“With the right support structure all things are possible.”

Gaining professional experience with the support of Birkbeck Careers service, making friends from all over the worldtravelling around the UK and Europe… Namibian alumna Omagano Kankondi, Head of Solution Mapping at the Accelerator Lab under United Nations Development (UNDP) talks about her experience at Birkbeck. 

Omagano Kankondi

Can you tell us about your background?  

I am originally from Okahao which is in the northern part of Namibia, I currently live in the capital city Windhoek.  In 2005, I started my tertiary education in Cape Town at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, and I was there till 2011. During my time there I obtained a National Diploma in 3D Design, a Bachelor of Technology in Product Design and a Master’s in Design focusing on Socially Responsible Design. I graduated from my Masters in 2012 and four years later started on the MSc in Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management. 

Why did you decide to study at Birkbeck?

It was always my intention to get a qualification that was business-centred because I felt as a designer who had the intention of going out on my own in the future, I really needed it. In 2012 I started working for the Ministry of Trade and Industry in Namibia as a Design Consultant, focusing on product development for SMEs. Working here, sparked my curiosity for business studies. Initially, I had wanted to pursue an MBA but after much contemplation, I realised an MBA was not the route I wanted to take.  

When I came across this programme at Birkbeck I believed it would suit me perfectly. The MSc in Business Innovation with Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management had the right balance of business focus and innovation, so I was even more pleased when I was awarded a Chevening scholarship.   

How was studying at Birkbeck?

I found the staff to be friendly and approachable, whenever I approached a staff member with a query or problem, they always offered their full assistance.  This was the case for staff on all levels.   

I made a really good set of friends. We were a diverse bunch, a small United Nations. We started off as a study group and soon we were planning epic trips together, I think our most memorable trip was to the Austrian Alps. My very patient friend Kevin tried to teach me how to ski for the very first time but despite his best efforts, I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. We all still stay in touch via our WhatsApp group and we check in every now and then.  

I didn’t officially join any social clubs, but I did attend a couple of activities organised by the International Students forum. One such activity was a tour to Houses of Parliament which I thoroughly enjoyed.  

When I started writing my dissertation, I thought it would be the right time to look for work experience because my schedule was way more flexible, but I was not making any headway. I reached out to the Birkbeck Futures and one of the staff members helped me review my CV and gave me guidance on how to improve it. I eventually secured a job at Good Innovation London. 

How was it living in the UK?

 When I moved to Cape Town it was my first time moving away from home. At that time I really wanted to live in halls of residence but was unable to get a place, so when I moved to London, I decided that I would live in halls for the experience. I got a place in Connaught Hall right next to campus which was so convenient and cost-effective for me. I loved the experience and I got to make great friends in halls (Hi Russel, Isaiah, Hanako and Shezard!) but I must admit sharing bathrooms was an interesting experience I do not need to relive.   

My London experience was amazing, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I made sure to get to know London; going to art shows, concerts (please tell Adele she still owes me a concert from that time in 2016), joining my brunch club in various parts of London to try out Instagramworthy dishes and chilled hangouts with friends from the African diaspora. I think my initial challenge was getting used to the pace of the work at Birkbeck but I eventually got the hang of it  my main challenge turned out to be the lack of sun! I come from one of the sunniest places in the world so this was a tough adjustment. One of the things I enjoyed and miss the most about London is the variety in Every. Single. Thing!!  

London living showed me that with the right support structure all things are possible. I think one of the ways I have changed is that my level of tenacity has been boosted, ‘try just one more time’ has become a self-cheer and part of my way of doing things.  

What have you done since graduating from Birkbeck? 

I am currently employed as the Head of Solution Mapping at the Accelerator Lab under United Nations Development (UNDP) in Namibia. The accelerator Labs are the UNDP’s new service offering that works with people, governments, and the private sector to reimagine development for the 21st century. Together with the Head of Experimentation and Head of Exploration our main objective at the #AccLabNam is to support the UNDP Country Office in addressing wicked complex challenges in Namibia. At the lab we hope to create people-centred solutions “where today’s moonshots1 become tomorrow’s breakthroughs. 

I landed a job which combines my social responsibility and design background and innovation at the United Nations Development Programme, which was on my vision board as a dream employer. 

My journey has been a little unusual, I started as an industrial designer but now work in development. The one thing that has remained consistent is that at the heart of it all, my work has always been about people so if you would like to keep people at the centre of your workmy advice would be, as cliché as it might sound, remember why you started and how it can contribute to the big picture of not leaving anyone behind.  

What advice would you give other people thinking of studying at Birkbeck?

Do it! You will have the best time, challenging at times and in times like that you can pop over to The George Birkbeck bar. 
😊  

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Why businesses fail: Financial management

Welcome to the Why businesses fail series. This is the final instalment of the series that delves into the reasons for businesses failing and offering solutions. This series was launched by Lucy Robinson of Birkbeck Futures and Ghazala Zia from Windsor Swan. In this blog, they share why financial planning should be high on the list of priorities for new businesses and start ups.  

Lucy Robinson is the Employability Consultant for Business and Enterprise at Birkbeck Futures. She runs the Pioneer programme for aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs and hosts an enterprise series on the #FuturesPodcast.

Ghazala Zia is a Venture Capital Advisor at Windsor Swan, a boutique London business advisory firm. She has an extensive legal background and currently specialises in advising start-ups of all stages on funding, strategy and business analysis.

Young businesses often prioritise hiring team members to focus on technology and sales. Obviously, these are very significant elements of the start-up, but neglecting the management of finances is a common reason businesses might fail.

A very common reason for a business failing is running out of money. Frequently, entrepreneurs will burn through cash to the brink and then be left with two to three months’ worth of cash, which is really unattractive to investors. This comes back to investors wanting to secure a return on investment and showing poor financial management makes you high-risk. Instead, having eight to twelve months’ worth of cash indicates that you’ve got time to grow your business and doesn’t come off as desperate.

In the beginning, having access to someone who performs a CFO-type function could be the difference between succeeding and failing. This doesn’t have to be a full-time team member if that’s not feasible, as this is a function that can be outsourced fairly easily. Essentially, this is someone to discuss how you allocate your costs, draw up your financial model, and manage your finances day-to-day for the business. Think about this before you receive funding, as they can also help you plan ahead. Showing investors that you’ve taken this initiative is also a big plus in terms of your trustworthiness.

The misconception is often that we don’t need to hire a CFO or shouldn’t spend money on this, as an accountant can perform the same function. Whilst accountants are great at what they do, their role is more about looking backwards than forwards. In essence, planning ahead financially isn’t exactly their purpose. When looking at the finances for your start-up, it’s speculative and forward-looking – largely making educated guesses. So, you need someone with this skill set, which is more likely to be a financial specialist who’s worked in start-ups before.

Read more from the Why Businesses Fail series:

 

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Pioneer Programme 2020: Meet the Finalists 

Meet the entrepreneurs in the running for the Best Business Pitch and Best Business Idea awards. Winners will be announced at a virtual ceremony in June. 

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As the government, businesses and individuals adapt to a “new normal” in the wake of COVID-19, the case for innovative thinking in the workplace has never been clearer. With this in mind, we’re delighted to introduce this year’s Pioneer Programme finalists.

Pioneer is an extra-curricular course for Birkbeck students looking to develop the knowledge and skills to excel as an entrepreneur. Over seven Saturday sessions, participants learn from a range of entrepreneurs, industry experts and each other to build the skills needed to develop their business idea or scale up an existing business. 

Representing the best entrepreneurial minds in Birkbeck, the finalists are in with a chance of winning either the Best Business Pitch or Best Business Idea award, each worth a £1000 cash prize to support their business, along with a bespoke package of mentoring, coaching and promotion. 

Participants’ achievements will be celebrated at a virtual awards ceremony on Thursday 18 June, with a panel of five independent judges, themselves entrepreneurs and industry leaders in start-ups and innovation. 

Meet the Finalists

Jody Halstead

Jody Halstead
MSc Management with Business Strategy and the Environment
Business: Circular Surrey 

My business, Circular Surrey, is a platform for local business leaders who want to transition to a low carbon circular economy. 

Research shows that more localised solutions are needed in order to make the shift to a low carbon circular economy. Alongside this, business owners and leaders often don’t have the resources to fully apply their time and need some additional support. 

The Purpose of Circular Surrey is to provide clear and tangible support for local businesses to enable them to shift to more sustainable business models and practices whilst continuing to power Surrey’s economy.

 

Alexander Flint Mitchell

Alexander Flint Mitchell 
MSc Business Innovation (specialising in Entrepreneurship) 
Business: Blind Cupid 

Blind Cupid is for people who want lasting love and are frustrated by the time and money wasted dating incompatible people. Blind Cupid offers fast, fail-safe matchmaking. Unlike eHarmony and Hinge, our product matches users with people who share the same values and fundamental way of thinking via a never-before-used science. This creates a fast-track to lasting love. Far from the superficiality of Tinder, profile compatibility is scored and bios are seen before a user chooses which of their matches to reveal photos to. This leads to better dating decision-making. 

You can take Blind Cupid’s ‘Sense of Life’ Questionnaire today and get a very informative report about who you fundamentally are as a person.

I am currently fundraising for Blind Cupid and the product should be on the market within the next three months. 

 

Picture of James Shepherd

James Shepherd 
MSc Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology 
Business: Smart Therapy Tools  

Smart Therapy Tools aims to modernise psychological therapy treatment by providing both therapists and service users with an interactive and engaging smart phone app.  

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a therapy based on a structured understanding of how mental health issues maintain themselves, is at the forefront of modern mental health treatments and the NHS alone aims to treat over 1.5 million people a year with this approach. To improve the experience of this therapy, I have developed a prototype smartphone app which brings important techniques away from static pen and paper approaches into a more engaging and dynamic domain.

In the future, I aim to put data science at the heart of the app by using statistical modelling to learn from user inputs. As the app is used more often, more information from the heart of the service user/therapist collaboration can be utilised to help understand the complexity of mental health problems and inform new treatments.

 

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Kevin Tsai 
MSc Innovation and Entrepreneurship 
Business: Anywhere Bear 

Anywhere Bear is a vision born from my passion for travelling. However, I have come to realise how damaging air travel is for the environment – even a short haul flight from London to Edinburgh contributes more CO2 to the atmosphere then an individual’s average annual emissions. 

My wife and I recently took a holiday around Italy without flying and we loved the experience of travelling around by train.  We then looked at other holidays around Europe but found it difficult to plan without flying. There is no one go-to site that we trust and find easy to use for our needs, hence the decision to pursue the idea of a travel platform specialising in helping holiday makers to plan and book their holiday around Europe without flying. We want to build a fun and engaged community of people who will enjoy sharing their travel stories and be able to challenge and inspire their network to join them as they go flight free.  

Due to COVID-19we’ve had to rethink our strategy, as we foresee travel being impacted by this pandemic.  We’re now going to be providing travel inspiration to places around the UK.  We plan to partner with eco-hotels and restaurants and build a platform to allow people to still enjoy their holidays with a minimal carbon footprint.  

Our plan is still at the ideation stage so watch this space as we reinvent the way people holiday!

 

Picture of Hetty Bonney-MercerHetty Bonney-Mercer 
BA Global Politics and International Relations 
Business: FemInStyle Africa 

In the near future, representation of women in Ghana’s politics will be higher, women in Africa will be more financially independent, women who have broken the glass ceiling in their respective fields will be the norm instead of the exception, solo female travel will be safer and gender activism will have reached new heights. 

Because in 2019, two gender activists decided that there weren’t enough publications in the country that really focused on amplifying women’s voices exclusively and in a positive way and decided to do something about it. 

FemInStyle Africa is a magazine for women by women which aims to encourage women to live their full potential. We have five columns dedicated to politics, gender activism, profiling working women, financial advice and travel and style: always written with women as the central focus. FemInStyle Africa aims to mobilise women to bring about lasting changes in the fight for gender equality. 

We are currently building our website, recruiting writers, and finalising our marketing plan with a view to launching in Q3 2020. We welcome you to be a part of our journey.

 

picture of Mukesh Bhatt

Mukesh Bhatt 
PhD Law 
Business: inSTEAD – integrating Space Technologies into the lives of the Elderly and Disabled 

 The inSTEAD project wants to re-purpose, re-innovate and re-invigorate space technologies, which can be used to help the elderly and disabled. Over 700 astronauts in space and returning to Earth are supported by a multi-billion-dollar industry, prototyping and patenting health support and rehabilitation mechanisms. The astronauts suffer from the same health problems as the elderly and disabled on Earth, and yet solutions for the latter are priced beyond their reach. However, anything used by astronauts can also be used by the elderly and disabled because each is human. 

Encouraged by the Birkbeck Pioneer programme, the International Space University and the European Space Agency at its Noordwijk business incubation centre, inSTEAD (AbleSpace Paradigms) aims to translate the hardware and psychological technologies and methods used for astronauts into a form suitable for the support and rehabilitation of the elderly and disabled on Earth. 

The inSTEAD project includes in its mission both commercial and philanthropic aims and objectives for high social impact and making the best use of opportunities for collaboration with national space, technology and development agencies and initiatives. It requires a team of dedicated and impassioned personnel to help make it a success. If you wish to become involved please contact Mukesh. 

Further Information: 

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I’m not looking for a career in accountancy, engineering or anything that needs Maths. Why do I need to think about my numeracy skills?

It’s National Numeracy Day 2020 on the 13 May and Birkbeck Futures takes a look at why numeracy skills are important no matter what career you choose.

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Many jobs that we typically don’t think involve numbers usually require some level of numeracy.

Being numerate means that you can confidently and effectively use mathematics to meet the everyday demands of life.

You may not be asked to solve complex equations, but you could be required to complete tasks that involve numeracy skills. For example, if you’re in Human Resources, you may be asked to provide a report on gender diversity figures. Similarly, if you’re in the Arts, you may need to put together a budget for an exhibition. Both of these require some level of numeracy.

The OECD reports that there is a direct relationship between wage distribution and numeracy skills. The better your numeracy skills, the greater your earning potential.

Why?

Because all those things you learnt in Maths help build the skills employers are looking for.

Employers aren’t just looking for technical skills and subject knowledge when they recruit someone. They need you to have employability skills – transferable skills that enable you to do the job successfully. For example:

Digital Skills

Digital skills are required in at least 82% of online advertised jobs across the UK.* We live in the digital age and as a result, we deal with more numerical data that we ever have before. You need good numeracy skills to be able to work with computers, otherwise you’re unable enter the right data or identify if the answer is in the right area.

Problem Solving

Problem solving skills are vital to any graduate level job. Maths is all about solving problems; take working out an equation for example. You need to pick out the important parts of the problem and then work out the knowledge required to solve it. This skill is transferable to solving any problem, mathematical or not.

Communication

When studying Maths, or working with numbers, you will have developed your ability to assimilate and communicate information in a clear and concise way. Everything we do in the workplace is a result of and requires communication of some kind.

Employers are increasingly using numeracy tests as part of recruitment processes.

As numeracy is such an important skill for employers, many use numerical reasoning tests as part of their recruitment processes. These types of assessments measure your ability to interpret, analyse and draw logical conclusions based on numerical data presented in graphs and tables.

Students can find out more about these tests and have a practice on the online Careers Portal (accessed through your My Birkbeck Profile).

But what if I’m not good with numbers?

We all have areas of ability that we feel more confident in than others. You might not think that you’re good with numbers because of experiences with Maths in school, for example. But chances are you’re much more competent than you think.

Our level of confidence often impacts our ability to take on new challenges or face up to things we may usually avoid doing. To reiterate the problem-solving example above, when we don’t know something, we can find out how to do it. Embrace your numeric abilities and enhance your skills to help boost your confidence in this area.

Birkbeck is supporting National Numeracy Day for the first time this year. Join the conversation on Twitter or see if you can build your everyday Maths confidence by taking the challenge.

Get in contact with Birkbeck Futures at employability@bbk.ac.uk or follow us on our social channels:

*Source: “No longer optional: Employer demands for digital skills” report – June 2019

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Tips for enhancing your career possibilities during COVID-19

Birkbeck Futures explore different ways to help job searching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As companies continue to navigate the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, you may be among the growing number of workers who have lost their jobs as a result. This is a challenging situation at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic, but your job search and career opportunities can continue. Embracing some alternative approaches will help to enhance your future possibilities, while providing an opportunity to explore different options.

These tips will support you with your job search and help you navigate your career journey during this time.

Consider your current priority

  • If your priority is to gain short term income, explore the industries that are continuing to hire at this time. Rather than put pressure on yourself to find the perfect role now, if you need a short-term solution consider checking what is available and possible for you.
  • Examples of industries that are recruiting include delivery services, supermarkets, online learning platforms (tutoring children out of school), remote working / communication platforms, among others. While it may be a necessity, view this as an opportunity as well as a temporary option for now. Every new experience brings new skills and new people into our life that may result in unexpected future opportunities.
  • Birkbeck is continuing to provide weekly updates to students and you can also gain support through our student services. Further information on support available during this time.

Embrace online networking

  • You may already be active on LinkedIn and this is one of many platforms that brings a wealth of opportunities to connect with others in your field. Joining groups, contributing to discussions and reaching out to people in your profession are great ways of building your network.
  • Not only will this develop new and existing connections, it will help to boost your visibility to others in your industry who may have job opportunities in the future. While many companies are pausing recruitment, they will be hiring again in the future and making connections now will enhance your opportunities when they do.
  • The vast majority of jobs are not advertised online and rely on referrals and connections. This has been the case for many years, so it has never been more beneficial to start networking – the results may not be immediate in terms of landing a job straight away, but it will continue to help at every stage of your career.
  • You can find out more about using LinkedIn with these resources on the Online Careers Portal.

Become familiar with online communication tools

  • Once you start to connect with groups and individuals through LinkedIn or other online platforms, take advantage of the opportunity to arrange a call with connections (also now often referred to as a ‘virtual coffee’….). This is a great chance to ask them questions about their career, any tips they may have for you and even just to build rapport with them. With most people working from home, you’re much more likely to get more ‘yes’ answers to your requests than previously.
  • The most popular tool for online calls is Skype. If you don’t have an account, consider setting up a free account or suggest a phone call instead.
  • If you’re not used to doing video calls, practice with friends or family to start getting used to it and to build your confidence ahead of calls with connections. If you’re in an interview process, you will very likely be invited to a video interview, so this is also worth investing some time to make these calls as successful as possible.
  • For tips on video interviews read this article.

Develop your skills

  • There are many articles now about ways to upskill during lockdown and things that you could do, but exploring what would be beneficial for you is certainly a worthwhile exercise. Reflect on the type of job you want and consider the skills that often come up in the job descriptions you may have read. Are there any areas you’d like to be more competent in? This could be technical expertise or soft skills.
  • As a Birkbeck student, you have access to LinkedIn Learning which has a range of online courses across various topics that you can complete. You can also add your completed courses to your LinkedIn profile, enabling others to see your updated skills.
  • Other online learning platforms are offering free trials or complimentary content, so depending on the areas you’re keen to develop, search for relevant courses that you can access.
  • Birkbeck’s Online Careers Portal also has a range of resources to develop your skills, as well as tools to enhance your CV and work on your interview technique. The next tip has more information on this.

Use Birkbeck Futures’ online resources

Birkbeck Futures, which includes your Careers, Enterprise and Talent services, is here to support you remotely in various ways. As a Birkbeck student, you have access to various online resources to support you in your job search as well as to develop your career further:

  • Access to your Online Careers Portal via your My BBK Profile.
    You can access the Online Careers Portal via your My BBK Profile, clicking the ‘Careers and Employability’ section on the homepage. Alternatively you can log in directly – enter your Birkbeck username and password to access the following:
  1. Live chat service with a Careers Adviser during the careers drop-in hours: Monday – Thursday 4pm – 6pm, Fridays 3pm – 5pm
  2. Instant CV feedback via the CV360 tool
  3. Book a 1:1 with a Careers Consultant for more comprehensive career support
  4. Receive the weekly careers newsletter with news, updates and relevant resources
  5. Access articles, videos and activities to develop your skills
  • Access to Birkbeck Talent, your in-house recruitment service.
    We are posting live roles on the Talent portal, also accessible via your My BBK Profile. There are some paid remote-working internships, as well as other live roles. You can search for roles, upload your CV and apply for roles online, as well as contacting the talent team for support.
  • Follow us on our social channels for latest updates on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, where we post new roles, details of all remote workshops and events as well as our employer insight podcast series.

Contact us: employability@bbk.ac.uk | talent@bbk.ac.uk

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Birkbeck, an energy you carry with you through your lifetime

Birkbeck alumna, Helen Kofler, writes about her work experience with the Birkbeck Futures team, after deciding she wanted to follow her passions and explore a career change.

As a Birkbeck masters graduate my most profound memory is of my graduation in 2015. I was sitting in the crowded auditorium and the familiar rumble of family members and friends cheering proudly for their loved ones, as they walked on stage to collect their hard-earned certificates, filled me with excitement and anticipation. I was sitting facing the stage on the right-hand side, so I saw the backs of students climbing the stage and only got to see their faces when they turned to face the audience.

One female student walked onto the stage and loud whistles and hands clapping in the sky charged throughout the audience. As I saw her turn to face me, her black gown was neatly folded around a baby carrier which she had strapped to her chest with her young toddler grinning out at the audience. For me this was everything Birkbeck stood for. The evening university which gives people the flexibility to study, whilst juggling the responsibilities of work, life and family.

So many of my contemporaries who have had children have had to turn to organisations such as ‘Pregnant, then Screwed’ when employers have discriminated against them for starting families, condemning their working lives. This woman on stage was looking that stereotype in the face and saying I am strong, I am powerful, I am intelligent and I am a mother. I was so proud to be a part of Birkbeck.

Having worked in retail in Marketing then as an Area Manager across London and the UK since 2010, I was exposed to the increasing pressure that has fallen on the UK retail market and decided it was time for me to leave the industry in search of new cheese. The only aspect of the job that I was sure I was committed to was working with, and developing, people. Through much soul searching and self-reflection I began to think about areas of my life which I enjoyed and where people were naturally drawn to me.

In the midst of this work on myself, my phone rang, “Helen, can I meet with you to help me prepare for a job interview?” “Yes!” I exclaimed. I hurriedly pored over the job spec and made a note of potential questions that could be asked. The next week, someone else called, “Helen, can we have a catch up, I am struggling at work and don’t know what my next move should be?” “Of course! Let’s go for a coffee.” This became a theme. I enjoyed so much meeting up with friends and colleagues and talking to them about career journeys but never considered it could be a full-time career itself.

Remembering my time at Birkbeck, I decided to contact the Birkbeck Futures team and ask for their advice. Even though I had graduated five years earlier, the door was flung open for me to discuss my situation with Lucy Crittenden, a Careers Consultant in the Futures team, where I was given bespoke advice and offered insight into creating a job out of my passion. An opportunity then arose for me to spend a week working alongside the team and seeing what they did on a day to day basis.

Excited and nervous, I made my way back to my old stomping ground ready for a week of learning. As I started the week, I have never come across such a generous and forward-thinking team. Spending a lot of my time with Jenna Davies, the Head of Careers, she took time out of her day to coach and mentor me. Jenna also shared her passion for entrepreneurship which I found truly inspiring and rubbed off on me giving me motivation to take side projects forward. Jenna organised a week full of interesting and fulfilling duties. These activities included research projects for Birkbeck’s inspiring Ability Programme, which is a series of lectures, workshops and networking opportunities dedicated to students and graduates with a disability, neurodivergence or long-term health conditions. I also attended training sessions and one to ones. Anna Gordon, Birkbeck Futures Career Coach helped me to reflect on my strengths and has given me a sense of purpose. Lucy Robinson, who is a Careers Consultant, gave me an insight into the Pioneer Programme, an initiative dedicated to encouraging students on their start up ideas. A week full of inspiration.

I have come away from my week at Birkbeck with that familiar sense of excitement and possibility that I was often filled with after having been to lectures and seminars as a student. Anna Gordon said that as a career changer it is important to have ‘resilience’ and I will carry this comment with me on my journey through career change. I am excited about the future and the opportunities ahead of me. I got the sense that there was a shared sense of community and purpose for each staff member that I came across. It was amazing to see as a spectator but also really infectious when surrounded by such energy.

At a lecture I attended towards the end of the week, Dr Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick, Senior Lecturer in Management, said that Birkbeck is dedicated to inclusion and dedicated to giving people a second chance in life. The people I worked with during this week were testament to this and I am grateful to such an institution and these intrinsic values so imperative to our society today.

Further information:

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The Ultimate Guide to Networking

Love it or hate it, when 85% of jobs are filled via networking, you can’t afford not to get involved. Lucy Robinson from Birkbeck’s Careers Service explains how to make networking work for you.

Play Stone, Network, Networked, Interactive, Together

If the idea of networking has you running for the door faster than you can say “So what do you do?”, you’re not alone. Many people with career ambition shy away from networking for fear of appearing manipulative, exploiting friendships for personal gain, or because they don’t know the rules of this odd social game.

The truth is, we unwittingly network all the time in our day to day lives. If you enjoy meeting with and learning from people in your university, workplace or industry, you’re already an experienced networker. Here’s how to make the most out of networking to help you achieve your career goals.

Do your homework

While networking is a far cry from a formal job interview, doing a little prep beforehand will make it worth your time. If you’re attending a formal networking event, research the people or organisations that will be there and plan who you want to speak to. Think of a few questions you might like to ask, so you can get the most out of your time when you’re there.

Plan your entry

Often, the hardest part of networking is finding a way into discussions. Prepare a few low-risk conversation starters that you’ll feel comfortable using on the night. Something as simple as “What brings you to this event?” or even “May I join your conversation?” is a great way into a discussion. People come to networking events to get to know others, so it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be rebuffed.

Understand networking etiquette

There’s no single correct way to network, but there are a few ways it can go very badly wrong. Fortunately, once you know the pitfalls, they’re easy to avoid.

While it’s important to be open and friendly, don’t disclose or expect personal information from contacts you’ve just met. Similarly, avoid controversial topics that might cause disagreements.

Networking won’t change your career prospects overnight, so avoid handing out CVs or expecting immediate results – you never know when a contact you make will come in handy later down the line.

Practise your story

“So, tell me about yourself?” It’s a simple question, but one that can throw you completely if you’re caught off guard. Take some time to think about what makes you unique – what events and experiences have shaped you?  What challenges have you faced and where are you heading now? Telling people about yourself in story format means they’re more likely to remember you as well.

Listen as much as you talk

If the idea of networking is way beyond your comfort zone, remember that it isn’t just about personal gain – it’s also an opportunity for you to see how you can help others professionally. Really taking the time to listen to people isn’t just polite, it will give you a better understanding of their role and industry and help you identify opportunities to help others.

Create a LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn is THE social media platform for building and maintaining professional connections. Your profile is an online version of your personal story that will help employers during the recruitment process. LinkedIn is also a great tool to follow up on any in-person connections and make sure you don’t lose touch. Make the most of it by joining relevant discussion groups for your industry or career interests.

Birkbeck Futures offers careers support, advice and guidance to students, researchers and graduates. Drop in to their Student Central office any weekday afternoon – no appointment necessary.

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Why I chose to study Law with a Foundation year

Rebecca Wills, an aspiring barrister, decided to study Law at Birkbeck with a foundation year to get the best possible preparation for the LLB. Having her lectures and seminars in the evening has meant she’s been able to get a head start on her career by volunteering at a magistrates’ court during the day.

The law is the foundation in everything that we do and it is immersed into many disciplines. This is what attracted me to study law.Also, as an aspiring barrister, I want to make a difference inside and outside the courtroom.

I believe if I didn’t study law, I would remain ignorant to a lot of issues that are going on in the world when it comes to human rights abuses, alongside the historical significance behind the creation of the law itself and other moral issues. Once you know and understand the law it can protect and provide you with many advantages. When I graduate, I hope to have a successful career in law as a barrister or solicitor’s advocate.

“Studying in the evening suits my independent learning style.”

I was inspired to study at Birkbeck after my telephone interview with Professor Bill Bowring. I decided to enrol because it is a university based on critical theory and analysis, which I believe I excel in. Because lectures and seminars take place in the evening, I am able to volunteer at a magistrate’s court during the daytime. I also find evening study suits my independent learning style. I love to study during the daytime and feel I am more productive when it comes to self-learning during these hours. I read once that the human brain can absorb most information during the first three hours after waking up and the last three hours before we go to our bed which fits in with how I study and learn.

I wanted to ensure that studying and taking on a career in law was the right decision for me.  After having a conversation with my sixth form head of year, the foundation year option seemed like the best course of action to take to ensure I obtained the right skills and best preparation for the LLB. I knew that studying law required a lot of reading; however I didn’t know much else about it. I thought taking the foundation year would best equip and prepare me for advancing onto the LLB.

Prior to embarking on the foundation year course, I prepared myself by attending Birkbeck workshops on note-taking, critical thinking, critical writing, critical reading, critical listening etc.

The School of Law, Birkbeck

 “The foundation year was challenging, but it made me more open minded in the way that I evaluate situations. It provided a useful transition between A-level and degree-level study.”

The foundation year was challenging and required a lot of hard work. Nonetheless, it was useful and insightful. The literature was not always easy to read, particularly when reading lengthy cases with complex vocabulary. Of course, in order to understand all the readings, it was essential to define all terms and read actively and critically. As a result, time-management became a really important skill that I honed in on.

The year provided a useful transition between A levels and degree-level study, because the course itself moulded and enabled me to adapt to different teaching styles. The course challenged my moral compass on multiple issues when it came to life and death situations, where the defendant was seen to be in the wrong. It made me more open minded in the way that I evaluate situations.  It prepared me for the workload that I would undertake for the first year of the LLB as I gained insight into the level of work required at university level. It increased my awareness of the importance of independent study.

To other students thinking about taking the law foundation year, I would say:

  • Utilise this time as practice for the LLB.
  • Take the course seriously – don’t underestimate it as being easy because it’s a foundation course.
  • Make use of the feedback given from lecturers after doing assessments.
  • Always ensure that you email the lecturers and keep in communication with them.
  • Take action after reading the feedback.
  • Never be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something or you want to confirm your Answer to a question is correct or accurate – no question is stupid.

“You need to proactively engage with the law, by going beyond the reading list.”

Do not rely on the lectures too much, you must become an independent learner and get used to the idea of trying to become the teacher of the subject yourself. The lecturers provide students with an outline during lectures and guidance on how to navigate legal resources and materials. However, they are not there to do your work for you. It is vital that you immerse yourself within the subject. This means attending every lecture and seminar even if you think it’s of no significance to you. This also involves proactively engaging with the law, by going beyond the reading list and further reading list, as well as answering all homework and seminar questions in detail.

Try to find your own way of working. Time-manage yourself, and work hard at being the best version of yourself as everyone learns at a different pace. You must believe that you can do it, and you must always aim for the highest possible grade.

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Spotlight on: Bio-business

Current and former students of Birkbeck’s MSc Bio-business discuss how the course, which focuses on entrepreneurship and business in the bioscience industry, has impacted their lives and careers.

Sophie DeFries, Bio-business alumna: I obtained my BSc from St Andrews in Cell/Molecular Biology then went on to receive an MSc from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in Medical Microbiology. My post-university work experience has been in market research and consulting in the healthcare industry. I began at a market research agency in the oncology business unit solving pharmaceutical client brand strategy needs. Currently, I work for a marketing and sales management consultancy where client projects have a wide scope of therapy areas, drugs, and business objectives.

I was drawn to Bio-business because it’s meant I’ve been able to transition between laboratory-based sciences to commercial/business world of science and healthcare. It’s been useful for figuring out what specifically in the bio-business industry is appealing to me. The number one benefit, I would say, is that the course connected a great group of like-minded, smart, and driven classmates, and London is a perfect city to study in – international and diverse, lots of jobs and networks, and a fun atmosphere.

Developing my business skills has been very useful for working in consulting and understanding business jargon. The fact that the course has a connection between business and science has allowed me to analyse the biotech and pharma market independently and with confidence.

Alba Ruzafa Martín, Bio-business student: I studied Biology back home in Madrid and after working in a lab for one year I decided that “lab-life” wasn’t for me. Then I decided that industry would be an interesting path to follow, so I started to look for a master’s and I found Bio-business at Birkbeck. For me, it was the perfect option. Not only because of the modules on offer but also because I needed (and still do need) to work full time.

For the first year and a half of the master’s I was a sales assistant, but the experience and knowledge I gained through the course has enabled me to get an internship in Imperial Innovations at Imperial College London, where I have been working for the last almost five months.

The best thing about studying in London for me is the number of different people you get to know. You learn something new every day, you can go to a new place every time you go out. I am not going to lie to you, the city is freaking expensive and sometimes it gets a bit hard. But for me, it has been totally worth it.

Igor Smyriov, Bio-business alumnus: I had been looking for a master’s degree in business with a focus on biotech and life science for more than two years before I found the MSc Bio-business at Birkbeck. It had everything I was looking for: the option to study part-time in the evening, the central London location, and a huge variety of modules to study.

I was surprised to find so many highly regarded industry professionals, as well as Birkbeck academics, involved in delivering the modules and have opportunities to network with them.

The opportunity to learn entrepreneurial business skills in the life sciences sector was essential to my choice to study Bio-business. My degree has made me much more confident in understanding the business area of the subject. I was offered a few opportunities to join start-ups as a business advisor, and now have secured a role as a manager, so I have left my lab role.

London is a hub for all-around development and all industries. All world leading companies have offices in London or around it. You have the opportunity to meet and establish good relationships with international professionals coming to London for conferences or meetings.  And because Birkbeck students study in the evenings, you can be involved in daily London life.

Romina Durigon, Bio-business student: I was drawn to Bio-business by the desire to gain a deeper knowledge of the biotech and pharma sectors while networking and connecting with some of the most important companies and not-for-profit organisations in the UK.

I also wanted to understand how innovation shapes science and technology or vice-versa, as well as to study entrepreneurship finance, entrepreneurship innovation and management. This program is enabling me to write a business plan, to learn more about venture capitalist firms, investments, and other major factors impacting the growth or the failure of a business.

Studying both life sciences and business skills has enabled me to explore with more awareness of the various market opportunities and thus thinking more carefully about my next job. Dr Renos Savva, the Director of MSc Bio-Business knows and understands entrepreneurship very well and very often advises us about entrepreneurial skills and attitude. His knowledge together with his previous entrepreneurial biotech experience and advice are among the most important assets of this master’s. I would highly recommend the master’s if you are entrepreneurial or want to be an entrepreneur.

Bio-business students have the opportunities to know about the latest innovative technologies used in academia, biotech and pharma sectors. They have the chance to apply for internships in various companies and thus learn new skills while studying for their master.  More importantly, students will have the opportunity to liaise with the speakers invited to give a seminar and attend career track events where they can connect directly with employers and entrepreneurs.

The master’s has helped me to create a larger network and build new relationships with people that otherwise I would not be able to be in contact with or meet. By liaising with them I have the opportunity to discuss jobs’ opportunities, ask for advice or connect with someone else working in the sector that I most interested in.

Find out more and apply to study MSc Bio-business at Birkbeck. 

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Developing digital skills with UpScale

This blog was written by Frederic Kalinke, an ex-Googler who is now Managing Director of agile marketing technology company Amigo.digitaltechoriginal

I am a big fan of the UpScale programme at Birkbeck, which inspires students to work in the wonderful world of digital technology. Several big brands like LinkedIn, ASOS, JustGiving and MediaMath are partners, offering dedicated seminars to aspiring students. I have delivered a number of workshops focused on the power of Google and online marketing. In this article, I want to share why I believe UpScale is so important, as well as some tips on how to learn digital skills effectively.

I started my career at Google. Besides overdosing on sushi and chocolate, I learnt everything there is to know about Google’s marketing tools, which help businesses acquire customers online. I was also lucky to discover a passion so early. The thing that got me out of bed in the morning was developing novel and effective ways to teach companies about how Google products work. Before I dive into these, it’s worth spending some time exploring why working in technology is a fantastic place to be.

Never get bored

The UpScale programme focuses exclusively on the digital technology sector. Why? The UpScale website talks about employer demand. As the world gets increasingly digital, companies will continue to require and reward people who have technical skills and interests. This is undeniably true. You only have to look at the market salaries for software developers, data scientists and digital marketers to understand that demand for digital talent outstrips supply.

I would argue, however, that there is an intrinsic reason why technology is a fantastic career choice: it never gets boring! By nature it constantly evolves and never lies still. Here’s a clear example. Before the internet, the hotel, taxi, retail and entertainment industries remained largely unchanged. Hoteliers and taxi companies enjoyed oligopolistic privileges so could charge whatever they wanted to customers; high street shops enjoyed healthy margins based on the fact that customers had no other choice but to purchase their goods and services from them; and content producers, movie distributors and cinemas moved in lockstep, creating a profitable triumvirate. Then the internet arrived. And so did AirBnB, Uber, Amazon and Netflix, which have completely transformed their respective industries. It’s mind-boggling to think that two of these companies did not even exist 9 years ago. And none of them existed 23 years ago.

I was given the recommendation to work in digital by a wise CEO of a large FMCG company whom I met at university. He told me to forget the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) sector as, despite its name, was the “commercial snail”. It turns out that washing powder and toothpaste don’t really change that much.

So if you want excitement and constant innovation, digital technology will not disappoint and UpScale will equip you with the skills and networks to help get you there.

How to learn digital effectively

Having established the significance and thrill of working in technology, I’d now like to outline three ways to learn digital skills effectively. These insights are based on my experience of running several UpScale workshops.

  1. Interactive learning: From the very start of my workshop, I involve everybody in warm-up exercises and thought experiments to get people thinking. I am a big believer in the saying that if you “tell somebody to do something they will forget, if you show somebody they will remember, but if you involve somebody they will understand”. Because digital technology touches every part of our life, I advise students to get together in small groups to debate digital and challenge each other with questions like: why is Amazon so successful? Why is Twitter’s stock price so low? If you had £100k, what business would you set up and why? Why is using data important in decision-making? Which industry will be disrupted by technology next?
  1. Metaphors: I use a lot of metaphors to teach digital marketing concepts. For example, when we look at keyword planning, the bedrock of Search Engine Marketing, I use fishing and football; when we discuss Website Optimisation, I use the metaphor of a great restaurant. Metaphors make new things memorable and familiar. I always advise students to devise their own metaphors for newly learnt subjects and try them out on friends. As the Feynman Technique tells us, explaining something to a newbie is the best way to master any topic.
  1. Get practical: The last part of my workshop is about applying theory to practical exercises. Participants create their own Google AdWords campaign for an industry of their choosing. In whatever technical subject you are learning, there is always a practical application. If you’re learning a computer language, grasping data science or building a Microsoft Excel dashboard, get stuck in by building something. You will be amazed at how much this aids the learning process.
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