The Bonnart Trust PhD Scholarship

Zehra Miah is a Bonnart Scholar who is currently undertaking a PhD on the experiences of Turkish immigrants in London from 1971 to 1991. In this blog, she shares what it was like applying for the scholarship and how it has allowed her to pursue her project full-time.

Pictured: Idris Sinmaz (Zehra’s grandfather) came to London from Istanbul in 1971 to work in the restaurant of his landlord’s son. His two sons and wife joined him in 1973, his married daughter stayed in Turkey. This image was taken in 1980, by which time Idris had opened his own restaurant, Abant on Kingsland High Street in Dalston. Abant is a lake in his hometown of Bolu, Turkey.

Freddie Bonnart-Braunthal founded the Bonnart Trust to fund research aimed at tackling the causes and consequences of intolerance. Largely inspired by his own experiences leaving Vienna in 1935 and being branded an enemy alien and interred in the UK, he wanted to provide funding for scholars, such as myself, to explore these topics and to use their findings to help make a more tolerant and equal world.

When considering embarking on a PhD one of the main hurdles, once you have written your proposal, met with a supervisor, perhaps even had an interview and secured a place is – how to pay for it! My own story, is that I had returned to study as a mature student with three young children and a full-time job as an Executive Assistant. I had studied for my BA and MA at Birkbeck part-time and decided that if I was going to do a PhD then I wanted it to be all or nothing, so I applied for a full-time place. Starting the PhD meant not only the loss of my salary for me but also for my family, even cobbling together the fees would have been a struggle.  In short, without the Bonnart Trust seeing value in my research and awarding me the scholarship, I would, best case scenario perhaps, be pushing through a part-time PhD or, more likely have made the decision to take a different career path.

As a prospective student, you will already know from the institutions that you have applied to that whilst there is not an awful lot of funding about, it is a different offer with every university having vastly different application processes. If you have chosen to study at Birkbeck, or you are considering it and your research area fits within the remit of the Trust, namely addresses diversity and inclusivity or social justice and equality, then I would urge you to consider applying for this fantastic scholarship.

My research considers whether ethnic, religious and racial labels have helped or hindered the Turkish speaking minorities in London between 1971-1999.  When I read the guidelines and spoke to my supervisors (Professor David Feldman and Dr Julia Laite) it was clear that the Bonnart Trust Scholarship was most closely aligned with my research interests.  I have previously held a fees scholarship for my Master’s at Birkbeck and one thing I was not aware of at the time is quite how many people I would meet, collaborate with and the opportunities to present that come along when you hold a scholarship.

These opportunities are worth just as much, as the funding,which is full fees, an annual stipend, and a research allowance of up to £1,000.  The scholarship is open to the entire School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy so it is competitive, but I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed the process. The form had very specific questions (as do all funding applications, and helpfully they all ask different things with different word counts).  For the Bonnart Trust Scholarship I had to succinctly answer a number of questions about my research in general, , why it was important, what sort of influence outside of academia I hoped for and the possibilities it might offer to help address some of the Trust’s aims; no section allowed more than 250 words.

I am naturally a ‘better in the room’ sort of person so when I was shortlisted and invited to interview I knew that this was my opportunity to demonstrate just how important I felt my research was.  I can understand though, that interviews can be a bit daunting and my interview for the scholarship involved a panel comprising a linguist, two historians and a political scientist (one of whom was a past Bonnart Scholar).  I had lots of great advice, but there are two key points I want to share; firstly, you are the expert and you love your project, but spend some time considering what could go wrong and what the challenges might be and secondly, be ready to address every member of the panel even if they are outside your discipline, find one thing to engage with them on within your research.  They aren’t there to catch you out; they simply want to hear that you have thought through your ideas.

I was in Prague Castle when I got the email informing me that I had been successful and I am so grateful that the funding is allowing me to carry out this work. Since starting my PhD I have had numerous opportunities to meet Bonnart Scholars working in other disciplines. Next term there is the annual Bonnart Trust research seminarwhich will, I hope, be a great forum to meet more people interested in what I do and doing interesting things; they are now my peers, colleagues and maybe even my future employers!

I would urge anyone who feels that their research aligns with the Trust’s mission to take a look at the website, have a read of the current and previous projects and see where you fit – and then apply!

Applications are now open for the Bonnart Trust PhD Scholarship and will close on 31 January 2020.

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Julie Andrea Sánchez: A Columbian student in London

Meeting Birkbeck ambassadors at an open day convinced Julie Andrea Sánchez Fula that studying for a Masters in the UK was not an unreachable dream. After being selected for an International Merit Scholarship the Colombian student completed an MSc International Business and Development at Birkbeck in 2018/19.

I decided to study at Birkbeck because my friends who live in London recommended the College for its excellent teaching. When I first came to London I attended an open day where I had the opportunity to speak with some students. Up until then, I did not think I would be able to do a Masters, but the students showed me that it was not an impossible dream.

I was also excited by the prospect of studying with London professionals who are working during the day and studying in the evening, it was certainly the right choice for me.

When it was time to start my course and move to London I opted to live in a university hall of residence because I was keen to meet students from other universities and different cultures.

I searched for accommodation online and eventually found Wood Green Hall through Birkbeck’s website. The hall is located about 25 minutes from Birkbeck and five minutes from Wood Green tube station – perfect for me as I wanted to be in North London because it is so convenient!

Meals cooked by Julia

In April, I moved to a house 3 minutes away from my accommodation and shared a house with two people and a cat.

Settling in

When I started at Birkbeck, I attended the One World Festival week. I think this orientation week is very important for international students.

Initially, I had difficulties in writing essays and referencing. The English method for academic writing is different from the Colombian where the essays are mainly free writing style. I was able to improve as I attended study skills sessions, mainly for writing and sessions for English language support.

Life in London  

Living in a big city like London can be overwhelming but also great because there are so many things to do. What I like the most is meeting people from around the world and taking advantage of the free activities that the city offers such as dance classes and going to museums and parks.

Julia on the London underground

The public transport is well organised and the tube is fast. However, I think for me it’s easier to navigate public transport in the north and the centre of London. Uber and taxis are really expensive, so I never use them.

My expenses could be divided into three main parts, food, accommodation and transport. The costs of going out to restaurants and my accommodation were four times higher than in Columbia, so I had to budget carefully. I discovered that the cost of meat and vegetables in the supermarket is similar to my country, so I decided to learn how to cook.

Julia with friends from Birkbeck

It has not been easy to make many friends at Birkbeck or in London. It could be because everyone is busy working or studying.  However, I made a good friend in my classmate Aya, who is originally from Morocco.  Although we are from different countries we have found many things in common such as our backgrounds, life experiences and humour.  Other classmates I have are from Indonesia, Taiwan, Laos, and Greece.

Extracurricular activities

In my first term at Birkbeck, I joined Student Central and tried archery, judo and dancing. As I like dancing a lot I decided to keep attending the free classes that I found in London.

I found many free activities like tours and workshops in London. I remember joining a tour of Bloomsbury where the university’s main campus is and one at the Houses of Parliament. I also attended a few workshops on career development and networking.

Future plans

My immediate plans after my course at Birkbeck include an internship in London and further study towards a qualification in accounting. After my internship, I would like to work in the financial sector, hopefully in Microfinance or Fintech.

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Community Leadership workshops in Newham

Hester Gartrell, Senior Outreach Officer from the Access and Engagement department discusses why her team have established a course of workshops aimed at Newham residents.

What is Community Leadership? How can we build strong and successful community projects? What does Newham’s health, wellbeing and resilience look like compared to other areas in London and the UK? These were some of the questions that we were asking at our series of free Community Leadership workshops for Newham residents this September.

The work of Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement Department addresses the discrepancies in the take-up and outcome of higher education opportunities between different social groups and our work takes us out and about to local communities, education providers and workplaces across London.

After a year of working in Newham to deliver advice and support to local residents around higher education, attending community events and building partnerships with local groups it became clear to me that there was an appetite and a need for local learning opportunities which would support people to make change in their community.

This seemed like a perfect fit, as our Certificate Higher Education and BSc in Community Development and Social Policy was already being delivered at our Stratford campus.

Working with David Tross, who teaches on both programmes, we developed a series of free evening workshops for Newham residents delivered by David at East Ham library. These workshops were fantastically well attended with at least 24 local residents attending each week many of whom hadn’t accessed formal learning in a number of years.

The workshops covered a range of areas, from health and wellbeing to how to develop and deliver a community project. While academic research was shared through the workshops, David also ensured that there was space for residents to share their own knowledge and experiences, and network with each other. One of our sessions event led to someone finding the much searched for green sofa that they needed for their Mental Health Awareness day event!

We’re looking forward to seeing what’s next with our Community Leadership cohort. The group have expressed interest in continuing to come together around learning topics and we’re also looking to deliver another series of workshops for those who couldn’t make it the first time round!

Are you interested in getting involved with some of Access and Engagement’s work? Last week we ran our first academic open house, inviting PhD candidates, early career researchers and academics to meet with us and talk about ways we can work together.

Watch this video to find out more about the Community Leadership workshop and hear from some of the participants.

If you couldn’t make, or are a Professional Services Colleague who would like to know more about our work, join us on the evening of Tuesday 15th October to celebrate Black History Month at our Stratford campus or email us on getstarted@bbk.ac.uk.

 

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Department of English, Theatre and Creative Writing gets a refresh

The Department of English, Theatre and Creative Writing has begun a fresh phase in its distinguished history. Formerly the Department of English and Humanities, it is developing existing critical and creative strengths from the early middle ages to today.

We are proud of our bold research culture. Our work ranges from studies of foundational texts and subjects to new and emerging cultural forms, combining traditional approaches with explorative and speculative analyses from our research centres and networks including postgraduate-led initiatives.

Our historical and contemporary, creative and practice-led research engages with some of the most pressing questions of today including in relation to the environment, migration, race, gender and sexuality, medical, material and visual cultures, and new digital worlds.

We are excited to introduce a number of new courses and initiatives that complement and expand our established programmes in Medieval, Renaissance, Victorian, Modern and Contemporary Literature and Culture, Critical and Cultural Studies, Theatre Studies and Creative Writing.

At undergraduate level we have updated the BA English, developing challenging core modules on Decolonising the Canon and Storytelling alongside options that reflect the full range of our research interests. We have opened up the joint BA English and BA Creative Writing programme to part-time students and radically reimagined our humanities provision, with a new BA Liberal Arts that provides access to modules from the arts, social sciences and law launching in 2020/21.

At postgraduate level we offer a new MA Critical and Creative Writing, which bridges the divide between these two popular yet often separately taught fields, and an MFA Creative Writing, which provides an exceptional opportunity for advanced writers to complete, a fully supported, major independent project.

We have furthermore remodelled our medical humanities provision, launching the MA Applied Medical Humanities aimed at practitioners, and an MA Medical Humanities: Bodies, Cultures and Ideas, which is co-delivered in an exciting cross-School collaboration with the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology. In 2020-21 we will be offering for the first time a new MA Dramaturgy, an important theory and practice-based addition to our suite of programmes dedicated to the world of theatre-making.

We support an active doctoral community whose work spans and expands our research interests and expertise. The Department is part of CHASE, the AHRC-funded Consortium of the Humanities and the Arts in south-east England, and students regularly organise and participate in conferences, seminars, talks, reading groups, performances and exhibitions.

Students in the Department can take advantage of an extraordinary location right in the heart of Bloomsbury, in 43-46 Gordon Square, the childhood home of Virginia Woolf and later the residence of the famous economist Maynard Keynes. The Department is part of the School of Arts, and benefits from a state-of-the art cinema, a theatre and performance space, the Peltz Gallery and links with world-class cultural institutions such as the Globe Theatre, RADA, the ICA, the V&A and the British Museum. Our students have gone on to a wide range of careers in fields such as teaching, journalism and the creative industries.

If you want to find out more about the Department of English, Theatre and Creative Writing contact programme directors directly or get in touch with the Head of Department, Professor Heike Bauer h.bauer@bbk.ac.uk.

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Ozioma Maxwell-Adindu: Distance learning from Port-Harcourt

Ozioma Maxwell-Adindu, a Birkbeck alumnus from Port-Harcourt in Nigeria, talks to us about her experience studying for an MSc in Geographic Information Science via distance learning.

My name is Mrs Ozioma Maxwell-Adindu and I hail from Nigeria. I’m from a family of nine and the fifth of seven children. I am currently married with two boys.

Before starting my MSc at Birkbeck I had a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Electrical/Telecoms Engineering, Petroleum Training Institute (PTI). After my HND in Electronics/Telecoms Engineering, I went on to the compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and then got a job with Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).

I decided to study Geographic Information Science (GISc) because I found myself working in the Geomatics (Survey) department in SPDC. I had the urge to improve my chances of getting into the mainstream of the company and still retain my job. So, I decided to go for distance learning education so that I did not have to leave my job to do this.

I heard about Birkbeck and the GISc programme from my colleague who gave me the link to the university’s website and I applied immediately. I chose an MSc in Geographic Information Science (GISc) because I wanted it to link to my first degree in Electronics /Telecoms Engineering.  The application process wasn’t tedious, after applying online I was required to send my HND transcript to the university which I did and before long had a conditional offer. However, I could not take up my place that year due to financial reasons so I quickly asked to defer which was granted immediately, and I started the programme the next year.

Geographic Information Science (GISc) is the scientific discipline that studies data structures and computational techniques to capture, represent, process, and analyze geographic information. When we started we were asked to introduce ourselves and state why we chose the course. We were directed to the Bloomsbury Learning Environment (BLE) by the school’s IT department using our ID & password. The BLE was the platform where we interacted with other students, submitted our assignments which was time-bound, the topics for each week was pasted in that same environment. I received remarkable support during my study from my project supervisor, Dr Maurizio. He was highly supportive; the first time I submitted my first three chapters we had a chat via Skype. He suggested the methodology I should use in processing my data, which made my project unique and made me think out of the box with my research. Outside interacting with other students on the BLE, we also interacted during some group assignments and section projects. The IT Services department was also very superb, I always appreciated a swift response to any technical challenges I faced during my course. We sat our exams within the premises of the British Council in Port-Harcourt.

It was easy managing my studies with my professional/family life because there was no distance constraint, no stress of shuttling between office, home and school. Since I could work and go to university at the same time I was able to pay myself through school.

The major challenges I faced during my studies were financial, so for me, the advantages of distance learning were that I could work and do my degree simultaneously, the stress of travelling to complete my studies was totally eradicated. It was difficult being able to meet up with school work, profession and family, it was a lot of hard work.

I had to apply to my department for a lift in salary which was slightly increased and the type of work I do has changed from just archive management to duties in the Geographic Management field, so that is increased responsibility. I would recommend Birkbeck to other students just as I recommended Birkbeck to my younger brother William who joined me on the course, and we concluded our studies together.

I intend to come for my graduation next year April-May 2020 with my family.

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Mariyeh Mushtaq: Life in London as an international student

Mariyeh Mushtaq was awarded the Great India scholarship to study MA Gender, Sexuality and Culture at Birkbeck. She was also selected as one of the recipients of the Birkbeck/International Student House Accommodation scholarship.  In this blog, Mariyeh shares what it was like settling into life at Birkbeck.

I decided to apply to Birkbeck because of the range of courses it offers, particularly in the field of women’s and gender studies. One of the main reasons I chose this university was the ample financial support it offers to international students in the form of scholarships, bursaries and fee-waivers.

As an international student applying for an MA at Birkbeck, I was intentional about applying for a scholarship. I came across the Birkbeck/ISH Scholarship when I was searching for accommodation on the Birkbeck website and was directed to the International Students House website, where I learnt about this partnership and the criteria for application and selection.

Being a Birkbeck/ISH Scholar has truly facilitated my learning and growth in a much broader and holistic way. I do not have to worry about of the financial implications of living in London and at ISH I have met fellow scholars and residents from all over the world that I have been able to forge meaningful relationships with, both academically and culturally. As a student of social sciences and humanities, I feel learning about other students’ cultural experiences has enabled me to open my mind to new possibilities and approaches in my own research.

There are so many great things about staying at ISH. Firstly, it is located in the vicinity of Bloomsbury area so it is only a short walk from the Birkbeck campus, and the beautiful Regents Park is only a three-minute walk away. But ISH is more than just a student accommodation, it is an international community of people and it actively facilitates interaction and cooperation among its residents through regular events and activities. Throughout the school year, I regularly attended ISH events, where I had the opportunity to interact with fellow residents and enjoy delicious food! I organised film screenings and discussions which provided a common space for students from different academic backgrounds to come together, share their opinions and hear from others. At the annual garden party, I got an opportunity to meet Her Royal Highness Princess Anne and exchange a few words about my stay at ISH and my studies at Birkbeck. I was also involved in filming a video about ISH which was screened at the event and later shared on the ISH website.

Getting used to an entirely different system of teaching and learning was a bit stressful in the beginning. I was a little apprehensive about the readings and the lectures in general.  My course tutors helped familiarize me with the process and reassured me through my frequent in-person meetings with them. Birkbeck organises regular study-skills workshops; ranging from academic writing skills to coping with student life in London. Attending these proved extremely helpful in terms of coping with my workload and gave me the confidence to conduct my own research. The library induction familiarized me with the relevant sections of the library and put me in touch with my subject librarian for guidance and support.

Coming to London as an international student was my first time abroad. Before travelling to London, I was anxious about many things as most international students are. Immediately after arriving here I met so many different people. It was a little overwhelming at first, but given the homely vibe of ISH, I was able to overcome my anxiety and start interacting with everyone quite quickly. London is a big and busy city, similar to home. Even so, dealing with the culture shock was difficult because it was a sudden change, from the food to the overall life here.

Having spent a year in London, I’d advise prospective international students to spend more time with their family before leaving their home country, and look forward to meeting and making a new family before you go!

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Life in London as an international student

We catch up with Yvette Shumbusho, an MSc Marketing Communications student from Rwanda, who in a December blog post talked about settling in London as an international student. As the academic year draws to a close Yvette reflects on what she enjoys most about living in the capital.

London has been home for the past ten months, and I have easily integrated into the diverse culture. This fast-paced, metropolitan city lives up to the hype for many reasons, its culture, food and entertainment, to name a few

The diversity found in London puts it at an advantage compared to many cities in the world. There are a number of food markets that I have been able to visit such as Maltby Street Market and more in various parts of London. I have eaten some of the best meals in these places, freshly made and satisfying overall.

You don’t have to worry about gaining a few pounds because there are so many gyms around the city – there are three different gyms within a radius of 0.3 miles of where I reside! This is surely motivation to keep fit but even if you’re not fond of gyms and exercise classes, walking around alone can help you get in a quick workout. I walk almost everywhere and now that it’s nice and warm (on some days), I walk a lot more than I normally would. I have come to realise that Londoners like to power walk everywhere.

Between juggling school assignments and regular everyday activities, it is a real challenge to get time off and explore, but I have managed to visit a number of places including the London Aquarium. I was a few inches away from a family of sharks, which was exciting as I had never been so close to them. I’ve also visited a number of parks, some unintentionally as I strolled to school or back home, which got me thinking how beautiful it is that London has so many green spaces; it makes walking and general living that much better.

Before I complete my course, there is still a number of places I need to visit within the city and even outside of London but all in all; my experience has been one to remember. I will surely miss this place.

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Ground Hog Day for our next Prime Minister

Dr Ben Worthy from the Department of Politics reflects on the challenges facing the new prime minister and suggests that there is a way to overcome them.

Only one thing is predictable about our next prime minister: they will be a ground hog day leader. For all that the candidates are promising new deals, no deals and new directions, from day one they’ll face the same traps and tripwires that have destroyed May’s premiership.

No doubt May faced an uphill task, and had one of the worst in-trays of any peacetime prime minister. Particularly after June 2017, Theresa May faced a divided party, a split House of Commons and a divided country.

We should remember, before sending off our sympathy cards, that her decisions worsened what was already a bad situation. Her premiership was wrecked on her own promises and ‘red lines’, which she had to retreat from. Her neglect of Scotland and Northern Ireland led to talk of new referendums and separation.  And the less said about her decision to hold a ‘snap’ election the better, as she manged to somehow win while losing, doing away with a majority she very, very badly needed.

The problem for whoever the next prime minister is that nothing will have changed. It may be that the new prime minister has some skills that May lacked. Perhaps she will be more decisive, a better communicator or less divisive. She could even enjoy a (brief) bounce in the polls and, if she’s lucky, some good will.

Yet like Theresa May, our next leader will be a ‘takeover’ PM, getting to power by replacement not an election win. Being a takeover almost always limits a leader’s lifespan and, sometimes, their authority. I estimated ‘takeovers’ have about three years.

The Conservative party will still be deeply, hopelessly split. There’ll still be no majority for the government in the House of Commons, and the option of a general election, given the local and EU election results, should be, to put it diplomatically, reasonably unappealing. As for ‘re-opening’ or ‘no dealing’ Brexit, the prime minister looks set to be trapped between an EU who will not renegotiate and a parliament that will not allow a no deal Brexit.

In fact, it will probably be worse for May’s successor. If our new prime minister wins by promising no deal or radical re-negotiations, they’ll have to U-turn or backtrack. Tensions will probably worsen with Scotland, where there are new referendum rumblings, and the complexities of Northern Ireland and the border will stay unsolved. Labour’s dilemmas and problem could make everything worse, not better.

Is there a way out? Perhaps. Prime ministers, like presidents, have a power to persuade. John Harris and Marina Hyde, as well as academics like Rob Ford, have been making the point that no one is trying to change anyone’s mind, or even suggesting it could be done. Yet why people voted how they did was complex and changeable. The whole debate about Brexit has been tied up with a belief that the UK is hopelessly and irredeemably polarised, and that the will of the people is now set in stone (listen in to Albert Weale’s great talk).

Instead of labelling opponents as enemies, why doesn’t our new prime minister try to persuade them? Time after time, from Iraq to same-sex marriage, politicians have tried to persuade the public to re-think their views. Parts of the population were persuaded in 2016. Can’t they be talked back again? It’s the only way out of the loop.

Ben Worthy is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Birkbeck. You can see more of his work on political leadership here.

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