My work placement experience at Europe’s biggest Chinese film festival

Shanshan Wu, MA Film and Screen Media student, shares her experience of studying at Birkbeck and finding a work placement. 

For the past four months, I have been doing my work placement at ‘Odyssey: a Chinese film season’, hosted by the non-profitable organisation UK-China Film Collab (UCFC). Thanks to Birkbeck and the placement host, I am leading the marketing team of Europe’s biggest Chinese film festival.  

A New Start 

After finishing my bachelor’s and my first master’s degrees in Filmmaking in Australia, I went back to China for work, and became a tutor of film training courses for young people. Then I realised I wanted more – I wanted to know more about the cinema market, film distribution, film curating, and, of course, film festivals. The world of cinema is so vast, and I wanted to expand my vision to different areas of the film industry in different parts of the world. 

Becoming a Birkbeck Student 

When researching film programmes in London, Birkbeck was my top choice. Its perfect location in the heart of Bloomsbury was a selling point, but so was its well-designed course modules in MA Film and Screen Media, which offered a wide range of options – from film curating to memory studies – all introducing and exploring cutting-edge topics and debates in the field. One of the things that interested me the most was the chance to do a work placement at a film or media related organisation. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to get hands on experience in the film industry to help start student’s careers. International students like me are often underrepresented in the professional circuit, so these kinds of opportunities are extremely precious to us.  

Securing the Placement 

For most of our fellow students, our tutors would listen to their work placement needs, and then match them with suitable placement hosts. I went through the same process, but I had also started looking for placements of my own accord too – I was really keen! My tutor, Dr Dorota Ostrowska, was so understanding and helpful in this process. When I said that I had been offered the voluntary Lead of Marketing role at ‘Odyssey: a Chinese cinema season’ film festival, she carefully considered the details. She wanted to make sure the work matched with my needs and really would be a beneficial placement for me. After the consideration, all the paperwork was signed, and the placement was secured!  

A Rewarding Journey 

Odyssey: a Chinese cinema season was held from May 10 to June 10.  With more than 60 films screened both online and in-person, and audience numbers over 2600, it is the biggest Chinese film festival in Europe this year. My placement has now ended, and I have learned so much and met so many great colleagues and friends.  

I’m so grateful to the festival and to the Birkbeck tutors for the support and insight they gave me on this journey. I now understand in detail the process of holding a film festival and discovered a new interest in film marketing and film distribution, which I had never thought of before. I’m sure this is just the beginning of another journey for me, and I can’t wait to explore more wonders of cinema.

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“Being able to function and cope well in a new academic and cultural environment has been a fulfilling and exciting experience”

Rachid Meftah, from Morocco, is a 2021 Chevening scholar. In this blog he talks about his Chevening application journey and studying Language Teaching/TESOL (MA) at Birkbeck.

How was your Chevening application journey?

Reflecting back upon my Chevening journey, I find it a rich, exciting, and fulfilling experience. I consider this journey to have been smooth – despite all the challenges – for this one main reason: I knew what I wanted to study and what to do with it.

As a teacher, I had always been looking for opportunities to expand my knowledge and expertise in the field of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Having been introduced to this area through a short audit class had given me insights into what I could gain from doing a full-time master’s in it, and of how this could impact my colleagues and community. So, the vision had been clear in my mind: I wanted to gain valuable qualifications in TESOL that would help me to bridge the gap between practice and theory as a teacher, and to enable me to bring change to education in my community and country through teacher training.

Thus, when the Chevening opportunity came, all I had to do was to put my clear idea into words, and to showcase it as a project worthy of the Chevening award well enough throughout all the stages of the application process. Not only did this vision help me win the scholarship the first time I applied, but it also gave me enough motivation and positivity to surmount all the obstacles.

Why this course and why Birkbeck?

My choice to study at Birkbeck was guided by two things: the nature and the quality of the course and the reputation of the college. After searching and comparing Masters online, I chose TESOL at Birkbeck for these reasons:

  • The course suits my academic and professional goals since it was designed for English language teachers who already have an experience in the classroom and who want to develop their career opportunities
  • It offers me the opportunity to expand my knowledge in the field of applied linguistics and develop language awareness and analysis of English as a second language
  • It offers me the opportunity to conduct research in the field of second language acquisition

My choice of Birkbeck college was based on the search I did and on advice from a former professor. I wanted to do my master’s in central London, the hub for an international and vibrant scholarly community, and Birkbeck offered me that. In addition, a former professor advised me to choose Birkbeck for the quality and academic excellence of its research. Now that I’m conducting my research dissertation, I could see the benefits of being a part of the Birkbeck scholarly community.

Being able to function and cope well in a new academic and cultural environment has been a fulfilling and exciting experience for me.

Can you tell us about your experience as a Chevener?

My Chevening journey has been an exciting and a rewarding experience in every aspect. I feel I have gained much academically, personally, and culturally studying at Birkbeck.

My course has offered me an excellent academic experience so far! I’ve been introduced to a research oriented and positive environment where professors consider us their colleagues, not their students. This has helped me gain an intellectually stimulating content and research skills that will enable me to conduct my own research.

As a Chevening scholar at Birkbeck, I could connect with many Cheveners and with other international students through the events organized at Birkbeck. This has offered me the opportunity to network and socialize with students from different professional and cultural backgrounds.

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A day in the life of a postgraduate student

MSc Politics of Population, Migration and Ecology student, Sorrel Knott, shares a day-in-the life account of her experience as a full-time postgraduate student at Birkbeck.  

You might be wondering what a day in the life of a postgraduate student looks like. To tell you the truth, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to that question. Birkbeck has an incredibly diverse student body, bringing together people from a variety of professional backgrounds with varying daily responsibilities. Alongside my studies, I work as a part-time marketing assistant and researcher, as well being a student ambassador for Birkbeck. My part-time professional role is completely remote; as a result, I have been able to cultivate a flexible routine, and evening study at Birkbeck has enabled this. So, here is a day in my life as a full-time postgraduate student. 

8am: *Insert irritating iPhone alarm sound effect* 

Typically, I wake up at 8am. I’ll stretch, make my bed, and get ready, before attempting my daily Wordle with breakfast. As my job is remote, I don’t commute to work unless I am working as a student ambassador at an event for Birkbeck. Therefore, I’m lucky that I can have a laid-back start to the day.

8.30am: let’s work 

I try to get started quickly. I try to get started early, helped along by the to-list that I make every Sunday, that sets out all my tasks for the week. My work includes posting on social media, academic research, compiling bibliographies and writing reports in order to build my company’s platform 

12pm: student commute 

At 12pm, I’ll have another coffee before packing my bag for university, being sure to include my laptop, chargers, headphones, notepad, pen, water bottle, reusable Tupperware and cutlery, mask, hand sanitiser and a trusty lip balm. I usually catch the bus to Euston Station and walk eight minutes past Gordon Square to reach Birkbeck’s Malet Street campus. If the weather permits, I ride my bike, as there are plenty of bike racks on campus. I tend to avoid the tube to save money, though there are convenient tube stations located at Russell Square and Goodge Street. 

1.30pm: arrive in time for some free food on campus 

If you arrive before 3pm, you can normally catch the Hare Krishna group handing out cooked food, bread, fruit and, if you are lucky, home-made cake! I will normally pick up lunch from them in my reusable Tupperware before heading to Russell Square or the green space on Birkbeck’s Malet Street campus. There are also other squares to choose from – sometimes I sit in Gordon Square by Birkbeck’s Arts building. I enjoy visiting Birkbeck’s surrounding squares as I think it’s important to visit green space when working on a laptop all day. Plus, I might get lucky and see a cute dog (or six)! 

2pm: become a bookworm in Birkbeck’s library 

After lunch, I head to the library located in Birkbeck’s Malet Street campus. Usually, I sit down in the group study area, but there are silent study areas too. I watch pre-recorded lectures, complete my pre-reading for my seminar and make notes. I’ll ensure that I understand the topic of the seminar, which might involve watching documentary clips, keeping up with the news and emailing professors with any questions. If I have an assignment, I’ll work on that after my seminar preparation, including my dissertation research. If a friend is on campus, we’ll go for a coffee at Terrace 5 on the fifth floor of Birkbeck’s Malet Street campus. Sometimes, you can get a discounted hot drink through the Twelve app! 

6pm: it’s seminar time (normally) 

On the evenings where I don’t have a seminar, such as the summer term when postgraduates only work on their dissertations, there might be a Birkbeck event, which I can work at as a student ambassador. During term time, my seminars start at 6pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and last for around an hour and a half. 

In the Department of Politics seminars are very collaborative, involving group discussions surrounding the pre-seminar readings and materials. My intellectual progression has been enriched by the diversity present in the seminar groups, and I have enjoyed having my viewpoints constructively challenged by others. The seminar is also an opportunity to ask your professor to clarify the pre-seminar lecture or readings, as well as an opportunity to discuss a particular topic with a Birkbeck academic. 

7.30 – 9pm: let’s go home 

If it’s a Tuesday or Wednesday, I finish at 7.30pm. If it’s a Thursday, I finish at 9pm because I have two seminars back-to-back. When you choose your modules in the Politics department, you’ll be able to see the days of the week when a module is taught, as well as having the option to choose between a 6pm or 7.30pm start time for your seminar. This has given me the flexibility to avoid clashes between two modules that are provided on the same day. 

Regardless of time, I’ll either catch a bus or cycle home. Sometimes, other members of the class will head to a pub or bar for a post-seminar drink. I don’t drink alcohol, but it’s enjoyable to attend these casual post-seminar events in order to socialise. 

The rest of the evening: time to relax 

When I arrive home, I’ll make dinner with my partner, take a shower and relax. I think it’s important to dedicate time towards your family, friends and loved ones, as well as taking time to reflect after your day. My partner and I talk about our day, watch a TV series or play video games. I’ll also complete any daily chores, like the washing up.  

 This is the time to rest and recuperate before another day, as well as checking in with yourself to see if your body is bringing anything to your attention, both physically and mentally. Sometimes, I realise that my body needs more sleep, so I allow myself an extra hour of sleep. Sometimes, I realise that my body needs some alone time, so I might read a book for an hour. I’m lucky that the combined flexibility of my professional role and evening study at Birkbeck enables me to pay attention to my own needs. 

So, there you have it! 

This is what a typical day in my life looks like; it may not be representative of every student’s time at Birkbeck, but it really works for me. It’s a stable routine that enables me to balance my professional and academic work. Other student’s days might include attending a university-related event, such as a cinema showing in Birkbeck’s Arts building or a guest lecture. Those after even more of a social student life can join a society and attend their meetings and events outside of seminars and work hours. Some students might even visit one of the galleries, museums and exhibits which the Bloomsbury area is famous for. It’s the additional experiences that are available at the university and in the surrounding area that bring a little extra joy to your life! 

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From shades of Gray to a confidence vote: three things we know about Boris Johnson

Yesterday saw UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson narrowly surviving a vote of confidence by Conservative MPs. Senior Lecturer in Politics, Dr Ben Worthy analyses the findings of the Sue Gray Report and gives his predictions for the future of Boris Johnson in Downing Street.  

There were parties  

The Gray report finally confirms that regular parties were held in Downing Street. This is simple but important. They weren’t accidental, or ‘cake ambushes’ taking the poor PM by surprise. Police investigated a total of twelve parties, with a further four left uninvestigated. The parties were organised, premeditated, and put together in advance, while the rest of the UK was in severe lockdown so stringent that funerals couldn’t be held, and relatives couldn’t visit loved ones in hospital. As the report put it bluntly: ‘It is important to remember the stringency of the public health regulations in force in England over the relevant periods and that criminal sanctions were applied to many found to be in breach of them’. What was fine for Downing Street, resulted in a fine for others.   

It shouldn’t need saying, of course. But the truth is important. Most Prime Ministers, and most politicians, are ‘economical with the truth’. But more than most, Prime Minister Johnson’s career has been built on what Nixon called ‘things that later turned out to be untrue’, from the £350 million promises written on a bus to the denial of lockdown parties. The first question on his recent Mumsnet interview was “Why should we believe anything you say when it’s been proven you’re a habitual liar?” A website has collated more examples of lies from Boris Johnson. Even his biography of Churchill was littered with ‘misunderstandings’, including that the Germans captured Stalingrad 

Amid the fog of untruth and evasions, the report sets out what happened, when and where, with photos and evidence.  Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly depending on how cynical you are, allegations of more parties have emerged since the report. As Marina Hyde, Guardian columnist, always points out, with Boris Johnson there’s always more.   

They knew they were wrong  

One of the more astonishing parts of the report is how much of the wrongdoing was recorded. What was written showed that many participating knew it was wrong. Again, there were no accidental parties but instead, instructions to ‘bring your own booze’. The report shows that someone close to the Prime Minister, warned fellow party goers:  

‘Just to flag that the press conference will probably be finishing around that time, so it would be helpful if people can be mindful of that as speakers and cameras are leaving, not walking around waving bottles of wine etc.’  

The individual went on to write: ‘Best of luck with a complete nonstory but better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to have got away with).’  

Perhaps the hardest parts of the report are the details of the treatment received by those who pointed out what they were doing was wrong. In the report, Gray writes: ‘I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable.’ Though there are no details, The Sun has reported how one security guard was mocked for pointing it out and cleaners were laughed at as they cleared up the mess. One image that stands out, is of staff, the days after the many nights before, scrubbing post-party wine stains after travelling across lockdown London.   

Conservative MPs are not happy  

If Conservative MPs were surprised by the Gray report, many were silent for some time after. In the 24 hours after its release, many thought that no news was good news, and a sign that Johnson was out of trouble. But we now know the quiet was more ominous, with MPs weighing up options. In the following days there was a steady uptick in letters to the 1922 committee which triggered a vote of confidence.  

Some Conservative MPs were genuinely outraged. Paul Holmes, who resigned from the government, spoke of his ‘distress’ at a ‘toxic culture’ in Downing Street. Others, depending on your view, may be more cunning or realistic; even before Partygate, Johnson had slowly become an electoral liability. He is now a vote loser not a vote winner.    

Already nervous Conservative MPs know that, because of the Gray report, every leaflet from a Labour, Liberal Democrat or Green opponent will feature a photo of Boris Johnson drinking, which they will have to defend or distance themselves from. This is at a time when a full 59% of the public believe he should resign (though not many think he will). One analyst has worked out that ten recent letter submitters are in vulnerable seats at greatest risk to the Lib Dems. Over in Wakefield, where there is a by-election this month, Labour are twenty points ahead, with the main reason for voters switching, according to one pollster, is ‘Boris Johnson tried to cover up partygate, and lied to the public’.  

Boris Johnson still isn’t safe  

On Monday 6 June, Johnson finally faced a confidence vote which he won but, it must be said, won badly, with 40% of his own MPs voting to remove him. More Conservative MPs voted against him than voted against Theresa May in 2018, and she lasted only a few more months in power afterwards. This leaves his leadership in the worst possible position, still in post but with almost half of his own party against him.   

Boris Johnson is now in very serious trouble, and his time in Downing Street can probably be measured in months, if not weeks. His MPs, his party and the public are deeply unhappy. The details and images from the report may mark the end of Johnson’s time in Downing Street. Whatever happens next, the Sue Gray report will be a defining document of Johnson’s premiership, and a symbol of what went wrong.     

Ben Worthy is the Director of the MSc in Government, Policy and Politics at Birkbeck. 

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Five top tips from a student on how to save money

MA Applied Linguistics and Communication student, Charlotte MacKechnie, shares money-saving tips to get the most out of your student loan or monthly budget whilst studying at Birkbeck.  

  1. UNiDAYS 

UNiDAYS is a free service that you can sign-up to using your student email address that ends in .ac.uk, at myunidays.com. After signing up to the website, you will have access to ongoing and limited discounts. My favourites include £10 off £75 at Ikea, discounted Pure Gym memberships, and a 6-month free Amazon Prime Student trial (then 50% off Amazon Prime).  

I love UNiDAYS because… you can use your UNiDAYS ID on your phone to access discounts in store. No more being caught out by not having your student card with you! 

  1. Tesco Clubcard 

This free loyalty card for the British supermarket, Tesco, allows you to unlock in-store and online discounts that are exclusively available for Clubcard members. Not only do you unlock deals, but you also collect points every time you shop; you can turn these points into Tesco vouchers, or you can put them towards rewards such as vouchers for Pizza Express, the RAC, and Disney+. Sign up at Tesco.com. 

I love Tesco Clubcard because… I love the scanning my Clubcard prior to paying in-store, so that I can see how much money I have saved! 

  1. Download Microsoft Office 365 – for free!

To download Microsoft’s entire Office suite for free, you’ll need to sign up using your .ac.uk student email address at Office.com. After logging in, you’ll be guided through downloading and installing the software, plus you’ll also get 1TB free OneDrive online storage. 

I love Microsoft Office 365 and OneDrive because… I can save all my files on OneDrive, and access them from any device! 

  1. Purchase a railcard and save a third on eligible fares

If you anticipate travelling whilst at university – perhaps visiting friends at other unis, or even going home – then I’d definitely recommend getting a railcard. I travelled 300 miles away to attend university, so I started saving after my first return trip home! If you go to thetrainline.com, their railcard finder will help you decide which railcard that is right for you – there’s a card for every age. Added tip: if you sign up to Student Beans, you receive an exclusive discount on student railcards. 

I love having a railcard because… it makes visiting family and friends more affordable! 

  1. Discover free counselling and listening services

University can be a stressful time, and we want you to know that there are free counselling and listening services out there. For example, Samaritans are there for you, 24 hours a day, to help you face whatever you are going through. Also, Birkbeck offer a free, non-judgemental and confidential counselling service, as part of their student well-being services offering.   

I love knowing about the free services available to me because… I know that I am supported! 

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Management Consultancy and Organizational Change: Are you up for the challenge?

Each year, students on the MSc Management Consultancy and Organisational Change work directly with major clients of PA Consulting on a variety of challenging consultancy projects.

A unique aspect of Birkbeck’s MSc Management Consultancy and Organisational Change programme is that students have the option to complete the Consultancy Challenge in place of a traditional dissertation or research project.

Partnering with PA Consulting, the global innovation and transformation consultancy, students on the Consultancy Challenge work with PA’s major clients on a range of projects across an intense twelve-week period. For these students, it is an opportunity to deliver solutions to real problems that clients face, reflecting the work of management consultants, and experiencing a unique journey alongside team members who all offer different skills and knowledge.

For the 2021 academic year, students formed two teams, each tasked with solving a problem in a large, complex organisation. The first team completed a knowledge governance project for a large UK animal charity. The second team completed a project advising a regulatory organisation in the medical field on implementing hybrid working.

Dr David Gamblin, programme director and module convenor of the Consultancy Challenge, said: “It was a joy to see the students in action over the twelve-week consulting cycle, from initial scoping of the briefs and defining the problem with their clients, to the final presentation of deliverables. The students tackled two challenging projects, put learning into practice, and ultimately delivered meaningful outputs for their clients.”

Throughout the project, each student team is mentored by a consultant from PA, who provides support and guidance, as well as assurance that the work is of a standard that PA would be proud of.

The consulting cycle culminated with the student teams presenting their final analyses and recommendations, which were met with positive reactions from the clients, PA consultants, and Birkbeck supervisors. The clients highlighted the “hard work and professionalism” of the students, and they were impressed with the practical advice that was offered.

The 2022 Consultancy Challenge officially kicked-off on 25 April 2022 with students working on two new client projects. If you think you are up for the challenge in future years, have a look at our Management Consultancy and Organisational Change programme page, or contact David Gamblin to learn more.

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Changing the stories we tell about creativity

Jamie Hannon graduated with distinction in MSc Management with Business Innovation from Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics. Working for the Barbican and Culture Mile Learning during his studies, Jamie put theory into practice and interrogated practice with theory, linking the creative arts with skills in innovation to create the Fusion Futures skills and employability programme.

Photo credit: Christian Cassiel – Copyright: Museum of London

Creativity and the arts are recognised for their contribution to innovation. Yet, space for creativity is often sidelined by business and education. Even those working in arts and culture play into this narrative that creativity exists as a separate ‘nice-to-have’. This comfortable status quo has a lot to do with how we evaluate and talk about our arts and culture initiatives.

In 2020, I was lucky that my organisation was in a position to retain its workforce. It allowed me some creative space to develop a new learning programme based on the provocation ‘how can we best prepare young people for the as-yet-unknown jobs of the future’.  To really interrogate the possibilities, I drew upon my arts background and my burgeoning knowledge of innovation as part of my studies towards an MSc Management with Business Innovation at Birkbeck.

Knowledge sharing as a tactic against future challenges

Influenced by the academic discourse, a possible solution started to emerge.  Skills in knowledge sharing might be the only ones relevant when future jobs are unknown. Knowledge sharing – the donating and collecting of information that is then utilised by the receiving individual as knowledge – is considered a key behaviour within innovation-led learning organisations. This was sounding like a promising direction to take the programme in.

Of course, it made sense to me that knowledge sharing as a learning tactic could be deployed against future challenges. But would the young participants understand this? Participants likely wouldn’t articulate it in clear academic terms.  So, how were the programme outcomes going to be measured?  I had spent a lot of time on the programme and had promised its stakeholders a full and extensive evaluation. The choice of possible quantitative and qualitative methods was, for a while, disabling.

I had to stop and cut myself some slack, as they say. I had to strip back my thinking to the level of an individual taking part. In order to evaluate the programme, what did I need to know from the young students?  Were they aware that they had experienced knowledge sharing in the workshop?

Picturing the experience

My logic was this: participants might not be able to fully articulate their experience of knowledge sharing, but they would give away clues about how they understood their experience through linguistic pictures in their responses. We often use linguistic pictures to create an understanding of something.  (For example, ‘feeling down’ provokes an understanding of a person’s mood in a picture form – we imagine a person looking down or lacking energy so therefore sitting down.)  So, I decided to conduct loosely structured interviews that allowed participants the space to fully describe their experience in their natural vocabulary.

Revealing something hidden

“I was showing my creative mind”, one said.  “There was more to it”, “I saw the meaning behind their picture”, others said.  “I delved deep into my soul”.  “I could really see”.

A common linguistic picture appeared, the experience of revealing something to others or having something revealed to them. Although the young students had not used the words share, give, or take, they were describing how they were giving information about themselves to others and then receiving information from others in return.  The donating and collecting of knowledge had been experienced, and interestingly, it was at the level of identity.

The role of identity in knowledge sharing

The artist facilitators instinctively started with teamwork activities that explored identities. One artist’s exercise was to take a polaroid of how the student saw themselves, then a second of how they thought others saw them. Each picture was an agent for discussion and became an indirect and less pressurised way to share.

I realised that before sharing complex information and before utilising it as knowledge towards challenges, participants were sharing who they were with each other.  They had been supporting each other to share their authentic selves, which created a shared psychological safety within which the rest of the workshop activities could be conducted.

This was an important revelation for me. Returning to the academic discourse, I found that identity and self-concept are linked to a person’s understanding of their own knowledge and abilities and whether they feel comfortable to share; a self-confidence to offer a contribution and a humbleness to know how others can contribute.

Empowered with these findings, I can talk about this new programme and its impact on innovation. I can say that through understanding who they are and what knowledge, insights and experiences they bring to the group, participants have practised knowledge sharing. They feel open and confident to take part in collaboration and collective problem solving.

Tailoring the learning experience

For the degree, I achieved distinction and received an award of academic excellence. But it wasn’t all hard work. I enjoyed the experience because I took the advice given to me in a Birkbeck dissertation seminar. Their recommendation was to investigate a topic that was of interest to me; that I could apply to my career or other ambitions, and that I would feel proud and empowered to know more about. This advice, coupled with the course’s flexible approach to module selection meant that I tailored my learning to me and my ambitions.

At work, the story I now tell about my new learning programme, Fusion Futures, is that it is more than ‘nice-to-have’ – it’s fundamental to innovation!

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21 tips on how to become a successful researcher

Last week, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) results were announced, with the majority of Birkbeck’s research (83%) being confirmed as world-leading and internationally excellent. Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele, Professor of Applied Linguistics and Multilingualism, shares his wisdom on how to become a successful researcher.  

Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele, Professor of Applied Linguistics and Multilingualism

Having been active in academia for more than 30 years, I realise that I have reached the pinnacle of my career in applied linguistics and multilingualism research. I’ve always been passionate about research and teaching, and I am lucky enough to work in an institution that allows me to focus on both.  

Close to 30 of my former PhD students have made their way into academia and the wider world, and when we meet occasionally, we reflect on what it takes to become a successful researcher and how to climb the slippery career ladder.  The first thing is undoubtedly luck: with health, work, relationships. None of those should suffer in the drive to become successful. By “successful”, I mean good quantity and quality of research output, resulting in citations and invitations to present one’s work and ideas at workshops, panels and conferences.  It can also involve becoming part of international professional organisations, editorial boards, and spending time encouraging and guiding younger researchers.  Of course, it is impossible to know in advance whether one will become successful.  I would say that it is a mind-set. Think positively!   

Practical advice also helps, which is why I’ve come up with these 21 tips on how to become a successful researcher. There is one caveat: if the drive to success undermines happiness, it is not worth it. It is definitely better to be a happy person rather than an unhappy -even successful- researcher. It is really a matter of balance. 

  • Be happy and curious, creative and courageous, regulate your emotions. 
  • Have your finger on the pulse of your field: Where is it heading? What are the exciting new developments (theoretical, epistemological and methodological)? How can you contribute to these new developments by adding something distinctive? Can you end up shaping the field? 
  • Establish what your unique selling points are: What are your strengths and what makes your research distinctive? Why should anyone care about what you have to say? 
  • Find your own unique academic voice: you’re not a robot, you need to stand out from the crowd – while still fitting in the community. 
  • Research is not a competition as there are no ‘winners’. It’s a collaborative enterprise: helping others means you will get help too if you ask for it. 
  • Be optimistic, resilient, humble, ambitious, conscientious, honest, excited, enthusiastic. 
  • Accept that all research requires a huge investment in effort and time – often much more than expected. 
  • Realise that while reviewers are often constructive in their comments on your work, some can also be mean and hostile: don’t let them rattle you. Build a mental shield to protect yourself when things get nasty (also at conferences) and don’t lose your cool. 
  • Visualise your name in print under the title of a new paper in an excellent journal. 
  • Build up a network of fellow researchers from a wide range of ages and experience, be visible, sociable, friendly and trustworthy. 
  • Organise panels on your topic and major conferences, then turn the contributions into a special issue for a good journal. Plant a flag, invite people to join you, use humour to dissipate tension. 
  • Realise that even the best and most experienced researchers don’t produce gold on the first attempt: rework papers endlessly until they reach the publication threshold. Pay attention to detail. Don’t be overly discouraged by rejections. Experienced researchers are able to benefit maximally from feedback, with the resulting publication being many times better than the original one. 
  • Realise that more time spent in front of the computer does not guarantee better quality work. 
  • Go walking and do physical activities that take your mind off academic work (music, dancing, sports…) 
  • Go to conferences to present your work in progress and check how it is received and what feedback you get. 
  • Offer to collaborate with fellow researchers if you feel your skills could complement theirs in reaching a common objective. 
  • Try to write (and present) better. 
  • Be generous in giving credit to people who influenced and helped you. 
  • Be able to switch off being a researcher sometimes, talk about something else, and listen to others’ views on arts and politics and life. 
  • Never submit a paper straight after finishing it: go for a walk first and think about every word and every reference and anything you may have forgotten to include or things that forgot to remove. A good night’s sleep before a final re-reading is also recommended. 
  • Disseminate your findings beyond academia and see whether your research may have practical implications that could boost social justice and equity. 

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Meet The Finalists | Pioneer 1.0 Programme 2022

Meet the early-stage entrepreneurs who will be pitching live at this year’s Pitch & Awards evening, competing for Best Business Idea and Best Business Pitch.

We are excited to introduce this year’s Pioneer 1.0 finalists who have been shortlisted to pitch their business ideas live in June in front of an esteemed judging panel and invited audience.

After two turbulent years which transitioned the Pitch & Awards evening to a virtual event, we are delighted to be back in the room to celebrate the fifth year of the programme.

Over the last five years, the Pioneer 1.0 programme has supported over 500 budding entrepreneurs at Birkbeck and continues to champion ambitious students and recent graduates who have innovative ideas that will make a difference.

Since kicking off in November 2021, participants have taken part in seven monthly workshops to develop the skills and knowledge to succeed in business, learning from a range of entrepreneurs, industry experts and each other to turn their ideas into reality.

The six finalists are in with a chance of winning either the Best Business Idea or Best Business Pitch award, each worth a £1500 cash prize to support their business, along with a bespoke package of mentoring, coaching and promotion.

This year, over 100 students and recent graduates have participated in the programme and their achievements will be celebrated at the pitch and awards evening on Tuesday 14 June at BMA House in Bloomsbury.

Meet the Finalists

Portrait of Annabel Ola looking into camera.

 

Annabel Ola

  • MSc Culinary Innovation Management
  • Business: BEKIRI

BEKIRI exists to expand the boundaries of modern luxury patisserie. The fusion classic recipes and African ingredients will offer a new dimension of cultural discovery and appreciation for customers.

 

Ella Snell smiling for the camera.

 

Ella Snell

  • MA Philosophy
  • Business: Art School+

Art School+ is a service which connects early-career and underserved artists with unique paid commissions. It further aids both artists and organisations by providing bespoke training and 360 support.

 

 

 

Picture of Kacey Ibirọ̀gbà

Kacey Ibirogbà

  • Bachelor of Law
  • Business: Kọ silẹ

Kọ silẹ (koh-see-leh) is a compounded social bookmarking platform, simplified and designed with the adaptability of restoring structured balance into every aspect of our lives.

 

 

Picture of Sonja

Sonja Bacinski

  • FDSc Computing/Information Technology/Web Development
  • Business: Zolibri

Zolibri is an online platform that finds, validates and brings together the best of ethical & eco-friendly cosmetics from numerous online shops so you can find them all in one place.

 

 

Picture of Susan Christine Wachera smiling

 

Susan Christine Wachera

  • MSc Organisational Psychology
  • Business: Black Talanta

Black Talanta is democratising access to equitable high-skilled employment by pairing internships with black heritage students and recent graduates enabling them to make an informed career decision about the professional pathways that best suit them.

 

 

 

 

Picture of Wunmi

 

Wunmi Adebowale

  • MSc Coaching Psychology
  • Business: The Whole Woman Initiative

The Whole Woman Initiative is the social cause working to end domestic violence against women in Nigeria by providing psycho-social support and building a safe space community.

 

 

 

 

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Chasing Chevening Dreams

Paraguayan Maureen Montania Ramirez, an MSc Health and Clinical Psychological Sciences student at Birkbeck, tells us about her experience applying for the Chevening scholarship.

pic of maureen montania ramirez

Maureen Montania Ramirez at Durdle Door

When I decided to apply to Chevening I was at a point in my career where the training resources in my country were no longer sufficient for the dreams and goals I had in my head. I wanted to bring something different to my country and I felt that the only way would be to study in a first world country with the best universities in psychological research, that was for me the UK.

When I took this decision, I received immediate support from my boss who is also a born dreamer who had left the country for training and knew very well the longing I felt at that moment. She offered me her unconditional support and became my sole mentor from start to finish. This was the first and only time I applied to Chevening, I didn’t have high hopes of getting the scholarship because I knew thousands of stories of people who didn’t make it until the third attempt, or never. These were people I respected a lot and considered excellent professionals, so I said “I’m going to try, to at least gain experience and make it the third time”.

My mentor helped me to reflect in my essays who I am, what I dream of, how I move in this life and what I see on the other side of the horizon as a leader and social fighter. With her help, I was able to put all this into words, thanks to which I received the first great joy: the mail of being pre-selected for the interview. It had been a long time since I had felt so much hope, I started to believe in myself, that I could make it. I could already see myself at my university, making friends, learning in a lab and gaining thousands of experiences.

I feel that being charged with so much hope was the key to performing well in the interview. It’s worth noting that in March, when I was interviewed, I was going through one of the worst times of my life. My father was hospitalised for covid with his life hanging by a thread. I barely had a head to think. However, I knew that my dad, more than anyone else, believed that I could make it. A mixture of homage and hope led me to be energised and carry on a 40-minute interview that felt like 15 minutes to me. I had so many things to say, one idea led to another and I answered the questions with words that flowed on their own. The strength that moment gave me has no name. To this day I remember how complete I felt after the interview, when everything else in my life was falling apart.

Immediately afterwards I called my dad to tell him. It was a unique moment that I treasure to this day.

pic of Maureen Ramirez and family

Maureen and family

Shortly thereafter my dad returned home. The recovery was slow and challenging, but steady. Little by little he regained the light in his face, I did not leave his side for a second. So it was that when I received the mail saying that I had finally been selected, he was by my side. We jumped with emotion, we hugged, we cried, we screamed. I felt more alive than ever. I thanked him and my mom for everything they gave me, for having raised me with wings to always fly wherever I want, because without them I am nothing.

Maureen Ramirez holding the Paraguayan flag

Maureen proudly displaying the Paraguayan flag

Months after the preparation of papers, suitcases and emotions, I had to say goodbye to my family at the airport, with a huge smile, hugging my Paraguayan flag and raising my arms high as if to take off once again, with the support of my pillars in this life. It filled me with joy to see my father’s face full of life, completely back, next to my mother and my brother. I boarded the plane with a suitcase full of dreams and hopes.

pic of Maureen Ramirez on first day in UK

Maureen’s first day in the UK

Today, almost a year after that interview, I still feel I have to pinch myself to remember where I am. What was a dream yesterday is now a constant reality. My life here is wonderful. Every day I learn something new- academically and socially, I discover new friends, new places, new lives. I am immensely happy and grateful. Chevening gave me everything and more than I expected. It transformed me.

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