Keep them ‘happy and busy’

Instead of the usual half-dozen high school and university students spending two to four weeks at RAFT during the summer, a different tact has been taken this year: two student volunteers working for the entire year.

The advantages jump right out at you. Before, most of the students’ time was spend on learning laboratory basics and just as they were ready to begin taking on productive work, they were gone. In addition, because of their number it was very time consuming to whoever was appointed as their instructor and mentor.

RAFT’s Dr Elena Garcia, who is in charge of the two students, says though that with the additional benefits to RAFT also comes more responsibility.

“Biomedical students, Biranavan Arasakulanathan and Setuchi Wilkinson, are doing as much work as anyone else,” she says. “They’ve come here as unpaid help so it is extremely important that we make good use of their time – for their benefit and well as our own.”

The two students are working on purposed future projects for RAFT; Biranavan in bone regeneration, and Setuchi in tissue engineering. Their research could lead to new directions for RAFT.

“It takes time mentoring these students – I’ll be honest with you,” says Elena. “I have to spend time each day thinking what we’re going to do. It’s rewarding though when they come to you with a newly solved piece of the puzzle.”

Biranavan has been fortunate enough to be able to take a year-out to work full time with RAFT, while Setuchi is working part-time at RAFT.

“The secret is for something like this to work is that each needs their own specific project and you have to keep them busy and happy,” says Elena. “And if they’re busy and happy, then I’m happy.”

How is the filming coming along?

All filming which had to take place at RAFT is finished and now comes the hard work of editing. For work that the students are doing, the ratio is quite high between shot raw material and finished, with about 15 minutes of raw material required for one minute of edited finished film.


Because the students doing the work are not MA students, their access to university computers is limited severely over the summer months. For right now, call it a work in progress.

Working with students: a win-win for all

I was looking at the clock. I was thinking.

What were the chances that somebody broke into RAFT, didn’t steal anything, but in the end decided to change all the clocks so they were 90 minutes fast? Yeah…that’s what I figured too, about a zero chance of that.

Could I be in a parallel universe where time did strange things? Doubtful. Or maybe, just maybe, could the four students I had coming in to RAFT just be very, very late? As much as I hated to admit it, that did seem the most logical explanation.

I’ve been working with university photography, film making and journalism students now for over 16-years. While time keeping has never been a positive feature with most of them, their enthusiasm, desire to do an outstanding job and lack of cynicism has more than made up for it.

It was in Hong Kong that I first started to use students. At the newspaper where I worked I was doing a feature story on Down’s syndrome adults and children. The editor wasn’t happy with my idea, preferring to put on the Sunday magazine cover instead the latest Cantonese female pop star.

To do the story right I needed a photographer who was willing to spend time with the subjects to understand them; to produce honest work. After the editor said I could have a staff shooter for around 20 minutes; I contacted Chinese University’s journalism department instead.

While a staff photographer would have taken up none of my time – I wouldn’t even had to have been there for the shoot - by spending time and working with a student in the end I got exactly the shot I wanted.

Now, a continent away from China, I’m still working with students. At RAFT we have four students from the University of West London who are filming basic laboratory procedures for The Knowledge Channel and who eventually be doing some work for the yet to be launched Young RAFT.

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit frustrating at times. While with a professional film crew we would have had the finished product in about a week or so – paying professional prices – with the students it’s going to take longer. Their university has cut semester hours, which means they have less time to utilise equipment and have more competition from other students who also need the kit and computers.

Still, in the end we will have a product we can be proud of, plus we’ll have the satisfaction of knowing we provided these hard working students with a wonderful subject material for their portfolios.

The good:

·         Students can bring in a fresh set of eyes to any situation

·         ‘We’ve never done it that way before’ is a phrase they don’t know

·         Equipment is usually state-of-the-art

·         Being students, they have instructors who can guide and assist them

·         The price is right - free

 The bad:

·         Students have a sense of time not based on anything in this solar system

·         A simple obstacle can stop them in their tracks

·         Students don’t always have access to equipment, especially during summer months

·         Being students, they have classes, exams, etc. It’s next to impossible to get anything done quickly

·         Sometimes you’re much better off paying for a professional

To make it work:

·         Have a crystal clear idea what you want the students to do

·         Be specific with them; and then be even more specific

·         Have somebody assigned to assist the students at your work

·         Stay in contact with their instructors

Year Of The Mad – Who we are, what we do, and why we do it…

Year Of The Mad- who are they and what do they do? Our guest blog is written by Matt Malone who belongs to a group of young people carrying out some fantastic voluntary work.  They hope to fundraise for as many charities as they can and we hope they will do some of their amazing work for RAFT in the future.

Why not follow their example and get fundraising for RAFT too? Stuck for ideas? We can help- have a look at our ideas.

My name is Matt Malone, I’m a sixth form student in Bedfordshire, UK. Self-confessed geek, utter maniac, and crazy fundraiser! The team consists of me and my 3 accomplices: Meg, Sadie, and Jonny, who are around to help me out, run events, and generally join in the fun in an official manner. They, like me, are also students, and also like me and rather mad.  

Our mission for the coming year is to fundraise for as many different charities and organizations as we possibly can, in the most inventive, crazy, and utterly mad ways that we can possibly think of! It’s not all up to us though, the public are going to need to get involved and uncover their inner madness and (if necessary) act like children again! The events currently consist of competitions and our “online project” called RAM.  

Why are we doing this? We enjoy doing totally crazy things, and we thought that if we are going to do them, then we may as well do them for good reason. Also, we feel that young people and students get too much bad press of being unhelpful and not generous and everything, and we want to prove the point that not all young people are terrible people who hang around in the dark and cause problems. Most of all though, charities are good causes, and if we are going to fundraise, then we need to remember that fundraising contains the word fun! Now, onto what we are doing…

  The competitions: We are currently running two competitions, and more are to come in the future. Number One: GoBananas!

GoBananas is (put simply) a fruit dressing competition. The idea is that you get a piece of fruit (or a vegetable), and dress it up or decorate or do something interesting to it so it looks pretty, cool, or just hilarious! The example of “Malcom” made by Sadie herself, is shown below:

 Competition Number 2: The Big Dance Off!

The Big Dance off is exactly what you might expect from the event name, a giant dance competition.


 The difference is that it is worldwide as you enter over the internet, so you can take part from anywhere in the world, and get competition from anywhere and everywhere! Good dancing isn’t required though, as one of the criteria we judge on will be comedy value, and anyone in the world can dance badly! Take the example of the person in pink in this video (It’s worth watching just for the comedy value)

We also have an event called “The Big Pop” in planning which involves 9000 people simultaneously popping balloons, but that will be later in the year. There are many more projects that the ones listen here in the pipeline, take a look at the site for details!


No, I hadn’t forgotten, the question you are asking is what charities are we actually fundraising for? Well…

The Big Dance Off is fundraising for UNICEF

 GoBananas is fundraising for the NSPCC

RAM is fundraising for Cancer Research UK

The Great Christmas Picnic is fundraising for The Make-a-Wish Foundation

And Many more to come..!

After reading this I am sure that you are just so eager to get involved and start sending your entries for the competitions, so what are you waiting for!?

GoBananas –

The Big Dance Off –


General Site –

To ask us anything (We don’t bite, really):

Twitter: @YearOfTheMad


Facebook: Year Of The Mad