Author Archives: Isobel

How to get the most out of your time at Birkbeck: advice from BEI prize-winners

The School of Business, Economics and Informatics’ 2021 undergraduate prize-winners share their tips for managing workload, making connections and getting the most out of a Birkbeck degree.

This week, Birkbeck’s undergraduate class of 2021 will be celebrating their achievements at virtual graduation ceremonies with the Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Latchman, the President of Birkbeck, Baroness Joan Bakewell and of course their lecturers, friends and family.

Students who have performed exceptionally well in the School of Business, Economics and Informatics will be presented with awards at the Undergraduate Prizegiving Ceremony on Tuesday evening.

Graduation might seem a long way off if you joined Birkbeck this year, but one thing we’ve learned from our prize-winners is that early preparation is key to succeeding in final exams and giving you the chance to make the most of everything on offer during your time with us.

Read on for our graduates’ top tips on how to get the absolute best out of your Birkbeck experience.

How to get ahead in your studies: can-do attitudes and consistency

“Have a positive ‘I can do this’ attitude and work hard towards your goals. Remember to focus on what is best for you in the long run, instead of what feels easy or right in the moment.” Jaunius, Best Overall Final Year Student (BSc Economics and Business)

When it comes to getting the most out of your studies, getting in the right mindset is a great place to start. Why not try building focus with meditation, or writing down your goals somewhere that you’ll see every day, to remind you what you’re working towards?

“Be consistent with your studies! Stay on top of the module content as much as you can, it really is an advantage for your assignment and exam preparation.” – Steffi, Fiona Atkins Prize: Best Continuing BSc student (Department of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics)

“Try to go beyond memorising the key points illustrated in lecture notes and reading material by testing your understanding of theories and concepts regularly. Taking just a little extra time each week to revisit a key point is an excellent way to get to grips with a topic, pinpoint focus areas to discuss with your lecturers and ultimately ease the pressure when it comes to exam preparation later on.”– Simon, Best Project (Department of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics)

Carving out some focus time to check understanding is a great way to stay on top of your studies and identify any areas for support. Are there any quiet periods in your week where you could set some time aside to consolidate?

“My advice would be to make sure you reach out to your personal tutor if you start falling behind, they are there to help! I would also recommend electing the dissertation/project module as it is a useful way to build independent research skills.”– Sean, Best Final Year Student (Financial Economics)

Your personal tutor is your first port of call if you need help in managing your studies or other support. You can find their contact details in My Birkbeck under ‘Academic Support’. If you do not have an assigned personal tutor, get in touch and we can help.

Taking care of yourself during your studies

“Make a point to incorporate holistic habits into your daily life, so that you not only work and study but also exercise, eat fruit and vegetables, walk, meditate, tidy your space etc. All things become easier and more achievable when you are mentally and physically healthy. Listen to your body and make your health a priority.” – Joana, Benedetta Ciaccia Memorial Prize: Best final year student on the Foundation Programme (Department of Computer Science and Information Systems)

Relax and focus on enjoying your subject.  Don’t try too hard to understand any tricky new material. Just give yourself time and if you let thoughts and ideas tick over in the background then anything you don’t understand will gradually become clearer and more simple.” – Alice, Mehdi Prize: Best Performance in Mathematics

Taking some time out from studying gives your brain a chance to process what you’ve learned. If you’re looking for some accountability to stay active, or for a fun way to take a break from the library, check out the sports clubs and societies on offer through Birkbeck Students’ Union.

Know what support is available

“Take the time to map out where to find academic support. It’s about detailing the resources that would keep you optimal. For example, know the name of your personal tutor, you’ll need them for the occasional academic and emotional support. Sign up to studiosity for study help and LinkedIn learning for self-directed learning.” – Sabina, Best Overall Student (Department of Organizational Psychology)

“Ensure that you make the most of the resources available to you, whether that be the additional reading material provided for lectures or the Birkbeck library. Additionally, don’t be afraid to seek clarification/ask questions – this will allow you to develop your understanding!” – Charlotte, Best Overall Student (Business)

Our support services are there to be used, so if you need any help or advice on anything from academic work, to finance, to managing stress, don’t hesitate to reach out. Find out more about the support available in the School of Business, Economics and Informatics on our website.

Build your professional network and your support network

“Birkbeck provides endless opportunities for students to explore their interests and build a strong network of people with similar passions. Use your time at Birkbeck to connect with other students, exchange ideas, views and knowledge. Don’t be afraid to try a new activity, join a club or society. Explore your interests and enjoy your time at the university along the way!” – Venita, Derek Scott Memorial Prize: Best performance by Non-finalists (Department of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics)

Your university experience is about so much more than your degree. Take the time to get involved in the Students’ Union, join us for an event and soak up all that your time at Birkbeck has to offer.

And to those students who are graduating today and tomorrow – congratulations! We hope you will stay in touch with Birkbeck and we will be cheering you on with whatever you decide to do next.

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Halloween: a Horror Story of Unnecessary Consumerism?

And we thought the costumes were the scariest thing about Halloween! Dr Amy R Hackley, Senior Lecturer in Marketing in Birkbeck’s Department of Management explores the dark side of holiday consumerism.

As Halloween approaches, are you considering buying a pumpkin or two, and perhaps a plastic broom, make up or a horror mask for the kids to take trick or treating? Or even some Halloween-themed nightwear, or a special chocolate treat for yourself? Halloween consumption is on a rising trend: according to www.statistica.com, UK consumers are spending more than twice as much money on Halloween as we did in 2013, and an estimated 25% of us will buy a pumpkin, at a cost of around £30,000,000 (yes, that’s £30 million). Total Halloween related spending is estimated at almost half a billion pounds sterling annually. Last year, British supermarket chain Waitrose reported its biggest ever Halloween sales bonanza, with sales up by 62% on the previous year[i]. This year, in the home of Halloween consumption, the USA, pre-Halloween chocolate and confectionary sales have reached $324[ii] million, up by 48% comparing to the same period in 2020, with American consumers spending a stunning $10 billion every year on Halloween. But why do we spend such extraordinary sums on trivial items to mark an ancient Celtic death festival?

Halloween originated as the pagan festival of Samhain, part of the ancient Celtic religion in Britain and other parts of Europe. The Celts believed that on the 31st October the barrier between the world of humans and the world of spirits dissolves to allow ghosts to wander amongst us on earth. The festival was needed to scare away the bad spirits, and to remember the dead. Turnips were used to carve lanterns rather than pumpkins, and ‘guising’ (going from house to house in masks and costumes) was practised. Under the influence of Christianity, the day became known as All Hallows’ Eve or All Saint’s Eve. There are versions of this festival practiced around the world. For example, the Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead in Mexico is celebrated in the 2017 Disney movie Coco, and across East Asia there are many versions of ghost festivals practiced, such as paper burning rituals of ancestor worship, the Hungry Ghost festivals in Singapore and the ‘Pee Ta Khon’ festival in Dan-sai district, Loei province, Thailand. All these ritual practices are marked by consumption of various kinds, of food, goods and services. Halloween gained its popularity in America when 19th century Irish immigrants brought it with them, and the influence of American TV shows, books and movies, made Halloween more and more popular in the 20th Century.

From an academic perspective, consumption is a rich site of ritual practices, and death-related ritual is one of the most powerful. Death rituals re-enact our symbolic connection with our existence. They give us opportunities to re-tell tell stories about life and death, and to connect with the spirit world from which we are separated. They help the living to move away from the brute fact of death towards an acceptance of death as a kind of continuity of life. In a way, Halloween and other ritual practices help the living to celebrate life, by ritualising death.

Of course, the spiritual side of death rituals is very well-hidden in today’s deeply commercialised consumer festival of Halloween. Although a lot of consumption is essential to the practice of death rituals, we really do not need to eat so much chocolate or to buy so many horror costumes. It is, really, a horror of wasteful consumption. Halloween costumes and decorations are made from cheap plastic and synthetic materials which are not so good for our environment. It was recorded that consumers created 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste by discarding Halloween costumes[iii], and an estimated 8 million pumpkins (or 18,000 tonnes of edible pumpkin flesh) are heading for the bin as consumers do not eat it[iv] But, when we are young, Halloween is an opportunity to party and have fun dressing up, trick or treating, eating a lot of chocolate and candy and, when we are older, perhaps drinking a lot of alcohol. What’s not to love? Most supermarkets have their own dedicated range of branded Halloween products because the event is a huge opportunity to make money by selling us overpriced stuff we do not need.

Halloween remains one of the world’s oldest holidays and death festivals, and in its many forms around the world it retains a rich cultural significance in human society. As the contemporary American author Andrew Delbanco notes in his book ‘The death of Satan: how Americans have lost the sense of evil’, he suggests that as we have lost touch with the idea of evil, we seem to need more vivid representations of it. The commercialisation of Halloween in the Western world helps us to affirm our sense of self and social identity and to reconcile us to the inevitability of death by making it seem like a harmless children’s cartoon. Yet, lurking beneath the millions of pounds worth of fake blood, carved pumpkins and discarded plastic witch hats, is a real horror story of reckless and unsustainable consumption.

[i] https://waitrose.pressarea.com/pressrelease/details/78/NEWS_13/12558 accessed 21/10.2021

[ii]  “New Data Shows 2021 Halloween Chocolate and Candy Sales Are Up” Yahoo News Monday 18th October 2021 https://finance.yahoo.com/news/data-shows-2021-halloween-chocolate-173600801.html accessed 21/10/2021

[iii] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/10/17/halloween-2019-costumes-will-create-2000-tonnes-plastic-waste/ (paywall)

[iv] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/23/pumpkin-waste-uk-halloween-lanterns

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Managing our mental health in an uncertain world: tips for employers and individuals in the return to the workplace

In recognition of World Mental Health Day 2021, we asked academics from our Department of Organizational Psychology to share practical advice for mental wellbeing as people make the transition back to the workplace.

If there is one thing that is certain well into the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that certainty is no more.

Looking back to Spring 2020, when the UK imposed its first lockdown, there was a clear message for workers: work from home if you can, otherwise continue to go to work.

Now, the situation is rather less clear-cut, and the uncertainty surrounding how organisations and individuals will return (or not) to former ways of working can be a source of considerable anxiety and stress.

As World Mental Health Day 2021 approaches on Sunday 10 October, we spoke to Dr Kevin Teoh and Dr Jo Yarker from our Department of Organizational Psychology to learn more about how we can look after our mental health as we navigate this period of transition.

Why is this a particularly difficult time for people’s mental health?

“What the research has shown is that people are really depleted,” explains Dr Jo Yarker, Reader in Occupational Psychology. “All of these extra demands have been on us in terms of home demands, working in different ways and having to think about the way we do things that we used to take for granted. This has taken up a lot of energy, so many people are going back into this transition from a depleted state. We also haven’t had holidays and the opportunity to restore in the same way.”

For Dr Kevin Teoh, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology, it is difficult for individuals to take care of the ‘ABC’s of mental wellbeing in the current climate: “As individuals, we need autonomy, belonging and competence to support out mental wellbeing,” he explains. “In other words, we need freedom and control over how we do things, the chance to connect with other people and to feel like we can get things done. Everything that’s going on in the world right now is hitting these areas; we’ve lost a lot of freedom, we aren’t connecting with each other physically and some people who have been made redundant or were on furlough may be asking if they can get through this. A lot of workers will be struggling to meet at least one or two of these needs right now.”

What can employers do to support positive mental health in the transition back to work?

For both Kevin and Jo, mental health at work is a collective responsibility. As Jo explains, “Often employers have been going through the same challenges as their workers, but they’ve had to put a brave face on it and pretend they know what to do. So that’s really hard.”

Jo recommends using an IGLOO model, where Individuals, the Group around them, Leaders, the Organisation and Our wider society take shared responsibility for mental health support. “It needs to be the whole system working and communicating together so there’s a shared understanding and shared expectation”, she explains.

Kevin encourages employers to think about how they can support individuals’ autonomy, belonging and competence: “Employers could facilitate a conversation to find out what their teams and individual employees want and involve them in the process. There also needs to be opportunities for employees to connect, be that formally via a mentoring process or more informally. As for competence, what resources and training do employees need to work remotely or return to the office, and how can they be supported to continue to develop?”

What can individuals do to take care of their mental health?

Individuals alone might not be able to shift company policy, but Jo and Kevin are keen to point out that, regardless of your work environment, there are things we can do to take care of ourselves.

“Ask yourself whether you are looking after yourself – are you putting boundaries in place? Are you investing time in your social networks? Are you receiving feedback from somebody at work?” says Jo. “Identify the gaps in your armoury of support and take steps to build them or find out how you could get support from work to build them.”

In addition, supporting mental health at work does not need to begin and end at work, as Kevin explains: “We can be purposeful in how we manage our mental health, so I might gain control over how much I exercise or how much news I consume. I could call a friend to feel a sense of belonging and take up a new skill like learning a language or musical instrument to feel more competent.

“We have to recognise that there are lots of things that we cannot control, but rather than be swept away with that, what’s one thing that I could do today, or this week, that would be a step towards more positive mental health?”

The Department of Organizational Psychology has published more detailed guidance on managing our wellbeing in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the guide online.

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“Coaching has given me the tools to support wellbeing and help people find happiness in their work”

Sarah Wissing graduated from the MSc Career Management and Coaching in 2020. She shares her #BBKStory.

Sarah Wissing wearing black, leaning against a wall.I’ve always been drawn to supporting people and their welfare – on a night out, I’m that person who makes sure everybody gets home safe! In my role in HR, I’m interested in helping people develop and giving them the tools to flourish at work.

I’d known about Birkbeck’s MSc Career Coaching for a few years and finally decided to take the plunge after going along to an open day and meeting the Programme Director Janet Sheath, who was really lovely.

Studying for a Master’s part-time whilst working full-time was quite intense – there was a lot less going out to the pub! Luckily, my work was very supportive and the temporary sacrifice to my personal life was definitely worth it.

My undergraduate degree was in English and French and I’d done a Master’s in English ten years before starting the MSc, but this course was completely different. I remember totally freaking out in my first term when I failed my first essay, but Janet was really great and Birkbeck’s study support tutors were so helpful and I ended up graduating with a merit.

During our coaching weekends there’d be about ten of us and our two tutors – we did practical sessions where we coached each other and received real time feedback. We really got to know each other and it was a very supportive environment.

I also completed a placement in Birkbeck’s Careers Service, where I was assigned students to coach and given supervisions to talk about any challenges I was facing in that role.

The coaching skills I’ve gained on the course and the insight through my research project on Dyslexia in the workplace has really supported me at work: I love helping people to work at their best and am particularly excited about supporting neurodivergent individuals. Alongside my current role, I also operate as a freelance coach.

Studying coaching has made me an all-round better human – it’s about being an ethical person, in and out of work, and making people feel at ease. It equips you with the tools to support wellbeing and help people find happiness in their work and personal lives in an evidence-based way.

I never really have a five-year plan and the Master’s was the same, it just felt like the right thing to do at the time, and I’ve really enjoyed the process of studying and being at university again – nothing bad can come from a bit of education!

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Make soap not waste: the MBA graduate on a mission to reduce plastic packaging

Martina Schwarz wearing a grey t-shirt standing against a white background.

Blackmarket founder Martina Schwarz. Photo by Simon Habegger.

Martina Schwarz came up with the idea for a refillable soap that produces no plastic waste while writing her MBA thesis. Her business, Blackmarket, launches this September.

What should you do when you’re worried that the role you are great at is contributing to climate change?

This was the dilemma facing Martina Schwarz, an experienced packaging designer who’s worked with the likes of Unilever, Procter and Gamble and Kellogg’s, when she enrolled on the Central Saint Martins Birkbeck MBA.

“A friction started to develop between my work and my values”, Martina explains. “I decided to write my MBA thesis on packaging and sustainability to incorporate my experience as an insider in the packaging industry with a focus on sustainability.”

Martina began her exploratory thesis with a focus on skincare, but when the pandemic hit, pivoting to handwash seemed like a natural step. In April 2020, Martina left her job to focus full time on her business, Blackmarket, and its first product: a refillable liquid handwash that uses no single-use plastic packaging.

“The first question I always get asked is why ‘Blackmarket’”, she explains, “You could say that the name has negative connotations, but I’ve chosen it so that people will ask questions. Blackmarket symbolises a desire to change the status quo and challenge someone’s thought process about how we design products.”

Blackmarket’s handwash stands out from mainstream refillable competitors through its innovative delivery system. Through her research on the MBA, Martina realised that a lot of personal care and cosmetic products are made mainly of water. By removing the water, she was able to design packaging similar to that of dishwasher tablets or laundry detergents that dissolves in contact with warm water.

“It’s about rethinking how we create packaging”, says Martina, “the film is a thickener that gives the handwash the gel texture that we recognise, so the packaging becomes part of the product. By removing the water at the packaging stage, the product weighs 95% less than its competitors, so transportation emissions are also reduced. Why would we bother to transport something that we can get on tap at home?”

The film packaging of Blackmarket liquid soap is the thickener that gives it a recognisable texture. Image credit – Blackmarket.

Blackmarket’s innovative approach saw Martina receive the UAL Creative Enterprise Award for Innovation in July 2021. She receives £5000 and a mentorship from IBM iX, who sponsored the award.

“The prize money is absolutely incredible – as a startup founder, there are a lot of costs associated with launching a cosmetic product – but the mentorship is as valuable as the prize money if not more,” says Martina. “I’m so pleased that IBM iX is the sponsor – I’m looking forward to using the mentorship programme to focus on behavioural change and the customer journey, making it as easy as possible for people to make sustainable choices.”

While, environmentally speaking, the best choice for handwash is a bar of soap, Martina’s market research found that the majority of consumers aren’t willing to make the switch from liquid soap. The product aims to make it as easy as possible for consumers to make pro-environmental choices.

Blackmarket has launched with a Kickstarter campaign, and Martina has an ambitious vision for the business: “Long term, we want to launch new products like shampoo and conditioner, but also to think about packaging differently. The nature of packaging is to be something that protects, but I really want with Blackmarket to think of that quite differently. I want to change perceptions of packaging to something that is long term, precious, and to be proud of how much you have used it.”

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Introducing Birkbeck’s Professional Doctorate in Evidence-Based Human Resource Management

Julie Gore, Programme Director, shares the rationale behind the Professional Doctorate in Evidence-based HRM.

Advancing metacognition – the process of knowing, understanding and learning are central features of doctoral education.  Deciding how to decide is central to successful leadership and management.   The challenges of Human Resource (HRM) management in times of uncertainty have never been more apparent, with sociotechnical advancement and change being pervasive features of our working lives.   Bringing together our advanced understanding of cognitive decision making processes and expertise, alongside a scientifically informed process of deciding how to decide, is where evidence based HRM meets informed HR practice.

In short, evidence-based HR refers to adopting a decision making process in which the organization consciously evaluates any decision against multiple sources of data, experience, expert opinions, and other types of information to ensure the decisions most successful outcome.

Notably, examining multiple sources of data is also completed deliberatively, with a critical eye, and questioning the value of the data is part of the method. It takes constant effort to seek multiple sources of evidence to aid decision making and Evidence-based HR aims to actively do this.

Birkbeck’s new doctorate in Evidence Based Human Resource Management provides advanced research skills, a critical approach to thinking and deciding, the opportunity to tackle challenging work based problems and paradoxes, and a vibrant network of opportunities for discussion and reflection with HR professionals.

I anticipate that practitioner and academic discussions will be lively and insightful.

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Retirement and Pensions: Creative Solutions Required to an Age-Old Problem

This article was contributed by MSc Governance, Economics and Public Policy student Thomas Boulton. He argues that increases to the State Pension age are sensible, but daring solutions are needed to safeguard pensioners’ living standards and address fiscal deficit.

In 2017, Theresa May attempted to introduce legislation that would have meant the value of an elderly person’s house was taken into account when measuring their eligibility for state funded care. This would have meant many more people having to pay for their own care. The backlash and subsequent backtracking almost cost May the position of Prime Minister. These events serve as an excellent foreshadowing of the likely problems policy makers will face this century. Data on public finances, forecasts in the UK dependency ratio and declining birth rates globally illustrate the emergent need to recognise the threat that demographic aging poses, and that traditional solutions will not be available.

Why we may have to work longer

Put simply, we are living longer, and old age is expensive to the exchequer. Over the last 40 years, life expectancy has increased at a faster rate than the average working life. As a result, the average number of years of retirement a person enjoys has almost tripled, from 5 years 10 months in 1980, to a peak of 16 years in 2014, and 15 years and 5 months in 2018, which comprises almost 25% of their adult life. Whilst nobody would want to begrudge someone a long and happy retirement, the impact retirement has on public finances cannot be ignored. With longer life expectancy, the length of a person’s life at which they are a net contributor to overall public finances begins to diminish.

Source: ONS

At the age of 68, the average person ceases to be a net contributor as a result of retiring and paying less tax, compounded by increased health and welfare spending when they reach their 70s.

Hard choices

Increasing the retirement age alone will not plug the gap. Life expectancy is forecast to continue rising in the UK. More significantly, demographic aging trends suggest increasing the retirement age may not have a significant impact, even if the electorate were to regard the idea of working longer as tolerable.

Source: OECD

Whether we choose to stick to a retirement period of just over 15 years, as in 2018, or maintain that a quarter of our adult lives be spent in retirement, people born in 1990 could still expect to be working in 2060. However, this would only leave public finances a little better off than they are now, given the forecast in the old-age dependency ratio.

Source: ONS

Birth rates and net migration

One straightforward solution to the dependency ratio is to increase the number of people in the country between the ages of 22-68. Easier said than done. Birth rates are in decline both in the UK and in all of the countries where the UK’s migrant workers have historically originated. This should leave today’s policy makers wondering where tomorrow’s migrant workers will come from.

Source: World Bank

Private pensions and productivity

One recent policy success has been the institution and uptake of workplace pensions, which will mean many fewer people will be reliant on the state pension. The possibility of withdrawing the state pension for those with large private pensions, and other benefits such as free TV licences may be politically tolerable, if framed in a redistributive way. Other than that, policy makers will have to find ways of ensuring tax receipts can increase, while also enabling higher birth rates. Given the further deterioration of public finances post pandemic, the solutions will have to be creative, and implemented more urgently than foreseen by Theresa May. Above all, they will have to be put forward to the public much more convincingly.

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The Emerald Isle: where only grass grows

This post was contributed by MSc Politics, Philosophy and Economics student Andrew Ó Murchú and was originally written as an assignment for the module ‘Economics: Theory, Policy and Institutions’. Andrew argues that Ireland’s dairy expansion is setting off environmental indicators.

By far the most grass covered country in Europe at ca. 56% of total land area, Ireland’s particular success with milk production can be attributed to its extensive green landscape. Today this is made possible by an inordinate amount of fertilisers and cow manure – the latter now the cause of a shrinking dairy industry in the Netherlands which, like Ireland, benefitted (albeit briefly) from the lifting of EU milk quotas in 2015.

Ireland now has its eyes on the historical growth patterns of the New Zealand dairy industry. Prior to the introduction of quotas in 1984, the two countries then had similar levels of output: annual production stood at almost six and seven billion litres of milk respectively. While Irish production has increased on average almost 6% per annum since 2015, the industry produced just over eight billion litres of milk in 2020 in comparison to 21 billion litres in New Zealand. This exponential growth is now seen as a model for the Irish dairy industry’s expansion in a game of catchup that is causing tensions between government, industry, and environmental NGOs.

A case taken by An Taisce (Ireland’s National Trust) against the successful planning application for a new cheese production facility in Kilkenny has recently been dismissed by the High Court in Dublin. Now the NGO has applied for leave to appeal this decision to ensure the construction of the facility – which would increase Ireland’s annual milk output by over 5% – does not go ahead. The group is concerned that the joint venture between Ireland’s largest dairy processor, Glanbia, and the Dutch dairy producer, Royal A-ware, will set bad precedent for the expansion of an industry with an already poor environmental record.

In their appeal, An Taisce draws attention to a report by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency in 2020, which showed that phosphate levels in 25% of Irish rivers were found to be increasing in line with the dairy herd, while consumption of other inorganic fertilisers has also increased since 2015 in attempts to increase grass utilisation. The Irish landscape has been described as a ‘duoculture’ of dairy cows and grass by ecologist Pádraic Fogarty, with hedge and woodland cover in Ireland already amongst the lowest in Europe even before quota abolition. The blame for the compounding biodiversity crisis is being pointed firmly at the fast-paced expansion of the dairy industry, but political appetite to challenge it is in short supply.

In an unprecedented intervention this month, the Irish Prime Minister, Micheál Martin, appealed in the Irish parliament for An Taisce to stand down in pursuit of the successful planning application. From a short-term political perspective, this may make sense. The multiplier effect of the dairy industry in Ireland is significant, with every €1 of dairy goods exported representing 90 cent spending within the Irish economy, and in 2020 the dairy industry was valued to generate output of €11.3 billion in the country (3.5% of GDP). But as Ireland’s food policy prioritises growing sales to emerging economies for sustainable food, pursuing environmentally destructive practices is unlikely a sustainable position.

Irish annual milk production stands at 1,623 Kg/capita in comparison to 862 Kg/capita in the Netherlands. This may indicate the central position of the dairy industry within Ireland’s economy – but considering the state of the Irish environment, catching up with New Zealand’s annual milk output of 4,671 Kg/capita appears less and less appropriate, or even desirable. The Irish government needs to reconsider its policy of dairy expansion which has become radicalised around the trope that Ireland is only fit for growing grass and its image of grazing cows on pasture. The pursuit of this productivist policy is crippling biodiversity and other environmental indicators. While companies from the Netherlands are moving in on Ireland as a source of overflow from a stunted dairy industry at home, the Irish government need only look to the Dutch food system itself to discover the possibilities diversification has to offer.

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“We were really challenged to think for ourselves.” 

Pierre-Yves Rahari is a Partner at AlgoMe Consulting and alumnus of the Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching. This is his Birkbeck story.

Pierre-Yves smiling against a white background.

Why did you apply for the Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching Psychology? 

I started my career in Finance, working for investment managers, and was looking for a way to bridge working in a corporate setting to becoming a consultant and executive coach. I did this at work by taking on mentoring and leadership development assignments and decided that the best way to complement my training would be to study psychology. 

After completing a foundation course in psychotherapy, I began to look for an executive coaching course, but the typical format you see of learning then following a single methodology didn’t resonate with me. Birkbeck’s programme appealed as it seemed to be looking to go more in depth with students, plus the course leaders were from a psychodynamic background and active coaches themselves. 

Birkbeck’s London location was ideal for me and I liked the format of weekly classes, which meant we were fully immersed in the course for the duration of the year. 

What have been some of the highlights of the programme? 

During the course, we were really challenged to think for ourselves. The team didn’t give out a manual or tell us how to do it, but they had a magical way of getting us to think about our practice and by the end of the course we had a real understanding of what it meant to have a contract with a coaching client. I don’t think it’s an overnight thing, but gradually you find yourself listening differently when you speak to people. The framework that I use in coaching now is an extension of what we did in the course. It has prepared me well for running my own business and surviving during the pandemic. 

As a French person, I also really enjoyed being on an Anglo-Saxon style campus, surrounded by other university campuses and with coffee and book stores all around. My experience at Birkbeck was very nurturing and I look back on my time there very fondly. 

Can you tell us more about what you do now? 

I run a management consulting company called AlgoMe Consulting, which specialises in asset management. We aim to influence strategic and sustainable change in the investment management industry by helping executive boards and boards of directors strategise and successfully implement transformational projects in their firms, while improving transparency, integrity, inclusion and engagement. A lot of the work we do is with leaders and change management and people are fundamental to this process, both at an individual and team level.

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“One of the biggest misconceptions about finance is that it’s investment banking and that’s it, but I feel there is a role for everyone.”

Joseph Walsh studies BSc Financial Economics alongside his role as a Front Office Services Analyst at an asset management firm. Now President of Birkbeck’s Economics and Finance Society (EFS), he shares how the EFS has supported his career journey and his vision for the future of the society.

Joseph Walsh wearing a suit and tie against a white background.Why did you apply for BSc Financial Economics at Birkbeck?

After my A Levels, I went straight into work as an apprentice in Cyber Security. I started earning my own money and became more interested in investing and the world of finance, so I was keen to pursue further education and a career in finance and investing. I really liked the flexibility of Birkbeck’s evening study format, which allowed me to work and study at the same time. The course modules looked really interesting and had a good balance between economics and finance.


How did you get involved in the Economics and Finance Society (EFS)?

I found out about EFS through the Students’ Union at the start of term. It was one of the more prominent societies in the School of Business, Economics and Informatics and had a good range of ongoing events and activities.

One great guest speaker who sticks in my mind is an investor called James Hughes, who gave a really useful introductory talk about finance and investing. At that point, he was running his own private equity fund in Hong Kong, so it was really interesting to hear his experience of working in different locations and areas of finance.

What is your vision for the future of EFS?

As President of EFS, I’m looking to direct the society to cover two distinct areas. Firstly, the networking and social aspect, because it can be difficult to socialise spontaneously after class when everyone is juggling work and busy lives. I’ll be pushing for more structured events and activities. It could be something as simple as arranging a time for members meet at the student bar, but hopefully going forward we can host socials around London and do a range of different activities to get to know one another outside of lectures.

Secondly, and just as importantly is the technical knowledge and experience that you can get from having experts giving talks and speeches. That’s a really important part of the society and it’s something that is unique to EFS to hear from experts across finance and economics. It’s been difficult to replicate our networking events online, especially during exam term, so we’re looking forward to hosting in-person events when restrictions allow. In the meantime, we’ve been sharing useful industry-led content on our website and social media pages.

What are your career ambitions after Birkbeck?

I consider myself fairly lucky in that I know what I want to do in terms of a career and how to get there. I’m really interested in asset management, basically investing across the markets, so I’m strongly considering doing a master’s after my undergraduate degree to develop my knowledge and technical skills. Looking further ahead, I would like to go into some kind of investment research role. The dream role would be a portfolio manager, but I acknowledge that it’s quite a competitive field!

I appreciate that some people might not have that clarity of what they want to do, and that’s something that I and the other committee members are trying to address through the society. Through networking, talks and the different resources we post online, we can help people figure out what they’re interested in and whether they want to take economics and finance further and develop a career in it. One of the biggest misconceptions about finance is that it’s investment banking and that’s it, but I feel there is a role for everyone. Even for undergrads that haven’t got their degree yet, there are a variety of trainee schemes available. That’s how I started and was able to get a role at an asset management company.

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