Category Archives: Uncategorized

Lillian Penson – scholar and university administrator

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Lillian Penson

The University of London’s first PhD recipient of any gender, Lillian Penson went on to forge a stellar career in higher education that smashed gender stereotypes, being the first female professor of history and first female university vice-chancellor in the UK. She spoke eloquently on the need to offer university education for “virtually all comers” with no restriction based on religion, race or sex.

Born in Islington in 1896, Penson was a brilliant student of history at “The Birkbeck”. After a stint at the wartime Ministry of National Service and in the war trade intelligence department, Penson returned to her studies and completed her PhD. Only one-fifth of history PhD students were female at the time. She was a lecturer at Birkbeck for nine years until she left for a Chair in Modern History at Bedford College for Women.

Her leadership responsibilities in education expanded from managing the history department at Bedford College to the top position of Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, the first woman in that post. She was appointed a DBE in 1951.


Isaac Rosenberg – artist and poet

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Isaac Rosenberg

Isaac is heralded as one of the greatest of the war poets, reflecting on the horrors of conflict through art and poetry. As an art student at Birkbeck, Isaac won the College’s Mason Prize; though his art career was brought to an abrupt ending when he was killed at the age of twenty-seven while serving in the First World War.

From the trenches on 28 March 1918, just four days before his death, he reflected that “during our little interlude of rest from the line I managed to do a bit of sketching – somebody had colours – and they werent [sic] so bad. I don’t think I have forgotten my art after all.”

Isaac left school at the age of fourteen years but went on to study at Birkbeck in the evenings. Today, he is known for his posthumously published war poems. In one, entitled Dead Man’s Dump, Rosenberg describes, “The wheels lurched over sprawling dead…their bones crunched. They lie there huddled, friend and foemen…Man born of man and born of woman, And shells go crying over them, From night till night and now.”

In the foreword to these poems, fellow English war poet and soldier, Siegfried Sassoon noted how Rosenberg’s poems encapsulated the “hateful and repellent, unforgettable and inescapable” realities of life in the frontlines.


George Birkbeck – physician, philanthropist, founder of the London Mechanics Institute

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Born into a Quaker family in North Yorkshire, George trained as a doctor at Edinburgh and founded the London Mechanics Institute in 1823, when thousands gathered on the Strand to hear his ground-breaking speech on “the universal blessings of knowledge.”

His interest in the education of working men started when he wanted a particular machine to be made for his classes in natural philosophy and chemistry which he taught at the Anderson Institution, Glasgow in 1799. At the institution, he started a course of lectures on science, to which artisans were admitted for a low fee.

A pioneer in adult education, George had been struck by the ignorance of the basics of engineering and by the hunger for knowledge from workmen at a workshop visit and promptly opened his classes to mechanics, offering classes on Saturday evenings.

The success of the London institution led to the establishment of similar vocational training schools all over Britain, some of which developed into technical colleges.


Helen Gwynne-Vaughan – dame and botanist 

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Helen Gwynne-Vaughan

Helen was Birkbeck’s first female professor and a prominent English botanist. In 1909 she became Head of the Botany Department at Birkbeck and gained her professorship in 1921.

She became the first woman to wear the insignia of a Military Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1918 and was transferred to become Commandant of the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) later that year. In 1919, Helen was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Helen’s professionalism helped to change male attitudes towards women in the armed forces and she would go on to play a pivotal role in forming the Emergency Services, an organisation established to train female officers. Helen was appointed Director of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women’s branch of the British Army in 1938 and held the position until her retirement from military service in 1941.

She is commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque at Flat 93, Bedford Court Mansions in Bloomsbury – her London home for almost 50 years.


Leon Wright and Tyson Holmes-Lewis – co-founders of Mentivity 

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Leon Wright and Tyson Holmes-Lewis

Leon and Tyson, who both graduated in 2020, co-founded inspirational mentoring and alternative education organisation, Mentivity, in 2016 alongside Tyson’s brother Sayce. Mentivity provides one-to-one and group mentoring for young people to encourage those who might not otherwise consider applying to university gain the knowledge and confidence to do so.

The idea for Mentivity came from their personal experiences of education and youth clubs and, in particular, one mentor who was instrumental in raising their aspirations. Leon was the first in his family to graduate from university, gaining a BSc in Social Sciences, and also had a mentor at Birkbeck who helped him juggle his studies alongside his family and other commitments.

Tyson, who graduated with a BA in Psychology for Education, is one of seven siblings, whose mum kept photos of all her children’s graduations in the living room. Their efforts were recognised when Mentivity was awarded National Mentoring Organisation of the Year in 2019.


Sanjib Bhakta – professor of molecular microbiology and biochemistry

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Professor Sanjib Bhakta

Professor Sanjib Bhakta’s world-leading research into tuberculosis, which kills around 1.4 million people a year across the world, is revolutionising the treatment of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB). Sanjib’s passion for research arose from his childhood in India, where he saw the effects of debilitating bacterial diseases such as tuberculosis and leprosy.

He has published numerous articles on tackling infectious bacterial diseases and received numerous awards for his work, including the Microbiology Society Outreach Prize. As Assistant Dean (Strategic) Internationalisation and Partnership, Sanjib has also made a huge contribution to Birkbeck’s international student community.


Jo Yarker and Rachel Lewis – occupational psychologists and co-founders of Affinity Health at Work 

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Jo Yarker and Rachel Lewis

Occupational psychologists and Birkbeck job-sharers, Dr Jo Yarker and Dr Rachel Lewis lead ground-breaking research into the most effective ways in which to support people to maintain their health and wellbeing and to thrive at work, and particularly those in difficult, stressful or challenging roles or situations.

Their research and work helps organisations and individuals work together so that employees lead productive, healthy working lives. Together they chair the Work, Health and Wellbeing Research Consortium, a collaboration between researchers and employer organisations, national institutions and interested individuals who support research in workplace health and wellbeing.

At Birkbeck, Jo and Rachel have developed the innovative Professional Doctorate in Occupational Psychology and MRes in Professional Practice in Occupational Psychology to engage practitioners in evidence-based practice and supervise practice-led research across the field, as well as helping to provide support to staff who worked through the Covid-19 pandemic.


Mark Robinson, criminal barrister

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary, we’re sharing incredible stories from our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. Capturing inspirational people, transformational stories and excellent research, 200 Birkbeck Effects have been contributed by our Birkbeck community and selected to feature on our website, across social media and on campus.

Mark Robinson


Mark’s work, life story, and support for youth justice charities and gang prevention programmes, help to inspire those facing the same challenges he once did and prove that a career in law is accessible to people from all walks of life.

After being raised in care in East London and getting in trouble with the police during his childhood, Mark left school with no GCSEs or A-Levels before embarking on a successful 20-year career as a dance DJ and music producer, which included presenting a show on BBC Radio1 Xtra.

Mark left the music industry in 2012 wanting more from life, before being falsely accused of assault. Forced to represent himself in court when his barrister couldn’t do so because the previous case he was working on overran, Mark’s experience sparked his interest in law and drew him to Birkbeck. He was called to the Bar just 18 months after graduating.


10 places to visit in London during the Christmas season 

Join MSc Political Communication student, Mariam Baladze, for a whistle-stop tour of London’s most festive spots.

London is a huge city, with many spectacular sights and sounds to take in. So, if you are uncertain about what to see in London during Christmas, don’t worry – I’ve got you covered. Let’s unravel the magic together, shall we?

Skate at Somerset House
Who doesn’t fancy a twirl on the ice? If you go skating at Somerset house you’ll get a magical ice rink, a 40-foot eye-catching Christmas tree, and sparkling decorations that will make you feel like you’re on cloud nine. And as an added bonus: what if I told you that several scenes from the Christmas film ‘Love Actually’ were shot here?

Kew Gardens
At Christmas time, the beautiful greenery in the 300-acre botanic gardens is filled with an eye-watering assortment of glittering lights. The twisting and turning path, neon swirls, and festive projections make this Christmas experience unlike any other.

Winter Wonderland
Located in the heart of London in Hyde Park, Winter Wonderland takes you on Christmas journey that includes a Ferris wheel, loads of funfair rides, ice skating, and much more. Especially popular at night when the festive spirit is in the air, make sure you get a Bavarian beer and tour the Bavarian village for an extra dose of cosiness.

Covent Garden
The legendary 60-foot British-grown Christmas tree outside the Apple Market in Covent Garden is decked with nearly 30,000 lights, making it spectacular. If you enjoyed the early snow this year, you’ll absolutely love the flurry of snow in Covent Garden’s Piazza!

Trafalgar Square
In 2022, Trafalgar Square not only has a massive Christmas tree, but also a Christmas market for the first time. Set in front of the National Gallery, with energising festive treats and handcrafted offerings in the heart of London, this spot will always get you in the festive mood.

Winter Festival at the Southbank Centre
Southbank Christmas Market is the ideal place to spend the night wandering among the Christmas lights and alpine wooden huts without worrying about being cold or hungry. Set next to the iconic Thames river, there are plenty of food and drink options to keep your hands warm, your belly happy, and your spirits jolly.

Christmas at the Churchill Arms
If you fancy a drink during the festive period, don’t think twice about popping into the Churchill Arms. Covered with illuminated Christmas trees and 22,000 lights, this spot will lift your spirits even before you’ve had anything to drink.

Christmas lights in central London
A highlight of the holiday season is walking around the city to see the Christmas lights on Oxford Street, Regent Street, Carnaby Street, and Bond Street. Five thousand suspended angels are adorned with LED pea lights that shine in tandem to provide a ripple effect along the roadway. A truly magical sight to behold!

Hogwarts in the snow
Experience the magic of Harry Potter amplified, by visiting the Warner Bros studio tour around Christmas. The beautiful details of the Gryffindor common room and the Great Hall will be enhanced by amazing festive decorations, sparkling snow and dripping icicles. Wow!

Attend Christmas services
For those wanting to experience some of the more spiritual elements of Christmas, there are plenty of beautiful, old churches and cathedrals dotted around the city. For an extra special experience, you can attend Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services at St Paul’s Cathedral, Southwark Cathedral, or Westminster Abbey.


“There’s no doubt that the MSc got me to where I am today.”

MSc Management with Marketing graduate Sophie Attard took home a prestigious Worshipful Company of Marketors award for her dissertation ‘Listening to Branding: Proposing a method to evaluate consumers’ perceptions of sound in branding.’ She shares how she transformed her career through evening study.

Sophie receiving her award. Photo by Harry Pseftoudis Photography .

I’d been working in music management for about four years when I was furloughed during the first Covid lockdown. It was the first time since leaving university that I’d time to think about my life and where it was going. I realised that I hadn’t been happy in my old job and started to look at other options.

I wanted to study and work at the same time and keep that momentum, so Birkbeck was an obvious choice. I chose MSc Management with Marketing because the management side would open up new opportunities and broaden my skills, while marketing appealed to my creative background.

The teachers at Birkbeck are outstanding: I got great support and it always felt like they really cared about the lectures and our learning. A particular highlight was working with Benedetta [Crisafulli], my dissertation supervisor. I picked quite a niche topic for my dissertation and she was really encouraging and took the time to understand what I was trying to achieve and to push me to write something I was passionate about.

When you do a master degree, regardless of the topic, it trains you to think differently and that is something you can apply to any field and role. I’ve learned how to back up everything I say with facts, to extract key information from large repertoires or datasets, to make up my own mind and make my own decisions. Building that sort of confidence is so important in management positions. I’d advise anyone to do a masters in any field that they’re passionate about to gain those skills.

Birkbeck’s Careers service gave me a way into the job I have now. I applied for a traineeship role in a start-up, which was a lower level than my previous role, but allowed me to switch industries while not interfering with full-time study. I now work for the same company as a product and brand manager, in charge of launching multiple different products, and there’s no doubt that the MSc got me here. The training in areas such as market research, brand development and thinking from a consumer point of view has equipped me with the skills to know what to expect and think about all these different areas while we develop and launch products.

For someone considering a masters, I’d advise to pick a topic that you’re really passionate about, because you will work on it a lot! Be clear on your ‘why’ – do you want career progression, to transition to a new field, or to increase your knowledge of a topic you love?

I’m now working with Benedetta to convert my master dissertation into a published paper. Winning the award from the Worshipful Company of Marketors has been the thing that keeps me going through the hard work. Benedetta encouraged me to apply for the award – collecting it at the ceremony will be the first time we meet face to face, as all our work together was done online due to the COVID lockdowns!! It will be a fantastic opportunity to celebrate. I’m really happy with where my life is now and Birkbeck has played a big part in that process.

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