Tag Archives: birkbeck

How to get your Birkbeck studies off to a flying start

Student Engagement Officer Rebecca Slegg offers top tips to new students, to help you settle into Birkbeck, get your studies off to a flying start and help you make sure you get the most out of your time here.

  1. Set up a study space at home. If possible, decide on one place where you will be able to study. Keep it free from clutter and other distractions as much as possible and make sure that your family/flatmates know that when you’re there they should avoid interrupting you if they can.
  2. Talk to your friends and family about your course. If the people in your life know why studying is important to you and what it involves, they will be able to better support you throughout your course. They’ll understand why you might not be able to go out every weekend at exam or assignment time. They’ll also be interested to hear about the new ideas and topics you’re now an expert on!
  3. Attend Orientation and the Students’ Union Fresher’s Fayre in September. This is a great opportunity to meet fellow students, find out about life at Birkbeck and join some of the many clubs and societies open to students.
  4. Create a wall planner and use it to map out your first term. Plot on your term dates, exam dates and assignment deadlines. This will help you to know when the pressure points are so that you can plan ahead in other areas of your life to accommodate your study needs and be well prepared to meet all of your course requirements comfortably.
  5. Set up a WhatsApp group/Facebook group with your classmates. This will enable you to share tips and information between lectures and seminars and help you get to know each other quickly. You will probably find that your classmates quickly become a source of support and encouragement.
  6. Sign up to academic skills workshops. Birkbeck offers a wide-range of resources for students to brush up on their academic skills, whether you need a refresher on essay writing or an introduction to academic referencing – get ahead with these skills now so you’re not trying to master them at the same time as researching and writing your first assignment.

  7. Explore the campus. Get to know Bloomsbury. There is a wide range of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, indie bookshops and cultural facilities close to our campus.
  8. Arrange to meet your personal tutor. Your tutor is there to offer advice and support on issues that may affect your academic progress. Some of the topics you might discuss with your tutor include module choices; exam revision; meeting deadlines; any personal or professional issues that are affecting your studies.

  9. Buy some nice stationery. Investing in some nice paper and pens is a subtle reminder to yourself of the investment you have made in coming to Birkbeck and that this is something that you believe is worth doing and will help you to move ahead with your life goals.
  10. Find out about Birkbeck Talent (the in-house recruitment agency) and the Careers and Employability Service. These two services can offer advice on CV writing, interview techniques, setting up your own business and can suggest suitable short- and long-term positions to match your skills and interests.
  11. Make sure you’ve ticked off all the items in our new student checklist, which includes all the practical details you need to have covered like enrolling on the course, paying your fees and setting up library and WIFI access.

At our graduation ceremony we asked those who had made it what advice they would give new students:

If you’re a current student, why not add your own advice for those just starting out in the comments section?

 

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Meet the Open Library of Humanities team

The six members of the Open Library of Humanities Team in different squares on Microsoft Teams

The Open Library of Humanities team

Tell us who you are, and where you sit in the Birkbeck, University of London departmental structure?

The Open Library of Humanities (OLH) is an award-winning, academic-led, gold open-access publisher with no author-facing charges. OLH was launched in 2015 and has been operating as an independent charity until May 2021, which is when the platform merged with Birkbeck, University of London.

We are based in the College’s Department of English, Theatre and Creative Writing, and it’s Centre for Technology and Publishing. We’re proud to hold a Coko Foundation Open Publishing Award, an AOP Digital Publishing Award, and to have been Highly Commended at the ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing.

How many staff are in the team?
The OLH has a team of five — soon to be six — full-time members of staff.

The team in detail:

  • Dr Rose Harris-Birtill is the Acting Director and Managing Editor of the Open Library of Humanities, and is head of editorial at OLH. She is also the Editor of our flagship journal, OLH.
  • Paula Clemente Vega is the Marketing Officer for the Open Library of Humanities where she is in charge of memberships and of increasing the visibility of the OLH through outreach, marketing and advocacy.
  • Dr Eleanor Careless is the Editorial Officer for the Open Library of Humanities where she oversees editorial processes and production.
  • Andy Byers is a Senior Publishing Technology Developer at the Birkbeck’s Centre for Technology and Publishing. He leads development of the Janeway journal management system project.
  • Mauro Sanchez is a Senior Publishing Technology Developer at Birkbeck’s Centre for Technology and Publishing. He is in charge of managing development processes and operations for the Janeway project.
  • The OLH was co-founded by Professor Martin Paul Eve and Dr Caroline Edwards from Birkbeck’s Department of English, Theatre and Creative Writing.

What are the key functions of the team?
Our mission at the OLH is to support and extend open access to scholarship in the humanities – for free, for everyone, forever. Our small but hardworking team each oversee different facets of the organisation to make this mission a reality, supporting the editors across our platform of 28 open access journals, developing and maintaining our own field-leading open-source publishing platform, and securing the funding that allows our journals to remain completely free to read and free to publish in.

The OLH operates using a consortial funding model, which means that over 300 institutions pool their resources to collectively fund our open access publishing activities, allowing us to publish scholarship without the need to charge authors or readers. Our idea is that research organisations and libraries make a relatively small voluntary contribution – often less than a single article processing charge – that, when combined, covers the costs of running a publication platform on which peer-reviewed scholarly journals can then be published as fully open access. Our dedicated Marketing Officer is in charge of working with member universities, securing the vital member support that allows us to keep running.

One of the goals of the OLH has been to flip subscription journals to open access, making previously paid-for scholarly journals completely free to read and publish in. With this model we are proud to say that the OLH has been able to expand from 7 journals in 2015 to 28 journals in 2021. A huge milestone was the development and launch of Janeway in 2017, our own field-leading innovative open-source publishing platform developed fully in-house by our talented Senior Publishing Technology Developers, which is used both by our published and funded journals, as well as by a growing number of external partner university presses. The editorial team is in charge of coordinating the academic journals published by the Open Library of Humanities, and our Director oversees the day-to-day running of the organisation.

How have you been keeping each other afloat during the pandemic?
The OLH is fully set up for remote working, which allows us to keep overheads low. As such, we worked from home before the pandemic, so in that respect, not much has changed! However, we’ve continued to work closely to support each other through a challenging year. Organising online parties and games has been what has helped cheer up our days and keep us motivated during lockdown, as well as sharing funny gifs, anecdotes, photos and pet updates!

What are your current key activities?
We recently merged with Birkbeck, University of London, which has been a huge milestone for securing the future of the organisation, and now have a new Director, Dr Rose Harris-Birtill. She stepped in to replace Professor Martin Paul Eve, who is currently on research leave until Autumn 2022.

Universities continue to join us on a weekly basis, and our Marketing Officer is always busy dealing with member universities, sending invoices and doing outreach.

With a strong supporter base, we are now in the process of expanding our team. We recently hired a talented new Editorial Officer, Dr Eleanor Careless, and are in the process of hiring a third Publishing Technology Developer to help with journal migrations to our in-house publishing platform Janeway.

What are the plans for the year ahead?
Our developers, with the help of our editorial team, are in the process of migrating most of our journals to Janeway, a sizable project due to be complete by the end of the year, and which means that these will all be published using our own in-house publishing software.

We have recently been awarded a grant of £200,000 from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Dr Lisbet Rausing and Professor Peter Baldwin, to support the innovative research and work of the Open Library of Humanities. This grant will be used to help OLH to expand and diversify its revenue sources. While the pandemic has put strain on library budgets worldwide, OLH has achieved financial stability using its innovative collective funding model. This funding will allow the Centre for Technology and Publishing to expand its Janeway services, thereby providing a second, secure, and stable revenue source for the years to come.

We also recently launched our new Jisc Collections OLH offer for UK institutions. Under this new agreement, UK universities are given the opportunity to voluntarily support us at a higher membership rate. In the coming year, this will allow us to re-open our journal flipping programme to grow our portfolio of open access journals, and make even more world-leading scholarship freely available to all.

When libraries choose to support us at the higher tiers, we will invite applications from scholarly journals currently at for-profit, subscription, and hybrid publishers to apply to join OLH, once we have suitable revenue levels. This flipping will yield benefits not only for the titles that choose to join us and convert to open access, but will also escalate pressure on other publishers to adopt models for equitable open access that allow greater knowledge sharing worldwide.

Who do you most closely work with?
We work closely with our authors, journal editors, partner presses, platform users and university presses that use Janeway to publish their journals, as well as with our 300+ member institutions, and the library open access community more generally.

Janeway is currently used by many publishers and libraries including Michigan Publishing Services, UCL Press, the Open Library of Humanities, Huddersfield University Press, Iowa State Digital Press, the University of Essex, the University of West London, and California Digital Library, which uses Janeway to host its recently launched Preprint service Eartharxiv.

Tell us something interesting about the team.
We love playing games together, and our past online parties have included virtual bomb defusal and the retro real-time strategy game Red Alert (in its open-source version, of course). During the lockdown, two of our team members completed an all-night online gaming session to raise money for charity, and one member of the team even repurposed an old TV to build their own virtual truck-driving rig, complete with steering wheel and cup holder (we’ll leave it to you to figure out who!)

Further information:

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“We were really challenged to think for ourselves.” 

Pierre-Yves Rahari is a Partner at AlgoMe Consulting and alumnus of the Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching. This is his Birkbeck story.

Pierre-Yves smiling against a white background.

Why did you apply for the Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching Psychology? 

I started my career in Finance, working for investment managers, and was looking for a way to bridge working in a corporate setting to becoming a consultant and executive coach. I did this at work by taking on mentoring and leadership development assignments and decided that the best way to complement my training would be to study psychology. 

After completing a foundation course in psychotherapy, I began to look for an executive coaching course, but the typical format you see of learning then following a single methodology didn’t resonate with me. Birkbeck’s programme appealed as it seemed to be looking to go more in depth with students, plus the course leaders were from a psychodynamic background and active coaches themselves. 

Birkbeck’s London location was ideal for me and I liked the format of weekly classes, which meant we were fully immersed in the course for the duration of the year. 

What have been some of the highlights of the programme? 

During the course, we were really challenged to think for ourselves. The team didn’t give out a manual or tell us how to do it, but they had a magical way of getting us to think about our practice and by the end of the course we had a real understanding of what it meant to have a contract with a coaching client. I don’t think it’s an overnight thing, but gradually you find yourself listening differently when you speak to people. The framework that I use in coaching now is an extension of what we did in the course. It has prepared me well for running my own business and surviving during the pandemic. 

As a French person, I also really enjoyed being on an Anglo-Saxon style campus, surrounded by other university campuses and with coffee and book stores all around. My experience at Birkbeck was very nurturing and I look back on my time there very fondly. 

Can you tell us more about what you do now? 

I run a management consulting company called AlgoMe Consulting, which specialises in asset management. We aim to influence strategic and sustainable change in the investment management industry by helping executive boards and boards of directors strategise and successfully implement transformational projects in their firms, while improving transparency, integrity, inclusion and engagement. A lot of the work we do is with leaders and change management and people are fundamental to this process, both at an individual and team level.

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Rainbow washing: what should we think when every brand seems to support Pride Month?

With Pride Month becoming increasingly commercialised, Dr Olivier Sibai, Lecturer in Marketing at Birkbeck, University of London, Dr Mimoun, Lecturer in Marketing at the Business School (formerly Cass), and Dr Achilleas Boukis, Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Sussex discuss how brands are engaging with the month of celebration.

A zoom in on some people's feet with rainbow colours on them

Image credit: Angela Compagnone

It’s June again, the first heatwave has arrived, flowers are blooming, and more and more rainbow avatars appear on your social media feeds! Yes, it’s Pride Month again and brands won’t let you forget it! As everyone celebrates Pride, brands won’t stop showing their surface-level love and support to position themselves as socially progressive and increase their resonance with their younger audience.  From brands’ rainbow LinkedIn profile picture to Google Doodles, every brand and its neighbor are jumping on the occasion to demonstrate their virtue. Yet, people are not so easily fooled and criticism abounds! Between accusations of rainbow-washing, blog posts wondering whether we can escape the commercialisation of Pride, and lists of brand’s “Pride fails,” consumers show their disapproval vocally.

a screen shot of a Disney post showing disney characters walking across a rainbow 'Pride Flag' backgroundOur research recently published in Psychology and Marketing uncovers how consumers interpret brands’ LGBTQ+-related support and decide on whether to condemn or to approve them. We show that consumers are more likely to condemn brands as ‘woke-washers’ if they are unable to prove morally competent. Specifically, media and consumers make up their minds on the biggest corporates by assessing such performative acts of allyship through three moral criteria: sensitivity, vision, and integration.

Moral sensitivity — a brand must recognize the moral content of a situation as failure to do so is likely to damage customer satisfaction, customer-brand relations, and brand equity. For example, by posting straight characters walking over the rainbow flag, Disney has proved morally insensitive to the stigma and discrimination that LGBTQ+ individualsThe Uno game packaging with the tag line 'Play with Pride' on the cover are still experiencing in many instances.

Moral vision — a brand must show a clear moral vision when outlining challenges to free speech that help solve problems for markets and society as failure to do so results in brands being dubbed as ‘conformists’ — those who reproduce the dominant moral judgments about what is acceptable to say publicly. While Mattel still shows a lack of moral vision by mostly reproducing mainstream discourses around gender and diversity, it at least shows some moral integration with the launch of gender-neutral Barbie dolls in 2019 followed by the launch of the UNO Play with Pride edition this year (alongside $50,000 donated to the It Gets Better Project).

A screenshot of a Pfizer Inc. Instagram post with a video still of a woman called Valentina, and 'she/her/hers. The caption reads: "We're celebrating #PrideMonth2021 because everyone deserves to be seen, heard, and respected for who they are. At Pfizer, we affirm every way people may choose to identify. Watch what it means to be Pfizer and proud."

The caption reads: “We’re celebrating #PrideMonth2021 because everyone deserves to be seen, heard, and respected for who they are. At Pfizer, we affirm every way people may choose to identify. Watch what it means to be Pfizer and proud.”

Moral integration — a brand must have the ability to pursue their moral beliefs in all situations as failure to do so results in brands being dubbed as ‘opportunists’ and ‘fame-seekers’ — manipulating the boundaries of free speech to serve personal interest rather than reform morality. For example, despite sharing the positive experience of its LGBTQ+ staff members, Pfizer demonstrates a lack of moral integration by simultaneously funding anti-gay politicians.

But let’s not despair, some brands have understood the point of Pride Month and, in doing so, further the fight for LGBTQ equity and inclusivity. For example, over the last few year (moral integration), Skittles celebrates Pride Month with a limited-edition Skittles Pride Packs (gray packaging and all gray candies) to emphasize the rainbow visual as a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community (moral sensitivity), alongside donation of $1 from each pack to GLAAD.

A black and white skittles packet. The tag line reads: 'During Pride only one rainbow maters #onerainbow."

A Skittles packet with the tag line: ‘During Pride only one rainbow matters #onerainbow

So has Pride Month just become another branded holiday? Well, it’s not for us to settle. But what we can tell you is how to judge the genuineness of branded communication: evaluate the brand’s moral sensitivity, vision, and integration. While we can condemn the over-commercialisation of Pride Month, the good news is that these branded discourses, whatever their values and intent, still raise awareness of the LGBTQ+ cause and normalize and legitimize its presence in public discourse.

Want to know more? ‘Authenticating Brand Activism: Negotiating the Boundaries of Free Speech to Make a Change’ by Dr Olivier Sibai, Lecturer in Marketing at Birkbeck, University of London, Dr Mimoun, Lecturer in Marketing at the Business School (formerly Cass), and Dr Achilleas Boukis, Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Sussex, is published in Psychology & Marketing.

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Prepare your Chevening application

With less than two months until the opening of Chevening, the fully-funded scholarship for postgraduate students offered by the UK government, Catherine Charpentier, from Birkbeck’s International Marketing and Recruitment team, advises on how to prepare for the scholarship application.

A collage of six past Chevening students holding a sign saying 'I can't keep calm. I've been chosen for Chevening'

Some of the 2020 Chevening scholars

It’s official, applications for Chevening for 2022/23 open on Tuesday 3 August 2021!

You’ve underlined the date in red on your calendar. So what now? Is the only thing left for you to do is crossing off the days off on your diary?

Well, no. Now isn’t the time to rest. There is plenty to do ahead of the application opening date. Here are four things you need to do to prepare.

  1. Check that you meet the eligibility criteria

You need to have at least two years work experience (equivalent to 2,800 hours) in order to apply. This can be in part-time or full-time employment, voluntary work or paid or unpaid internship; and this can be submitted in up to 15 employment periods on the application form.

Get your calculator out. Your entries will be calculated automatically by multiplying the number of weeks worked by the number of hours worked per week. For this calculation, a working week comprises 35-60 hours and a working year comprises 40-50 weeks.

Don’t have 2,800 hours of experience yet? Why not apply for an internship, or offer your services to a volunteer organisation to make up the total? You should meet the requirements by the time you submit the application, which should be no later than 2 November 2021.

  1. Gain meaningful experience

It’s not only about quantity but also quality. You might have reached two years of work/voluntary experience but feel that your CV could do with improving. Don’t forget, you will also have to demonstrate leadership qualities in your application.

Can you take on extra responsibility at work? Could you offer to manage on a project for an organisation you are involved with? Can you organise an event for a charity?

The Chevening students outside Birkbeck entrance holding up a blue relay stick

Birkbeck’s 2019 Chevening scholars complete a relay

  1. Develop your network

In your application, you will be required to demonstrate your networking skills. Spend the next few months working on your network. You can reactivate old links and build new relations. This can be in person at work, at events you attend, or online via social media or LinkedIn for example.

You can refer to Birkbeck Futures The Importance of Networking for tips and advice to develop a networking strategy.

  1. Select your referees

You will have to give the name of two referees in your application. Use the next few months to select who you think could provide positive and meaningful references for you. Get in touch now, keep the relation going and remind them all the reasons why you will be deserving of this glorious reference when the time comes.

For further information on the scholarship visit the Chevening website.

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Law, pandemic and crisis

Professor Adam Gearey is a Professor of Law at Birkbeck’s Department of Law. In this blog, Professor Gearey previews Law on Trial, the School of Law’s annual week of free, public events around a particular theme, which this year is ‘Law, Pandemic and Crisis’.

A surgical mask on some grass next to some daisies

Photo by Niamh Gearey

The correct response to the ongoing Covid crisis should be: “enough, this won’t do anymore.” In putting law on trial, this series of workshops seeks to put the whole viral/ military/ technical/ capitalist/inhuman/ racist complex on trial.

Legal thinking needs to catch up with the crisis. This is not a re-tread of the self-satisfied cosmopolitanism of the 90s, or a false choice between identity politics and the politics of anti-capitalism. It is a less-deceived, pessimistic and realistic engagement with the depth of the crisis and the possibilities of transformation: a framing of new paradigms of legitimacy and new ways of thinking. The Black Lives Matter Movement, global concerns with racist policing, climate protest and insurrection in Colombia draw attention to different aspects of this international problem. A morally bankrupt order hangs on through power and promises of bread and circus.

The global health crisis, and the fixation on technical solutions, an obsession that clearly extends beyond health care, also starkly shows that ‘market solutions’ are anything but. Like Leonard Nimoy’s character in the film Assault on the Wayne, we are being fed pills by a bogus doctor that, instead of making us better, makes us much worse.

If we are stuck with markets, then they need to be extensively regulated. Markets should serve social ends, rather than the interests of an ‘elite’ whose wealth insulates them from the effects of the markets they recommend as the only possible form of social and economic organisation. At the very least we need to approach markets with an understanding of how their immanent and radical dysfunctions can be controlled in the interests of the common good.

So, although the global epidemic should provoke a massive realignment of how we do things, it’s unlikely that the new normal will be much different from the ongoing crises of the old normal. We will be stuck with fragile constitutions, dysfunctional markets, populist politics and ongoing social and environmental crises.

Thus, to put the law on trial is to ask, how can we see the big picture? How can we be the less deceived?

Further information 

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Mentoring on the Compass Project

Luke Williams is a part-time lecturer in Creative Writing, member of the Compass Project Steering Committee and mentor. In this blog, he speaks to Natasha Soobramanien about his involvement in the project.

A laptop with a sign that says 'we rise by helping others'

I’ve been involved in the Compass Project since it began in 2016. Right from the start we realised that if we wanted to offer scholarships to people from forced migrant backgrounds, we also needed to make sure those students received the support they might need to thrive at Birkbeck. Each student on the Compass Project has a mentor, an academic at Birkbeck who elects to support them through their studies.

Compass Project students face particular challenges in relation to British institutions: government policy is designed to create a hostile institutional environment for migrants, and educational institutions are no exception to this. But the university is also a place to gain and share knowledge, and to form friendships with others. Our job as mentors is to give Compass Project students practical and moral support so that they remain able to focus on the positive and rewarding aspects of student life, and the opportunities Birkbeck offers.

The mentoring role is a little like a personal tutor, but involves a lot more contact and communication, and flexibility. On average I speak to my mentee around three to four times a month. It could be a simple check-in, or a response to a request, like support with an essay, or help liaising with other departments or services. I’ve helped out with finding a laptop and looking for a place to live. In the current pandemic, this kind of contact is particularly necessary for students who might already feel quite isolated. I’d say this role has been the most challenging and rewarding aspect of my involvement in the Compass Project.

Before the Compass Project, I’d volunteered for several years at Akwaaba, a Hackney-based social centre for migrants, so I had some awareness of the stressful logistical, bureaucratic and emotional complexities faced by migrants. Getting involved with the Compass Project allowed me to find a way to align the advocacy, creative work, and activism I was involved in at Akwaaba, with my day job at Birkbeck.

Through my role as a mentor I have met some amazing people. I’ve enjoyed our conversations, and learned a lot. Everyone at Birkbeck knows that universities are in a precarious position right now, and that our roles as academics are increasingly co-opted by the marketisation of education. Getting involved in the Compass Project feels like a gesture of resistance against this deliberate erosion of what is truly valuable in the university, which is to say study – and the freedom to do this with others.

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“The MBA gave me a sense of purpose and the ability to recognise what I wanted when I found it.”

Dan Demilew enrolled on the Central Saint Martins Birkbeck MBA seeking a new direction. Now preparing to start a role in renewable energy, he reflects on the experience that led him to this opportunity.

The Central Saint Martins Granary Square campus.

I had always found my work as a Civil Engineer fulfilling; I enjoy being able to build stuff in my neighbourhood and physically show friends and family what I’ve worked on. Before I’d even considered studying at Central Saint Martins, I was an engineer on the redevelopment of Granary Square, helping to build the entrance bridge, Coal Drops Yard, Kings Boulevard and all around the university.

Back then I had the idea of doing an MBA in the back of my mind because my Dad often talked about how it had benefitted his career, but in my industry it was less clear how an MBA would be useful.

Instead, I moved to take up a new opportunity in Australia. I accepted a senior role working mostly on mine sites, and found the work less fulfilling, as I was working on projects that were mostly temporary in nature. Having progressed onto the project management side of things, I found myself spending an increasing amount of time dealing with the politics and work winning side of the business, which started to wear me down.

It was in my next role in Dubai that I realised it was time for a break. I wasn’t performing as well as I could at work and my wife had just been promoted and had a baby, so it seemed a natural time to take a step back and look after my child so my wife could go back to work.

I worried about my brain going a bit rusty so I thought now is the time to do this MBA that my Dad keeps harping on about!

Choosing a fresh approach

University of the Arts London had been on my radar since working on the Granary Square project, but the main thing that attracted me to the Central Saint Martins Birkbeck MBA was the concept of design-led thinking. The company I worked for in Australia was committed to design thinking and I could see the benefit of this approach when working with clients. In engineering, there’s often one correct way of doing things, so being able to apply an artistic and diverse way of thinking was really fulfilling.

The MBA has core modules like finance and leadership that you find on most courses, but 25% of the content is stuff you don’t find elsewhere, such as entrepreneurship and design-led thinking. After my experience of feeling burnt out in my previous roles, these were the parts of the course that appealed to me the most. Because the programme is part-time, I was able to combine my studies with taking care of my daughter as well.

Looking to the future

I knew that the MBA was a path to something different, but I wasn’t sure what was available to me. I thought I would be more motivated in my studies if I had a specific goal in mind, so I focused my energies on the Minderoo Foundation, an organisation funded by Australian philanthropist Andrew Forrest which looks to solve global challenges. Before enrolling, I set myself a metaphorical goal to work for Minderoo, and it was through following them on social media that I learned about Forrest’s new green energy fuel venture, Fortescue Future Industries. They advertised my dream job in January 2021, just as my daughter was starting nursery and I was starting to look for jobs.

I’ve just returned to Australia to take up a Program Management role for a portfolio of clean energy projects. The company is looking to build a global clean energy supply chain spanning more than 25 countries – the scale is breathtaking! I’m thrilled to be able to work on something that I know I can be proud of.

I don’t think I would have applied for the job had it not been for the MBA, and I’m certain that the MBA contributed to my success. It helped me differentiate myself at interview and was a great discussion point to enable me to articulate my skills and value. Above all, the biggest compliment that I can give to the work of Birkbeck and Central Saint Martins is that before I was struggling to know what I was looking for, but the MBA gave me a sense of purpose and the ability to recognise what I wanted when I found it. I’m excited about my future again.

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Finding new paths with lifelong learning

John Simons, who was recently awarded a PhD in philosophy, acknowledges his debt to Birkbeck’s commitment to the principle of lifelong learning, having been helped by the College to move from a career in campaign management to a successful academic career in sociology, and now to a new career in moral philosophy.  

When I left school, back in the previous century, my only qualification was a satisfactory set of results in the then equivalent of today’s GCSEs. It was enough to get me a job as a research assistant in a physics laboratory and to start studying at Birkbeck, where I planned to obtain the equivalent of A Levels in physics, pure mathematics, and applied mathematics and then to proceed to a BSc course in those subjects.

John Simon

John Simons

In those days, the College was in Fetter Lane and had its own theatre, which was used by an active group of drama enthusiasts, The Birkbeck Players. I joined them to play the part of Hodge, the gullible servant of an elderly countrywoman, in a production of the 16th Century rustic comedy Gammer Gurton’s Needle. I believe the happy experience of being in that play with students from across the College departments helped me finally reach a decision that I had been considering for some time: that I was on a career path for which I was not well suited. After obtaining the three A-level equivalents, I abandoned my studies and my job, determined to find a new path. But first I had to get through two years of then obligatory National Service.

After leaving the army (with Second Lieutenant, infantry, added to my very short CV), I worked in marketing for several years, and then obtained a role that would have a radical effect on my subsequent career. It was as Director of a national campaign, sponsored by the Family Planning Association, to arouse awareness of the scale of world population growth and the need for better access to birth control services in many countries. From my work in that post I acquired a strong interest in the dynamics of reproductive behaviour – so strong that I decided to change direction again and become qualified to study it. So, in my mid-thirties – married and with three small children and a mortgage – I went to the London School of Economics (initially part-time) to acquire a bachelor’s degree in sociology and demography. My A-Level equivalents gained at Birkbeck made me eligible for the course. Two other advantages made it possible for me to attend part of the course full-time: a grant that was available from the Local Authority in those days, and, even more important, a wife, herself an LSE graduate, who fully supported my career change.

The degree from the LSE enabled me to obtain a post at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which is just across the road from Birkbeck. There I helped the late William Brass, an internationally renowned expert in the analysis of population data, to create the School’s Centre for Population Studies, and make it one of the largest of its kind in Europe. I contributed a course on the Sociology of Fertility to its MSc programme, supervised research students interested in social research on reproductive behavior, conducted my own research in this field, and undertook consultancy assignments for the World Health Organisation, the World Bank, and other agencies. I attended to some of my own educational needs by taking specialist courses relevant to my work provided by Birkbeck and the Open University, eventually obtaining a BA from the latter. I retired from the Centre (as its Head) after 25 years, but continued to work in the field as chief editor of one of its main journals, Population Studies, a post I held for 20 years.

I also continued with a long-term quest into the explanation of differences in fertility by religion. That quest would eventually take me back to Birkbeck, because it led to an interest in the evolution of religious belief, and from that to an interest in moral philosophy and eventually a decision to study philosophy at the College. I first obtained an MA in philosophy there and then a PhD. The latter was for a thesis on the determinants of morally significant conduct in social roles. It offered a revisionary account of the moral philosophy developed by John Dewey, one of the founders of the school of philosophy known as Pragmatism.

My CV did not have the advantage of beginning with an extended school and university education. But my early experience of Birkbeck enabled me to compensate for much of what I had missed, and later made me eligible for a degree course at the LSE that would make possible my career in population studies. More recently, the College’s outstanding Philosophy department allowed me the freedom to pursue an interest that many other institutions would have regarded as outside their compass, and that enabled me to start a new career in moral philosophy. Now actively engaged in contributing to the literature of that field, it is a pleasure to acknowledge my debt to Birkbeck’s commitment to the principle of lifelong learning.

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Supporting and co-producing with communities during COVID-19

Our ‘Community Leadership for Newham Residents’ course funded by The National Lottery Community Fund,  provides a space for local people with an interest in volunteering and community projects to come together, network and learn about community development. Since it began in September 2019, we’ve had over 100 residents join us at both online and face to face workshops. Read our recent blogs on reaching this milestone and delivering the programme online during COVID-19.

Sign with together written on it

A key part of the programme is co-production and ensuring that our sessions meet the needs and interests of people in Newham. Throughout 2020, we’ve worked with participants of the programme to develop a series of videos sharing their experiences and expertise on subjects such as parenting and resilience, digital inclusion and successful fundraising. This has been an important part of moving towards a course which is co-produced and breaking down perceptions of barriers or divides between academic teaching and practical, everyday lived experiences.

One of the key worries for many of the community groups we work with this year has been funding existing or new projects. In many ways and for many people, 2020 was an exceedingly difficult year and lots of groups have faced challenges keeping their services going.

On the 14 December 2020, following participants requests for more information about funds, grants and raising money we bought together a panel of experts from a variety of community organisations to run a special event for our Community Leadership participants on Fundraising and Funding Applications.

David Tross, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Geography opened the workshop by giving an overview of the current funding landscape and highlighting the many COVID-19 recovery funds available for community, charitable and faith organisations. It was great to also be joined by Emma Edgell from the Heritage Lottery Foundation, Caroline Rouse from Compost Community Interest Company and Darragh Gray from Bonny Downs Community Association and CHIPS.

The conversation was wide-ranging, from digital fundraising to writing a good funding application, and expanding your network of donors. Participants really appreciated having a space to ask direct questions to funders and experienced fundraisers, especially those who had recently set up new organisations or initiaves to meet local needs during the pandemic, such as the Newham Solidarity Fund.

We’re looking forward to more Community Leadership events this year. The value that creating spaces for conversations, networking and sharing knowledge, especially at this time can’t be underestimated. As one of our participants emailed me saying following the event, ‘Birkbeck rocks’ and we hope to keep rocking it by offering support and spaces for learning in Newham throughout 2021.

 

 

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