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200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Sarah Weir, Fellow of Birkbeck

She began her working life as a gofer for Aldgate Group Brokers, making her way up over 15 years to become its Managing Director and the first female MD in a Lloyd’s broking firm. However, having got to the top she felt a sense of anti-climax and lack of complete fulfilment. She then started a part-time degree at Birkbeck, aged 31, left her City insurance career a year into this and changed direction completely into the arts world. 

While studying for her History of Art BA she took a job at the Purdy Hicks Gallery, moving to Arts and Business as Deputy Chief Executive, before joining the Royal Academy of Arts as its fundraising director. She then became Executive Director of the Almeida Theatre and by 2003 was running Arts Council England, London. Between 2008 and 2011 she was Head of Arts and Cultural Strategy for the Olympic Delivery Authority, developing over 40 permanent artistic commissions integrated into the Olympic Park. 

From there, Sarah went on to found The Legacy List, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park charity. This was set up in 2011 to encourage creative connections between people and the park, with a focus on arts and culture, education and skills.   

Sarah was awarded an OBE for services to the arts in the January 2012 New Year Honours. 


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Samuel Kasumu, special advisor to the Prime Minister

Samuel is an award-winning social entrepreneur, commentator, and strategist. He served as Special Advisor to PM Boris Johnson where he held the Civil Society and Communities brief. His work included leading on the cross-government vaccine deployment confidence programme. He was the most senior black Advisor in government. 

He has extensive senior leadership and board experience, acting as Non-Executive Director at challenger energy firm Ovo’s Foundation arm and under former Prime Minister Theresa May he was a member of the Race Disparity Audit Advisory Board. He is the founder of Inclusive Boards, an executive headhunting firm specialising in non-executive board appointments across sectors. Samuel is an elected local councillor in Hertfordshire and brings extensive knowledge of how local and national government works. 

Samuel has been involved in setting up and growing a number of initiatives to support the progression of Briton’s black and minority ethnic population. This includes setting up a student network connecting peers with employers whilst at university that grew to 30,000 members. 


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Ryan Wilson, economics student

Left disabled after taking part in a failed drug trial, and needing to pivot from his intended career path as a plumber, Ryan Wilson enrolled on an undergraduate Economic and Social Policy course at Birkbeck. Alongside studying, he raised his young son and worked as an independent prison monitor, ensuring the decency of prisons and humane treatment of prisoners.  

On his experience at Birkbeck, Ryan paid tribute to the disability and mental health service as well as the academically rich environment in Economics: “I worked so hard and loved the lectures – my favourite modules were Economics and Public Policy, and Macroeconomic Theory and Policy. I struggled in my second year with studying for my degree and overcoming some personal hurdles, but the support I received from the disability team and the mental health service really increased my confidence and drive to succeed.” 

He graduated in 2020 with first class honours. 


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effects: Roy Foster, historian of Ireland

Roy is a Professor of Irish History and Literature 

Foster’s best-selling Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (1988), written and published while he was at Birkbeck, was an influential example of historical scholarship whose sensitivities to the different but interwoven cultures of Northern Ireland opened up dialogues between communities. It was his emphasis on complexity or, as Foster put it, on the “varieties of Irishness”, that changed the way Irish history was understood. 


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effects: Ronald Tress, economist and Master of Birkbeck 1968-77

Ronald Tress was a British economist. 

He studied Economics 1933–36 at University College, Southampton taking a University of London degree. 

From 1941 he was an economic adviser to the British War Cabinet for four years. He became a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Bristol in 1951. He was Master of Birkbeck from 1968 to 1977. He was elected a Fellow of Birkbeck in 1977. He became director of the Leverhulme Trust of 1978. 


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Roderick Floud, historian

Roderick Floud is an economic historian of modern Britain who has been a pioneer in several fields. He was one of the first British historians to make use of computing and statistical methods and published the first textbook in that field.  

He worked with an international group to create “anthropometric history”, the study of human heights and weights as a means of understanding changes in nutrition and living standards. His research has included the economic history of British gardening and he has also edited four editions of The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, the leading textbook in the field. 

Roderick was a Professor of Modern History at Birkbeck from 1975-1988 and the vice-chancellor for 18 years of what is now London Metropolitan University. He was also President of Universities UK and Vice-President of the European University Association and was knighted for services to higher education 


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Robert A. Shaw, chemist

Professor Shaw was regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on phosphazenes, a group of cyclic and acyclic phosphorus-nitrogen compounds that he was responsible for naming. He had a distinguished international reputation, and over the course of his career was applauded for forging a vast array of international research collaborations with scholars in Bangladesh, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, the UK, and the U.S. For roughly two decades, Professor Shaw was also on the nomination panel for the Chemistry Nobel Prizes, with both of his successful nominees going on to receive the Nobel Prize. 

His first post at Birkbeck, as Assistant Lecturer started in 1953 and his eventual promotion from Lecturer directly to full Professor at Birkbeck was known for being the first such appointment in the University of London. 


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effects: Rob Martin, learning development tutor

Rob Martin was a Learning Development tutor and Disability Support Officer at Birkbeck. One of the students he supported, Ruth Ojadi, says: “When I began my studies at Birkbeck in 2015, I knew I’d experienced barriers to learning because of my disabilities but wasn’t necessarily aware of how my learning difficulties, disabilities and long-term health conditions affected me disproportionately. When I came to Birkbeck as a 29-year-old, not only did I know more about my various disabilities but also how my lived experiences had shaped me, making it far easier to verbalise them.  

“Birkbeck was the first university where Wellbeing and Disability Services made themselves known loud and proud from their Open Day through to the enrolment process. I knew where to go for support and that’s where I met Rob Martin. From the first meeting I had with Rob, I knew he was on the side of my success. I felt his passion as a Disability Support Officer and his best intentions for me as a student. Rob listened diligently and was able to identify and signpost the support that would best meet my needs.  

“From the recommendation of a Dyslexia assessment, SFE’s Disability Student Allowances and navigating the whole system within that. Rob was able to reassure me when it came to Needs Assessments as well as practical guidance of wait times for the processing of paper work which relieved much anxiety for me. I have Tourette’s Syndrome and this was a new experience for the university and teaching staff. Rob was a professional ally and took the time to suggest access recommendations that weren’t necessarily included on the Student Support Plan as well as helping me to reach out to teaching staff within my department (BSc Social Sciences) to discuss best practice and how they could support my learning experience.  

“Having Bipolar as well as the negative experiences from learning in the past meant that I had to repeat my 2nd year and took a year study break after that. My desire to return never wavered and neither did Rob’s belief that I indeed would. I’m truly grateful and feel lucky to have been a 1st year student in 2015/16 as Rob now works in a different capacity however, still within Birkbeck.” 


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effects: Richard Evans, professor of British history

Richard Evans’ seminal work is his three-volume The Third Reich trilogy, documenting the rise and fall of Hitler’s regime in comprehensive detail. He was professor and head of department during his time at Birkbeck, before briefly stepping into the role of Acting Master during Tessa Blackstone’s appointment to Tony Blair’s government. He returned to Birkbeck in 2018 as Visiting Professor. 

Evans was educated at Oxford University, where he honed his historical acumen and became a proponent of social history as opposed to a follower of the “great man theory of history”. This led to his characteristic approach to social historical analysis focusing on modern German and European history, which transformed the study of the discipline during his lifetime. His interests have ranged from studies of German criminals, transferable diseases, capital punishment, the psychology of mobs, and witchcraft.  

Evans’ testimony was vital in Deborah Lipstadt’s defence against libel claims brought by David Irving who she said had falsified and mishandled historical evidence to exonerate Hitler. She was found innocent based on the evidence Evans brought to uphold her statements.  


200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effects: Reginald Francis Clements, poet

A theological student at Birkbeck when the First World War was declared, Clements enlisted early in the University and Public Schools Brigade, which later merged into the Royal Fusiliers. Injured while on guard duty at Arras by a stray wire, he wrote poetry during his recuperation. He later published his poems in Salisbury Plain and Other Poems. His style was along more heroic and romantic lines than the more cynical war poets that are lauded today, such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon – though at the time it was more fashionable to revere great sacrifice on behalf of the “Motherland.” Having been recognised with the Military Cross for gallantry in 1918, Clements died five months later during the Battle of Amiens.