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My work placement experience at Europe’s biggest Chinese film festival

Shanshan Wu, MA Film and Screen Media student, shares her experience of studying at Birkbeck and finding a work placement. 

For the past four months, I have been doing my work placement at ‘Odyssey: a Chinese film season’, hosted by the non-profitable organisation UK-China Film Collab (UCFC). Thanks to Birkbeck and the placement host, I am leading the marketing team of Europe’s biggest Chinese film festival.  

A New Start 

After finishing my bachelor’s and my first master’s degrees in Filmmaking in Australia, I went back to China for work, and became a tutor of film training courses for young people. Then I realised I wanted more – I wanted to know more about the cinema market, film distribution, film curating, and, of course, film festivals. The world of cinema is so vast, and I wanted to expand my vision to different areas of the film industry in different parts of the world. 

Becoming a Birkbeck Student 

When researching film programmes in London, Birkbeck was my top choice. Its perfect location in the heart of Bloomsbury was a selling point, but so was its well-designed course modules in MA Film and Screen Media, which offered a wide range of options – from film curating to memory studies – all introducing and exploring cutting-edge topics and debates in the field. One of the things that interested me the most was the chance to do a work placement at a film or media related organisation. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to get hands on experience in the film industry to help start student’s careers. International students like me are often underrepresented in the professional circuit, so these kinds of opportunities are extremely precious to us.  

Securing the Placement 

For most of our fellow students, our tutors would listen to their work placement needs, and then match them with suitable placement hosts. I went through the same process, but I had also started looking for placements of my own accord too – I was really keen! My tutor, Dr Dorota Ostrowska, was so understanding and helpful in this process. When I said that I had been offered the voluntary Lead of Marketing role at ‘Odyssey: a Chinese cinema season’ film festival, she carefully considered the details. She wanted to make sure the work matched with my needs and really would be a beneficial placement for me. After the consideration, all the paperwork was signed, and the placement was secured!  

A Rewarding Journey 

Odyssey: a Chinese cinema season was held from May 10 to June 10.  With more than 60 films screened both online and in-person, and audience numbers over 2600, it is the biggest Chinese film festival in Europe this year. My placement has now ended, and I have learned so much and met so many great colleagues and friends.  

I’m so grateful to the festival and to the Birkbeck tutors for the support and insight they gave me on this journey. I now understand in detail the process of holding a film festival and discovered a new interest in film marketing and film distribution, which I had never thought of before. I’m sure this is just the beginning of another journey for me, and I can’t wait to explore more wonders of cinema.

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“Being able to function and cope well in a new academic and cultural environment has been a fulfilling and exciting experience”

Rachid Meftah, from Morocco, is a 2021 Chevening scholar. In this blog he talks about his Chevening application journey and studying Language Teaching/TESOL (MA) at Birkbeck.

How was your Chevening application journey?

Reflecting back upon my Chevening journey, I find it a rich, exciting, and fulfilling experience. I consider this journey to have been smooth – despite all the challenges – for this one main reason: I knew what I wanted to study and what to do with it.

As a teacher, I had always been looking for opportunities to expand my knowledge and expertise in the field of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Having been introduced to this area through a short audit class had given me insights into what I could gain from doing a full-time master’s in it, and of how this could impact my colleagues and community. So, the vision had been clear in my mind: I wanted to gain valuable qualifications in TESOL that would help me to bridge the gap between practice and theory as a teacher, and to enable me to bring change to education in my community and country through teacher training.

Thus, when the Chevening opportunity came, all I had to do was to put my clear idea into words, and to showcase it as a project worthy of the Chevening award well enough throughout all the stages of the application process. Not only did this vision help me win the scholarship the first time I applied, but it also gave me enough motivation and positivity to surmount all the obstacles.

Why this course and why Birkbeck?

My choice to study at Birkbeck was guided by two things: the nature and the quality of the course and the reputation of the college. After searching and comparing Masters online, I chose TESOL at Birkbeck for these reasons:

  • The course suits my academic and professional goals since it was designed for English language teachers who already have an experience in the classroom and who want to develop their career opportunities
  • It offers me the opportunity to expand my knowledge in the field of applied linguistics and develop language awareness and analysis of English as a second language
  • It offers me the opportunity to conduct research in the field of second language acquisition

My choice of Birkbeck college was based on the search I did and on advice from a former professor. I wanted to do my master’s in central London, the hub for an international and vibrant scholarly community, and Birkbeck offered me that. In addition, a former professor advised me to choose Birkbeck for the quality and academic excellence of its research. Now that I’m conducting my research dissertation, I could see the benefits of being a part of the Birkbeck scholarly community.

Being able to function and cope well in a new academic and cultural environment has been a fulfilling and exciting experience for me.

Can you tell us about your experience as a Chevener?

My Chevening journey has been an exciting and a rewarding experience in every aspect. I feel I have gained much academically, personally, and culturally studying at Birkbeck.

My course has offered me an excellent academic experience so far! I’ve been introduced to a research oriented and positive environment where professors consider us their colleagues, not their students. This has helped me gain an intellectually stimulating content and research skills that will enable me to conduct my own research.

As a Chevening scholar at Birkbeck, I could connect with many Cheveners and with other international students through the events organized at Birkbeck. This has offered me the opportunity to network and socialize with students from different professional and cultural backgrounds.

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Making the move from Argentina to the UK

Valentina Vlasich had never visited London but made the bold move last year to study for a BA Film and Media with Foundation Year. Here, she gives an account of acclimatizing to a new city along with the reward of embracing a new culture and learning the lingo with the help of friends at Birkbeck.

photo of museum

Moving to a foreign country brings out a mixture of emotions. One cannot help to be excited but, at the same time, terrified of this new change. Nevertheless, knowing how the experience was for others can help with those feelings.

I moved last September from Argentina to the United Kingdom without knowing much about how life was going to be here since I had never been to London before. So, there were many new aspects of life here for me to discover. Obviously, not everything was great from the beginning, there were definitely some hard parts that came along with this new chapter in my life. For instance, it was tough not having any friends at the start with whom to share my new experiences in the city.

However, soon after I started attending my classes at Birkbeck I met lovely people who shared my common interests, and I even began to understand the British sense of humour a bit more which was also a bit of a challenge at first. So, if you are struggling with the social aspect I would recommend to not get discouraged, you will make friends quickly during your classes. Also, there are many clubs in the Student Union that offer a great place to meet new people.

Furthermore, there were some other cultural shocks that came with this move. If you come from a warmer country like me, you will find the usually cloudy London a bit odd at first, but as long as you carry an umbrella with you there is nothing you can’t do in the city.

Which brings me to another topic which is my favourite thing about having moved to another country: exploring a new city. Being in a place that is unknown to you can be scary, but I recommend making it a positive thing and taking it as an opportunity to be a tourist in the city you live in. Instead of paying for a vacation to another country you can venture around London and discover all its popular places and hidden gems. In my experience you will be preoccupied with this activity for at least one month taking into consideration everything there is to see and do in this great city.

Additionally, if you are like me and love food but are worried that you won’t find the delicacies you usually eat in your home country, I would suggest a trip to Camden. There you will find a great variety of food (I even found typical Argentinian dishes) and you will find new flavours from all over the world. Maybe you’ll even try something you’ve never had before and it’ll become a favourite of yours- that absolutely happened to me. Still, if you don’t find what you are looking for in Camden, there are plenty of restaurants all over London that might offer the exact dish you are looking for.

Pic of Camden Lock

Finally, if you were to ask me how I feel now, almost six months later, about this massive change in my life, I would say it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Knowing that I am living in this huge global city and having so many opportunities gets me excited for what my future here will look like. If I had one tip to share with you, I would say to make the most out of being here. Don’t deprive yourself from anything due to a fear of new things. London is a city with so much diversity and it will welcome you with open arms.

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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)  

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In their own words: tips from our Cheveners

With interviews for the prestigious Chevening Scholarship currently underway in embassies and British High Commissions around the world, Birkbeck’s 2021 Cheveners share their experience applying for the prestigious UK government scholarship and offer tips for the interview.

photo of the 2021 Chevening scholars

Birkbeck’s Chevening cohort, 2021

  • The best advice is to read your essays and try to tell them to different people who can ask you more about them. You have to be very sure about what you want to tell, about your story. This is the most important thing.Adriana Marcela del Aguila Panduro, Peru

  • I read up on everything I could find about Chevening itself, then went on to read up about some of the alumni to get a sense of the calibre of people associated with Chevening. Then I thought critically of what I intend on doing with my life after the opportunity with the skills and qualifications if I were to be a successful awardee. Simphiwe Madlanga, South Africa

    photo of Chevening scholar Maria Laura Zerain

    Maria Laura Zerain by the Thames

  • The best advice I can give to applicants for the interview process is to practice in front of a mirror to be able to have good body language and above all feel and trust the content of their essays since this will allow them to flow when answering the questions.Maria Laura Zerain, Bolivia

photo of NIna Perunovic, Montenegro

Nina Perunovic, Montenegro

      In my interview I highlighted a few things:

  • Why I chose the course: before applying I carefully went through module descriptions, CVs of the professors and expected learning outcomes. Also, it is important to pay attention where a knowledge of particular modules can be applied.
  • I described why I chose a specific university (Birkbeck, University of London) by pointing out the benefits of studying there including the broad range of international students, the benefits and flexibility of evening classes, the high percentage of working professionals, convenient and attractive location etc. It is just as important as the program itself.
  • I also wanted to outline what I will be doing both with respect to short term and long-term goals. In addition, I wanted to express my interest on why I am passionate about the program I chose. I concluded by highlighting the commitment to my community and my country after I return. Additionally, my advice would be…
  • Demonstrate sincere passion for your chosen program. Passion is the only thing you cannot fake. At the end that is difference between having a job and having a career.
  • Be honest and humble about long term goals and your contribution to the community. Do not despise small beginnings because “a journey of thousands of miles begins with a single step.” – Nina Perunovic, Montenegro

    When I was applying for Chevening, I talked to former alumni
    . Some said it was a very complex process but simple.
  • I remember doing visualisation meditation thirty minutes before my interview.
  • My Number one tip would be to hug yourself, because you have already done a really good job.
  • Second, for the interview, I created a folder and named it ‘Practice, practice, practice and be spontaneous.’ So, be ready for the questions, but during the interview go with the flow.
  • Number three, do as many mock interviews as you can. Ask your family members, friends and even pets to listen to your thoughtful plans about the future and country.
    Khatuna Goguadze, Georgia  

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From finding Birkbeck on an alumni profile to studying and working in the UK

A self-taught software developer, BSc Computing student Peace Onyehanere, shares the details of life as an international student at Birkbeck and how she marries part-time work and studies. 

Peace Onyehanere by her bike

Can you tell us about your background? 
I am a self-taught software developer studying at Birkbeck to get a degree in Computing. Before joining Birkbeck, I did a diploma in Computing, and I worked as a software developer in Nigeria. 

How did you hear about Birkbeck?  
I found Birkbeck from an alumni’s LinkedIn profile. I got curious and did some research about studying at Birkbeck. I decided to choose Birkbeck as my first choice as I liked the evening studies, and I also had the best experience reaching out to lecturers for my course to ask questions. 

What is it like living in London?  
I watched a couple of YouTube videos on living in London and transportation in London so the first time I had to take public transport, I thankfully did not get lost. Google maps also came in handy. I always made sure to ask the driver when I got on the bus to be sure I am on the right bus. I shop at cheap supermarkets to save some money. There has not been any lockdown since I started studying. But there have been more cases of Covid-19 and new variants at the end of term one. I then had my classes online and I have enjoyed it.  

Peace Onyehanere at her desk

Can you tell us about your studies?   
I have honestly enjoyed online teaching over in-person teaching. With virtual learning, the classes are recorded, and you can refer back to it after the class. There are also reading material and pre-recorded videos you can go through before the class. Each of the courses I have studied so far have been three hours long. But we do have breaks in between the class. There is also a support class provided on weekends where you can ask more questions and get help. 

How is a typical day for you? 
I work as a Frontend developer at a FinTech company. I started job hunting before moving to the UK. I got a couple of offers before arriving, but I got the offer for the company I currently work at while in the UK. A typical day for me starts with work and ends with a lecture if I have one that day. As I work from home, I don’t have to go out. I try to go out and explore my environment, but I am mostly indoors all day. 

Have you used any of BBK support services?  
I have followed Birkbeck Futures and attended the last event organised. I have also had the opportunity to be mentored via the Mentorship program. 

What have you found most challenging about your time in the UK so far? 
I have had a great time in the UK. The one thing I have found challenging is the weather and the short days. I look forward to a great time at Birkbeck and meeting more people. 

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Meet Astrea: Anna Phillips, Deputy Director of Estates Resources

In the first in a series of interviews with members of Astrea, we talk to Anna Phillips, the Deputy Director of Estates Resources at Birkbeck about how she pivoted from being an air hostess to her current role, what inspires her, and how she unwinds.

Anna Phillips on some scaffolding net to her colleague Can you tell us a bit about your career journey so far?

I never had a career plan until I came to Birkbeck. It was frustrating as most of my friends had some kind of idea of what they were good at and what they “wanted to be”! I knew I was always good at being practical, organised, and “building and fixing things” but I went to a school very focussed on academia and so didn’t quite fit into their ideals of Doctor, Lawyer, Politician etc.  Had there been more emphasis and support for alternatives I would probably have accessed Estates and Project Management much earlier on, rather than via a combination of circuitous routes and happy accidents!

I ended up doing German Language and Literature at the University of Kent purely because I liked languages and literature but with no intention of using it in any of the career paths that usually follow. Four years later, armed with a degree I had no idea what to do with, and none the wiser as to what to do next, I saw a job advert for London-based but German-speaking Lufthansa flight attendants. It was the perfect first job for me – languages, travel, organisation, responsibility, accountability, teamwork and self-confidence. Two years later, after 9/11, there were a huge number of redundancies, and I was again jobless and unsure what to do next. I intended to temp or find something short-term in order to return to flying when the dust settled, but the job and the industry were never the same after that and recruitment never returned to pre 9/11 levels.

And so, I ended up at Deutsche Bank (DB) as a contracted worker, again by chance really, having got an interview on a recommendation from a friend who already worked there. Whilst I was grateful to only have been out of work for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t stand the corporate atmosphere, which made for a stifling work environment. I don’t even know how I got stuck there for so long – I worked my way up from Reception to Room Bookings Co-ordinator, arranging meetings, conferences, and events and managing a weekly rolling team of six out of a full 40. The saving grace was that I liked the job itself, managing teams, and organising the use of rooms and the Estate. I didn’t even realise that “Room Bookings” was an actual job title until the sister of a colleague who had just graduated from Birkbeck sent her a job role listed as Room Bookings Team Leader – a job advert she then sent on to me as it described almost word for word the job, I’d been doing for 10 years! Two weeks later I had the interview at Birkbeck and an hour after that I’d been offered, and accepted, what would become a life-changing role.

And so, where my previous role had broken me, left me with no confidence in my abilities and no vision to excel or succeed, Birkbeck stepped in, picked me up, dusted me off and built me back up. I was enormously lucky to have a line manager who encouraged me to take on more and more responsibility, who trusted me and saw the career path that had eluded me, and so fortunate that Birkbeck gives the support, training and encouragement to those who want it. I took on various different aspects of Estates and learnt the integration needed specific to higher education and the different requirements and demands an Estate needs to provide for that setting. I became Commercial Services/Room Bookings manager in 2014 taking on the financial management for both Commercial Hire and External venue contracting along with more input in to the use and upkeep of space as well as the potential for future estate expansion. Because I finally found my career and niche, I was able to keep expanding into Estates and areas I found interesting and took on more of an Estates role within the wider college, resulting in becoming Deputy Director of Estates Resources in 2019. So, there we are – I took the long way round to the place I should have started if only I’d known, but it was all worth it to have a career I love, in a company whose ethos I agree with and support, and to be part of and help lead the most fantastic department.

What are some tips for success?

Be confident in your abilities, if there is something you want to do, or think can be done more efficiently just say so, you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve if you take ownership of something, no matter how small. Don’t limit yourself, look ahead to what you really want to do or where you want to be, and aim for that. Find the things you like and are good at even within something challenging or unknown, and take advice and support from colleagues in other departments to round out your knowledge and ability outside of your comfort zone.

What advice would you give to someone starting your career/field?

You need to experience all the facets of Estates – room bookings and events is a good place to start as you get a huge amount of knowledge about all different areas, demands and expectations that you need to know about going forward. Estates is weird, because the implications and use apply to absolutely everyone, it’s not an area specific to one person, group, department or faculty – it has repercussions for every single person coming through the doors, so the broader your knowledge the better.

What was the last thing you read/heard/saw that inspired you?

I’ve just read Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. The man went from selling shoes from the boot of his car to an annual sales return of 30 billion dollars – but mostly he writes about how much he loves shoes, which is perfect – Do what you love!

What do you do to unwind after work?

When my workload is steady, I go out with friends from work or home, see family, potter round the house “fixing” things, wonder why my cooking doesn’t look like it does on MasterChef, binge watch TV…the usual 😊

At “peak” times of the Estates year, I sit in a dark room with a bucket of wine and a straw.

Astrea is a grassroots network for women, transgender and non-binary people in professional and support roles. Find out more on the Birkbeck website.

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Birkbeck supports London AIDS Memorial on Tottenham Court Road

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

World Aids Day Memorial site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

What is your vision for the future of EFS?

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

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

What are your career ambitions after Birkbeck?

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

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

Stay up to date with the EFS on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

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Do you know the significance of Chinese New Year?

Preparations for Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year and Spring Festival, started on Thursday 4 February and will last until New Year’s Eve a week later. It’s the first year those observing China’s longest festival, celebrated in many parts of the Far East and beyond, will do so with social distancing and a full lockdown in the UK.

This is a photo of red Chinese New Year celebration items

Given the social restrictions, how will people be celebrating this year?
Organisers have been creative with their events, pulling most online. Birkbeck’s Chinese Society will be putting on an event, including a quiz and other activities, to commemorate Chinese New Year. This is a free event, open to all and can be accessed here.

There’s also the digital tour of Chinatown by Chinese Arts Now. Their festival starts right after Chinese New Year, from 15 February- 15 August and will feature performances and art installations. The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, will also be putting on workshops, performances and storytelling online to mark the festivities on 13 February.

Will any of the usual traditions hold?
It’s very likely Chinese people will still observe the usual customs including sprucing up and decorating their homes with red lanterns and other decorations, having a dinner of fish, said to bring good fortune, and will stay up until midnight for fireworks to ward off any bad spirits.

So, what do you wear for the New Year, which is officially marked from 12 February until the Lantern Festival signifying the end of the celebrations on 26 February?
Well, if you’re born in any of the following recent years: 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009 or 2021, it’s highly recommended you adorn yourself and your house in red for the rest of the Chinese calendar year, which runs from February 12 2021 until January 31 2022.

Why?
Superstition has it that red, white, green and yellow will bring good fortune to those born in the Year of the Ox; who otherwise will be beset by bad luck according to Chinese astrology.

But isn’t red synonymous with bulls?
Well, yes, but 2021 is the Year of the Ox, specifically, which we all know is the bull’s close relation. The chinese calendar has quite a methodical way of assigning the ox to set calendar years.

What’s the significance of the Ox?
The Chinese zodiac has determined 2021 the Year of the Ox, an animal celebrated for its strength and reliability; and is the second of the zodiac animals.

Are they all animals?
They do, indeed, all happen to be animals. The Chinese zodiac is split into 12 blocks/houses, each with a one-year time span and an associated animal. Last year was the Year of the Rat and next year (2022) will be the Year of the Tiger. Though, bear in mind, with the start of the calendar falling between the end of January and the end of February, there’s some overlap with animals in any given year. The animals come around every twelve years.

So, does the calendar run with the smallest animal to the largest?
Not quite. Chinese folklore states that the Jade Emperor had beckoned 13 animals and thereafter named the years on the calendar according to the order in which they arrived.

13 animals?
Yes- one dropped out of the race. A very unlucky cat who is said to have drowned in the race. Not to be confused with the lucky cat charm, Maneki Neko, the Fortune Cat which is believed to bring good luck to its owners and is known for its signature wave.

Are there observations one should make in making sure they enjoy prosperity and good fortune?
Absolutely. Those celebrating are likely to skip a porridge breakfast on the Lunar New Year so as not to start the year off ‘poor’; and don’t expect to see them doing any work involving scissors or needles either, as this is said to lead to a loss of wealth.

We extend our well wishes for a safe, prosperous and Happy New Year to all within our community who are celebrating.

Read more about Birkbeck’s Chinese Society.

Joining instructions for Birkbeck’s free event here.

Find information for our International Student community.

See how Birkbeck students celebrated Chinese New Year last year (2020).

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