Author Archives: ubiard001

Uniting as a community to support bisexual awareness and visibility

With Bisexual Awareness Week running from 16 to 23 September 2022, Birkbeck Students’ Union LGBTQ+ officer, Tonya Moralez (Xe/Xem), talks about why it’s an important week, and what their plans are as LGBTQ+ officer to support the bisexual community.

Bisexual Awareness Week (also known as Bi Week) is an important part of the LGBTQ+ calendar and is different from Bisexual Awareness Month, which takes place in March. It was co-founded in 2016 by charities GLADD and BiNet USA to celebrate bisexuality and bring awareness to bisexual or bisexual plus (Bi+) people within the LGBTQ+ community. As well as celebration, the aim is to educate about obstacles faced by the bisexual community and to encourage positive action and policies.   

One of the well-known challenges unique to individuals identifying as Bi+, is that those who ‘accept’ homosexuality can still be prejudiced or condescending towards Bi+ people by not taking their sexual orientation seriously. 

Examples of this include Bi+ people being told that they’re ‘greedy’ for ‘wanting’ more than one gender, or that they must be ‘confused’ about their orientation. Often these types of comments come not only from conventional heteronormative, cis-gendered people, but also from members of the LGBTQ+ community itself. In my early years within the community, I regularly heard people claim with mocking frustration that they wouldn’t date bisexuals, out of fear that Bi+ people couldn’t be monogamous or loyal due to having multi-sexual interests. Without question, this sentiment is Bi-phobic. 

The fact that Bisexuality has often been fetishized in the media does little to help this. Often portrayed as changeable, overtly attractive, desirable and trendy, Bi+ characters are either reduced to sexual objects or plot devices. This sort of reductive portrayal can contribute to the false idea that Bi+ people’s challenges are trivial, and make it difficult for them to feel truly seen and accepted by both sides: ‘straight’ and ‘gay’. 

I think most LGBTQ+ people can agree how patronizing and invalidating it is to be told that you don’t actually know who you are, or that you should be something else. To hear these sorts of comments still regularly directed towards Bi+ people from both outside and within the LGBTQ+ community, is not only annoying, but deeply saddening. Enough of this repeated invalidation of your identity over time, can start to take its toll emotionally and psychologically. That’s why Bi-visibility Day and Bisexual Awareness Week are so important; those identifying as Bisexual, Omnisexual or Pansexual, should be visible and listened to in the LGBTQ+ community. 

I personally feel that the LGBTQIAA++ community is reaching such a large and diverse scale, that sections within the community need to have sub-groups and communities to support each category’s individual needs as much as possible. Bisexuals (along with all other identities) have their own unique social needs and issues to be accommodated and considered. Part of the solution, in my view, is to have Bi+ specific events, educational channels, and spotlight whenever possible, to raise awareness of these needs. The hope is that these activities will not only empower Bi+ people with words, resources, and information allowing them to find their voices and express their sexual orientation and identity with confidence, but also create plans for positive social action.   

As the LGBTQ+ officer at Birkbeck, I will organize events to celebrate each sub-group within the LGBTQ+ community, and ensure that a healthy portion of these are focused on Bi+ specific themes. I will work with requests and feedback received from Bi+ students within the LGBTQ+ network at Birkbeck to host Bi-visibility focused events, workshops that are shaped collaboratively and sensitively. I will also ensure I use Birkbeck Student Union’s LGBTQ+ platform to create Bi+ awareness content, to increase understanding within the LGBTQ+ community itself. 

Let us work together to ensure our Bisexual students feel as visible and supported as others within the community, let us work together to have Bisexual voices amplified by the LGBTQ+ community and allies at Birkbeck and beyond. 

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How to start your studies in the best way possible  

BA Global Politics and International Relations student, Aditya Mukherjee, shares his top tips on how to get stuck into your studies at Birkbeck.  

It feels great to receive an amazing grade that reflects all the hours of study and hard work that goes into preparing for an exam or creating a piece of course work. Often, however, starting a new course can feel a bit daunting: the 24 hours we have in a day slip away faster than we’d like, and study tasks and assignments can easily build up. Sure, studying something you’re enthusiastic about can help with not making it feel like an uphill trek, but every now and then, we could all do with a helping hand. So, here are my top tips for studying that will hopefully help you hit the ground running, so you can get the most out of your course.   

Strategise your time 
Planning ahead and creating a strategy for how to use your time makes the time you invest in studying more likely to pay off. Knowing how much time you have available to you and allocating it into specific sections and priorities can make a big difference. It stops tasks feeling daunting and encourages efficiency. This includes planning in advance for assignments and deadlines. Having a long-term schedule for a specific topic or assignment rather than a hyper-concentrated last-minute rush helps me produce my best work compared to working under the stress of a looming deadline. I say, you’re halfway to success already if you have a robust time management system in place.  

Colour-code your notes
One of my best friends has aggressively color coded her notes ever since school, and gets great results. Colors are not only stimulating, but they can help your brain understand at a glance what is important, what belongs to which category, and so on. So don’t be shy about unleashing your inner artist and adding colour to your notes!  

Find a study space
Finding a suitable space to study to help concentration is essential. Ideally, you want somewhere quiet and with no distractions. If you don’t have this at home, you can always find study spots at the Birkbeck Library or even in the British Library (which is a stone’s throw away from Birkbeck) to have a distraction free power hour.  

Group study
Working in groups that involve active participation and discussion can enhance your comprehension and motivate you to contribute your knowledge or theories. It’s a great way to help consolidate what you’ve learned, learn from your peers, and get the most out of your assignments. Of course, digression is part and parcel of group study, so it’s important to make sure you’re not totally distracted when this happens. Having regularly scheduled breaks can help with this, so that group sessions are concentrated bursts of collaboration. Which brings me onto the next point… 

Allow yourself to have breaks
This is something I am still learning myself. Breaks are good for the mind and body; they help relax you and can leave you feeling rejuvenated after a long studying session. I find that they work best in short, sharp bursts, as the longer you break for, the more concentration you need to get back into a studying mindset. 

Read submitted assignments for perspective 
Similar to group study sessions, reading the submitted work of your peers can really help broaden your perspective and deepen your understanding of the topics being covered in class. Chances are, you’ll learn something that you can apply to future assignments yourself. Likewise, someone could learn from your work too, so don’t be afraid to share your work – sharing is caring! 

Make use of Birkbeck’s Online Library / Subject Librarians
Did you know there is help available for students needing further source material for assignments? Birkbeck’s Subject Librarians are available for guidance and support in accessing the best library resources for your particular subject, and can be spoken to both in person, and online via a chat function! Databases and Online Resources Guides  are useful for accessing articles, books or journals online. 

Make friends with someone who is good at taking notes
Having a friend who is motivated to study is likely to make you better at your studies too! Their attention to detail will always be welcome when comparing and contrasting lesson notes, and if you ever miss a lecture because of illness, your friend can help you catch up. Together you can help each other find inspiration and energy to stay motivated, inspired and supported.  

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“I never expected to gain this much from my studies and practical experiences”

MA Film and Screen Media with Film Programming and Curating student, Riley Wong, talks about some of the experiences and opportunities she had whilst studying at Birkbeck.   

Stepping out of my comfort zone 

Many of us were influenced by the pandemic, including me. After graduating from my bachelor’s degree, I was stuck in Hong Kong and worked in a design company for a year. I liked my job, but my passion for films and dream of studying abroad was so strong that I started looking at courses and applying. When I got the offer to study film and screen media at Birkbeck, I couldn’t believe it. I knew this was a special opportunity, so I quit my job and started my journey to London.  

Why Birkbeck? 

I came to Birkbeck for several reasons. Firstly, Birkbeck is the only university I found which offers a film and screen media course with specific insight into film programming and curating. Secondly, there’s always a wide range of course-related activities and opportunities offered to film students. For example, in February, thanks to my place at Birkbeck, I found out I could join the Berlin International Film Festival as a student accreditation holder. This meant I could watch unlimited screenings and attend different masterclasses at the festival.  I had so much fun and gained valuable experience and knowledge from it. In addition to this, two months after the Berlin International Film Festival, I was honoured to be given a chance to work for Raindance Film Festival as a festival programme viewer, where I reviewed and commented on films that were submitted to their competitions.   

Work placement  

The work placement is an accredited part of the MA programme, where your tutor matches you with a suitable placement. I was initially worried that not many organisations would be interested in my profile, because I had no background with films before studying. But I didn’t give up, and nor did my tutor who was working hard to find a suitable match for me. Eventually I received an offer from UK-China Film Collab. Founded by Dr. Hiu Man Chan, UK-China Film Collab (UCFC) is an independent non-profit organisation, supporting a wide range of film-related collaborations and debates between the UK and Greater China. 

My ‘dream come true’ moment 

Supported by UCFC, I developed and organised a curatorial project in one of London’s most historic and important independent cinemas, The Prince Charles Cinema.  The programme was called “The Heroic Mission: Johnnie To Retrospective”. It featured three screenings of Hong Kong films, and conversation panels with the filmmakers and other associated experts. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. Not only did I experience how a film festival programme is curated, I also learned how it’s organised logistically from start to finish. I also got an important insight into all the different stakeholders involved in a project, and how to communicate with them. Reflecting on my time at Birkbeck, I almost find it unbelievable. I had high hopes, but I never expected to gain this much through my studies and practical experiences. I feel like the passion that brought me to London, to study films, at Birkbeck has been strengthened, and going forward, I’d like to bring more Hong Kong film culture and directors in front of a UK audience. 

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Cryptocurrencies are the ‘Great Pretender’, but have they pretended too much?

Dr. Daniele D’Alvia, Module Convener of Comparative Law at Birkbeck College, University of London and Associate Research Fellow at IALS and the European Banking Institute

Dr Daniele D’Alvia, from Birkbeck’s Law Department, explains the root philosophies behind cryptocurrency, the meaning behind ‘stablecoins, and how the cryptocurrency dream turned into a beast that ate its own tail. 

In old times if you put £1 under your mattress, you knew you could get back £1 when you went looking for it. Today, thanks to regulations developed over centuries, if you deposit £1 with a bank, you know that you can get it back, even if a bank does more with it than lock it in a vault. One major criticism of cryptocurrencies is their volatility, specifically their inability to keep their value stable. Bitcoin is a perfect example. After the price of Bitcoin peaked during its first bubble – at $1,137 on 29 November 2013 – it dropped by 84% to $183 just over a year later, on 14 January 2015. This trend repeated four years later with a cumulative drop of 83%, and happened again in November 2021.  

Now, a branch of cryptocurrencies called stablecoins are trying to back up their promise of being more stable, by replicating the equivalent of a digital vault. In brief, to maintain their value, stablecoins are usually pegged to a fiat currency – government-issued currency that is not backed by a commodity such as gold. Most modern paper currencies, such as the US dollar or the Euro, are fiat currencies. To do this, stablecoins such as Tether maintain a reserve of cash or cash-equivalent assets whose value theoretically matches the total value of the stablecoin in circulation. Translated in loose terms, when a user pays Tether $1 for a token, that money is supposed to be held in Tether’s bank accounts, but the reality can be more complex.  

As such, stablecoins are meant to address the major criticisms of cryptocurrency in two ways. First allowing crypto owners to conduct transactions without having to take volatility and sudden value changes into account and also offering a safe haven for their holdings, protected from the devaluations of the crypto market. But despite being attached to fiat currencies, stablecoins are not risk-free. TerraUSD (an algorithmic stablecoin), also known as UST, and its sister token, Luna, crashed in May 2022, sending their prices to near zero.  

These examples are based on a central idea that sees money as ‘portable power’. Money is a tool that is supposed to be easily and readily exchanged, making bartering with multiple goods and services unnecessary; allow economic exchanges to be conducted over long periods of time and distance; help provide calculation and valuation for goods and services 

To perform those functions, money must be portable, reliable, interchangeable, durable, affordable, and available. However, money is only worth only what someone is willing to give you for it; currencies in general are based on faith. Therefore, the value of money is not solely based on saleability (i.e., the material from which it is made), but is instead attached to a specific quality that attracts the lust of generations: power in terms of acceptance as a medium of exchange.  

It’s common knowledge that many supporters of cryptocurrencies are compelled by the idea of decentralisation. Unlike fiat currency that is controlled by a central bank, cryptocurrencies are processed through something known as distributed ledger technology, so they are not manged by any one entity. The whole point of cryptocurrencies is to avoid government control, and as such a decentralised sovereign cryptocurrency cannot exist. For a country’s currency to be accepted internationally, it must be carefully controlled by the country, in order for other nations to trust the currency. Cryptocurrencies are not money because they lack an official issuer and do not function like a normal means of payment. Cryptocurrencies can therefore be seen more as a form of financial asset that can be used as a speculative investment tool rather than actual currency.  

It is ironic that cryptocurrencies started as a libertarian dream to free money from the arm of the state, namely central banks and tax authorities. They were the ‘Great Pretender’, but perhaps they have been pretending too much, as the recent collapse of TerraUSD has shown. Now, with the inevitable rise of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), a digital equivalent of fiat currencies issued by a central banks, it looks like cryptocurrency may in fact serve to empower these centralised systems that Bitcoin’s investors originally wanted to circumvent.  

To this end, CBDCs are a necessary alternative for private cryptocurrency schemes because I firmly believe that the value of money strictly depends on the power of its issuing authority, otherwise law and order would simply disappear, and anarchism would inevitably prevail. 

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10 tips on how to meet people and make friends as a new student in London

 

A group of four students sat on the grass in a park on a sunny day

BA Film and Media student, Valentina Vlasich, knows first-hand what it’s like to be a new student in London. Here, she shares her top tips on how to find opportunities to socialise and bond with classmates.  

You just moved to London after being accepted into university, a lot of exciting new experiences are on the way. But worry about meeting new people and making friends starts to set in. Never fear, here are some tips on how to overcome that concern.  

1. Know that you are not the only new person around
Even though it may seem like it is you against the world at the beginning, keep in mind that most new students are in your shoes as well. Almost everyone is a bit lost at the start of their university experience, so try bonding with others over being new and discovering London together.   

2. Start Conversations
As a shy person myself, I understand it can be difficult to come out of your shell and make the first move when meeting people. However, if you try talking to others, you will quickly realise that everyone is very approachable and eager to make new friends. A really good way to overcome shyness is to join activities that other students are organising, which leads me to my next tip… 

3. Join others to socialise after classes
Being in the heart of London gives students plenty of opportunities to go out after class and you’ll find that many students fancy going out for some drinks or food. If you have the opportunity, definitely join them – it’s a great way to learn more about your classmates outside the academic environment! 

4. Join student clubs and societies
Birkbeck has many clubs and societies for students to join, from the film society to the international student’s society, there is something for everyone. Joining a society will help you find people who share your interests and come from similar backgrounds as you, they’re great for building a sense of community. These societies are free to join, and you can join them via the Student Union website 

5. Attend events
Another fun tip is to attend one of the many cultural events offered by Birkbeck and other central London institutions. Going to events such as the film screenings at Birkbeck, or the special exhibitions at museums and galleries around London, opens the door to meeting new and interesting people.  

Valentina stood in the doorway of an gallery room about to enter

Valentina exploring one of the many galleries in central London.

6. Explore by yourself
It might sound a bit strange to recommend going solo as a tip to making friends, but you should not deprive yourself of new experiences and discovering all that London has to offer, if you have no one to join you yet. By exploring the city by yourself you will discover quirky locations, fun events, and meet new people. Going out by yourself is better than staying in your room, and one way or another, you will meet someone on your adventures.  

7. Join WhatsApp group chats
For most classes and modules someone will create a group chat to exchange information. Using these chats to talk to others and propose activities outside class is a simple way of breaking the ice with your classmates.  

 

8. Volunteer
If you don’t have a lot of spare time for socialising, volunteering is a fantastic way to use your spare time effectively and still be social. By volunteering you meet new people while dedicating less hours than you would at a job, and it is also plenty of fun. What’s more, it’s rewarding, and you are also expanding your resume at the same time.  

9. Cultural excursions
This tip is specifically for international students, but everyone can benefit from it. Birkbeck regularly offers cultural mixer activities for international students, which are a great way to meet and bond with lots of international students from different universities. Recently, for example, they offered a tour around Greenwich which was a huge success. It’s a great idea to take part in these cultural excursions, which are a great way to both meet new people and see the city!  

10. Be yourself
Finally, even if it does sound a bit cliché, you should always be yourself. Do not try to change who you are to make friends. The right people will come along and making fake friends or having to put on a façade for others will not bring you joy. London is so diverse that you will always find people who are the right fit for you, so don’t be afraid to be you. So, go out there and see what London has to offer while people join you along the way.  

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Prime Minister Truss or Sunak and the Curse of the Takeover Prime Minister

Dr Ben Worthy, Director of the MSc in Government, Policy and Politics, shares his analysis on the prospects and promises of the candidates in the running to be the next Conservative Party leader.   

One thing we can say for certain is that our next Prime Minister, whether Truss or Sunak, will be a takeover leader. This means that they get to Downing Street through internal party procedures rather than a general election. But is there a curse for ‘takeover’ Prime Ministers 

Most Prime Ministers who take over from another leader rather than win an election have short, unhappy times in office. To give you a flavour, here’s the list of post-war takeovers: 

  • Anthony Eden (1955–57) 
  • Harold Macmillan (1957–63) 
  • Alec Douglas-Home (1963–64) 
  • James Callaghan (1976–79) 
  • John Major (1990–97) 
  • Gordon Brown (2007–10) 
  • Theresa May (2016–2019) 
  • Boris Johnson (2019-2022) 

With probably one exception, this is not a list of successful or happy Prime Ministers. In fact, it looks pretty much like a list of failed leaders, with at least one name that should make you shout ‘who?’ As you can see, most didn’t spend long in Downing Street and most struggled to get past the three-year mark, with only Macmillan and Major as exceptions.  

So why is it cursed? It’s partly because a leader ‘taking over’ doesn’t get the ‘bounce’ or legitimacy from winning an election. It’s also because the reason you are there. A takeover is because there’s been some sort of crisis, normally one that was big or severe enough to make your predecessor resign. This means that often, you inherit a crisis and a divided party. Prime Minister Sunak or Truss will lead a party divided over the economy, and the rather poisonous legacy of Boris Johnson. The leadership debates seem to be making it worse, as some Conservatives have made clear 

As well as the curse, our new Prime Minister faces huge challenges and expectations. As has been clear in the debates so far, the public expect the Prime Minister to do something about the many crises that are facing the UK, from the cost of living and inflation to the buckling of public services and threat of climate change which has appeared in our homes and on our doorsteps in a way that makes it hard to deny. On top of this there is Covid, which has not gone away, and Brexit, which is continuing to cause ruptures everywhere from Dover to Belfast. You can see an expert analysis by Full Fact, which looks at whether the candidates’ pledges will solve the problems we face. 

Conservative MPs and members have another, even higher hope, which is that the new leader can win an election. The UK must dissolve Parliament for a General Election by 17 December 2024 at the very latest, though the new Prime Minister can call one any time before, thanks to Johnson abolishing the Fixed Term Parliament Act. This power is not to be sniffed at, and can be worth 5 points in an election 

But for a takeover Prime Minister to win an election is a tall order. Boris Johnson did, of course, in 2019 and John Major did in 1992. Before that it was Harold Macmillan, way back in 1959, when he famously told a heckler “you’ve never had it so good” (a phrase Liz Truss has repeated).  

The numbers seem against our new PM repeating this trick, as neither Truss or Sunak are polling well. As of July 2022, Labour hold an 11 point lead over the Conservative party. Although Sunak has flagged up a YouGov poll showing he has the ‘edge’ over Truss in attracting swing voters, it’s only a 2 point difference, and both are rather far behind Keir Starmer. As YouGov explains “neither can be characterised as popular.” This is made worse by the fierce leadership debates, which have handed Labour large amounts of pledges and quotes to use back at whoever wins.  

Hovering in the background is the fact that both Truss and Sunak were major figures in Johnson’s government and are connected to his reputation and legacy. Truss described herself as a Johnson ‘loyalist’ while Sunak was fined for attending a ‘Partygate’ party. To my disappointment, but not my surprise, both candidates have vowed to continue Johnson’s bizarre immigration policy, which was condemned by the UN Refugee agency.  Both leaders could find a sulking Johnson could do a great deal of damage to them, whether on the backbenches or back writing newspaper columns.  

So, what can they do? Takeovers can succeed by pretending to be different, and representing a new start, as John Major did after Thatcher in 1990. But with little money and room for manoeuvre, what else can they do? 

One option is to go for eye catching policies. Truss has committed to a new law against Street Harassment (which, conveniently, Johnson rejected), while Sunak has called to make similar activities illegal and promised a women’s manifesto.  

Another option is to do something to create distance from their predecessor. As the Full Fact report points out, “one of the defining legacies of Boris Johnson’s premiership has been its bulldozing of political trust and erosion of citizens’ faith in democratic politics and politicians.” This YouGov poll of Conservative members found “honest/integrity” to be the two most desirable traits in their new leader.  

My guess is they’ll opt for some sort of transparency, which can actually help create a sense of newness and distance at the same time. Governments often promise openness to show they are ‘better’ than whoever went before. Tony Blair offered a Freedom of Information Act in 1997 and David Cameron, all sorts of ‘open data’ on government spending. It could be something relatively small. Truss has already suggested new data on police performance and both leaders have promised to publish their own tax returns. They could promise to open up ministerial diaries, something, conveniently, Boris Johnson has refused to do. In an effort to seem less corrupt, and clean the system, they could publish more systematic data about lobbying or Ministers’ or MPs’ interests. The new Prime Minister could even commit to a new ethics regime, or embrace an inquiry, perhaps even borrowing Labour’s idea for a new ‘super watchdog’ Ethics and Integrity Commission to watch over lobbying and Ministers interests. 

This could create distance and be a symbol they’ll be ‘different’… but it won’t be enough to stop the curse 

References:  

Worthy, B. (2016). Ending in failure? The performance of ‘takeover’ prime ministers 1916–2016. The Political Quarterly, 87(4), 509-517. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/1467-923X.12311  

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“I would encourage anyone thinking of studying at Birkbeck to go for it!”

 

Kelvin Omuojine, an MSc Sport Management, Governance and Policy student from Nigeria, tells  us about his experience as an international student at Birkbeck.

Tell us about your education before Birkbeck.

Before Birkbeck, I did a Master’s degree in Sports Law from Nottingham Trent University, in 2008/09; prior to that, I had my undergraduate education in Nigeria, where I studied law and was called to Bar.

Could you tell us about your career before starting your study at Birkbeck?

I started my career as a practising lawyer. I have worked in commercial law firms and as a Public Prosecutor at the Delta State Ministry of Justice in Nigeria. My passion for sport led me to work with the Nigeria Professional Football League, after completing my first postgraduate programme (in sports law). So, up until I started studying at Birkbeck, I was working at the Nigeria Professional Football League.

Why did you decide to study at Birkbeck?

Working in the sport industry in Nigeria, with the benefit of my background in law, I realised that the bulk of the problems impeding the development of the industry were governance related – there are people with knowledge and skills and there are regulations that are fit for purpose, all already existing, but the governance framework just did not seem right. So I wanted to learn more about not just sport management but also about sport governance. The programme at Birkbeck is unique as it effectively covers governance and policy as it relates to sport. This option was perfect for me based on my career path and progression.

How did you find the application process?

The application process was quite simple and straightforward and the officials at Birkbeck were always helpful, with enquiries and all through the process. I successfully applied for the partial scholarship for international students and was awarded £3,000, which was helpful indeed. Despite the difficulties caused by Covid-19, there was always sufficient information to guide planning.

What’s it like living in London?  

Having lived in Lagos, Nigeria, I knew I could cope with how busy I had heard London was. I found the city to be vibrant, diverse, with lots of opportunities and attractions. It is a busy city with people constantly on the move, and fast-paced too. If the right opportunity presents itself, I would be happy to live in London.

Can you tell us about the programme you are studying?

As a result of my interest in sport governance, I opted for the Sport Management, Governance and Policy programme. I found the lecturers to be quite nice and accommodating. Quite naturally, the Sport Governance module is a major highlight for me. However, I also particularly enjoyed the Sport Economics and the Design of Competitions module, as well as the Sport Events Management module. The former because of the exposure to economics of sport and the factors that go into competition design; and the latter because I am opportune to be working at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Did you take advantages of additional support and activities?

I appreciated the support services available – from one-on-one sessions with tutors, skills workshops such as on dissertation writing, to the many learning resources available both internally within the library and externally such as LinkedIn Learning. It is impressive that students can gain a lot from these resources and even get to watch recordings of both pre-class sessions and live online classes.

What are your plans for the future?

My studies at Birkbeck have equipped me with a broader understanding of the framework of sport management and governance, as well as transferrable skills in areas such as research and analysis. I’m now looking to explore career opportunities, preferably in the sports or a related industry.

What advice would you give other people thinking of studying at Birkbeck?

I would encourage anyone thinking of studying at Birkbeck to go for it! Not only does the programme have unique specialist features and is rich in content, but it is also a plus that studies are in the evenings, offering you time to get some other things done earlier in the day.

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“I’ve been given the skills and confidence to put my ideas out into the world”

MSc Culinary Innovation Management student, Annabel Ola, shares her experience of taking part in Birkbeck’s Pioneer Programme and winning the 2022 Pioneer Award. 

Tell us about your business idea, what is BEKIRI?  

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

How did BEKIRI come into existence?  

I’ve always loved food. On a trip to Paris, I was in local patisseries, impressed by everything but also unable to find anything I really identified with. So, I started my own specialty cheesecake market stall in my local area, hoping to fill that gap. It worked for a while, but I realised I wanted something a bit more intricate. That’s how I came upon the idea of BEKIRI.  

You had the idea, then what?  

I decided to do the MSc Culinary Innovation Management at Birkbeck, a course run in conjunction with Le Cordon Bleu London Culinary Arts Institute. While it’s not a programme on how to make a patisseries, it is about how to manage and run a food establishment – perfect for what I wanted and needed for BEKIRI.   

How did you get involved in the Pioneer Programme?  

My course was great at providing skills and knowledge for the practical management and operational side of things. But I also wanted something to help me with the vision and implementation of a business strategy. I knew Birkbeck offers lots of support for students with entrepreneurial ideas, so I was actively looking at the different schemes and came across Pioneer on the Enterprise webpage. EnterpriseEnterpriseEnterprise webpageEnterprise webpage page. One of my lecturers also recommended the programme, so I signed up. 

How was it?  

So useful! Through the programme, I was able to take something that was just an idea, identify the different areas to consider, then take action to make it a reality. I learned how to make a really clear business plan, and even got support on developing knowledge in areas like finance and marketing. We were matched with buddies – other students who had their own expertise and knowledge in specific areas – and I’ve created a marketing strategy and set up the financial side of things with the help of mine. I also got feedback and a session on pitching. I’ve never been keen on public speaking, and it was obvious that I was nervous during my entry pitch. By the time I did my final pitch, I was praised for being calm, confident and clear! 

 

Other than practical skills, what are some of your biggest takeaways?  

I’ve been given the skills and confidence to put my ideas out into the world. It’s given me the self-belief to put resources or pitch packs together, contact people, and make unique connections. The fact that I was doing all of this alongside a community of fellow entrepreneurs was also really helpful. All the finalists are still in touch and so supportive of one another.   

Would you recommend the Pioneer programme to current or prospective students?  

100%! It’ll give you a support network, contacts and knowledge to build your confidence. When I joined the programme at the start, I wasn’t convinced I’d enter the competition. By the end, my confidence had grown so much that I decided to enter – and I ended up winning! Even if you don’t win, it’s so valuable. You pick up so many skills and contacts, it’s a great springboard.  

What’s next?  

The prize money is going into product development to get an initial menu together. I’ve pitched for BEKIRI to trade at Mercato Mayfair – an upscale foodhall with a focus on sustainability and uniqueness – and there’s interest from them. I’m also looking for more opportunities to pitch my business and figure out what strategy is best to get more funding. Someone that I met on the programme is helping me figure that out too! I’m so excited that it’s coming together… I can’t wait to see where I can take BEKIRI next. 

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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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