Alumni Volunteering goes online!

Andy Stirups, from Birkbeck’s Development and Alumni Team, talks about how the alumni volunteering programmes are adapting to life online

I think it’s fair to say that the rate at which our lives have significantly changed over the last few weeks has caught everyone off guard. As we adapt to a world of social distancing, virtual coffees and staying at home, the way in which alumni are helping and support our student community has also changed to ensure that we can continue the great work that we have been doing.  

Pictured: Birkbeck’s four main volunteering programmes. Over 300 individuals typically volunteer each year.

Just before the Coronavirus pandemic, we were about to start up our Get Talking programme for this year. Get Talking pairs alumni with a prospective student or Foundation Year student, to chat through any concerns they may have before starting or continuing with university. These meetings have largely taken place in a coffee shop close to Birkbeck, but over the last couple of years we’ve also been, somewhat helpfully given the current climate, trialling these meetings over Skype for prospective students outside of London or those with access restrictions. We found that last year, meetings over Skype were just as successful as those which were conducted face-to-face. All Get Talking meetings for this year, will now take place via video call to ensure that we are still able to run this important programme and so that prospective students can still gain an invaluable insight from someone who has gone through the Birkbeck journey.  

Similarly, our Mentoring Pathways programme has also gone online. Mentoring Pathways sees alumni and individuals from some of our corporate partners matched with final year students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level so they can help these students with their career decisions as they approach the end of their Birkbeck degree. Over the course of the academic year, we’d expect mentors and mentees to meet six times. The remaining meetings are now due to take place online and we look forward to hearing feedback from our mentors and mentees in due course. 

And our Careers Clinic programme, where alumni review CVs and conduct mock interviews, is also in the process of moving to the virtual world, so watch this space! 

We recognise that these are not just potentially anxious times for our students, but also for our alumni community. Although the Development and Alumni Team are working from home for the time being, we are more than happy to have a chat with you at any point so do not hesitate to get in touch. 

With all that is currently going on in the world I want to thank our volunteers for being so flexible and supportive. More than ever, your work is incredibly vital, and we truly appreciate your levels of commitment to Birkbeck and its community. 

You can contact Andy Stirups at, or if you would like to speak to the Development and Alumni team more generally, please email  

A Q&A with Hetan Shah

Birkbeck Alumnus Hetan Shah, the Chief Executive of the British Academy, talks about his experience of studying at Birkbeck.

Why did you decide to come to Birkbeck?

I was working in a law firm in the City, and was pretty bored! I wanted to keep my mind active and keep learning, so I would sneak out twice a week to my History and Politics Masters. I enjoyed it so much. I then left the law sector, and started working at a think tank. I felt the need to learn some economics, so I then spent a year doing the Postgraduate Certificate in Economics.

How did you balance your work and studies?

The Postgraduate Certificate in Economics was tough – three hours a night for three nights a week. It was a year that didn’t leave me a lot of time for a social life!

Why did studying in the evening appeal to you?

Studying in the evening quite simply meant that I could work and earn a living during the day!

Do you have any special memories from your time at Birkbeck?

The most inspiring part of my time at Birkbeck was studying Professor Mark Mazower’s course on the 20th century, empires and nation states. He had extraordinary breadth – we would study an empire (Habsburg, Ottoman, British etc) each week. Life has come full circle as he was recently elected a corresponding fellow of the British Academy, where I have just begun as chief executive!

Can you tell us a little more about your career journey since Birkbeck?

I worked in the think tank world for several years, helping to bridge academic research and policy. It was a stimulating time, working on agendas including behavioural economics, social enterprise, and well-being measures. After that I became chief executive of a charity focused on global citizenship education in UK schools: improving critical engagement with international development and environmental sustainability in the curriculum. Around eight years ago I became executive director of the Royal Statistical Society, a membership body concerned with improving evidence and the use of data in public life. And I have now just been appointed chief executive of the British Academy, the national academy for humanities and social science.

Based on your experience at the Royal Statistical Society, what skills or experiences are important to the future job market?

One of the things that I’ve learned from my time at the RSS is the increasing importance of data analysis. We are living in a world of ubiquitous data, and so making sense of what the data tells us is really important. This will be increasingly demanded across many job roles. Our education system needs to take the teaching of basic statistical literacy more seriously.

What are you excited to implement/ take on at the British Academy?

The BA is an extraordinary organisation. It is a fellowship of some of the brightest minds, it provides funding for humanities and social science research, and it also convenes thinking on the big issues of the day. As you can tell from the subjects I have studied (my first degree was mostly philosophy) I have a strong affinity with these subjects, as they help us make sense of the world we live in. My aim is to build on the great work the BA already does, and to help bring the voices of the humanities and social science communities into the big issues of the day. I have recently written a piece in Nature showing why these subjects are vital for meeting many of the challenges we face in the upcoming decade.

I look back at my three years at Birkbeck with fondness. It was very stimulating to continue with some formal study after I’d begun my working life. I’d recommend it to anyone!