Author Archives: Katrinah Best

Chinese New Year draws to a close

With Tuesday’s Lantern Festival bringing Chinese New Year 2022 to a close, MA History of Art student, Valerie Lee, from Malaysia shares her favourite aspects of the festival, including the culinary delights, and how being away from home did not take away any of her enthusiasm for the annual celebration.

Valerie Lee photo for Chinese New Year

It doesn’t feel the same being away from home especially on the most important Chinese festival, the Lunar New Year. Together with friends and relatives living in London, we welcome the Year of the Tiger with a reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve.

Guests who arrive at our home are welcome to have some snacks that we’ve prepared on the table, such as pineapple tart, kuih kapit, peanut cookies, and so on while chatting to catch up on our lives.

We start our meal with a Yusheng, also known as Prosperity Toss, 捞生 (lo shang), a dish that originated from Seremban, Malaysia in the 1940s. It normally includes raw fish (occasionally salmon) strips combined with shredded vegetables, as well as a variety of sauces and seasonings. Yúshēng (魚生) means “raw fish,” but it was regarded as a homophone for Yúshēng (余升), which signifies an increase in abundance. We stood around the table, chopsticks in hand, tossing the dish into the air while saying “auspicious wishes” aloud, believing that the height of the toss reflected our growth in fortunes.

We also prepared Poon Choi, 盆菜 (Pen Cai), which means “basin cuisine” or “big bowl feast”. Poon Choi is traditionally packed with overflowing ingredients to represent wealth and prosperity. The number of ingredients that may be added is limitless. Roast beef, dried mushrooms, prawns, abalone, fish maw, broccoli, yam, and other ingredients are common.

After our dinner, children or the unmarried will received red packets, 红包 (hong bao) from married couples. The red colour of the envelope represents good luck and serves as protection against evil spirits. It’s also given when someone comes to visit as a token of appreciation.

Although we are staying in London, we will carry out the traditions to make ourselves feel at home during this festive spring. We would like to wish all of you a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year. May you and your family have happiness, good health, and success all year!

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Birkbeck students celebrate LGBT+ History Month: Allies are Welcome!

As the experiences and achievements of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender + community are observed throughout February, MSc International Marketing Student, Wojciech Zaluski, looks at progress and speaks to Birkbeck LGBTQ+ officer Megan Massey and MSc Marketing student Daniel Knight to ask for their viewpoint on matters, including a look at the role that university life plays in supporting them.

Photo of two people touching hands to represent LGBT+ History Month

In recent years the situation of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer + (LGBTQ+) has improved a lot in the UK. In 2014 same-sex marriage was officially allowed. Since 2020 we have also seen a successful roll-out of PrEP, available for free through the NHS, a drug that is key to reducing HIV transmissions. If you live in London, you will be aware how strongly the city promotes and supports tolerance towards the LGBTQ+ community. Everywhere you go you can spot awareness campaigns promoting inclusivity and acceptance.

London is also the host of the annual Pride festival, put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic. Each year thousands of Londoners (2019 Pride attracted over 1.5 million people) and visitors cheer all day in a parade where they can embrace their non-heteronormative identity in public. The city, during this period, becomes filled with events, parties and gatherings focused on and appreciating love in its different forms. And yes, London Pride is coming back to London in 2022!

We are also seeing, more and more, how the corporate world has become vocal in its appreciation for the LGBTQ+ community. For example McKinsey & Company is promoting their initiative “Proud Leaders Europe,” “created to support talented individuals from across Europe, who self-identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community”.

Q&A with Megan Massey, Birkbeck LGBTQ+ officer

What is the function of a LGBTQ+ officer at Birkbeck?
The goal of all elected Liberation Officers is to improve the student experience at Birkbeck, with a LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+) officer focusing their efforts on advocating for LGBTQ+ students, representing them in meetings with the College, and helping to foster a community.

What kind of events can LGBTQ+ students expect at Birkbeck?
Events range from hangouts and film screenings to pub crawls and museum visits.  Of course, for the LGBTQ+ network, Pride is also an important event in the calendar. Hopefully Birkbeck students will be able to walk at London Pride once again in 2022!

Why do you think universities should provide a program for LGBTQ+ students? Do you think that we live in a post-heteronormative world?
Higher education should be for everybody, and so it is important that universities provide resources that reflect this. The fact that we do not yet live in a post-heteronormative world means that LGBTQ+ students, and other marginalised students, face barriers that they will have to overcome in order to have access to higher education.

What barriers and challenges does the LGBTQ+ community still face? How can the academic world answer those problems?
There are many barriers and challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community, and attitudes to LGBTQ+ people vary across the globe. There are many countries which still criminalise consensual gay sex and relationships, meaning that LGBTQ+ people face imprisonment. In countries like the UK, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2014, there is still work to be done to improve the legal standing of LGBTQ+ people. For example, the UK government does not legally recognise non-binary identities.

Aside from the law, LGBTQ+ people in every country still face social challenges and are at risk of experiencing violence and persecution. The academic world can seek to educate around LGBTQ+ topics, but does not have all the answers. Many LGBTQ+ people, especially those most at risk, will not have access to discussions that take place in universities, despite the fact that their voices are deeply important to the conversation. In order for the academic world to do a better job of advocating for LGBTQ+ people, they need to place an emphasis on accessibility.

From your experience, meeting LGBTQ+ students at Birkbeck, what did you learn that surprised you? What kind of support do you think they need? Did those meetings change you?  Where do you find strength and motivation to be actively engaging in helping and educating the student community about the problems of the LGBTQ+ community? 
I was surprised by how many students have been unsure whether or not they are welcome in the LGBTQ+ community. I think that is one aspect where many students need support, in feeling that they are welcome and accepted in the academic space. As an LGBTQ+ person myself, it is a privilege to be able to help the student community in any way. I feel grateful to the students who have had the courage to reach out to me with their questions or concerns.

London is a very diverse city with official city support for Pride and other campaigns promoting tolerance and inclusivity, similarly we are seeing the corporate world embracing LGBTQ+ inclusivity. Do you think that LGBTQ+ people are safe in London? If not, why do you think so?
This is a difficult question due to the interpretation of ‘safe’, but I do think that LGBTQ+ people are safe in London, to a certain extent. London is a fairly safe city, the whole world considered, and so LGBTQ+ people living here may feel safer than they would elsewhere. However, since LGBTQ+ are, as a marginalised group, at a higher risk of experiencing discrimination and hate crimes, personal safety is something that most queer people have to be very aware of.

In addition to this, since LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience poverty and homelessness, this is a factor which must be considered. Likewise, it is impossible to ignore the relevance of race (and other identity factors) in discussions of safety. For this reason, a more in-depth, intersectional approach would be needed to adequately address the question of whether or not LGBTQ+ people are safe in London (or, indeed, if anybody is ‘safe’ anywhere).

What do you advise LGBTQ+ students who need psychological help? Do you know where they can seek support and help?
Birkbeck’s Mental Health Advisory Service provides a range of help for students. More information can be found here.

Outside of university, if a student (or anyone) is dealing with life-ending thoughts and needs urgent care, they can go to Accident and Emergency, or contact their local crisis team. If they need to talk to somebody over the phone or online, on a one-off basis, there are several charities which provide this service. If they are looking for therapy or counselling, they can self-refer through their GP to be put on a waiting list for a free NHS service.

What would you advise for people who don’t identify as queer or LGBTQ+ and would want to learn more to understand problems and issues that their LGBTQ+ students face?
There is a great deal that a person can learn online, but of course it’s great to speak to LGBTQ+ people in person too—allies are welcome to join the LGBTQ+ Network!

Interview with Daniel Knight, MSc Marketing student

Do you see any difference between how LGBTQ+ issues were addressed when you were studying to get your undergraduate degree and now at Birkbeck?
I did my undergraduate studies between 2004 and 2007. And there wasn’t much of a LGBTQ+ society then. I wasn’t very active in the community, I’d only just come out, so I was working out how to interact with the people around me. It was not easy to find and connect with other LGBTQ+ students. Thankfully, there is more of a presence now at Birkbeck than in the past.

I was interested to see what it looks like at Birkbeck… if it’s more visible and easier to connect. I visited the Freshers’ Fair to find out. As a result, I joined the Birkbeck LGBTQ+ online group. I think social presence is very important.

Do you feel the UK has moved forward in terms of acceptance, tolerance, and inclusivity of LGBTQ+ people in recent years? If not, why do you think that is?
I think the UK is more inclusive and accepting. I experienced very little homophobia in my life. That may relate to the fact that I am not flamboyant and it’s not obvious that I am gay.  That may be why. People in my life were always very accepting and inclusive and they wanted to know about my relationships. I think it became more acceptable to talk about your relationships. I am also aware I am working in healthcare, surrounded by professional people. It may be very different for people working in a different kind of environment. My experience may not be someone else’s.

I’d say as a teenager, when I was in secondary school, I don’t think it was accepted. I think that in the UK there was a switch into the pro-movement, probably in the early 2000, before you got into 2010. When I was at secondary school I wouldn’t have come out, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that, whereas now, I believe teenagers do feel comfortable, and obviously that’s great in that regard, that the desire to come out would now be more positively received than before.

With reference to my work environment, if I experienced homophobia in my office, it would be taken very seriously, and the person would certainly be investigated, but I work for the healthcare regulator, they take equality and diversity seriously.

Did you experience homophobia in your life or work life? What would you advise to LGBTQ+ students who are starting their career in that regard; how to handle homophobia at work or in their personal life?
I think, for them, it should be easier. We are in a different place now- homophobia isn’t accepted. If there is an experience like that, they should look for their HR department, or if it’s a university there is a department that deals with that. I think there are support structures in place now that enable people to feel supported. If they experience homophobia, they should be able to raise it, people will help them. This would not have been the case in the past. My advice would be to talk to people in the organisation who can support you. And look for that support, look for like-minded people, join the LGBTQ+ society at Birkbeck, and you’ll find a lot of like-minded people, and allies as well. Don’t put up with homophobia in any form.

In your own company do you observe that there is a will to create a safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community? Or is it a non-issue?
As part of the new EDI (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion) strategy they have created lots of different groups, among them an LGBTQ+ group, within our organisation. People can go there and talk about their experience and if there is anything that is not quite right in the organisation.

Were you able to make any connections with the LGBTQ+ community at Birkbeck? How do you think universities should address inclusivity and the safety of LGBTQ+ students
Being part of the LGBTQ+ group is important, and for that group to be able to discuss policies with the university on how they can support Birkbeck communities. If the university can demonstrate the changes that have been achieved, that is a good way to show that there is progress for the LGBTQ+ community. They could also do more in terms of events and lectures, I suppose to express different views in the community. Just to show it is taken seriously, you could put information in the weekly bulletins from Birkbeck, to have inclusion there about what has been done, for people to be involved more and find out more. The main thing would be that they have support in place should people have issues, making clear what they can do if they have issues, regarding LGBTQ+ issues.

Further Information

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Happy Chinese New Year: The Year of the Tiger, Hope and Aspiration

Third Year Philosophy student, Irena Donkova reflects on the Lunar New Year, the symbolism of the animals within the Chinese zodiac and the traditions associated with the festival.

photo of tiger symbolising chinese new year 2022

On 1 February many people around the world will welcome the year of the Water Tiger, according to the Chinese zodiac. The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year, begins with the rising of the second new moon after the winter solstice which usually occurs between 21 January and 20 February. This year, the New Year celebrations, referred to as the Spring Festival, start from New Year’s Eve on 31 January 2022 and last 16 days until the Lantern Festival on 15 February. The festival is celebrated in China, with significant celebrations in South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore; and by the Chinese communities in Malaysia, Indonesia and many other countries besides.

According to tradition, every street and home is decorated in red which is believed to bring wealth and good fortune. Beautiful floral arrangements and fruit trees adorn towns and villages and people gather with family and friends to honour the celebrations. Traditional rituals and customs include ancestral worship, taking part in traditional dances, parades, firework shows and preparing festive food and treats. The final day of the celebrations is marked by people letting paper lanterns off into the sky.

photo of chinese lanterns

Unlike western astrology, the Chinese zodiac signs are represented by 12 animals forming a 12-year cycle. Each zodiac cycle is part of a bigger 60-year cycle and is governed by one of five elements: metal, water, wood, fire and earth. The current 60-year cycle began in 1984 and will end in 2043. For example, 2010 was the year of the Metal Tiger and 2034 will be the year of the Wood Tiger. The zodiac is based on an old folk tale going back to ancient China, where there was no zodiac and no measurement of time. To find a way to measure time, the Jade Emperor invited all the animals in the kingdom to take part in a Great Race and announced that the first 12 animals to cross the Holy River wouldl have a year of the zodiac named after them.

According to the most common version of the Great Race, the opportunistic Rat asked the Ox for help to carry him across the river. When the Ox approached the other bank, the Rat leapt over the Ox onto the bank and finished first in the race. The good Ox finished second, followed by the powerful Tiger. Then came the Rabbit who was helped to cross the river by the Dragon. Due to his kindness in helping others, the glorious Dragon finished fifth. The Snake who was curled around the horse hoof crossed the finish line before the Horse and took sixth place, while the Horse finished seventh. Then, on a raft arrived the Goat, the Monkey and the Rooster, each of which were assigned eighth, ninth and tenth place. Finally, the Dog arrived, followed by the Pig. The 12 finalists became patrons of the 12 zodiac years.

According to Chinese astrology, a person born in a particular year and the year itself carry the traits of the patron animal which have both positive and negative sides.

photo of animals of the chinese zodiac

Rat (1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020, 2032)
Rats are considered smart, optimistic and enthusiastic, but they can also be rude and hard-hearted.

Ox (1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021, 2033)
The Ox is friendly, loyal and hardworking, but can appear stubborn and judgemental.

Tiger (1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022, 2034)
Tigers are regarded as brave, powerful, strong-willed, energetic and adventurous, but on the negative side can be cold, irritable, cruel and aggressive.

Rabbit (1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023, 2035)
Rabbits are seen as kind, family-oriented, compassionate and peaceful, but this can also make them too passive, cautious and reserved.

Dragon (1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024, 2036)
The glorious Dragons are considered to be natural leaders, courageous and charismatic, but also arrogant and impatient.

Snake (1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025, 2037)
Snakes are regarded as being wise and intuitive, but also vain and manipulative.

Horse (1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026, 2038)
The Horse is honest, active and enthusiastic, but can be self-centred and short-tempered.

Goat (1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027, 2039)
Goats are stable, intelligent and creative, but on the negative side, they can be pessimistic, moody and weak-willed.

Monkey (1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028, 2040)
Monkeys are intelligent, curious and sociable, but can be too competitive, impatient and opportunistic.

Rooster (1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029, 2041)
The Rooster is considered independent, smart and active, but can also be frivolous and egoistic.

Dog (1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030, 2042)
Dogs are regarded as loyal, honest, brave and responsible, but they can be conservative, sensitive and stubborn.

Pig (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031, 2043)
The pig is considered lucky, generous, diligent and compassionate, but their weaknesses can manifest in them being greedy, self-indulgent and emotional.

As those observing the festival wave goodbye to the year of the Ox, on 1 February 2022 they enter the year of the Water Tiger with hope and aspiration. According to Chinese superstition, 2022 promises to be a dynamic, passionate and tumultuous year full of surprises.

The year’s element is water which has a creative and inspirational influence on events. It can bring prosperity to those open to adventure, but it can be overwhelming and unpredictable. To be successful in 2022 people are encouraged to be cautious, flexible and ready to embrace change.

Wishing all who are celebrating in our community and beyond, a very Happy Lunar New Year!

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Life on campus as an international student

Final year undergraduate Marketing student, Shweta Menon shares how moving to a new country and starting her course at Birkbeck was both exciting and intimidating; and tells the experience of student life on and around campus.

Gordon Square

While selecting universities, I had no doubt I wanted to join Birkbeck. The opportunity to get the daytime to myself, to work and volunteer, all whilst earning a degree was music to my ears. However, like any student moving away from home for the first time I was quite nervous for my big leap. Nevertheless, having come to Birkbeck I was quickly able to make friends at our induction evening and explore the many million things London has to offer.

In the beginning it never quite occurred to me that there were so many hidden gems on Birkbeck’s campus itself. Along with amazing student services, career hubs and excellent transport links, Birkbeck’s campus offers beautiful study spaces to work and chill with your friends. Here are some of my favourite things to do on campus:

  1. Birkbeck Library : One of my favourite places to put my thinking cap on is the Library . The five-floor library offers a variety of study and work environments allowing you to find your perfect space. You are able to book study spaces for group studying as well as individual studying which are so convenient when you have to work on a group project or just want a room to yourself to be able to fully concentrate. These rooms also have a tele-conferencing screen which enables you to have conferences or attend your online lectures on a big screen.
  2. The Farmers Market: Birkbeck is home to the Bloomsbury farmers market which takes place every Tuesday and Thursday between 2.00-7.00pm and offers you an array of world foods. Everything at the market either comes straight from the farm or contains local, sustainable ingredients. So if, like me, you want some proper home-tasting food, the farmers market is your place to be!
  3. Birkbeck Bar and Cafe: Going out in London can burn a massive hole in your pocket and as students, the hole gets much bigger for us! The bar and cafe is one of my favourite places to unwind and catch up with my friends after lectures or randomly during the week. Not only are the drinks cost efficient but the food at Perch Cafe is lip-smacking.
  4. British Museum: The British Museum is only a two minute walk from Birkbeck campus and is free to enter! I absolutely love visiting the museum and every time I visit, I discover and learn something new from the previous time. They usually have some exhibition going on and interesting facts and objects from around the world.
  5. Squares and Gardens: Birkbeck is surrounded by gardens and squares like Russell Square Garden, Tavistock Square, Gordon Square, among others. These are beautiful to sit down in and unwind from the chaos of the city and get some fresh air. In the summertime Russell Square hosts festivals and pop-ups filled with music, food and drinks. I particularly love visiting the Garden Kiosk in Gordon Square and devouring their homemade cakes.
  6. Students’ Union and Societies: Being an international student, the Students’ Union has helped immensely for me to make friends, learn new skills and explore the city. The Students’ Unions hosts a variety of activities throughout the year such as sporting activities, social activities , upskilling activities, movie screenings among others. They also provide a wide range of societies so no matter where you are from you are sure to feel at home.
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Six Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

By Shweta Menon, final year undergraduate Marketing student 

Photo of Shweta Menon

With the dark nights of winter, a lot of us experience our mood getting gloomier. This feeling is so common that there’s even a name for it: ‘winter blues’.

Many people may only experience a mild version of winter blues while others can have a more severe type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The lack of sunlight due to shorter days disturbs our body clock and hormone levels, which affects our mood and compels us to hit the snooze button a million times. If, like most people, you can’t cozy up under the duvet til the sun comes out, try these tips to beat the winter blues.

  1. Get loads of sunlight: Push yourself to go outdoors and soak in the little bit of daylight that’s available even if it’s cold outside. Exposing yourself to daylight helps improve your serotonin levels. And if like most of us you are occupied during the day hours with work, studies and other activities get yourself a SAD lamp or sunlight lamp to stimulate daylight. Also, if you are stuck indoors because of work or other commitments try and sit close to a window to help you get that extra dose of sunshine.
  2. Eat yourself happy: While the cold, dark weather may tempt you to indulge in a hot bowl of mac and cheese everyday it is important to remember to eat well. Sugar and carbohydrates may make you feel happy and satisfied in the moment but eventually will lead to your blood sugar crashing. So why not make yourself a nice warm bowl of winter vegetable soup or chilli to warm up your day?
  3. Get active: Sitting at home binging your favourite Netflix programmes under your blanket might seem relaxing but will end up making you feel bluer than you already are in the long run. Research shows that exercising helps your body to release the feel-good hormone serotonin. Even if it’s just a 10 minute yoga routine or a short walk in the park do get yourself moving. Not only does this improve your mood but also helps you maintain a healthy waistline.
  4. Listen to happy music: Swap your winter ballads for something more peppy and fun. The music you listen to has an impact on your mood. Why not put on some Lizzo for your next commute to work or university?
  5. Schedule something to look forward to in your calendar: January can feel like the longest month of the year! So instead of slogging through it, schedule some time to meet your friends and family, check out the exhibition you wanted to go to or the latest movie that’s out in the theatre. This can help give you something to look forward to and feel happy about despite the cold, miserable weather outside.
  6. Be kind to yourself: When feeling blue and down it can be hard to find motivation to do any of the above things. One day you might be motivated to exercise or meet friends while on other days you might just want to curl up on your couch and watch telly, and both are 100% okay to do. It is important to not go hard on yourself and listen to your body and mind and take things at your pace.

While you can’t make the season any brighter or warmer you can definitely do little things to give you a fuzzy, warm feeling inside 🙂

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Championing rights for disabled people in the workplace 

As the world prepares to observe the United Nation’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, on Friday 3 December, we speak to Birkbeck PhD student, Stephen ‘Ben’ Morris who shares details of his own journey with a disability and his research on how neurodiverse individuals can be supported into the workforce. 

Stephen 'Ben' Morris

 The global, annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was proclaimed in 1992 by the UN to promote the rights and wellbeing of disabled people.  What has been your own personal experience with a disability? 

When people meet me, I hope they see me as ‘Ben,’ with all of the positive characteristics and contributions I can provide as a fellow human being. In most cases, I feel this is accurate; yet, when it has been determined that I am a person with a disability, the way I am treated varies on a regular basis. Some of the treatment is due to other people’s ignorance – for example, I can be bypassed in conversations even if they are about me; or, on occasion, malice, because others don’t understand or are afraid of my difference. Even when the intentions are positive, how I am treated can still have an effect on me.  

For example, people can become overprotective because of my disability, which can limit the opportunities accessible to me. I have been passed over for promotions because my employer is concerned about the expectations this advancement will place on me. Personally, I consider my disability as a positive because it gives me many strengths; nevertheless, I believe society needs to change its perspective and see me as a whole, not just see my limitations. 

Coinciding with the UN day of observance on 3 December is UK Disability History Month, which runs until 18 December. One of the key themes is around hidden disabilities- can you share a bit about your research and its links to those disabilities which are not necessarily ‘seen’? 

My research will centre on assisting neurodiverse individuals (who have a divergence in mental or neurological function from what is considered typical or normal) in entering the workforce. This will be a two-pronged strategy. The first approach is to listen to the neurodiverse community and understand their needs, desires, and barriers to work. The second approach focuses on the employer and teaching them how to support neurodiverse individuals in order to make work more accessible and achievable.  

From the research, I hope that finding the correct ‘fit’ will benefit both the neurodiverse individual and an organisation. The individual will be included in the working society and possibly feel self-worth, while an organisation can utilise untapped skills and talent. 

What do you see as the greatest challenges as you proceed through your research? 

Right now, I’m concerned about the future. I’m concerned about those who refuse to take part in my research. I recognise that people are frequently afraid of change, and I hope that the findings can be used and benefited from. Fortunately, I am being sponsored by Hays Recruitment and have connections with employers and neurodiverse communities, so I’m hopeful that will help me to locate participants for my studies. 

I’m also concerned by the data: only 31% of disabled people in the UK are in employment. Many desire to work but for a variety of reasons, they are unable to do so. Getting a job, if you are neurodiverse, can be very difficult.  

What are you most inspired by when it comes to the disabled community and the progress in terms of championing for disabled rights, better services and more exposure of the issues? 

People should be willing to speak up for their beliefs, especially if it would benefit others. When people speak up for what they believe in, it can spark a movement in which other like-minded people work together to achieve a common objective. This collaboration decreases loneliness and isolation, and as this movement gains traction, more people will listen, and more action and understanding will begin. I believe that during the last few decades, there has been a growing sense of solidarity in the disabled community, and that some others are taking notice. More, though, is still required. It is vital to remember that it is just as difficult for a neurotypical (non-diverse) person to enter the realm of disability as it is for a neurodiverse/disabled person to enter neurotypical society. 

I wish to live in a world where everyone is recognised for their uniqueness and individuality. I believe that everyone has something to offer society, from innovative new ideas to spreading happiness and love. I believe there is an overemphasis on labels…people frequently notice the label before the person. I constantly campaign to highlight the advantages of what minority groups can do if they are given the opportunity. I believe it is equally vital for me to share my thoughts with other persons with disabilities, their family members, co-workers, and experts, because the more one teaches, the more one learns. It would be an accomplishment if my stories/experiences helped improve the lives of even one person. 

Further information 

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Birkbeck supports London AIDS Memorial on Tottenham Court Road

Today, the College marks World AIDS Day to show support for people living with HIV and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness; with the memorial serving to remember lives lost, a history marred by discrimination and the current impact.

World Aids Day Memorial site

Birkbeck is proud to support AIDS Memory UK, founded by Ash Kotak, with their campaign to create a London AIDS memorial and is delighted that the confirmed site is on Tottenham Court Road, next to Goodge Street Tube Station – one of the stations closest to the College.

AIDS Memory UK created the memorial as a ‘unifying national focal point to remember the lives of those lost to HIV and AIDS’. The central London location was chosen due to its proximity to the former Middlesex Hospital, which housed the first AIDS ward and was opened by Princess Diana in 1987. It was at the opening of this ward that, in front of the world’s media, Princess Diana shook hands with an AIDS patient at a time when there was global panic about transmission from touch. The site is also within close distance to James Pringle House, the STD clinic that saw some of the first patients in the UK, and the Bloomsbury Clinic, the busiest HIV clinic in the UK.

Daniel Monk, Assistant Dean for Equality in the School of Law, helped coordinate support for the memorial across the University of London and hopes that “the memorial will not only serve as a place of remembrance, but encourage academics and students to think about the place of HIV/AIDS within their programmes; from virology and global pandemics to grief and care, and the impact of stigma, discrimination and inequalities; HIV/AIDS has so much to teach us across every discipline”.

Creating this memorial is important as a way of remembering the many people who died and the discrimination they faced, as well as the ongoing impact of HIV/AIDS on so many people around the world. According to statistics from the Terrence Higgins Trust, the most recent estimate suggests that there were 105,200 people living with HIV in the UK in 2019, with London continuing to have the highest rates of HIV in the country – 36% of new diagnosis in 2019 were London residents.

Further information:

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Spanner in the works for a parasite motor

Throughout World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, we’re featuring key areas of research at Birkbeck relating to the management of diseases. In this blog, we feature the work of former PhD student, Alex Cook, who is looking at new approaches to malaria control.

Alex Cook

Alex Cook

Separated by 85 million years of evolution, the parasite Plasmodium falciparum that causes the most deadly form of malaria, is a very different beast to its human host. Yet the challenge for malaria treatments is that they must kill the parasite but not destroy the cells of their human host in which the parasite hides. Malaria is a massive disease burden world-wide. Hundreds of thousands of people are killed each year, the majority of which are children younger than five. In Africa, disruption arising from the COVID-19 pandemic to existing measures also threatens to undo the last decade of malaria control. With resistance to current frontline therapeutics rapidly rising, new drug targets and vaccines are urgently needed.

Malaria-causing parasites are single cells and have a complex life-cycle within both human and mosquito hosts. The many iterations of parasite proliferation that are essential for disease transmission are driven by intracellular machinery called the mitotic spindle, which is built of cytoskeleton components called microtubules. This machinery ensures the correct distribution of replicated chromosomes to the newly produced cells. Targeting of the mitotic spindle by drugs is well-established in a variety of settings – notably human cancers – and components of the malaria proliferative machinery are thus attractive anti-parasite targets.

As part of his PhD work in the research group of Professor Carolyn Moores (Biological Sciences), Alex Cook studied a component of the malaria mitotic spindle machinery, a molecular motor called kinesin-5. Kinesin-5’s are a family of proteins known for their ability to ‘push and pull’ microtubules to create ordered structures within the cell. Alex used a very powerful electron microscope to take images of kinesin-5 molecules – which are around a millionth of a millimetre in size – bound to individual microtubules. He then used computational analysis to combine these pictures and calculate their three-dimensional shape, thereby providing information about how the motors work in the parasite themselves.

the Kinesin protein that contributes to malaria

Using this information, Alex – who is co-supervised by Professor Maya Topf and also collaborates with Dr Anthony Roberts, both also in Biological Sciences – showed that although the malaria kinesin-5 motor shares some functional properties with human kinesin-5, there are several key differences that indicate it might be susceptible to specific drug targeting. Confirming this idea, Alex found that a drug-like molecule that blocks human kinesin-5 activity does not affect the parasite motor.

Alex Cook, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford said: “To uncover new approaches to malaria control, we urgently need to look at new molecules from the parasite. Using high resolution electron microscopy, this first look at a parasite cell division motor will provide a springboard for discovery of small molecules that can disrupt malaria replication.”

Professor Moores commented: “Alex’s hard work, together with vital support from our department’s lab and computational teams, demonstrates the power of electron microscopy to explore medically important challenges.”

Alex’s work was recently published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbc.2021.101063). Future directions for the project involve further investigation of specific motor inhibitors, and also of the function of kinesin-5 in the parasite itself, in collaboration with the research group of Professor Rita Tewari at the University of Nottingham.

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Birkbeck academic makes the ‘Disability Power 100’ list

Professor Martin Paul Eve (School of Arts) has been named on the Shaw Trust’s ‘Disability Power 100’ list, which celebrates the UK’s most influential disabled people. Here, he shares his own experience with a disability and speaks on both the ongoing challenging environment for the disabled community plus their heightened visibility.

Professor Martin Paul Eve

Q1) What does it mean to be one of the 100 finalists, selected from over 550 nominations?

This is an important award for me. My health and disability have played majorly detrimental roles in my life and it’s something I have to fight against almost every day. To be recognised as successful in spite of this is, I feel, extremely important, although celebrating the achievements of disabled people who do well should never be used as a comparator to people who aren’t able to ‘overcome’ their own challenges to the same extent. I am fortunate, in many ways, to have got where I am and luck plays a huge role.

Q2) Shaw Trust uses the annual event to highlight how businesses, and others, can champion more opportunities for the disabled. What progress have you witnessed at Birkbeck with respect to this?

Birkbeck is committed to the Disability Confident Scheme and I applaud that, but I would like the College to go further. I have co-chaired the Staff Disability Network for the past year and it’s clear that we have the opportunity to make a step change around disability in the same way that we have seen for gender and race. But it needs people to prioritise it.

Q3) In your view, what are the most critical issues facing the disabled community in the UK?

Disabled people, or people with disabilities (this terminology is contested), face continued persecution in their day-to-day activities. This should be unacceptable in the twenty-first century. That is why I am pleased to stand up and declare my status from a position of relative privilege. The ongoing impact of the pandemic also affects this group disproportionately. It is still not safe for me to leave the house and I remain in lockdown/shielding, despite the withdrawal of government support for people in this group.

Q4) What more can we all do to address those issues?

The visibility of disabled people does a lot to help. The Paralympics, actress Rose Ayling-Ellis on Strictly Come Dancing and the Shaw Trust’s list are all ways of showcasing the rich lives of disabled people, as people. But we also need a more empathetic society; one that values disabled people’s lives. In the past year, 60% of deaths from the pandemic have been disabled and vulnerable individuals. Writing this off as collateral is simply barbaric.

Q5) Disability History Month is being observed later this month (18 November). What value do you see from such events and how would you like to see people getting involved?

Disability History month is an important way in which the complex historical narratives about disability can be brought to greater attention and used to alter how disability is perceived in our present. For example, not many people outside of disability studies know of the ‘social model’ of disability, in which disability is seen as a socially constructed phenomenon. That is, rather than a person ‘having’ a disability, they are disabled by society. A good example is the use of stairs instead of ramps. It’s not that the person has a dis-ability to get to the top of the stairs, it’s that the societal choice to use stairs rather than an accessible ramp caused the disability. Disability history month is a time when we can celebrate the achievements of the disability rights movement and use this space to educate people about issues like this.

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10 recipes to try this Diwali that are not curry

Today (November 4) is Diwali or Deepavali, a religious Indian festival of light that celebrates victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. This celebration comes from the legend of Lord Rama, who was deprived of his kingdom and sent into exile for 14 years. Rama eventually defeats the evil spirit Ravana and returns to his home. Diwali honours this triumphant return and is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists all over the world. Here, Birkbeck final-year Marketing student, Shweta Menon shares the festival’s culinary delights.

UG Marketing student Shweta Menon

Shweta Menon

Diwali has distinctive celebrations across India and in more recent times around the world. However, lip-smacking vibrant foods, a variety of Indian sweets and the combined play of colours and fireworks remain a constant. Growing up I would see my grandmother prepare an array of snack and sweets for Diwali. There were some traditional items like murukku (crispy rice stick), sheera (semolina pudding), rava laddoo (sweet semolina balls) and some innovative ones.

If you, like me, are away from home this Diwali or want to put on your chef’s hat to try some Indian delicacies, here are some recipes for you:

  1. Murukku

Murukku

Murukku is a traditional South Indian deep fried snack recipe made with rice flour, urad dal and spices. Chakri is like Murukku, but the ingredients slightly differ They are savoury and crispy.

  1. Shankarpali

shankarpali

Shankarpali, sweet diamond cuts, is a crispy sweet snack made with flour, ghee and sugar. These can last you for a good week or two.

3.Gulab Jamun

gulab jamun

Gulab Jamun is a classic Indian sweet made with ghee, milk solids and cardamom powder.

  1. Rava Ladoo (Sweet Semolina Balls)

rava ladoo

Rava Ladoo is yet another classic indian sweet made with semolina, ghee and sugar.

5.Kaju Katli

kaju katli

Kaju Katli is popular Indian sweet made with cashew nuts, sugar and cardamom powder. Kaju, in Hindi, means cashew and katli refers to thin slices.

  1. Aloo Tikki Chaat

aloo tikka chaat

Aloo Tikki Chaat is a famous Indian street food made of spiced fried potato patties served with yogurt, pomegranate and chutneys.

  1. Carrot Halwa

carrot halwa

Carrot Halwa, natively known as Gajar Halwa, is a sweet carrot pudding made in the winter months when carrots are in abundance .

  1. Gujiya

gujiya

Gujiyas are scrumptious sweet fried dumplings. The filling of the dumpling is a delightful combination of dry fruits and milk solids.

  1. Besan Ladoo (Sweet Gram Flour Balls)

besan ladoo

Besan Ladoo is a staple Diwali sweet made with roasted gram flour, ghee and sugar. They only take as much as 15 minutes to make and are absolutely finger-licking.

  1. Turmeric Cumin Margarita

turmeric cumin margarita

This bright coloured Margarita with its smoky notes is the perfect cocktail for the festival of lights

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