Chevening scholars give their tips for a successful interview

The Chevening scholarship scheme is aimed at developing future leaders worldwide, with a competitive selection process for the prestigious scholarship, with thousands of hopefuls from over 100 countries submitting an application each year.

In 2018 Birkbeck welcomed a record number of Chevening scholars. As the interview period for Chevening is about to open, we asked current scholars to reminisce about their experience.

For Panamanian student Esther Alvarado De Leon, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management student, the interview is the most important part of the application process; and preparation is paramount. “My first time applying, I got into reserve list after the interview. I am sure that was because I didn’t have a plan for the interview. My second time applying was amazing! I had a short term and a long term plan. I knew what I wanted them to take from my interview and it felt a lot different, I believed in what I was saying.”

Aleksei Mikhalev, MSc Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management student, from Russia, also recommends taking as much time as possible to prepare .“I received an email about choosing me for Chevening interview in February 2018, but I booked my interview date on the middle of April. Therefore I had almost two months for preparation. I spent that time structuring my thoughts, polishing my speaking and presentation skills.”

Familiarise yourself again with your essays about leadership, networking and life goals included in your original application.  “You have been chosen because of what you have written, so it is very probable that they will ask you similar questions,” says Sergio Mendoza, an MA Investigative Reporting student from Bolivia. Your interview responses must be coherent with the points made in your application, but the interview is also an opportunity to develop these, and to show your enthusiasm for your future studies. “The main three questions you should be ready to answer on the interview are why you chose the UK; why did you choose these universities; and what do you plan to do after studies?” says Aleksei.

Is one of the lecturers on your chosen program a renowned expert in their field? Can you link a module with your future plans as a leader? In an interview that lasted almost an hour Filipino student Rogelio explained why he applied to Birkbeck’s Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict MSc. This had involved researching the programme academics’ work and also linking the course content with his future goals as a writer and cultural worker.

How will your studies help you to achieve your goals? Be specific about your plans. What career do you wish to embark on after your study in the UK? How will you’re the knowledge and skills you will acquire strengthen your position as a leader and help you benefit others in your country and community?

“Think where you want to be in 2, 5 and 10 years,” advises Esther. “Where do you see yourself applying the knowledge you will gain during your studies in the UK?”

“Chevening is a program for future leaders and being a leader means having a clear plan for your future and about changing the world around you. You have to show the Chevening commission that you already know what to do, you have a plan how to help your country, but you need some resources, such as networking and knowledge” says Aleksei.

Our scholars all agree; practice, practice, practice; run mock interviews with friends, family, in front of the mirror. But more than anything, say our scholars, believe in yourself and show your passion.

The Chevening programme is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and partner universities such as Birkbeck.

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At the heart of unions

Trade unions have been and continue to be crucial for improving conditions in the workplace and union learning reps (ULRs) have a special role in promoting and supporting the learning needs of members. As part of #heartunions week, Sophie Swain from Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement department talks about the 10% fee discount for union members at Birkbeck and the launch of a new outreach programme for trade union members interested in studying at undergraduate level.

A long-established partnership with the TUC’s unionlearn has enabled union members who wish to study at Birkbeck to receive a 10% discount on their fees, and last year over 700 students took up the discount. The Access and Engagement department are now underpinning this opportunity with targeted outreach activities for union members to support them in their journey to higher education. In line with the department’s mission to support non-traditional students including those who have low prior attainment or who have been out of education for a number of years, this outreach work will focus on those without an existing undergraduate degree or who are returning to university to gain the skills and knowledge needed to progress into a new line of work.

This new initiative has been developed as a timely response to challenges facing London’s workforce, in recognition of the need to adapt to changes in the workplace. Research by the Centre for London (2018) estimates that up to a third of London’s jobs are at risk of automation, which has a disproportionate impact on low and medium-skilled workers. For these workers, higher education study can be a way of preparing themselves for the changes by equipping them with new skills, knowledge and career prospects. Lifelong learning is at the heart of Birkbeck’s ethos, and for almost 200 years we have offered students access to higher education at whatever stage in life, regardless of previous experience.

Trade unions play a vital role in supporting the learning of their members. In a survey of Union Learning Fund learners undertaken by the University of Exeter in 2018, 7 out of 10 reported that without union support, they would not have taken up the opportunity. This study also highlights the importance of information, advice and guidance when supporting learners: for those without any qualifications, 79% said that they would not have taken part without union support. Therefore, we’re building relationships with trade union learning reps (ULRs) to enable them to inform prospective students about opportunities available to them at Birkbeck.

The Access and Engagement department are calling on colleagues from across the college to collaborate on planned initiatives to support current students from a trade union background, as well as anyone who is interested in delivering informal learning activities to trade union members. We would also encourage admissions staff to share details of the discount and outreach work with their applicants, to ensure that those who might benefit can take advantage of the offer. To get in touch and find out more, please email union-learning@bbk.ac.uk.

 

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A new kind of research guide

As part of LGBT History Month, Birkbeck alumna Norena Shopland writes about why it was important to develop an LGBT glossary as part of Queering Glamorgan, a research guide to sources for the study of Welsh LGBT History.

Over the last fifteen years or so I have been researching lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, allies and events, in relation to Wales. In that time I have curated a number of exhibitions, given numerous talks/workshops and written the first book, Forbidden Lives, on Welsh LGBT history and in all my work I have tried to add new material into the public domain whenever I can. But how does one find people who have lived forbidden or hidden lives? Particularly when the written record is often so sparse, and because most of the terminology we use today is modern, much of which was not used earlier than the mid-twentieth century.

A number of heritage organisations have tried to tackle this by providing research guides to aid those looking for hidden people, but most provide only summaries of resources available with limited glossaries. In addition, due to the legal status of male homosexuality, existing guides and glossaries have concentrated on the male experience, with minimal attention paid to women or gender diversity.

Using these guides was, I found, a very frustrating experience and in the end I realised that I needed to compile my own glossary – an exercise that proved surprisingly fruitful, and I was able to recover over 3,000 pieces of information – 80% of which has not been published outside original sources.

The glossary was then married with work being carried out by Dr Daryl Leeworthy, who had extensively examined the archival record in Wales for LGBT content – and Queering Glamorgan was published as a free download by Glamorgan Archives, funded by the Welsh Government. Glamorgan Archives is noted for its excellent work on the history of sexual orientation and gender diversity, and most of the examples used in the guide come from their archival content.

For this blog, I just want to reference the glossary part of the guide.

Some of the frustrations I experienced when using existing guides was the lack of timelines, which could result in time wasted using terminology not in existence for the period being examined, and cautionary notes about some terminology. For example, whilst most guides list ‘gross indecency’ as a possible search term, few mention that this could also apply to heterosexual cases, and even bestiality. Therefore in our guide we added, where possible, both timelines and cautionary notes.

One of the challenges with using a standard glossary for research is its very nature as a list of words or phrases. But individuals, whether they are journalists, diarists, letter writers or those filling out forms which end up in archives, do not all use the same words or phrases. Their individualistic styles of writing may therefore be missed if using a set list. What the glossary in Queering Glamorgan does is provide a theme of collected words and phrases which can be married in numerous ways in a ‘pick-and-mix’ style. This allows for individualistic writing, but also provides a broader sweep if for any reason an OCR reader has failed to pick up other terminology.

One theme of the glossary is to look, not at what people are, but what they were doing. For example, cross-dressing and cross-living were used extensively as a means to live in same-sex relationships, or as a transgender person. To locate these people in the historic record the researcher can try ‘woman in male clothes’, ‘female in boy’s costume’, ‘girl in male attire’, etc.

It is hoped that the innovative selection method in Queering Glamorgan will aid researchers to find more hidden LGBT people in the archival record. Particularly as it can be used anywhere in the world for English and Welsh language material (and the basic principle allows it to be translated into any other language).

As for the future, Glamorgan Archives and I are exploring rolling out this methodology for other areas of research.  Others are also considering its uses for themselves – in the few months since publication it has been downloaded over six hundred times– and been described in reviews as ‘pioneering’ and ‘revolutionising research methodology’ – not bad for a research guide.

Try it for yourself: Queering Glamorgan can be downloaded here.

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The importance of attending Law firm Open Days

Oliver Chinyere, LLM Qualifying Law student, gives an insight into the Open Days on offer at Law firms for students considering legal careers. 

For those interested in entering the legal profession as solicitors after studying at Birkbeck, an Open Day gives law students an opportunity to peek inside what their future may hold. Open Days offer exceptional advantages by giving students an intimate look at the firm’s office, employees and culture. In November, I was fortunate enough to attend Accept, Clifford Chance’s LGBT-focused Open Day.

For any student seeking a training contract, it’s important that you attend an Open Day at whatever firm you’re interested in to meet and hear directly from existing employees. Although I wasn’t able to stay for the full slate of programming, I found the event incredibly beneficial for several reasons. Not only was I able to meet and network directly with people from a similar background to myself but was able to secure tips which will prove handy during the application process should I choose to proceed. Clifford Chance’s recruitment team actually ran a session full of helpful tips on how to make your application stand out.

For anyone embarking on a new career and entering a new workplace, understanding the office culture is critical to determining whether or not you see a space for yourself there. In addition to hearing from existing employees who convey what led them to the firm, we heard from alumni who had moved on from the firm to other roles. A good indication of any potential place of employment is the number of former employees who still speak highly of their experience and how it influenced the next steps in their career!

Another benefit is the ability to poke and prod and really dig beneath the surface. At Accept, we were able to hear directly from Regional Managing Partner, Michael Bates and ask him questions. In fact, I would argue that one of the chief benefits of attending Open Days is your ability to be candid, ask questions and gather the information you need to make your decision! Becoming a lawyer is all about elucidating the facts so it’s excellent practice.

In summary, attending Open Days are a great way to see what your future job and company may entail. It’s an opportunity every Birkbeck law student interested in pursuing a career as a solicitor should aim to embark on, especially if you plan on applying for a training contract. If you’re looking for more resources, LawCareers.net provides a helpful timeline of events tailored to ‘non-law’ students (or those looking for a career change). They also provide a helpful list of training contract deadlines.

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Should memorialisation do more than keep memory alive?

As we approach a time when witnesses of the Holocaust will no longer be amongst us to give a first-hand account of their past, Dr Diana Popescu, Research Fellow at Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism argues that memorial events must do more than keep their memories alive – it must involve a more direct confrontation with urgent problems we face today.

As organisers of memorial events in Great Britain prepare to mark this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, we are reminded of the vital role that survivors have played in shaping public awareness of the Holocaust.  Public memory of the Holocaust rests on their remarkable efforts to share painful stories of survival and of loss. Survivors have passed to us the responsibilities for preventing such atrocities from happening again, and of ensuring that the Holocaust is not forgotten. How well have we risen to these challenges?

“Never again” had a profound meaning for survivors who uttered the phrase soon after their liberation from concentration camps. In Buchenwald and other camps, survivors held signs on which they had written “never again”, and pledged to build a “new, democratic, and peaceful world”. Later generations have been encouraged to take on this pledge. Holocaust survivor Bob Behr’s hope is that younger generations “feel an obligation to humankind to do whatever you can to help people, to liberate people, to do something good for people”. Behr’s message is echoed in the mission statement of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum whose aim is “to encourage its visitors to reflect upon […] their own responsibilities as citizens of a democracy”. But how does this message resonate with the public today? My own research into young people’s reactions to memorial initiatives reveals powerful emotions and a commitment to social activism. However, the commitment to “Never again” reiterated by younger generations loses potency when it is not mirrored in the present; genocidal events keep occurring, most recently in Myanmar and in Syria.  In response to the rise of racism and of antisemitism in Europe, art critic Jonathan Jones wonders “why Holocaust memorials have done so little to prevent the return of Europe’s far-right demons?”  If the function of memorialisation is to ensure “Never again”, then it seems that memorialisation does not deliver on its promise. Perhaps it is time that memorialisation demands other responses. A far more honest response and a sobering one might be “Again and again”. Indeed, this phrase appears in visitors’ reactions specifically to artworks dealing with the Holocaust and is often followed by challenging discussions on human shortcomings such as cowardice, conformity, indifference, or passivity.

In The Drowned and the Saved, renowned writer and Holocaust survivor, Primo Levi observes that: “Human memory is a marvellous but fallacious instrument”. He continues: “The memories which lie within us are not carved in stone; not only do they tend to become erased as the years go by, but often they change, or even grow, by incorporating extraneous features.”  For Levi, admitting to the volatile nature of memory did not mean that memory should be discarded.  Instead, Levi invites us to scrutinize how the past is re-elaborated in the present. He warns that “the further events fade into the past, the more the construction of convenient truth grows and is perfected”.  The challenge set out by Levi is about deepening our understanding of what remembrance means in the present. If remembering is a process by which the past is reconstructed in relation to the present, then the failures of the present must be more fully and more compellingly integrated in memorial events. That memory is an imperfect tool for representing the past is something which public remembrance needs to acknowledge and deal with. This demands a different kind of education; one which enables young people to relate to remembrance as a phenomenon of the present, rather than the historical past.

We are at a critical juncture, approaching a time when witnesses of the Holocaust will no longer be amongst us to give a first-hand account of their past. Taking forward the messages inherited from survivors, memorial events should do more than re-tell their stories, and more than keep their memories alive. They must involve a more direct confrontation with urgent problems we face today. In Europe and elsewhere, intolerance towards difference is notable, hostility towards foreigners is growing. Knowledge-based on real evidence is giving way to simple belief based on untruths and half-truths, and fake news shapes crucial decisions about the future. Holocaust denials surface in public debates at an alarming rate. Holocaust distortions pass on as factual truth as the gap in historical knowledge grows wider.

Memorial initiatives can and should engage more daringly with such issues. At their best, memorialisation projects lead to self-reflective and critical acts of introspection. They do not shy away from being provocative, or from inviting one to take part in difficult conversations.  They can mirror back at us the failings of the present, together with our own limitations, prejudice, bias, and ignorance. Ultimately, memorial events should remind us of what remains important but is difficult to achieve: tolerance, fairness, justice.  Compelling artworks engaging with the Holocaust and indeed with the memory of other genocides are already doing this. It is time for public memorialisation to catch up.

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Why I did a PhD in my 70s

The rewards of taking on a major research project are enormous at any age. Dr Mairi McDonald discusses completing her PhD in Iberian and Latin American Studies at 72, which she is now turning into a book.

2018 was the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Spanish painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo which seems to me to be the appropriate year to finish a PhD relating the artist’s paintings and their relationship with discourses on poverty in seventeenth-century Seville.

What use is a PhD to a seventy-two-year-old? Not much, you might think. However, the rewards are great: meeting the challenge of adding something new to a particular subject, the satisfaction of joining an academic community dedicated to the subject you are studying and also a huge amount of fun.

I started taking a variety of Open University courses in the history of art while I worked part-time at Channel 4 after leaving my full-time post there, then progressed to an MA Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck. A friend had strongly recommended this course and I was attracted by the range of subjects on offer, including the chance to pursue a module on Power and Control in Spanish Golden Age Art. My dissertation for the MA made me want to continue investigating the topic of seventeenth-century Spanish painting further and keep my brain functioning in old age. Since I had retired by then, and with the support of Dr Carmen Fracchia who had supervised my MA dissertation, I enrolled as a part-time PhD at Birkbeck in what was then the Department of Iberian and Latin American Studies. As a student of Early Modern Spanish art, I was the exception in a department where most PhD students were studying contemporary topics, but I found their enthusiasm and dedication stimulating. I also loved Birkbeck for the impressively wide range of students studying there and the fact that there were even a handful of people around my age. There were workshops to assist me at every phase of the PhD, from the initial stages of how to plan your work through to coping with the Viva. Above all, I received invaluable help and encouragement from my supervisor throughout.

The most difficult aspect of this work was not the research, or the writing up of my findings but learning Spanish from scratch. Learning a new language in my sixties was a tough proposition. Without Spanish, I could not read the seventeenth-century documents relevant to the PhD, such as sermons of the period, discourses on poverty, seventeenth-century chronicles on Seville as well as the writings of current Spanish scholars, none of which were available in English. Through courses at the Instituto Cervantes in London and some perseverance, I eventually attained a workable reading knowledge of Spanish.

Since surviving the viva and graduating at Birkbeck, I was invited to present a paper on Murillo and poverty at a prestigious symposium Murillo in Perspective which was held at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London earlier this year and am working on converting my PhD into a book, amazing opportunities for a seventy-two-year-old!

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Life in London as an international student

Yvette Shumbusho, an MSc Marketing Communication student from Rwanda, talks about arriving in London as an international student and what had made her feel so at home.

I arrived at Gatwick Airport on 15 September 2018, two weeks before the start of my MSc Marketing Communication at Birkbeck. The weather was chilly, serving as a reminder that I was no longer home in Kigali, Rwanda or even close by. The drive to my accommodation for the next year was longer than I had expected, I reached late in the evening, evidently postponing the sightseeing for the next day.

The following morning, I was awakened by the rays of sunlight from my window complementing my excitement of being in a new city. I got ready to explore as much of London as I could, starting off by shopping. No matter where you are from, shopping is a universal activity. There are a number of brands from the UK that I was especially excited to visit and purchase from. That same day I was taught how to use public transport and there were many similarities to the system back home. For instance, an Oyster card is comparable to that of Rwandan Tap and Go cards. Just as I was about to purchase one, I was informed about the Student Oyster card, reducing my monthly expenses!

The major cities of the world – New York, Milan, Rome, Paris – are known to be expensive and London is no exception. I was advised to look for sales and only shop then and, given that summer was coming to an end, there were quite a few around. For the next two weeks, I purchased all the necessities for my home and warm clothing for the upcoming winter period. The most thrilling part of this experience was visiting Oxford Street. It can be overwhelming for a newcomer but it was also exciting. I went to the cinema, shopped some more, ate oriental cuisines that were quite affordable compared to those back home. I felt right at home by the time I began classes – I adjusted so easily and most of the credit goes to London’s element of diversity.

There are a number of nationalities residing in London, and with each there is a piece of culture that has been embedded in that of the British. I was so accustomed to eating particular foods back home that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find it here. That is until I visited a market in Dalston, which consists of the spices and dishes from many countries in Africa – I have been grocery shopping there ever since. Honestly, London is a city that almost everyone can get used to, it’s a wonderful place!

There are many things I am yet to do, such as visit Hyde Park (for Winter Wonderland!), catch shows (The Lion King) and explore the museums. Given the continued advancements in technology, I’m kept up to date with events and fun activities to enjoy via an app called Visit London. In addition, the International Community as Birkbeck organises events that add on to the beauty of London and give you a sense of it all at a student-friendly price.

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What is a vote of no confidence?

Dr Ben Worthy from Birkbeck’s Department of Politics explains why confidence is such an important part of being Prime Minister and what might happen when it’s no longer there.

Being prime minister is all about confidence. In fact, the British constitution is held together by confidence. Being, and staying, prime minister means you have to ‘command the confidence of the House of Commons’. You don’t have to have a majority (though that’s always nice) but you do need to able to get your votes through. The Cabinet Manual, which sets out the rules as to how government runs, states that:

The Prime Minister is the head of the Government and holds that position by virtue of his or her ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons, which in turn commands the confidence of the electorate, as expressed through a general election.

So to be thrown out without an election, you need to somehow lose that confidence.

The main way this can be done is if the opposition passes and wins a vote of no confidence. If a prime minister loses such a vote then, technically, they’ve lost the magic ‘confidence’ and something has to happen, whether their resignation or an election. So far, so simple. So, to illustrate, Jeremy Corbyn has said if May loses her vote on her crucial bill next week, Labour will immediately call for a vote of no confidence in the government.

The government can also do the opposite and call for a motion of confidence in itself. This makes a vote crucial, and was a way of making sure it’s MPs supported them. This is a good discipline device and has been used by ‘prime ministers down the ages to keep their backbenchers in line and say that “this vote really matters”’. John Major famously did it over Maastricht, as a way of saying to his party: ’support me or we lose power’. Neither of these, by the way, should be confused with a party vote against its leader, of the type that fizzled out against May recently.

So far, so simple (ish). So why aren’t both sides throwing around confidence or no confidence motions every few months when things get sticky? One reason is that they are seen as a weapon of last resort. Another is that to win a vote you need the numbers, obeying Lyndon Johnson’s first rule of politics to ‘learn how to count’. Politically, you shouldn’t call one unless you are pretty sure you can win. So Labour can call for a vote of no confidence but whether they have the numbers to pass one is another matter.

Most importantly, do they work? Well, sometimes. The last successful no confidence vote was in 1979, which led to the end of James Callaghan’s government (the government lost by one vote, legend has it because one MP was in the pub and didn’t get back to the House of Commons in time). Before that you have to go back to 1924 when the first ever Labour Prime Minister, Birkbeck’s own Ramsay MacDonald, was forced out by one.

Then things get more complicated. The Fixed Term Parliament Act has limited how no confidence votes can be called. It also means that if a government loses a vote there is 14 days before another, after which an election is called if that’s lost too.

So, If May loses a Labour confidence, let’s say next Wednesday, what happens then? The next 14 days could be very messy and confusing. Probably she would resign as Prime Minister, though she could stay as a caretaker leader. Another possibility is that someone gets an early Christmas present, and steps in as a temporary Tory PM to cobble together enough support to carry on.  Where would Labour stand in all of this, and should Corbyn get a chance? Because the rules aren’t set, no one is quite sure. A week is a long time in politics. Two weeks could be even longer. Catherine Haddon, who you should follow on twitter, is best placed to explain all the scenarios.

So one outcome of the next few days could be a vote of confidence. Yet no one knows, with any confidence, what would happen next if it’s lost. And all the time, the clock is ticking on Brexit.

Further information:

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Birkbeck student overcomes dyslexia and the ghosts of her early education to celebrate graduation success

On Tuesday 6 November, Paola Torrani, who grew up being told she was too ‘stupid’ to go to university, graduated with a BSc Social Sciences with Social Anthropology from Birkbeck. She explains why this is only the beginning.

When Paola Torrani first visited London aged eighteen, it was as a student who felt let down by the education system and shut out from the career in Science she had always wanted. Her teachers, seeing that she was struggling to keep up with her peers, had branded her ‘lazy’ and ‘stupid’, even telling her mum that she would struggle to find work. With characteristic determination, though, Paola took a photo of the iconic Senate House building in Bloomsbury and sent it to her mum, saying “one day I will study here.”

Twenty years on, Paola is preparing to receive her award for BSc Social Sciences with Social Anthropology from Birkbeck, University of London, in the very place she first set eyes on all those years ago. “I couldn’t even speak English on that first visit,” she remembers, “so it’s surreal to finally graduate here.”

Fighting for an education

Growing up, Paola’s education was punctuated by failure. Having been repeatedly told that she was stupid by her teachers, she fought to continue her education in Italy and then France, but struggled to finish what she started. “I experienced failure, after failure, after failure,” she remembers, “but I didn’t want to give up.”

While she may have struggled in formal education, Paola has always had an aptitude for languages, which led her to move to work in London. She secured a role in marketing, but was left dissatisfied, saying “I felt bad using my skills to get people to buy more stuff!”

It wasn’t long before Paola began to suffer acutely with stress in that role, however it was on being referred to a therapist that she had her first real revelation. She explains, “My confidence was at a real low and I told my therapist that I was too stupid to follow a career that would really interest me. He was surprised and said that I seemed very intelligent to him, and suggested I take a look at Birkbeck, where he had studied Psychology.” Although the idea of returning to education was daunting, Paola was reassured to hear of Birkbeck’s diverse and inclusive student body, knowing that she wouldn’t be the only person returning to study after a gap. Still, it took her a year to pluck up the courage to apply. “I attended a Birkbeck open evening and was really inspired by how the lecturers talked about their subject,” she explains, “I knew that I’d enjoy being a student there.”

Seeing things differently

As a child, Paola was fascinated by people who were different from herself and their rituals and dynamics, well before she had heard of anthropology. Having previously tried to teach herself about the topic, she realised she’d gain so much more from going to university. It was nerve-wracking returning to study, but she soon felt comfortable among her fellow students, many of whom have become lifelong friends.

Despite enjoying her course, Paola soon began to experience the familiar struggle to keep up. This time, though, things didn’t end in failure. A turning point came when a friend on her course suggested that Paola might have dyslexia and encouraged her to arrange a test. “The support from the disability team was amazing,” says Paola, “they arranged for me to see an educational psychologist and I discovered that I was dyslexic.”

Although relieved to understand why she struggled with reading, Paola still found the demands of study alongside work very tough. The usual concerns that might face a part-time student, such as time management and returning to study after a gap, were compounded by the fact that English was Paola’s fourth language and she needed additional time to work through the course materials. “It felt like I was working forty-eight hours a day at times,” she remembers.

With the support of her lecturers and a very understanding tutor, Paola received the help she needed to complete her degree. She explains “for me, studying at Birkbeck taught me to see the world differently. Partly because I was studying anthropology, but also because I developed critical thinking skills that I’d never had to use before. Birkbeck taught me the academic skills I needed so well that I wrote my 11,000 word thesis in five days – previously I struggled to complete a 2,000 word essay over three weeks! I ended up getting a first for my research, which really proved to me what I was capable of.”

A lifelong learner

Studying at Birkbeck may have changed Paola’s life, but she didn’t have to wait to collect her degree for those changes to start to take shape. Two years into her course, she left her job and took up a position as a project manager at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She now uses her marketing skills to promote the research taking place at the School, and volunteers on equalities and ethics committees to use her skills for social good. She explains “I don’t have a job now, I have a career. I love the team, I love what I do and I feel like we’re contributing to society.” But Paola’s passion for education doesn’t stop here: she still sees a tutor and is now teaching project management skills to doctoral students, as well as co-writing a book on project management for health research. When her mum texted her the picture of Senate House that she had sent all those years ago, it felt like she had come full circle.

Paola took a photo of Senate House when she first visited London, saying “One day I will study here.”

She says: “Birkbeck helped me to discover a side to me that’s always been there, but that I’ve never been allowed to show before. I’m not going to stop here – sometimes it’s just about having the courage to achieve, with the right people behind you.”

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Birkbeck’s autumn telephone campaign: meet the student fundraisers

Say hello to Birkbeck’s student callers who will be working on the telephone campaign to raise valuable funds for bursaries, facilities and support services.

The Birkbeck autumn telephone campaign has now begun. A team of dedicated Birkbeck student fundraisers, new and returning, will be contacting alumni over the next five weeks to fundraise for College priorities impacting the student experience and student support. 40% of Birkbeck students require some form of financial assistance, and often this support is crucial to these students being able to complete their studies. Alumni support helps to ensure that current and future generations of students have the best facilities, support, advice and career guidance during their time at Birkbeck.

Tara Millington, Regular Giving Officer at Birkbeck has said: “Our telephone campaigns are a real testament to the generosity of Birkbeck alumni, as well as how engaged Birkbeck students are. Each caller has their own unique reason for wanting to take part in the campaign, and they can receive invaluable life and career advice from alumni who want to share their stories. Each campaign, more and more alumni pledge their support to the College. This makes a huge difference for current and future students here at Birkbeck. Not only do the callers gain valuable fundraising experience, they have the opportunity to speak to donors who can help shape their student experience.

The Autumn campaign will run between 31 October and 1 December – if you’d like to receive a call from one of our students, please get in touch with Tara Millington (t.millington@bbk.ac.uk).

Alex, BA Global Film, fourth year
“I chose to study at Birkbeck because it is a university for mature students, and students working at the same time. I wanted to participate in the telephone campaign because it’s important to fundraise for Birkbeck to continue a high level of education, and to provide funding and help to those who need it.”

Aleks, LLB, first year
“I chose Birkbeck mainly because of the School of Law faculty – they are researching issues and subjects that I am passionate about. I will be receiving mentoring from alumni later in my program, so I think it is important to keep them involved and interested after they leave. I’m looking forward to having an active role in growing and helping Birkbeck through the telephone campaign”

Ayelen, PhD Psychosocial Studies, first year
“I wanted to take part in the telephone campaign to give back to Birkbeck, and to learn about fundraising more generally. I chose to study at Birkbeck because the professors are exceptional – there’s a great Psychosocial Department and fantastic treatment of students. I am really looking forward to having the opportunity to speak to Birkbeck alumni.”

Clifford, BSc Financial Economics and Accounting, first year
Fundraising for Birkbeck is important to raise money for the College’s various bursaries and scholarships, to enable a wider variety of people to change their lives through education. I chose to study at Birkbeck because I work full time, and this is the best place to participate in an evening degree … also, my mum is an alum!”

Edwin, MA Text & Performance with RADA, second year
“I wanted to participate in the Telephone Campaign because Birkbeck has contributed significantly to advancing my knowledge and skills in my chosen field (Theatre & Politics). I want to talk to alumni who have shared my experience, and to hear their stories.”

Francesca, MA Museum Cultures, first year
“I wanted to participate in the telephone campaign to improve my speaking skills – Birkbeck is a great place to study and not a lot of universities do my course. I am most looking forward to meeting new people and being part of a team.”

Hannah, MA History of Art, first year
“I chose to study at Birkbeck as it suited my lifestyle, and the courses elective modules and work placement interested me. Fundraising is important to enhance the student experience, I wanted to take part in the Telephone Campaign as I felt I would thoroughly enjoy being a part of it! I’m looking forward to raising funds for Birkbeck.”

Harry, MSc Information Technology, first year
“I am studying at Birkbeck as it has accessible evening and part-time courses. I wanted to take part in the telephone campaign to improve my understanding of fundraising and to help Birkbeck – fundraising is important to ensure that the university continues to grow.”

Joseph, MSc International Development, first year
I am interested in diversifying my experience as a fundraiser and meet like-minded people. I understand that funding is not always easy to find and it is important for Birkbeck’s sustainability.“

Natalie, BA Linguistics and Japanese, second year
“I applied to be part of the call team as I found the nature of the job interesting, I like conversing with people. What I’m looking forward to most about this role is the sense of personal achievement and growth, contributing to future developments at Birkbeck”

Ngozi, BA Human Geography, second year
“I am taking part in the telephone campaign because it seemed like a good opportunity to learn new skills and raise funds for the university as well as the students. I loved the unconventional layout of Birkbeck – it seems to be the right fit for me.”

Ryan, MA Creative Writing, first year
“I think fundraising for Birkbeck is important as it helps keep us a competitive university and makes current student experience even better. I’m looking forward to reaching out to successful alumni – I really love to hear about people’s personal success.”

Shakeela, BSc Social Sciences, first year
“I wanted to take part in the telephone campaign as I like to speak to alumni and find out about their experiences. It was also a way to meet a variety of students I wouldn’t have met before. I feel fundraising for Birkbeck is important as it encourages continued support for the projects here, some of which I’ve benefitted from myself.”

Thomas, MA Philosophy, second year
“I wanted to be part of the Birkbeck Telephone Campaign to gain experience working in a university and speak to interesting alumni. Fundraising for Birkbeck is important as it allows people from a less advantaged background an opportunity to study.”

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