Author Archives: Olivia

21 tips on how to become a successful researcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further information 

Share

Easter traditions from around the world

As Christians prepare to mark the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday, with many going to Church and attending Easter egg hunts, a number of countries around the world will celebrate without a single chocolate egg in sight! Here, we round up our top five Easter traditions unique to the country and region, along with their historical significance. 

people making a giant omelette

Giant omelette-making tradition in Southern France.
Credit: TIME magazine/Remy Gabalda—AFP/Getty Images

  1. In Mexico, on Holy Saturday, it’s typical for locals to re-enact the burning of Judas by burning an effigy, part of a weekend of rituals thought to rid oneself of evil. Close to two million people will crowd the streets to watch one of Latin America’s most elaborate re-enactments of Christ’s crucifixion in the Iztapalapa neighbourhood of Mexico City. Intended as a deeply religious experience and held on Good Friday, the Passion Play, like others seen around the world, depicts Jesus’s suffering and death. The tradition began in the nineteenth century to rejoice the end of a cholera epidemic.

  2. Like other islands in the Caribbean region, Barbados has held onto the tradition of kite-flying to celebrate Easter. Families come out to compete in competitions and festivals with the most elaborate, colourful designs and incredible skills vying for the attention of spectators and prize-givers. The vibrant displays will showcase every imaginable shape going, from the traditional quadrilateral to boxes, rectangles and more elaborate polygons. Some aim to outdo others with gigantic contraptions requiring five to ten people to launch the kite and heavy-duty twine to keep it intact. The spectacular flight of the kites is said to represent the resurrection of Christ.

  3. In the village of Bessières, in southwest France, eggs are neither boiled and painted nor made out of chocolate. Instead, villagers there opt for the more arduous task of making a giant omelette from 15,000 eggs, to be served with bread to villagers. The origins of this incredible task, which requires 50 volunteers to make and nearly two hours to crack the eggs, is said to date back to the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. It’s recorded that he had enjoyed an omelette so much that he asked that locals collect all the eggs in the village and cook a massive version for his army.

  4. Home to over 350 million Christians, Africa’s Easter celebrations involve lots of traditional, communal activities, stemming from its rich history and contribution to Christianity, from Early 2nd century AD when Pope Saint Victor, the first bishop of Rome born in the Roman Province of Africa (North), decreed that Easter be universally celebrated on a Sunday. For Nigeria’s Christian population, palm branches decorate homes from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday and the Igbo people perform a distinctive masquerade dance, with young men wearing colourful costumes to celebrate their ancestral spirits.

  5. The island of Marinduque, Philippines hosts the Moriones Festival during Holy Week, with women and men impersonating ‘moriones’ (Roman soldiers), inspired by Longinus, a Roman executioner of Christ. They don masks, helmets, and gladiator-inspired garb and wander the streets to pull pranks and scare children. According to legend, Longinus was blind, and was cured when a drop of Christ’s blood fell in his eye during the crucifixion. This specific tale is often re-enacted during the festival.

    Further Information 
Share

Tuberculosis: the forgotten pandemic!

Every year March 24 marks World Tuberculosis (TB) Day and this year the theme is ‘Invest to End TB. Save lives’. In this blog, Professor Sanjib Bhakta, Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Biochemistry, discusses the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on TB, why this is so alarming, and how research at the Mycobacteria Research Laboratory of the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology (ISMB) at Birkbeck is making a difference. 

Professor Sanjib Bhakta’s research group at the World Tuberculosis Day Keynote lecture at the Infectious Diseases conference

World Tuberculosis (TB) Day is a significant and meaningful day to highlight public awareness of TB around the world. TB is typically a respiratory infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The causal bacterial pathogens are spread via droplets and primarily infect the lungs. However, TB can infect any part of the body and can cause infection that spreads throughout the systems of the body.  

More than a quarter of the global population (approximately 2 billion) are infected with M. tuberculosis, with approximately 10% regularly developing into active TB, increased by risk factors such as HIV, smoking, diabetes and malnutrition. It is estimated that by 2050, drug resistant TB will be responsible for 2.6 million deaths a year.  

COVID-19 has greatly impacted the available services, treatment and diagnosis of TB, disrupting ongoing progress towards combating the disease1. Co-infection of COVID-19 and TB resulting in more severe disease and higher death rates have been reported among this population. Improved preventative measures, such as vaccines, rapid diagnosis and new drugs are in dire need to bring this pathogen under control.  

In order to tackle this forgotten pandemic effectively, strong global interdisciplinary partnerships, community engagement and antimicrobial stewardship are crucial. We, at Mycobacteria Research Laboratory, have participated in many key multi-centred research activities and public engagements in an effort to highlight community awareness on TB and antibiotic resistance. These include: 

  1. As active members of the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, we have played roles as “Antibiotic Action Champion” and/or “Antibiotic Guardian” 
  2. We have partnered with the “Joi Hok” charity in Kolkata, India to reach out to local and global school children on various science and art based public engagement projects to raise public awareness on TB and anti-microbial resistance (AMR) in TB and the project won the Microbiology Society Outreach Prize in 2020.
  3. We aim to validate new therapeutic targets for new anti-TB drug design3. In addition, our research has identified the prospect of repurposing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reverse the AMR in TB4
  4. Recently, we have received a Birkbeck-Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) Translational Research Award to fund our investigation on repurposing NSAIDs to tackle TB. In our research group World TB Day public awareness poster this year and World TB Day Keynote lecture at the Infectious Diseases conference (23 and 24 March 2022) in London, we will be highlighting our interdisciplinary approaches to tackle antimicrobial resistance in TB.    

Our international biotechnology partner, Dr Parvinder Kaur, Principal Scientist of the Foundation for Neglected Disease Research, said: “FNDR, India, is a not-for-profit biotech organization working to discover and develop novel drugs for various infectious diseases that have a high socio-economic impact. FNDR’s clinical drug candidate, TBA-7371, is currently undergoing Phase-2 clinical trial focusing on drug-resistant TB. Our collaborative efforts with Professor Bhakta’s Mycobacteria Research Laboratory at the Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology include TB drug development support and knowledge exchange to facilitate translational aspects of TB research.”  

Key References: [1] WHO, Tuberculosis deaths rise for the first time in more than a decade due to the COVID-19 pandemic, (2021) [2] Microbiology Society, Members Sreyashi Basu and Sanjib Bhakta win the 2020 Microbiology Outreach Prize (2020) [3] Maitra, A., et al., FEMS Microbiology Reviews, 43 (5) 548–575 (2019) [4] Maitra, A et al., Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, 75 (11) 3194–3201 (2020)  

 Further information 

Share

Why World Wetlands Day is now being officially observed by the United Nations

Wednesday 2 February 2022 marked the first official observance of World Wetlands Day. In this blog, Dr Dale Mineshima-Lowe, Lecturer and Acting Programme Director of MSc Environment and Sustainability, explains the significance of the day and how it’s raising awareness of biodiversity, climate mitigation/adaption, and the global environment.  

Wetland in Korea

Wednesday 2 February marked the first official observance of World Wetlands Day, adopted by the UN General Assembly in August 2021.  February 2 was chosen as the date to mark the anniversary of the Convention on Wetlands (also known as the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands), adopted as an international treaty back in 1971. 

Since 1997, the 1971 Convention has been celebrated annually as ‘World Wetlands Day’, as a means of raising awareness about how global wetlands are critical ecosystems that contribute to various global environmental and sustainability issues. The 2021 UN Resolution has now adopted this day officially as an internationally observed day. This additional recognition, it is hoped, will highlight the issue within public discourse, raise concern for the issue, and mobilise political will and commitment (national and international) for resources towards wetlands protection, restoration, and preservation.  

‘Wetlands’, broadly defined, covers a multitude of water ecosystems – natural and human-made, including both freshwater and marine-coastal ecosystems – such as mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, tidal flats, estuaries, swamps and marshes, rivers, lakes, and underground aquifers. This year’s theme of ‘Wetlands Action for People and Nature’, explains how wetlands are ecosystems that contribute to biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. Its focus on the inter-relationship between nature and people is meant to serve as a ‘call to action’ – dedicating human, financial and political resources to protection and restoration efforts.  

According to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands – Global Wetland: Special Edition 2021 report, global wetlands deterioration is widespread, impacted by climate change – with changing weather patterns creating more risk of droughts and flooding – causing ecosystem damage and degradation. While the report identified the negative impacts on wetlands, it also recognised wetlands as important for their role as part of climate mitigation and adaption strategies. It highlighted that wetland ecosystems can be both solution and problem dependent on how they are managed – as power source carbon sinks if undisturbed and maintained, or a source of greenhouse gases if allowed to degrade. This is where the report, along with the call to action of this year’s World Wetlands Day theme, calls for the need to enhance coordination and integration across different sectors – wetland management, agriculture, and urban development amongst others for instance. It highlights the need not only for international agreements and national strategies, but the commitment of vital resources to actualise the agreements in the short and long-terms.   

Further information  

Share

It’s only a matter of time before Boris Johnson resigns

Dr Ben Worthy, Senior Lecturer in Politics, analyses the fate of Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister, following the allegations of illegal parties taking place in 10 Downing Street during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Boris Johnson is in trouble. Quite how much trouble is a matter of dispute. Amid the ever-unfolding ‘Partygate’ scandal are two questions which are central to his future: a moral question of if he should go, and the more political one of whether he will. 

In terms of whether he should go, the answer from the public is a clear yes. A recent YouGov poll found that 63% of Britons think the Prime Minister should resign. Conservative party members are themselves deeply divided 

The Gray report itself, the report that isn’t a report but an ‘update’, pointed that way too. It was a masterpiece of saying a lot with a little. Even the title ‘Investigation into alleged gatherings on government premises during Covid restrictions: Update’ sounded ominous. It was very brief, but damning in what it did say, with a rather brilliant tone of measured moral disappointment:  

 “At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.” 

It went on to speak of multiple failures:  

“There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times. Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.” 

Perhaps it’s my reading of it, but if I wanted to say ‘the Prime Minister should resign’ without saying it, that’s what I would write.  

And what about the rules? The Ministerial Code, with an enthusiastic preface by Boris Johnson, states in section 1.3 C that:  

‘It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.’ 

Johnson stated on the 8th December 2021 in the House of Commons that “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”. This sits rather uneasily with claims he was present at an Abba-themed party in his flat.  Everything hinges on the words ‘knowingly’ and then whether Johnson would do as ‘expected’. In a system reliant on ‘good chaps’ rather than rigid rules, much depends on if Johnson would be one. I leave it to you.  

This takes us to the question of whether he will leave. There’s a great deal we don’t know, and the politics seem to swing almost daily. At the time of writing only 11 Conservative MPs have called for Johnson to go but, less reassuringly, many more have criticised him. As for how many letters are now with the Conservative Private Members’ Committee, only Sir Graham Brady knows. David Bowie once said that “tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming”. The problem for Conservative MPs is that they can hear one future with Boris Johnson and one without. 

Those MPs who support him claim that he will bounce back by changing himself or his policies. It is possible but unlikely. In personality terms, the behaviour took him to Downing Street, so it is very unlikely he is willing, or even able, to change. In policy terms, the much-waited for Wikipedia inspired ‘Levelling Up’ White Paper, which some thought could help re-launch him, seems to offer a spectacular front cover, many mayors but no money. The front cover of the ‘Benefits of Brexit’ paper seemed to say ‘that ship has sailed’ 

For Conservative MPs who are less convinced, the major unknown is the Alice in Wonderland question: how deep does the hole they are falling down go? The number of parties keeps on growing. The Metropolitan Police have 300 photos and 500 documents containing who knows what. Here the Gray report was again, a perfect trap and a perfect example of the Streisand effect, where you draw attention to something by trying to hide it. Gray’s brief report simply flagged up how much more there was to know.   

Taking a step back, I would argue that, beyond the daily speculation of letters and white papers, Johnson will go. He will go because his fundamentals are bad and worsening. Johnson is now a vote loser, even if he was never actually a real vote winner. His polling numbers are worse where it matters, and focus groups indicate his magic voter coalition is falling apart. The Conservative Party’s fate is now tied to him, and he is descending rapidly.   

Yet, amid all the noise and unhappiness, the same day that four staff walked out the door of Downing Street, we missed the most important resignation in British politics 

Further information 

Share

My experiences of a year abroad as one of the last Erasmus students in the UK

Johanna Frank is on a year abroad studying BA Film and Media as part of the Erasmus programme. In this blog, Johanna shares how she is finding her year abroad and living in student halls.

Johanna Frank

When the application period at my home university, the Leuphana University Lüneburg in Germany, opened for the Erasmus programme, I jumped at the opportunity to study in Birkbeck’s Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies. I knew a number of people who had been on the Erasmus programme, and no matter who I asked, their answer was always the same: the exchange was the best experience they’d ever had – intercultural exchange, a new city, new country, more people than you could count and a whole new way of experiencing studying.

I was happy when I found out I had been accepted onto the programme, and now here I am, one of the last Erasmus students in the UK, as with Brexit, the UK government pulled out of the Erasmus programme. The UK government has since created the Turing Scheme, a replacement for the Erasmus programme, which provides funding for international opportunities in education and training across the world.

It’s been interesting comparing the UK to Germany; the academic system in the UK is not that different to Germany. But evening studies are very new for me and as an early bird I’m still struggling a bit to find the energy to contribute to the seminars. It is another experience! During the day, I mostly discover London and the area around my student halls. I got a membership in the local gym, found a job at a small coffee shop around the corner and see my friends every day. I’m part of the Birkbeck badminton team, which is a lot of fun. I also got a Student Art Pass which makes it possible to enter a lot of exhibitions and museums for free and in my remaining time on my year abroad I plan to discover as much as possible.

This term, I am looking forward to the modules ‘Principles of Layout and Design’ and ‘Gender and Sexuality in Cinema’. I am especially curious for the latter! At my home university, I am taking modules to receive the Gender Diversity Certificate. The certificate is one of the elective profiles at the university. It is for students wanting to commit their complementary studies to learn in-depth about one certain topic. Gender studies, equality and feminism are not only at my university an important and present topic, the whole city, Lüneburg, is super open and questions patriarchal structures. I’m taking the seminars on a voluntary basis as I’m really interested in the history and recent developments of feminism. Coming to London, it was weird at first, as I didn’t feel the same spirit of “let’s change the system”. But that is why I’m even more excited for the module, just to see how other students think and how present the topic is in their daily lives.

Further information

Share

My favourite things to do in Bloomsbury

Valentina Martinez, BA Film and Media with Foundation Year student, shares her top tips of places to go and things to do in Bloomsbury, central London, where Birkbeck’s campus is located. 

Valentina Martinez

A key reason I chose to study at Birkbeck was its central London location. Located in Bloomsbury, it is in a student hub, with other universities close by and world-famous museums and galleries quite literally on your doorstep. I’ve shared below just some of my favourite things to do in Bloomsbury and the surrounding areas.  

Places to eat 

From pubs to museums, Bloomsbury is surrounded by incredible places to hang out, either before or after your evening classes. Let’s start with places to eat. Even though Birkbeck offers its own rooftop bar in the main building and cafes in different areas of campus, if you ever fancy a change of scene, there’s so many options to check out. 

In Gower Street, facing Birkbeck, you can find a beautiful building which houses Waterstones. Not only is it a fantastic bookstore with more than two floors filled with books, but it also has a  café attached to it that offers a pleasant place to have a nice hot chocolate or just to sit down and read before classes.  

However, if you’re in the mood to eat something I highly recommend going to DF Tacos, a Mexican restaurant with exquisite tacos and a great modern atmosphere. You can find this place on Tottenham Court Road near the British Museum. Finally, if you’re looking for somewhere to hang out after classes and have a few drinks I would go to a pub called The College Arms, located on Store Street, just five minutes from Birkbeck. It’s a lively pub filled with students, music and good drinks and it’s a great place to socialise and meet new people.  

Museums, cinemas and gardens 

There are so many other exciting things to do in Bloomsbury aside from eating out. Firstly, there is obviously the British Museum. With its back entrance facing Birkbeck, this museum is a fantastic hangout spot to learn and even get inspiration for your future assessments. It will probably take you more than one day to walk through this enormous place, so you can visit it often and still find something new each time. You don’t even have to pay to get into the exhibitions.  

British Museum

British Museum

Next, if you have enough luck to enjoy a sunny day in London you will probably want to make the most of it. So, I would recommend heading towards Russell Square, which is right next to Birkbeck. This beautiful park has a lovely fountain with benches so you can soak up the sunlight or sit in their wonderful café. It is usually filled with kids playing football and people doing sports, so if you’re a sporty person yourself you can also have a workout there! I still can’t believe such a gorgeous green place exists in the middle of a busy city like London.  

If you enjoy watching films, Birkbeck has its own cinema in the School of Arts building, located at 43 Gordon Square, so do keep your eye out for upcoming film screenings. I would also recommend going to Picturehouse Central in Piccadilly Circus. I know this is not quite on campus, but this cinema has a stunning vintage aesthetic which is definitely worth the walk. It has the newest film releases and even a restaurant and café. If you’re a student, you will get student discounts on your tickets so you should without doubt check it out.  

As you can see, there are a lot of things to do around campus, and I have only told you about a very small percentage of attractions that Bloomsbury has to offer. I encourage you to go ahead and discover more things on your own, I can guarantee you will find hidden gems everywhere! After all, you are in the heart of London if you come to Birkbeck – there is bound to be something exciting around the corner for you to enjoy.  

Further information 

Share

How I’ve found my first term at Birkbeck

Wojciech Zaluski, MSc International Marketing student, shares his experiences of his first term at Birkbeck, reflecting on how he’s found in-person lectures and what the most enjoyable aspects of his course have been so far.

My first term at Birkbeck was my first formal interaction with the British education system and my reappearance within formal learning – it’s been a long time since I finished my Master’s degree in Philosophy at the Jagiellonian University in Poland.

As 2021 was another year overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, before the start of the term we were informed that we could choose whether we study in-person or join lectures and seminars online. I chose to study in-person, and as I am studying part time, my first term only had two modules and classes took place during the evenings, due to Birkbeck’s evening teaching model.

In my first term, I found having in-person lectures to be really stimulating; the lecturers are very approachable and engage us in conversations. Students are encouraged to talk to each other and share their insights, and because classes are very international with students from all walks of life, those conversations are especially interesting. I was able to share my thoughts and exchange my ideas with students from Japan, Brasilia, USA, Ukraine, and the UK.

In all our lectures, what we were learning was strongly focused on the state of culture and society now, so it all felt very relevant. We were asked to discuss articles that highlighted how the internet is shaping our society and economy and at the same time how COVID-19 is shaping the marketing strategies of big companies. My first module was in Strategic Marketing Management, and we were assigned a group project. I joined a group of students from the USA, England, and Portugal, and we worked together on developing a marketing strategy for Netflix. Grace, a fellow student from the USA, proposed we should focus on the needs and interests of Gen Z, the generation born between 1997 to 2012. That was very interesting for me as someone who represents Gen X/Millennials.

Everything relating to your studies is organised through an online system that allows students to choose their options, check their agenda, and access study materials. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised how well everything works and how easy it is to navigate the online platform. We can focus on our studies, but Birkbeck has additional options which also are accessible through your online student account. For example, you can sign up to the Library and access lots of books and articles online; you can use the Birkbeck Futures platform to build your professional career; you can join Pioneer, a programme for people looking to develop a new business.

Each class that you have has a recorded version of the lecture available online, which is really helpful as it means you can listen to lectures more than once – I often revisit parts of lectures until I fully understand the concepts being discussed. There is also a reading list, which means you know what to read to understand the topics and you can be prepared when joining live seminar discussions.

Every week, students receive a general newsletter of what is happening at Birkbeck, and it is a wonderful source of information to learn what Birkbeck has to offer outside your studies. You can learn about job fairs, activities organised by the Birkbeck Students’ Union, and interesting things that are going on.

In summary, going into my second term, I feel energised and inspired to explore the subjects on my own. I am looking forward to learning more and getting a better understanding of modern marketing. I am also looking forward to meeting other students again, and I feel that in the second term we will feel more at ease and more open to sharing our ideas.

Further information

Share

“The London Critical Theory Summer School made me think differently”

Every year, the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities (BIH) runs the London Critical Theory Summer School. In this blog, participants from this year’s Summer School and previous years, tell of their experiences and its impact on their work and lives.  

2021 participants 

Stacey Keizan, Wits University, South Africa
Stacey Keizan is a junior researcher investigating Developmental Psychology, Behavioural Science and Social Psychology at Wits University, and was a recipient of the Open Society University Network (OSUN) bursary in 2021. 

What a privilege it was to receive a generous bursary to attend the 2021 London Critical Theory Summer School. It was such an incredibly insightful and thought-provoking two weeks!   

Firstly, it was an absolute honour to get to listen to such highly acclaimed intellectuals, whose work continues to inspire and guide my own intellectual pursuits. Jacqueline Rose and Esther Leslie were fantastic facilitators of the lectures and discussions, all of which were so well organized. They encouraged questions and discussion among participants, while constantly elevating the conversation. The opportunity to engage with the speakers on such a personal level was amazing, and the way in which different perspectives were expressed and highlighted made the lectures and discussion extremely thought-provoking.   

The content was novel and diverse and went a long way towards expanding my reading and theoretical understanding of critical theory. I loved the way the speakers engaged with current topical issues on a global scale and made the theory come alive with practical examples and debate that facilitated critical thinking and lively discussion among participants.  A surprising highlight for me was the opportunity to hear such diverse and global perspectives from attendees. The group discussions were always so interesting, and I loved the multidisciplinary perspectives that attendees brought to these discussions, which often introduced me to new theory and stimulated my reading and interest in different avenues. Given that some of the lectures and readings were outside of my area of knowledge and understanding, I felt that the Summer School really stretched me.  

Golam Mostofa, BRAC, Bangladesh
Golam Mostofa was studying for a Bachelor of Pharmacy (BPharm) with Honours degree as a final year student when he enrolled on the Summer School. He wanted to expand his understanding of critical analysis and thinking in order to be effective in the critical analyzing and decision making of important issues, both personally and professionally. 

My learnings from the Summer School exceeded my expectations and I was quite amazed to learn many things from the professors and participants. I was always interested to learn more about critical theory but never got the chance to meet such great critical thinkers before. Living in a developing country limits many aspects of education. This program was the very first Summer School that I ever participated in and coming from a very small rural primary school to attend the Summer School was a great achievement for me. My parents were very proud. They’ve had very little education themselves, but they always encouraged me with every step. 

The Summer School added a new dimension to my thinking and life. It created a new path for me to start a great journey. It created a new feeling towards life, and I can feel the changes. I was so overwhelmed by the influence of the current time and media, and how it was blocking me from reality. Critical thinking makes me think differently and creates new perspectives.  

The two weeks of Summer School were very special for me. We discussed topics that were very rich, lively and thought-provoking; every word of the Summer School was important to me. I found a welcoming and warm place where I can converse with great critical thinkers and would love to attend every year. I really thank everyone for this great experience and am forever grateful.  

Blogs from participants in previous years 

Gustavo Matte
Gustavo Matte, a researcher, novelist, and community education volunteer in Brazil, received the Open Society Foundation Bursary in 2019.  

It was two intense and wonderful weeks… a real watershed in my intellectual life. Thanks to the Summer School, I returned to my home country, Brazil – which is facing several social and political problems – with new intellectual and affective resources to think about our current situation and resist, on a daily basis, the rise of all types of violence (racial, sexual, economical etc.).  

The Summer School was a wonderful place to meet people from all around the world and share knowledge, experiences and ideas that allowed us to help each other in several crucial matters; solving personal research problems, broadening cultural perception, and also sharing social traumatic experiences from different places and times experienced by the students in a way that could help us to figure out ways to overcome these crisis through the comparison of similarities and differences of each case. For example, what worked in South America that could also work in Asia? How can left-wing organizations of one country avoid making the same mistakes that weakened their counterparts in other countries in the world? Is it possible to put our local experiences together to see the greater picture?  

The Summer School was the perfect opportunity for me to ally intellectual growth, friendship and international solidarity (a network of mutual support) in order to resist fascism. The classes, professors, colleagues, together with the experience of being abroad, opened the world up to me and helped me realise that we still have places and situations where we can think broader and dream together. 

Burcu Yalim
Burcu Yalim, a publisher and independent scholar from Turkey, was one of the first recipients of the Open Society Foundation Bursary and attended the Summer School in 2019.  

The international bursary for the London Critical Theory Summer School gave me the invaluable opportunity to summon the intellectual and spiritual strength and inspiration I had been struggling keep alive in me for the past few years. It allowed me to take a step away from the stifling daily atmosphere of my country and to re-connect with the wider intellectual community and with my own work in a way that would have otherwise been impossible for me in my actual circumstances.  

Through my experience there, I discovered that the Summer School aspires to be more than a mere scholarly program. It strives to be a locus of encounter in which the institution of academia opens itself up to its own margins, at a time when academia itself is being made to survive in a constant crisis of legitimacy and self-justification vis-à-vis the market-driven world of professionalism.  

What I witnessed in Birkbeck, was the extraordinary effort to organise and accommodate that kind of impetus whereby an institutional space is transformed into a space for those who seek to surpass their individual constraints and build an understanding that is not based on a common ground of reconciliation, but opens up true negotiations.  

That passion was most remarkable in that all speakers and participants alike recognised themselves in it, even when their individual agendas differed significantly, they could relate to one another as one does in friendship. It is through the emergence of such a community that thinking has the chance to become consistent and critical. In that, such spaces are vital if a true relation to the future is to be produced.  

Such hospitality is the rarest of occurrences in our world today and by itself presents a challenge to our border-driven environments and geographies despite all the claims to a borderless globe. The programme deserves every possible support and solidarity and I can only hope that many more who do not have the necessary means will have the chance to take part in this event in the years to come. 

Nombuso Mathibela
Nombuso Mathibela, a 24-year-old South African and a self-described academic and activist, was the first recipient of the BIH International Bursary in 2018.  

When I first heard about the Summer School, I was intrigued by the idea of being part of a programme that would attempt to situate psychoanalysis as a set of theories, and that could assist us in dealing with social and political life. I come from a legal background and activist spaces that have offered different pathways and frameworks to the pursuit of radical social and economic change. I was grateful for the opportunity to be part of an intellectual space that has deepened my understanding of critical theory.  

Understanding that theory is borne out of comparison and struggle, I really enjoyed being part of a programme that made space for students coming from different parts of the world to theorise about their different yet similar systemic conditions. This school created a space to negotiate ideas, experiences and the historical formation of theories while provoking me to consider the present-past and engage different ways of being or becoming and unbecoming. Laura Mulvey’s sessions on female voices and cinema were enchanting, challenging multiple assumptions about womens histories and feminist imaginations.  

Moreover, the invited scholars challenged us, adding much vigour to my intellectual and political life. Similarly exciting was the selection of students from different backgrounds, disciplines and research interests. Our class was quite special, and I was able to develop transnational relationships of unquantifiable importance. I am aware of many activist scholars and students who have shown an interest in the Summer School for both its content and the calibre of intellectuals who are invited to participate. I look forward to returning to this space. 

Further information 

Share

Top tips for spending Christmas in London

Shweta Menon, BSc Marketing student, gives her tips for what to do over the festive period if you’re in London and away from home.

Helter Skelter at Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park

Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas all around London. If like me you are away from home for the Christmas festivities and yearning for some festive warmth, London is the place to be! Gather your fellow globe-trotting friends as I take you through some of my favourite ways to spend Christmas in London:

Winter Wonderland: this is without a doubt London’s most treasured Christmas attraction located in Hyde Park. Step into a world of Christmas bliss with its very own Bavarian village and yuletide attraction. If you’re in the mood for adventure it’s got you covered with its roller-coaster, thrill-seeking rides and more. Hop onto the 53-metre-high Ferris wheel to enjoy breath-taking views of Hyde Park and Kensington Palace and gardens. Filled with bars, food market and Christmas markets, Winter Wonderland is sure to warm you up!

Ice skating: What a better way to get into the Christmas spirit than to wrap warm and ice skate across London various ice skating rinks? The Natural History Museum, Canary Wharf, Winter Wonderland and Somerset House, among others, are all home to Santa-approved ice skating venues in London.

Facebook groups: London-based Facebook groups are a great way to meet people in London as an international student, though do ensure your safety first. The groups regularly organise Christmas parties, Christmas Day dinners, Boxing Day lunches and even secret Santa’s! If you’re in London and your friends are UK students who have gone back home for Christmas, you can still soak in all the festivities even without your family around.

Christmas markets: It doesn’t matter if you’re on Santa’s naughty or nice list, you can still be on your nice list and indulge in a little “me” time by pampering yourself in the many Christmas markets in London. The main Christmas markets are at Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, and they have dazzling Christmas displays and seasonal decor. Also, most of the boroughs in London hosts their own little Christmas markets as well. Look up your local Christmas market and meet your neighbours and make some new friends as well!

Immerse yourself into these activities or visit your local Wetherspoon’s for a glass of mulled wine – either way do get out and soak in the festivities of the city, because London is the most alive during Christmas!

Hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

Share