Around the world in an MBA

Marketing Manager and MBA student Lorena Ramirez shares her journey on the MBA, across three continents and what she has learned along the way.

Picture of Lorena Ramirez

The first time I heard about the Central Saint Martins Birkbeck MBA was while living in Peru. I’d been working in the fashion industry for the last ten years and was ready to expand into different creative areas. I was looking for a Masters degree that focused not only on fashion, but on creativity and innovation.

There are lots of really good MBAs in London, but the Central Saint Martins Birkbeck MBA was different. There is nothing else in the market that mixes art, design, business and social innovation in that way.

I fell in love with the course immediately, but attending face-to-face sessions in London wasn’t an option for me, so I was forced to put my plans on hold.

Moving to London

It just so happened that, months after discovering the MBA, my husband was offered a job in the UK. We moved to London without any hesitation: I arrived, found a job, got pregnant and applied for the MBA! I had my interview with Dr Pamela Yeow, the Course Leader, about a week before I gave birth.

I had my reservations about starting a Masters with a newborn baby, but when I won a scholarship for the course I felt like it was a sign to just do it. I started the programme and absolutely loved it. On a course like this, it’s so important that your peers are with you on this journey. For a lot of MBAs, the average age is around 24 or 25. I’m 37, and while the youngest person in our cohort was 25, the oldest was 60. Through the MBA, I met people in media, television, different organisations and entrepreneurs. The diversity of ages and interests in my cohort was what I enjoyed most about the experience.

Then my maternity leave finished, the pandemic hit and I found myself working full-time with a baby under highly pressured circumstances. Sadly, I couldn’t continue the MBA with my cohort, but Birkbeck and Central Saint Martins were very understanding and supportive. It was not an easy decision, but looking back, I think it was the right one. I wouldn’t have had the time to properly enjoy the reading and the learning process if I had continued then.

Picture of Lorena with her son

Recognise this scenario? Lorena trying to work and study, featuring her son Noah.

A new challenge in Ceuta

Despite having to put my studies on hold, this has been a whirlwind year: I was promoted to Marketing Manager for Spain for my organisation and relocated to Ceuta, an autonomous Spanish city in Morocco. Ceuta is a small, quiet city, so it’s a big change from London!

In my new role, I am already applying the learning from the first module of the MBA, which is all about how to solve complex problems. Right now, in Spain, the gambling industry is facing new marketing regulations which drastically change the way it has worked for the past twelve years. This has a huge impact on our work, meaning we have to really think outside the box when it comes to promotion.

Changing the way an entire company works is very difficult, especially when you lead teams. For me, the MBA was the perfect preparation to face this challenge. On the course, we completed a project with the London Ambulance Service – what we are learning is not theoretical, it’s real life, day by day. In my work now, we essentially have to reinvent all the departments and how we’re working. For this to be a success, you have to change the way of thinking not of the directors but of the users and your team, and that is the most difficult thing. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to study to have a preparation to understand this better.

Where next?

From March 2021, I’ll be travelling to London once a month to re-join the MBA programme – I can’t wait to get started again!

In the long term, I would like to go back to sustainable fashion, for which my current experience in online marketing will be really valuable. I’d like to work with artisans, especially Peruvian artisans, linking them with brands across the globe. Most artisans around the world don’t speak Spanish or English, so it can be difficult to reach them, but I hope to do this through a foundation or social enterprise – I think the MBA will lead me to the right way to do this.

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Introducing our Chevening students: Part three

In this last instalment of our 2020 Chevening scholars series we introduce six more future leaders who have joined Birkbeck from Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Georgia, Namibia and Syria. 

Nesrin Morad, Syria/Turkey, MSc Education, Power and Social Change

Nesrin Morad

Nesrin Morad

Nesrin, a Syrian and Turkish leader and activist, has around seven years of experience working in the humanitarian and development sector. In her role, she was responding to the Syrians’ needs in various countries through working with different entities and projects in education, protection, capacity development and partnership.  She believes that learning and collaboration are key to reaching the intended positive change in society. Nesrin has always been a social activist in the community, involved in voluntary and social initiatives. She was a member of the Red Crescent, JCI for youth development, an activist in the university leading different youth initiatives and a volunteer leading awareness campaigns for Syrians in Turkey. She also has a great passion for travelling to learn about different cultures and countries and learning new dances.

Birkbeck’s MSC  Education, power and social Change will complement her practical experiences, allowing her to play a leading role in organising local initiatives to empower Syrian leaders and lead the change.

Within the Chevening Community Nesrin aims to be a Syrian woman leader, share the unique experiences and stories from Syria and gain from the experiences of others.

Menessia Diergaardt, Namibia, MSc Management with Corporate Governance and Business Ethics

Menessia Diergaardt

Menessia Diergaardt

Menessia currently works as a Taxation Officer at the Ministry of Finance in Namibia. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) and an MSc in Banking and Finance from Moi University (Kenya).

Menessia believes that her aspirations meet her country’s economic growth ambitions and Chevening will help her to become more specialists in her field, allowing her to contribute towards the management and development of the country’s economic and social resources.

Menessia was attracted by Chevening because of its track-record for producing and developing many of the world’s finest scholars, leaders and presidents and the unique opportunity it offers to transform future leaders. “Chevening will create a platform for me to connect and network with a diverse and talented community, not only will I be exposed to and experience the UK education system, but I will also develop a diplomacy relationship that will equally benefit Namibia, the UK and the world at large.”

Sami Mehiaoui, Algeria, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship

Sami Mehiaoui

Sami Mehiaoui

Passionate about management consultancy & entrepreneurship, Sami holds a Master’s degree from the National High School of Management. During his, Masters Sami was elected president of the Scientist Club of Future Manager. He began his career as business analyst consultant supporting the development of more than 20 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in a programme funded by the UK government.

Sami is an entrepreneur and has co-founded several innovative businesses such as the Makelti mobile app or Forward development. An active member in the social entrepreneurship network, Sami was selected by Chevening in order to pursue his research in business innovation with entrepreneurship at Birkbeck. With the skills in strategic management, he will acquire Sami achieve his goals of strategic development with sustainability and social impact.

Adriana Borja-Enriquez, Ecuador, MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture

Adriana Borja-Enriquez

Adriana Borja-Enriquez, Ecuador

I got a degree in Clinical Psychology at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. I’m interested in human rights advocacy and psychoanalysis. Since 2014,  I have collaborated in psychosocial projects at non-governmental organizations that support survivors of gender-based violence, refugees, and asylum seekers in Ecuador. I aim to promote safe spaces and inclusive mental health care for women and the LGBTQI+ community.

I also hold a Postgraduate Certificate in Writing: Human Creativity and Communication from FLACSO Argentina. In 2018, The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US. Department of State sponsored my participation in The International Writing Program at The University of Iowa. I attended this literary residency alongside other authors that promote dialogue through literature and cultural diplomacy. My writing has been published in magazines and short-story collections in Spanish, English, and Italian.

Thanks to the Chevening Secretariat and The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, I will study an MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture at Birkbeck, University of London. It is a great honour for me to be part of a community that promotes social change while celebrating diversity.

Kristina Arakelova, Georgia, MSc in Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict

Kristina Arakelova

Kristina Arakelova

Kristina Arakelova is a member of the Core Group of Experts for the OSCE “Perspective 20-30” and a former Fellow in the UN OHCHR Minority Fellowship program 2018. She is a founder and President of the “Youth for Diplomatic Engagement” non-governmental organization (NGO) that focuses on youth involvement in the conflict, security, and ethnic minority integration issues in Georgia. As the President of the organization, she provides consultancy for state and civil society organizations working in these fields. Passionate about empowering or helping minorities/marginalized people, Kristina is an international trainer on conflict resolution and mediation.

“I applied for Chevening to contribute to bringing about much-needed peace, tolerance, and prosperity in my home country, Georgia, and beyond.”

Randolphe Severin N’Guessan, Cote d’Ivoire, MA TESOL

Randolphe Severin

Randolphe Severin

“I’ve been teaching English in Côte d’Ivoire (my country) for years, and I am also preparing a PhD in English, with the option of linguistics and didactics of languages in continuing training. This year, I am studying an MA TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at Birkbeck, University of London.

The need for modern and standardised education systems is evident in my country, which is a French-speaking one, but English is taught at school.  From my little experience, the teaching of English brings up many challenges and gaps to be bridged.  Thus, it will be interesting to attend a world-class university like Birkbeck, meet native speakers, share experiences with many others from all over the world. This will help me to be more proficient upon my return home.

I am very interested in Applied Linguistics and Intercultural Communication; and also willing to move to a more specialised position, such as teacher-trainer or language consultant and a teaching materials designer. Consequently, the MA TESOL is the relevant course that enables this.

Chevening is making my dreams come true.  Great, no!  NO NO, I CAN’T KEEP CALM!!!”

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Top tips and benefits for using video in lectures and seminars

Jenna Davies, Birkbeck’s Enterprise and Employability Consultant, encourages students to keep their cameras on whilst attending online lectures or seminars by outlining the benefits and addressing the most common barriers.

Among the various changes that 2020 has brought – our ways of working, studying, even socialising – there is one piece of equipment that has enabled us to retain our connection to others: our cameras.

While we have been unable to physically meet and see our colleagues and peers, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to maintain a level of connection through our screens, be it our phones, iPads, laptops or computers. In our online lectures and seminars, we can replicate the classroom as best as possible through the technology that we are able to access, providing a unique experience in a challenging environment where everyone can benefit from the virtual teaching space.

However, there are a number of barriers that may prevent us from fully embracing the online learning environment; to switch our cameras on, use our microphones to speak up, and be as present as possible, as we would in person. We may not feel comfortable being on video in front of our tutors and peers, we may have distractions in the background that we don’t want to risk interrupting the sessions, or we may feel we can still get the same from the session by not being on video. To overcome these challenges and reap the benefits of having our videos on in our online lectures and seminars, there are things we can do to make sure that we maximise our learning.

“I’m not comfortable being on video in front of my tutors and peers”

The transition to remote studying and working this year has meant that our home and work/study life are much more intertwined. Our homes are our study spaces – and although it’s only our head and shoulders in shot, we may feel more exposed on video compared to in-person.

Consider how you feel when you see someone on video in an online lecture, or meeting for example. Often, we’ll feel more of a connection to that person because we can see them. If we’re in an online meeting with three other people, two of whom have their videos on and one doesn’t, we feel less of a rapport with the person we can’t see.

If we have our videos off, we may be impacting the connection that others have with us and their experience in the virtual learning space as well. Birkbeck’s Disability Service Manager, Mark Pimm, recently reflected on his experience in virtual meetings: “I’m blind, and I have become so conscious of how much I miss out on being able to see everyone in the virtual meeting. This has made me wonder if when you leave the camera turned off in your online lectures and seminars, whether your fellow students are missing out on you.”

If everyone in our online lectures embraces the virtual space and switches their videos on, we’ll feel more connected to our peers and tutors. We’ll be more engaged and avoid potential distractions because we will be more present in that space. This will positively impact our experience and the goals we may have set when we enrolled onto our courses – to learn, to meet new people, to progress our careers, to graduate.

“I have distractions in the background that could interrupt the sessions”

There will often be occasions when we can’t avoid interruptions while we’re online – we may have children to look after, someone might be at the door, we might not want to show the space around us on video. The resistance to be on screen can come from a number of reasons.

If we consider how we feel when we have seen someone else on-screen experience interruptions during a lesson or a meeting, often there isn’t an impact on the session for others. We have all become far more understanding of what it means to study and work from home, and this comes with the acceptance that people will be in different spaces and have things going on in their homes that they can’t control.

If a distracting background is the difference between turning our videos on in lectures and making the most of the lesson, having a screen behind you may be a useful option. This could be a room divider or something in the home that you can use as your background.

“I’m not sure how I should position my camera”

Whichever device you use for your online sessions, try to have your head and shoulders in the shot. This will ensure that you fill the ‘frame’ without being too close or too far away from the camera.

Aim to have your device’s camera at the same height as your head, which will help to avoid looking down at the camera lens and it will also ensure that your posture is in a good position.

There are some useful tips in this video about setting up your cameras and making more impact on video.

“I’m still getting the same level of teaching with my video off”

There are numerous benefits of being part of a group and studying alongside peers who share the same interest in the topic you’re studying. While we have transitioned from physical classrooms to virtual classrooms, this doesn’t mean that those connections with your peers should disappear.

Being able to learn from your tutors as well as your fellow students is hugely beneficial and enhances your learning experience. The more engaged and present you are in your online sessions, with your videos on and speaking up to contribute to discussions, the more you will benefit from the session.

As we continue into the academic year, embrace the virtual learning environment and the opportunity to connect with your peers and tutors by making use of the technology we have, to benefit your studies as well as your peers’.

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Diwali is the festival of light and new hope!

With the recent Diwali celebrations, Professor Sanjib Bhakta, Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Biochemistry, reflects on what the festival means to him.

Mousumi Shyam, a Newton-Bhabha International Fellow at Birkbeck’s School of Science, has celebrated Diwali by decorating the International Students House with the traditional ‘Rangoli’. The purpose of the colourful design, ‘Rangoli’ is to feed strength, generosity and it is thought to bring good luck.

Diwali follows the epic story of ancient India: “Ramayana” to represent the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. The symbolism of Diwali is appropriately summarised in the simple act of lighting a lamp or ‘diya’. These are said to ward away evil and welcome the Goddess Lakshmi (the Hindu Goddess of wealth and prosperity) into the house.

The positive vibe that comes with the Diwali festival is more relevant worldwide in this challenging year than ever before with the unprecedented pandemic. During the second phase of lockdown in the UK, while we should strictly follow the Government guidelines on social distancing, face covering, good handwashing routine and patiently wait for a better control for the debilitating infectious disease to be available to us, I have been celebrating this ‘Diwali’ with my family at home and with all of you remotely over the weekend by lighting ‘diya’! Let us together give thanks for all we hold dear: our health, our family, our friends and to the scientists, NHS staff, and all the key workers who are working relentlessly to tackle the health challenges this year…

I moved to the UK precisely two decades ago but I still miss India when It comes to celebrating Diwali! To all the staff and students at Birkbeck, University of London I wish you and your family a very Happy Diwali!

Take care, stay happy and celebrate the festive season with all the available precautions and protections.

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The Disability Discrimination Act – what’s changed?

This November we celebrate 25 years since the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act. In this blog, Mark Pimm, Birkbeck’s Disability Service Manager who is blind, shares his experiences as a university student and how the world has changed since the passing of the Act.

Mark Pimm with his guide dog, Sonny

Twenty-five years ago, on 8 November 1995, the Disability Discrimination Act was passed and it got me thinking about how student life has changed in a quarter of a century.  There were no tuition fee loans and a pint of beer in the Student Union bar cost a pound, but life was a lot more challenging for disabled students.  There were no disability officers, universities weren’t required to make provision for disabled students – in fact, before the Act, we had no legal rights.

There was a Disabled Students’ Allowance, but at that time it was so small I couldn’t afford a computer; all I had was a writing machine with 32 megabytes of ram.

Because I did not have a computer and could not read Braille, I did everything on tape.  I recruited a team of volunteers to read my textbooks onto tape. I drafted my notes for essays onto cassette tapes and listened back to the notes when I came to write the essay.  All my exam notes were put onto tape, and I listened to these to revise. To give an idea of the scale, I had over 500 tapes containing over 2,000 hours of recording. Even though I was organised, it often took me an hour to find the right point on the right tape.

In those days, being blind I knew I would never get a non-graduate job. If I wanted to work, I had to get a degree. I had no choice but to carry on despite extraordinary odds because if I didn’t, I would never work.

What would be the difference today? If I was coming to Birkbeck now, the Disabled Students’ Allowance would pay for a computer with specialist software and training to ensure I could use it to access our online learning. It would fund an electronic notetaker, who would provide me with notes from all my lectures by email.

The university’s virtual learning environment would be accessible to me and I’d have access to the teaching materials in advance of our lectures, enabling me to read, as well as understand the structure of the lectures, prior to attending them. I could use the platform SensusAccess to make the electronic documents accessible to me and access the Royal National Institute of Blind People’s audible book service.

The number of additional things I’d need to do for myself would be reduced. I’d have the time to think about my future career and with support like the Ability Programme would be able to develop the transferrable skills that might mean that I could progress straight from graduation to employment, as my non-disabled peers can do.

It’s truly remarkable and inspiring to see how far we’ve come, thanks to those campaigners in the 90s.

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Community development: fostering dialogue and connections

The Community Leadership Programme for Newham Residents is run by the Access and Engagement Department and the Community Development and Public Policy BSc in the Department of Geography.

Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, the project aims to bring learning to community spaces and is part of the Access and Engagement department’s aim to bring education and learning opportunities to groups underrepresented in higher education.

In this blog, David Tross, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Geography, talks more about the course and the Newham citizens it’s worked with over the last 13 months.

Community is strength on a billboard

Community is strength on a billboard

One extraordinary aspect of this extraordinary year was what has been called the ‘largest peacetime mobilisation in UK history’, the 1 million-plus individuals who volunteered as part of the community response to COVID-19. These included NHS responders, volunteers for local charities, the 4000 mutual aid groups that sprung up in neighbourhoods across the country and those who spent lockdown making PPE equipment for key workers. Not only this, a demonstrable upsurge in community spirit was observed during the first wave of the pandemic, with large increases in the numbers of people agreeing that their neighbourhood was a place where residents looked out for each other and over half of those polled indicating that they had checked in on their neighbours in the past week.

The Birkbeck Community Development programme has now worked with over 100 active citizens in Newham over the last 13 months. We call the course Community Leadership, not because the participants necessarily have any formal leadership role, but because they all, in various ways and through various roles, are making a contribution to their local area, demonstrating how local people can instigate change because they have a passion or will to do so.

David Tross adding ideas to a board

We have worked with a resident who works for a local community organisation providing foodbanks and delivering youth projects. He’s so good at using digital platforms and social media to market and fundraise that he’s now helping us deliver the learning and resources on this aspect of Community Development. Then we have the resident who starts conservations and spreads awareness about mental health by taking a sofa to public places and chatting to local people about their experiences, signposting to agencies who can help. One of our last cohort was working with Muslim groups to alleviate a particular local consequence of the crisis — international students whose part-time jobs, often in the hospitality industries, disappeared overnight and were then unable to access public funds, leaving them destitute and without enough food to eat

The four-week course is structured around particular themes: leadership approaches, project management, community engagement and wellbeing. We bring in ideas and resources from the degree course we run at Birkbeck, while also calling upon the local resources and contacts developed through Senior Access Officer Hester Gartrell’s work in east London with the Access and Engagement Department.

Unlike other London boroughs, Newham has no Council for Voluntary Service, local infrastructure organisations dedicated to help local community groups access funding, resources and training, and there is a need for community projects to access this support. However, the key success of the course is what participants share and learn from each other. In this sense, our job is to facilitate dialogue and connections which will sustain and strengthen the projects people are doing, often in relative isolation, and to get great ideas off the ground.

A key activity of every course is the ‘Resource Exchange’, where we simply let participants meet and share resources and information, ask each other for help and provide advice and support. These mutual connections are a part of developing the social capital- networks of mutual support and trust- that are key to Community Development activity in a locality.

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Introducing our Chevening students 2020 part two

In this second instalment of our Chevening series, and ahead of the application deadline for the 2021 Chevening scholarship, we meet scholars from Albania, Brazil, Cameroon, the Dominican Republic, Rwanda, Turkey and Zimbabwe.

Rogerio Henrique Ferreira Miranda, Brazil, MSc International Security and Global Governance

Rogerio Henrique Ferreira Miranda

Rogerio Henrique Ferreira Miranda

Rogerio Henrique Ferreira Miranda’s academic background comprises of undergraduate degrees in Geology and in Law, postgraduate degrees in Management of Electric Sector Companies, International Executive and Technology, Management and Sustainability. Rogerio has just retired as a Security Manager and Director Chief of Staff in Itaipu Power Plant (the largest producer of clean and renewable energy in the planet) where he worked for 30 years, and where he designed important corporative programs such as the company innovation award.

After his Masters at Birkbeck Rogerio plans to become a college lecturer.

Mbiwan Eyere Takor, Cameroon, MSc Education, Power and Social Change

Eyere Takor

Mbiwan Eyere Takor

“Over the last 45 years I went from being just me to a wife and mother of four daughters and a son, to a teacher, mentor, educational administrator and founder of several social organisations as I explored a passion for social justice and empowerment.

In this time, even though the world has gone through many changes with targeted policies to improve access to education and opportunities for growth, women and girls are still at a big disadvantage as compared to their male counterparts.

I applied to Chevening because it has a reputation for being fair, inclusive and high achieving. Here I am at almost 69 with a Chevening scholarship to study at the prestigious 200-year-old Birkbeck, University of London. Again, Chevening alumni include formidable talents that are great resources to their countries around the world.”

Eva Shimaj, Albania, MSc Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability

Eva Shimaj

Eva Shimaj

“Working in an international business organisation made me realise the potential resources that companies can put into communities is immense and what is most needed is a change of vision, going towards ethical, environmentally-oriented and sustainable business practices. This motivated me to start this new journey and study Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability. This would have not been possible without the support of the Chevening Scholarship program, which I thank for giving me this opportunity. It is a proud moment for me to be part of this network of excellent scholars and future change-makers.”

Freemen Pasurai, Zimbabwe, MSc Human Resource Development and Consultancy

Freeman Pasurai

Freeman Pasurai

“My life story glides on the back of a fractured past and not even in my formative years did I ever imagine studying in the UK. Nothing less but my faith assured me that the things which I had never dreamt of can become a reality.

In high school I was fascinated by poetry and it’s a passion I’m still pursuing as a poet.

My breakthrough years came when I went to Midlands State University to study for a Degree in Human Resource Management. I became the Student Representative Council President and graduated with a Book Prize Award. Thereafter, I joined Econet Wireless Zimbabwe where I gained experience in customer experience, training and development and human capital management. I also assumed the role of President for the company’s Toastmasters Club which perfected my public speaking skills and leadership abilities.

I was enthralled by the reputation of the Chevening Scholarship and how much it has developed leaders across the world. I chose to apply with an understanding that in the UK ideas come alive and the ultimate Chevening experience provides a platform for leadership growth and professional networks that last a lifetime.”

Carolina del Carmen Pichardo Hernandez, Dominican Republic, MA Investigative

Reporting

Carolina Pichardo

Carolina Pichardo

“Since 2017 I have worked as a reporter for the oldest and most important newspaper in the Dominican Republic “Listín Diario”, where I write features about different topics such as Government, Education, Health and daily news.

But my main passion is investigating. For that reason, I have written features about the adoption system in the Dominican Republic and the orphans of murdered women. With these articles, I have won multiple journalistic prizes in my country.

I applied for Chevening because studying in the UK on a one-year scholarship will give me the bravery and independence I need to reach all my personal and professional goals. And of course, Chevening is the best way to study in a prestigious British university while meeting future leaders from all over the globe. “

Mariam Camara, Guinea, MSc Public Policy and Management

Mariam has ten years of experience in management, capacity building and skills development programmes. Currently, she is the Human Resources Manager of the Guinean State Mining Company, where she promotes skills development for employees.

In 2017, Mariam was selected by the US Department of State as a Young African Leader for the Mandela Washington Fellowship programme.

Her professional goal is to take a leadership role in the social and economic development of her country by promoting education, local content development, women’s empowerment, good governance and transparency.

Elif Harmanci, Turkey, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship

Elif Harmanci

Elif Harmanci

Elif’s passion for social entrepreneurship can be traced back to her college years. Whether as a full-time volunteer for four years in an award-winning NGO working in innovation and technology, or a regional finalist in Hult Prize Challenge in London, Elif has been on social innovation journey from the start, collaborating with students from diverse areas including visually-impaired peers, refugees and the pupils under legal protection.

As a person who is committed to developing an impactful social enterprise in the future, Elif is honoured to be a Chevener. She sees the UK is the centre of innovation and Chevening offers her the opportunity to meet and work together with innovators and leaders from diverse backgrounds who all wish to make the world a better place.

Sarah Busingye, Rwanda, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship

Sarah Busingye

Sarah Busingye

Sarah Busingye, a digital catalyser consultant, is an experienced face-to-face and online trainer with 10 years’ experience in the financial sector. She has delivered training on technical skills (e.g. banking, microfinance, digital finance, credit management) as well as soft skills (e.g.Leadership, Project management, Human resource management, Communication, Staff training, Client training, Customer service, Transformation). She is also an expert in trainers’ training and in systems for staff performance management.

Having served in different capacities on both the formal and informal sectors Sarah is passionate about tackling issues that impact the development of informal businesses, such as the lack of skills and education.

She is intent on using the professional and academic skills she will gain at Birkbeck to improve her community.

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Denials and ignorance in the time of a pandemic

Professor Renata Salecl, Professor of Psychology, Psychoanalysis and Law, explores how and why people react to COVID-19 with denial and ignorance.

Ignorance is often understood in a negative way, which is why we can easily accuse others of it while we rarely admit our ignorance. Most often, ignorance is understood not only as a lack of knowledge but primarily as a lack of the desire to know. However, psychoanalysts have observed that people might very well have a desire to know, but then do everything not to come close to the core of their suffering.

In politics, ignorance is often intentional or even strategic. At the start of the pandemic, many world leaders employed such deliberate strategies of ignorance. It was not so much that they did not know about the dangers of the novel coronavirus; they downplayed the pandemic for political and economic reasons.

In their private lives, people adopt their own types of denial. These denials are not so different from the types of denials that were studied in the 1980s by the Israeli psychologist Shlomo Breznitz, who questioned how people deal with potentially life-threatening health situations. Breznitz observed that many people who survived a heart attack did not think that they could suffer its repeat, even if they learned that others with a similar condition did. Denials helped people to feel confident in their wellbeing, and people often went from one form of denial to another. Altogether, Breznitz observed seven different kinds of denials among the patients he studied. One form of denial was that people felt that what happened to others cannot happen to them. Another involved a lack of urgency – when people experienced worsening of their health, they delayed seeking help. Still, another form of denial was a denial of vulnerability, when people felt that they were somehow protected from the illness because of their presumably healthy lifestyle. One of the forms of denial was the perception that illness is just luck, fate, or destiny. Moreover, while some people denied effects related to their condition or have invented an appeasing explanation for their anxiety provoked by their near-death experiences, others denied the information regarding their health. However, the most severe cases of denial included delusions, which meant that people created an explanation for their condition that was far away from reality.

With people who deny COVID-19, one can also observe how they often go through similar types of denials. Some people behave as if the novel coronavirus is of no personal relevance and that infections affect only other people. Even when already infected, some deny the urgency of the situation and do not seek medical treatment when their symptoms worsen. Many people who deny that the novel coronavirus can affect them, similarly to Breznitz’s patients, harbor illusions that they are somehow protected from getting infected because of their healthy lifestyle or even good genes. Some people take infection as merely a matter of luck or destiny. Overwhelmingly present are denials linked to people blocking unpleasant information or pushing aside their emotions related to the pandemic. Furthermore, with the continuation of the pandemic, psychiatrists are also observing delusional thinking. Some people are even developing particular COVID-19 related delusions.

Medicine often does not pay enough attention to people’s denial of illness as epidemiology says little about how ignorance and denial are played out in times of a pandemic. Now that so many countries are going through the second wave of the pandemic, many people are fatigued by it and are not willing to follow often erratic measures governments are proposing to limit the spread of the virus. While on the one hand, people need to deal with the conflicting messages about how to protect themselves and others from the infection, on the other hand, they have to deal with the emotions the pandemic is provoking. When dealing with something traumatic, anxiety-provoking or hard to grasp, people often embrace ignorance and denial, instead of knowledge and facts.

The pandemic has taught us the importance of acknowledging the unknown. As Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States said, “He who knows, knows how little he knows.” One cannot imagine that today’s world leaders would utter something like this. Although, as German politician and epidemiologist Karl Lauterbach recently reminded us in The Guardian: “Uncertainty and doubt are not a disgrace for scientists or politicians at this time. What is disgraceful is excessive self-confidence, self-righteousness or dishonesty towards fellow human beings.”

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Keeping busy in Tier 2: Tiptop icing recipe

Birkbeck student Pav returns with more lockdown baking recipes to get the tastebuds tingling.

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Hello guys, it’s me, your Pav. I hope that you are all well and keeping warm and safe. As Londoners look for ways to keep busy during the Tier 2 lockdown, please see a new addition to your baking adventures.

This time, I’m sharing my tiptop icing recipe, which you can pair with the perfect muffin recipe I promised in my last blog.

What you need:

  • 225g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 450 grams (1pound) icing sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons double cream or semi-skimmed milk
  • Pinch of salt

How to do it:

1. Mix the butter for 10-15 minutes. Don’t worry about overdoing it – the more you mix it, the better it gets.

2. Add sifted 225 grams of icing sugar (cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel to prevent icing going everywhere) – mix for approximately 5 minutes. The key is to ensure that you sift the icing sugar before mixing it to avoid big lumps of sugar and to make sure that all the icing sugar incorporates nicely with the butter.

3. Include 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and mix for another minute. During mixing, add one tablespoon at a time of double cream or milk up to 2 tablespoons. Don’t forget to leave the last tablespoon for the second part of the icing.

Top tip – the higher quality of vanilla extract you use, the better the icing will taste.

4. Once the icing is coming nicely together, add the second half of sifted icing sugar and a pinch of salt and mix for 2-3 minutes. After 3 minutes, add the last tablespoon of milk and mix for another 5 -6 minutes.

Should I use milk or double cream for the icing?

The difference is in consistency – double cream is creamier, where milk is better for basic icing on fairy cupcakes. However, it does depend on preference and season. I tend to use double cream in winter and milk in summer.

How do I know when the icing is ready?

Try it and if you feel sugar bits, continue mixing. If the icing is too watery, add a bit of sifted icing sugar at a time to change the consistency. If your frosting is too dry, add a tablespoon of milk. The key is in proportion and mixing it all well together.

How to decorate with your icing

Before decorating, be mindful of the current season – in summer ingredients get wet very quickly. That is why in summer, I tend to put the icing in the fridge for 10 minutes to reach a thick consistency for the best decoration. However, not too thick – the best icing is the one which creates strong shapes once squeezed through the icing bag.

In terms of piping and decoration, the world is your oyster – so enjoy your baking and do not forget to let me see your creation on Instagram adding #lifeofpav♈️.

Your Pav.

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Widening access to postgraduate courses

Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement Department have been working with the local community in the London borough of Newham for many years. In this blog, Hester Gartrell, Senior Outreach Officer at Birkbeck discusses what widening access to postgraduate courses looks like in the Birkbeck context.

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There is a lot of buzz around ‘Widening Participation (WP)’ or ‘access’ to Higher Education. In fact, the Government, through the Office for Students, requires universities to prove that they are actively engaged in activities that will support students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds into undergraduate study. At most universities Widening Participation activities focus on supporting secondary school pupils into university. Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement Department challenges this model, supporting BTEC and Further Education College students alongside prospective mature students from a variety of backgrounds including Trade Union members and people who are Forced Migrants.

At Birkbeck, we also want to challenge approaches to access that only focus on undergraduate students. We have a fantastically diverse undergraduate cohort, but this diversity is not reflected to the same extent in our postgraduate student body. As our postgraduate student numbers grow and a Master’s degree becomes increasingly important for gaining a professional job we have pioneered new approaches which reach out to potential postgraduate students.

Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement Department have worked in the east London borough of Newham for many years and in 2018, the department received funding from the London Legacy Development Corporation enabling them to expand their work in Newham and began trialling advice and guidance for potential postgraduate applicants. While there has been substantial economic development in the borough since the 2012 Olympics, many local graduates still find themselves underemployed or unemployed.  For graduates looking to move on from zero-hours contracts, take the next step after poor attainment in their first degree or stepping back into a career after taking time to care for family, postgraduate study can be just as life-changing as undergraduate.

Working with potential postgraduate students through the lens of access enabled us to explore the many unanswered questions around ‘what actually is non-traditional’ and what is defined as ‘widening access’ at postgraduate level. Across a sector dominated by 18-year olds, the traditional widening access criteria and interventions for undergraduate can’t simply be transferred wholesale to postgraduate applicants. This is especially relevant for Birkbeck, where our undergraduate access work already looks very different from the rest of the HE sector, leading to the question, if our access work at undergraduate aims to reach those left behind by traditional widening access work, what does postgraduate widening access look like in the Birkbeck context?

Our postgraduate Information, Advice and Guidance pilot enabled us to begin exploring this question alongside a wider strategic project going on across the College to improve access to Masters programmes for a diverse range of students.

To find out more about our learnings from the east London widening access at postgraduate programme, watch our webinar. We also have a range of open-access videos for potential postgraduate students that can be used in student communications.

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