News: A User’s Manual” autorstwa Alain De Bottona. Niestety nie znalazłam wydania w języku polskim. Jeżeli jednak wiesz, że istnieje, proszę podziel się z nami linkiem w komentarzu. Autor wraz z współpracownikami stworzył niegdyś stronę internetową, która tłumaczyła wiadomości ze świata w bardziej merytoryczny i filozoficzny sposób, dzięki czemu mogliśmy się czegoś nauczyć nawet z komicznych informacji na temat Paris Hilton. Strona nadal istnieje http://thephilosophersmail.com/ , lecz jakiś czas temu została zastąpiona nowym projektem – The School of Life.


How exactly can I get lung cancer?

Today, I am going to focus on lung cancer. Why? Because it is the third, just after breast and prostate, most common cancer world-wide. Only in The UK, it accounts for 13% of all cancer cases. If we take into consideration, that there is more than 200 different types of cancers – lung cancer incidence looks quite impressive. (1)

For these who just got out of a cave: what is cancer? It is an uncontrolled multiplication of our mutated (immortal) cells, which grows into so-called tumour. It invades the organism by destroying its surrounding tissue. Cancerous cells may spread to other organs of our body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.

As it is with any cancer, there are multiple reasons and causes of lung cancer. Nevertheless, I am going to focus on what happens on the molecular level, since the mechanism is pretty much the same in all cases.

The cells creating our body are not that easy to be invaded by cancer. There are some quite clever mechanisms to stop the cell grow or force it to commit suicide when it starts freaking out and getting out of control. The main guy inside our cells which is a sort of anti-cancer policeman [scientifically speaking, a   t u m o u r   r e p r e s s o r ] is a protein p53. Its name literally means that this is a protein 53kDa in size. In ’80, scientists used to estimate protein sizes on polyacrylamide SDS gels during electrophoresis. They would compare locations of the bands on a gel against a standard molecule. Nowadays, they use mass spectrometry, which allows to sum up the masses of all the amino acids making up a particular protein with a very high resolution. The updated size of our beloved P53 is actually only 43.7kDa, but nobody even thought about changing its name. 

P53 is produced in our cells all the time and it can quickly trigger a response to a DNA damage or other growth abnormalities. P53 has a good sense of what is going on inside the cell. That cellular policeman has also quite a lot of power – it can kill the cell anytime or make it stop growing until the DNA is fixed. That’s why p53 needs someone who will keep an eye on it, so it doesn’t kill the cell by mistake or because it had a bad day. Its best friend is called Mdm2 and it binds p53 for most of the time, allowing cell to grow and proliferate. When DNA damage or some sort of abnormality happens within the cell, the stress activates a special type of genes which produce many phosphorylating molecules. These molecules tag p53 by attaching phosphate groups to its tail. It forces Mdm2 to release its friend free, allowing p53 to orchestrate a temporary arrest or cell death [ a p o p t o s i s ].

So we know what happens in a healthy cell. Now let’s see what happens in a cancerous lung cell.

In the cell which becomes cancerous, the protein p53 is not functional. It does not protect our healthy cells neither instruct the mutated ones.

Why is it not functional? Because the gene which encodes for p53 is being mutated.

How does it happen?

For example, when a Group 1 carcinogen (by IARC (2) ) – Benzo(a)pyrene (BaP) binds to our DNA. This molecule likes some parts of DNA more than others and in case of the lung cancer, it is attracted to a position [c o d o n] 157. It muddles up this region of the gene making one of the base pairs (Guanine, G) to be replaced by Thymine (T). This G to T replacement causes p53 to not function as it should. (3)

What is the effect of this mutation?

If the cell is put under a stress, the signalling molecules do not alert p53. A lack of functional p53 leads to cell dividing faster than others becomes immortal. This is when cancer starts.

Is BaP only in cigarettes tar?

Unfortunately not. In cigarettes tar the concentration of BaP reaches about 42ng/g (48ng/g in cigars). There is also a significant amount of BaP in air pollution (average concentrations in Europe visible on a map below). Of course smokers are far more prevalent to get a lung cancers than non-smokres, but air statistics show us that nobody is protected from those nasty substances.

There is a reason why lung cancer is so common world-wide. The amount of people smoking cigarettes between 1950 and now has dropped dramatically, nevertheless we all breath the same air every single day.

Remember, BaP is not the only nasty substance causing cancer and lung cancer is not the only one caused by BaPs!

I hope you enjoyed some molecular insights of lung cancer. Without calling you to stop smoking right now or showing you any nasty pictures of black lungs… I would simply like to make you more aware of the world surrounding us.



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