Finding the balance between work and study

Sports Management 2017 graduate Bethan Taylor reflects on her time at Birkbeck and shares her top tips on how to find a balance between your job and your studies.

Image: Anna Rachel Photography

I studied MSc Sports Management at Birkbeck from 2015-2017, taking a special interest in women in endurance sport. I’m a civil servant working in the Ministry of Justice, and I also write for a range of publications including my own blog A Pretty Place To Play which features my new podcast The Mental Health Podcast. When I’m not working or writing, I like to run and am currently training for my first ultra-marathon – 56 miles from London to Brighton next year.

There are lots of reasons why I decided to go back and study for an MSc – I’d been working in financial services for around five years and while I loved my job, I wasn’t finding it that intellectually stimulating. At the same time, I’d become really involved in running and was writing for various print and digital publications on the topic of women in sport, which really peaked my curiosity. I decided that I wanted to be able to talk with authority on the social issues in sport, and in my mind, the best way to do that was through postgraduate study.

The whole experience at Birkbeck was amazing! I loved that I was able to study an academically rigorous and challenging course while still progressing my career. The academics I worked with in Birkbeck Sports Business Centre were really open and supportive, encouraging us to question everything and to challenge each other, which I really enjoyed.

Being able to work while I studied meant I could pay my course fees without worrying about debt. Academically, it was great studying over two years – it meant that I could really take advantage of everything Birkbeck had to offer, simply because I was there longer! It also meant I had more time to think about what I wanted to research for my dissertation, which meant I got to dig deep into issues that really fascinated me.

There were challenges, of course, one of the biggest being that I felt like I was constantly saying no to social events and letting people down. That was really hard. Thankfully my friends and family were all really supportive and totally understood when I had to decline a dinner invite again, or sloped off home after one drink to study!

Between working and training for a marathon and a couple of half marathons my time at Birkbeck was pretty busy, and it did mean that I didn’t get involved in any societies or clubs. However, I did have a mentor and she was fabulous – it was great to be able to sit down with someone and discuss my career and direction really frankly.

I think it’s really important for people in the sports/fitness industry to really understand the unique nature of their business, as well as the social issues that surround people’s engagement in sport (my area of interest). Courses like the MSc Sports Management are helping to develop a new generation of professional sports administrators, as well as the academics who’ll be thinking about how we can challenge ourselves and develop the industry in the future.

I think education is a life-long pursuit, and I was really lucky to have great role models in my parents who both studied while working throughout my childhood (in fact my Dad was also at Birkbeck last year!). Learning new things helps to boost your creativity, enhances your problem-solving skills and challenges your perceptions – it makes life a lot more interesting! I also believe that life shouldn’t be all about work, you need some challenges that are just for you, whether that’s studying for an MSc in a subject that fascinates you or running a marathon (or both!).

If you’re thinking of studying at Birkbeck, don’t question whether you can do it, as you absolutely can! You’ll need to be super organised both at work and with your studies, and there will be some sacrifices, but it’ll be worth it in the end.

Before you start your course it’s worth chatting to your employer about flexible working – I always kept my boss in the loop with my timetable so she knew why I was bolting out the door at 5pm. Also make sure you talk to your friends and family, as you will need their support and understanding because there will be times when things feel tough.

When I was studying, being organised was essential! You cannot over-plan when it comes to studying while working. Make sure you leave lots of contingency time, just in case something kicks off at work or you get sick.

Looking back on my time at Birkbeck, I can honestly say it’s one of the best places in the world to study sports management – but beyond that, there’s so much more! Studying while working is a great way to demonstrate to employers a whole range of desirable skills, like time management, organisation and dedication. It really illustrates how dedicated you are to your subject – you have to really want to do something if you’re going to sit through three hours of lectures after a full day at work! Beyond that, I’ve had the opportunity to carry out brand new research on a topic that hasn’t been explored much in-depth before, and I think this contribution to my subject really sets me apart.

Looking forward, I would love to become an expert in my field, specifically focusing on women in sport. The dream is to be cited as an ‘expert’ in a Runner’s World investigation. In the meantime, I am working on building my experience and thinking hard about a PhD (possibly at Birkbeck…).

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On FA Cup final day, homophobia is still a problem for English football

This post was written by Dr Andy Harvey – a Researcher at the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre. His PhD thesis was on the history of homophobia in sport. A monograph derived from his thesis, Boys will be boys? An interdisciplinary study of male sexuality and homophobia in football fiction, is due to be published by Fisher Imprints in 2015.

Dr Andy Harvey is a Researcher at the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre

Dr Andy Harvey is a Researcher at the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre

As millions of people across the globe switch on their televisions to watch the FA Cup final on Saturday 17 May, the match happens to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) that is marked on 17 May every year. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, IDAHOT is a worldwide campaign that aims to bring attention to the problem of homophobia and transphobia that persists across the world.

No British sport has been associated with homophobic attitudes as much as football. A recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme, Undercover: Hate on the Terraces, broadcast on 3 March 2014, reinforced the idea that English football remains a potent site of discriminatory chanting by significant numbers of fans. The documentary showed how such chanting was often carried out in full view and earshot of stewards and police with little action taken by them or the football authorities. The programme confirmed a 2013 study by the Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN) that showed how Brighton fans were the target of regular and persistent homophobic abuse from opposition supporters. The perpetrators of abuse have not been confined to fans: in April 2014 former Blackburn Rovers player, Colin Kazim-Richards, was found guilty of making an “utterly disgusting” homophobic gesture at Brighton and Hove Albion fans.

From the playing side of the professional game, it is now commonplace to mention that no professional footballer has ‘come out’ as gay while still playing in the English game. The fate of Justin Fashanu, who committed suicide after declaring his homosexuality in 1990 to a barrage of homophobia from the media, has acted as a warning to other gay professionals not to follow in his footsteps. In February 2013 the former Leeds United player, Robbie Rogers, ‘came out’ as gay in the same breath as announcing his retirement from professional football because he could not conceive of continuing to play due to the homophobic atmosphere of the dressing room and terraces. Earlier this year former German international and Premier League star, Thomas Hitzlsperger, announced he was gay after he had retired from the game, although the positive public reception he received stands in stark contrast to Fashanu’s experience.

A famous victim of football’s inability to accept sexual diversity was Chelsea and England defender, Graeme Le Saux, who, although known to be heterosexual, became the target of homophobic abuse during his playing career in the 1990s. Le Saux’s case graphically illustrates one of the little-mentioned aspects of homophobic behaviours: the vast bulk of homophobic abuse is aimed at straight men. No-one actually believes that Brighton fans are gay (although, as with any other club, some of them may be), or that a player who falls down rather easily is ‘a poof’. Opposing fans sing ‘does your boyfriend know you’re here?’ in order to call into question the gender credentials of the opposition supporters as a means of reinforcing their own ideas of a masculine heterosexuality. In other words, homophobic ‘banter’, whether perpetrated on the terraces or in the dressing room, acts as a mechanism for policing straight men’s sexuality.

In contrast to racist abuse where no-one would think of calling a white person by the ‘n’ word, homophobia relies on the assumption that being thought of as gay is a culturally demeaned identity that needs to be constantly repudiated at all times. The argument that homophobia is ‘like’ racism may be useful tactically to promote the importance of tackling homophobia. However, it is not the case that homophobia is ‘like’ racism since it works in very different ways.

The fact that straight men experience the negative consequences of homophobia should not in any way be taken to mean that gay men do not suffer from homophobia. The tragic consequence of the cultural regime that devalues gay lives is that homophobia is not confined to the football arena but is present in every city, town and community in the country. Homophobic attacks are a more violent means by which some men (it is usually, although not invariably, men who are the perpetrators) shore up their own narrow notions of their heterosexuality, or even attempt to deny their homosexuality. From personal testimony, I have had two acquaintances murdered in violent homophobic attacks and many LGB&T people still lead lives that are saturated in fear and anxiety due to their experience of persistent homophobia. This is what sets homophobic abuse apart from the other ‘banter’ of football: homophobia has disastrous impacts well beyond the football terraces.

Understanding that homophobia is steeped in the culturally demeaned status of sexual minorities is crucial if effective strategies to tackle it are to be developed. To do so successfully will mean challenging the notion that football is a ‘man’s game’ with all the gendered and cultural freight that is loaded on to that term. The work that the FA has commenced in opening up participation in the game will be crucial in this endeavour. Despite worrying levels of discrimination that still persist in Britain, there is evidence that, in some places, homophobic attitudes may be receding: after all we now live in a country where there are openly gay Conservative members of the government. Football has the potential to make a significant contribution to the shift against homophobia. The task is to work on the cultural regime of football in order to end forever the idea some forms of masculinity are superior to others or that football can only be played by a certain type of ‘man’.

A longer, and fully referenced, version of this article can be found on the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre web site.

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