Tag Archives: students

Chasing Chevening Dreams

Paraguayan Maureen Montania Ramirez, an MSc Health and Clinical Psychological Sciences student at Birkbeck, tells us about her experience applying for the Chevening scholarship.

pic of maureen montania ramirez

Maureen Montania Ramirez at Durdle Door

When I decided to apply to Chevening I was at a point in my career where the training resources in my country were no longer sufficient for the dreams and goals I had in my head. I wanted to bring something different to my country and I felt that the only way would be to study in a first world country with the best universities in psychological research, that was for me the UK.

When I took this decision, I received immediate support from my boss who is also a born dreamer who had left the country for training and knew very well the longing I felt at that moment. She offered me her unconditional support and became my sole mentor from start to finish. This was the first and only time I applied to Chevening, I didn’t have high hopes of getting the scholarship because I knew thousands of stories of people who didn’t make it until the third attempt, or never. These were people I respected a lot and considered excellent professionals, so I said “I’m going to try, to at least gain experience and make it the third time”.

My mentor helped me to reflect in my essays who I am, what I dream of, how I move in this life and what I see on the other side of the horizon as a leader and social fighter. With her help, I was able to put all this into words, thanks to which I received the first great joy: the mail of being pre-selected for the interview. It had been a long time since I had felt so much hope, I started to believe in myself, that I could make it. I could already see myself at my university, making friends, learning in a lab and gaining thousands of experiences.

I feel that being charged with so much hope was the key to performing well in the interview. It’s worth noting that in March, when I was interviewed, I was going through one of the worst times of my life. My father was hospitalised for covid with his life hanging by a thread. I barely had a head to think. However, I knew that my dad, more than anyone else, believed that I could make it. A mixture of homage and hope led me to be energised and carry on a 40-minute interview that felt like 15 minutes to me. I had so many things to say, one idea led to another and I answered the questions with words that flowed on their own. The strength that moment gave me has no name. To this day I remember how complete I felt after the interview, when everything else in my life was falling apart.

Immediately afterwards I called my dad to tell him. It was a unique moment that I treasure to this day.

pic of Maureen Ramirez and family

Maureen and family

Shortly thereafter my dad returned home. The recovery was slow and challenging, but steady. Little by little he regained the light in his face, I did not leave his side for a second. So it was that when I received the mail saying that I had finally been selected, he was by my side. We jumped with emotion, we hugged, we cried, we screamed. I felt more alive than ever. I thanked him and my mom for everything they gave me, for having raised me with wings to always fly wherever I want, because without them I am nothing.

Maureen Ramirez holding the Paraguayan flag

Maureen proudly displaying the Paraguayan flag

Months after the preparation of papers, suitcases and emotions, I had to say goodbye to my family at the airport, with a huge smile, hugging my Paraguayan flag and raising my arms high as if to take off once again, with the support of my pillars in this life. It filled me with joy to see my father’s face full of life, completely back, next to my mother and my brother. I boarded the plane with a suitcase full of dreams and hopes.

pic of Maureen Ramirez on first day in UK

Maureen’s first day in the UK

Today, almost a year after that interview, I still feel I have to pinch myself to remember where I am. What was a dream yesterday is now a constant reality. My life here is wonderful. Every day I learn something new- academically and socially, I discover new friends, new places, new lives. I am immensely happy and grateful. Chevening gave me everything and more than I expected. It transformed me.

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In their own words: Tips from our Chevening scholars (Interview – part 2)

We’ve asked Birkbeck’s 2021 Cheveners to share their experience applying for the prestigious UK government scholarship. In this second instalment of the series we hear from Chevening scholars from Africa, Europe and Latin-America.

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“It is very important to be sure of oneself, to be convinced of what one has written in the essays and to know how to defend the ideas behind them. You should not focus on memorising information but on being genuine, you know why you are applying, you just have to defend that and show that you have a good profile. It is also not essential to be too formal, sometimes that makes us act robotically, just be yourself.”- Maureen Magali Montania Ramirez, Paraguay

pic of maureen montania ramirez

Maureen Montania Ramirez

“The preparation for my Chevening interview was centred around the project I had submitted in the Chevening application. This involved working on how I would orally and convincingly showcase myself and my project as worthy of the Chevening award. Of course, I also worked on the tips which were provided on the Chevening website and social media, but my focus was on my personal story as a Chevening candidate. In other words, I put enough thought and work into how I would present my project and myself during the interview as an authentic personal story, and not as a copy of someone’s else. Hence, I think that this is vital to acing the Chevening interview.

Think about what makes you unique as a Chevening candidate and about what makes your story original. This implies having a clear vision of why you applied in the first place and of what you aspire to achieve with your master’s degree. And if this vision is not clear in your mind yet, this is where you need to start the preparation. I believe that if you can communicate this vision clearly and convincingly during your interview, you will be able to answer the other points related to it, such as your leadership skills, your ability to function in the academic and cultural environment in the UK, and your short- and long-term goals.”Rachid Meftah, Morocco

“For an interview, I would advise you to tell only about 1-2 the most successful examples of leadership and networking from the many good examples you certainly have, and describe them in more detail. It is better to use the STAR method for this. It is especially important for the commission to see exactly how you show your qualities in challenging situations, and not that you often had to face problems.

I would also advise you to be sincere in the interview and remember your highest goal, for which you apply for Chevening. Remember what you want to achieve thanks to the scholarship, and dedicate your entire story to this general idea.

Try to follow a clear structure of the story and not go into unnecessary details. Do not go away from your thoughts to the side and do not engage in third-party reasoning and explanation of the context. At the same time, try to describe your own contribution and your motivation in as much detail as possible.”Emma Terchenko, Russia

pic of Emma Terchenko

Emma Terchenko

“I read all the blogs written by Chevening and also by other Chevening alumni. I prepared an answer for every possible question trying to always convey my passion for making a change in my country and my leadership and networking skills. After, I asked my family and friends to listen to my answers and to give me feedback. Finally, I practiced as if I was in a real interview with other candidates from different countries.
My advice would be to prepare and practice to the point where the answers come to you in a natural way. You will be nervous on the day of the interview but knowing that you have rehearsed your answers will make you feel comfortable even if they ask you something you were not prepared for.”- Virginia Nuñez, Guatemala

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“Not all Deaf people know sign language and not all sign languages are the same”

Psychology student, Silvia Janickova discusses how inclusivity and accessibility have got considerably better but there is still a long way to go.

a pic of Silvia Janickova

Silvia Janickova

1. What are your thoughts on the significance of popular culture, especially film, in representing the experiences of deaf and hearing-impaired people?

One thing I would like to see more of is the representation of Deaf and hearing people interacting more with each other. CODA (the Oscar-winning film) and other films with Deaf or hard-of-hearing characters often portray hearing and Deaf communities as largely separate entities with the conflict revolving around the gap between them. I feel this is not reflective of the life richness that goes way beyond deafness versus “hearingness”.

2. What is the biggest misconception people have about people from the deaf community?

One of the misconceptions is that we are excellent lipreaders. In reality, lipreading is hard and largely a guesswork. Face masks during the pandemic have made the already precarious lipreading art even trickier.

There is also a gap between how many Deaf and hard-of-hearing people perceive themselves and how we are perceived by the society. Deafness is often seen as a “deficit” or impairment, but for us, the real issue is communication barriers and lack of inclusive environment.

Another misconception is that all Deaf people know sign language and all sign languages are same. For example, when doing my BSL courses in London, BSL used in Manchester had such a different accent that at times it felt like a whole new language for me!

3. Do you feel things have got better for deaf people, when it comes to understanding and inclusivity?

I think inclusivity and accessibility have got considerably better compared to even just a decade ago. That said, there is still a long way to go.

For example, and related to the film theme, cinema screenings often come unsubtitled so we cannot go and see the films we would like to watch.

Deaf people are also underrepresented in professional roles and there are persisting barriers in the job market.

Social events can be also difficult. In the end of the day, we are all humans and above all, we all want to feel that we belong. Many of us have learnt to be great pretenders and nod and smile at the right places. Simple things such as facing us, speaking clearly and typing things when it gets too noisy around can make a big difference.

4. What’s your own personal experience as someone who is deaf?

As a Deaf person who grew up entirely in the hearing world, finding way both to the hearing and the Deaf communities as an adult has been a journey for me. It has often been difficult, but it has also enabled me to meet many amazing people, both Deaf and hearing, and gain and wealth of experiences. Ultimately, all of this has shaped who I am, as a solution-seeker and a lifelong learner, not only in the academic sense, but also in terms of always learning something new about myself and other people.

5. What support have you received from Birkbeck?

As a substitute for spoken aspects of lectures, I use captioning or transcription and electronic note-taking. Studying as a Deaf student can be harder, since DSA (governmental funding scheme for communication support) only covers partial expenses for Deaf students. The pandemic has brought increased accessibility due to widespread use of automatic subtitles, but also additional challenges. However, the Psychology Department, where I study, and my disability team have been absolutely fantastic and really went extra mile to ensure the great studying experience for me.

The diversity of the student body has been also very attractive for me as a Deaf mature student. I am now in my final year and loved my Birkbeck experience so much that I am hoping to continue here for my Masters.

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“British Sign Language is receiving far more recognition”

Ari Laughlin, Psychology student, offers a perspective as a Deaf student, including praise for Birkbeck’s “high quality” and “versatile” disability services.

Pic of Ari Laughlin

Ari Laughlin

– How does popular culture, especially film, represent the experiences of deaf and hearing-impaired people?

I think that popular culture is extremely significant for representing the experiences of D/deaf and hearing-impaired people, especially since most hearing people have never met or have had to interact with a d/Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing or hearing-impaired person before. Popular culture forms a significant gateway for learning about groups of people. “A Silent Voice” is a very accurate representation of many deaf people’s experiences because it demonstrates how little sign languages are generally known by the public, and shows how Shoko Nishimiya, the deaf character, struggles to hear in most situations with just her hearing aids and needs Japanese Sign Language to be fully immersed in social interactions.

– Can you share the biggest misconception people have about people from the deaf community?

That there is only one, singular Deaf community with one sign language and culture across the globe when there are thousands of Deaf communities with their own individual cultures, sign languages and regional dialects. These communities and sign languages, particularly those from other countries in the Anglosphere, are often misperceived as belonging to American Deaf cultures, which, on the other hand, receive a lot of media and pop culture coverage. In contrast, British Sign Language and British Deaf cultures receive little representation and coverage. Rose Ayling-Ellis’ appearance on “Strictly Come Dancing” is probably the most exposure British Sign Language and British Deaf cultures have had so far in popular culture and in the media.

– Do you feel things have got better for deaf people when it comes to understanding and inclusivity?

For British d/Deaf people, yes and no. Yes, since British Sign Language is receiving far more recognition today than it was before and Deaf psychology – particularly the clinical, counselling and neuroscience fields – is gaining traction and breaking barriers for d/Deaf people. However, schools for the d/Deaf across the UK are shutting down and more d/Deaf children are having to attend mainstream schools. Deaf education is still highly stigmatised and most d/Deaf children, including those with cochlear implants, struggle significantly in mainstream schools where they cannot hear their teachers and classmates or may not even understand English itself. Teachers of the Deaf, who use British Sign Language, form bridges to the curriculum for d/Deaf children because English is largely inaccessible for many of these children since they cannot hear it. British Sign Language is fully accessible to d/Deaf children and acts as a steppingstone for the acquisition of English skills. D/deaf children often cannot have this highly specialist support in mainstream schools and many have very poor English receptive and comprehension skills because of this.

– What’s your own personal experience as someone who is hearing-impaired?

I can only really speak as a deaf person who was brought up as oral with exposure to Deaf cultures and British Sign Language much later in life. Although I had to attend mainstream schools – which I struggled significantly in – I was lucky enough to be able to eventually attend a school for the d/Deaf and largely receive the support that I needed. Regarding Deaf communities, my own experiences have varied vastly. Despite having experienced awful racism from some Deaf people about my partial East Asian heritage, many others have taken me under their wing to teach me British Sign Language and their cultures. I think that that is down to the general lack of accessibility, which pushes Deaf communities and d/Deaf people to the very edge of society and consequently shuts them off from the wider world. I was also very fortunate to be able to receive psychological therapies from Deaf clinical psychology services, which are very scarce throughout the UK.

– What support have you received from Birkbeck?

I have received specialist electronic note taking for the d/Deaf and live captioning support. This support meant that I could transfer very easily to online learning and that the pandemic had no negative impacts on my studies. Seminars and lectures became far more accessible and inclusive for me. The disability support that I have received from Birkbeck has been the highest quality and the most versatile for my needs so far. I cannot further express how phenomenal Birkbeck’s Psychology Department, Disability and Dyslexia Service and Mental Health services have been throughout my studies.

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Five things you may not know about Ramadan

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and one of the holiest months of the year for Muslims. This year around two billion Muslims, including Alumna and Barrister Hauwa Shehu, are observing it. Muslims follow the lunar calendar, therefore the start and end of Ramadan changes each year depending on the sighting of the moon. The end of Ramadan is marked by a celebration called Eid Ul Fitr. In honour of this special month, Hauwa shares five things that you may not know about Ramadan. 

photo of Hauwa Shehu

Hauwa Shehu

  1. Purpose of Ramadan

Although many people associate Ramadan as being the month in which Muslims fast for around 30 days, from sunrise to sunset, many are unaware that this is not the main purpose. The main purpose is to attain something which in Arabic we call “Taqwa” and can be translated into English as being “God-consciousness” (Surah Al-Baqarah –  Quran 2:183). During Ramadan, Muslims make every effort to do good deeds and actions that would be pleasing to God and abstain from bad things. And we try to think of God, who we refer to as Allah, our creator, in everything that we do.

  1. Fasting exemptions – not everyone fasts

There are many exemptions for people who may not be able to fast, therefore you shouldn’t assume that every Muslim is fasting during Ramadan.  Examples of reasons why some Muslims do not fast include if they have a health condition, are elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, travelling or menstruating. Despite this, they are able to observe the holy month in many other ways, e.g. by praying, reading the Quran, giving charity, supporting their family and community, and avoiding things like gossiping, telling lies or speaking / thinking badly of others.

  1. Month Quran revealed – Laylatul Qadr

The Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) during the month of Ramadan. In particular, Muslims believe it was revealed during the last 10 nights, on a night known as “Laylatul Qadr”- “the night of decree” (Surah Al-Qadr – Quran 97:1). A night in which Allah decides everyone’s fate for the coming year. In light of this, Muslims increase in acts of worship and good deeds more so at this time, as the Quran tells us that any actions and deeds carried out on this night are greater than if you did them for 1000 months.

  1. Health benefits of Ramadan

For those who do not have any pre-existing medical conditions, fasting has been medically proven to have a number of health benefits including improved blood pressure, metabolism and brain function. It also benefits mental health and wellbeing. Psychologists state that any action undertaken consistently for 30 days becomes a habit. Therefore by engaging in positive behaviours throughout Ramadan, Muslims also benefit psychologically and try to maintain the positive habits throughout the year.

  1. Zakat Ul -Fitr

A big part of Ramadan is charity. Muslims try to increase their charitable giving during this time. Zakat Ul Fitr is a charitable donation of food that all Muslims who can afford it, must give. It amounts to approximately £5 and reminds all Muslims to think of and have compassion for those less privileged than them.

Supporting Muslim friends, peers and colleagues

  1. Share celebratory greetings

Wish them ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ at any time throughout the month. At the end, during Eid, you can use the phrase ‘Eid Mubarak’.

  1. Join in with a fast-a-thon

Many non-Muslims choose to fast for 1 day during Ramadan. Either from sunrise to sunset or simply by missing lunch. The idea is to give an idea of what it is like to fast and try and abstain from bad or negative thoughts/ actions for a period of time. Money saved from not having lunch that day can be donated to charity

  1. Attend an Iftar

Iftar is the name for the meal in which Muslims break their fast. There are many iftars taking place around the country. You can check online on sites like Eventbrite or ask at your local mosque. But the biggest public Iftars are run by Ramadan Tent Project –  Open Iftar. Take a look, and join one of the events for delicious free food and heart warming company.

  1. Work flexibly

Many Muslims engage in prayers late into the night (Taraweeh) and wake up very early to eat before sunrise (suhoor), so consider avoiding extremely early starts if working with Muslim peers and colleagues. It is also common for some people who are fasting to get tired later in the day, therefore it is considerate to avoid scheduling meetings or deadlines in the later part of the day.

  1. Check in

Check in on Muslim contacts during this time. Never make assumptions about how someone is observing Ramadan. The best thing to do is ask questions when unsure.

 

References and Further Reading

https://www.muslimaid.org/media-centre/blog/the-benefits-of-fasting/

https://quran.com

https://www.islamic-relief.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/zakat/zakat-ul-fitr/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fasting-benefits

https://britishima.org/ramadan/compendium/

https://mcb.org.uk/resources/ramadan/

https://www.zakat.org/valid-exemptions-for-not-fasting-ramadan

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From finding Birkbeck on an alumni profile to studying and working in the UK

A self-taught software developer, BSc Computing student Peace Onyehanere, shares the details of life as an international student at Birkbeck and how she marries part-time work and studies. 

Peace Onyehanere by her bike

Can you tell us about your background? 
I am a self-taught software developer studying at Birkbeck to get a degree in Computing. Before joining Birkbeck, I did a diploma in Computing, and I worked as a software developer in Nigeria. 

How did you hear about Birkbeck?  
I found Birkbeck from an alumni’s LinkedIn profile. I got curious and did some research about studying at Birkbeck. I decided to choose Birkbeck as my first choice as I liked the evening studies, and I also had the best experience reaching out to lecturers for my course to ask questions. 

What is it like living in London?  
I watched a couple of YouTube videos on living in London and transportation in London so the first time I had to take public transport, I thankfully did not get lost. Google maps also came in handy. I always made sure to ask the driver when I got on the bus to be sure I am on the right bus. I shop at cheap supermarkets to save some money. There has not been any lockdown since I started studying. But there have been more cases of Covid-19 and new variants at the end of term one. I then had my classes online and I have enjoyed it.  

Peace Onyehanere at her desk

Can you tell us about your studies?   
I have honestly enjoyed online teaching over in-person teaching. With virtual learning, the classes are recorded, and you can refer back to it after the class. There are also reading material and pre-recorded videos you can go through before the class. Each of the courses I have studied so far have been three hours long. But we do have breaks in between the class. There is also a support class provided on weekends where you can ask more questions and get help. 

How is a typical day for you? 
I work as a Frontend developer at a FinTech company. I started job hunting before moving to the UK. I got a couple of offers before arriving, but I got the offer for the company I currently work at while in the UK. A typical day for me starts with work and ends with a lecture if I have one that day. As I work from home, I don’t have to go out. I try to go out and explore my environment, but I am mostly indoors all day. 

Have you used any of BBK support services?  
I have followed Birkbeck Futures and attended the last event organised. I have also had the opportunity to be mentored via the Mentorship program. 

What have you found most challenging about your time in the UK so far? 
I have had a great time in the UK. The one thing I have found challenging is the weather and the short days. I look forward to a great time at Birkbeck and meeting more people. 

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Birkbeck students celebrate LGBT+ History Month: Allies are Welcome!

As the experiences and achievements of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender + community are observed throughout February, MSc International Marketing Student, Wojciech Zaluski, looks at progress and speaks to Birkbeck LGBTQ+ officer Megan Massey and MSc Marketing student Daniel Knight to ask for their viewpoint on matters, including a look at the role that university life plays in supporting them.

Photo of two people touching hands to represent LGBT+ History Month

In recent years the situation of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer + (LGBTQ+) has improved a lot in the UK. In 2014 same-sex marriage was officially allowed. Since 2020 we have also seen a successful roll-out of PrEP, available for free through the NHS, a drug that is key to reducing HIV transmissions. If you live in London, you will be aware how strongly the city promotes and supports tolerance towards the LGBTQ+ community. Everywhere you go you can spot awareness campaigns promoting inclusivity and acceptance.

London is also the host of the annual Pride festival, put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic. Each year thousands of Londoners (2019 Pride attracted over 1.5 million people) and visitors cheer all day in a parade where they can embrace their non-heteronormative identity in public. The city, during this period, becomes filled with events, parties and gatherings focused on and appreciating love in its different forms. And yes, London Pride is coming back to London in 2022!

We are also seeing, more and more, how the corporate world has become vocal in its appreciation for the LGBTQ+ community. For example McKinsey & Company is promoting their initiative “Proud Leaders Europe,” “created to support talented individuals from across Europe, who self-identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community”.

Q&A with Megan Massey, Birkbeck LGBTQ+ officer

What is the function of a LGBTQ+ officer at Birkbeck?
The goal of all elected Liberation Officers is to improve the student experience at Birkbeck, with a LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+) officer focusing their efforts on advocating for LGBTQ+ students, representing them in meetings with the College, and helping to foster a community.

What kind of events can LGBTQ+ students expect at Birkbeck?
Events range from hangouts and film screenings to pub crawls and museum visits.  Of course, for the LGBTQ+ network, Pride is also an important event in the calendar. Hopefully Birkbeck students will be able to walk at London Pride once again in 2022!

Why do you think universities should provide a program for LGBTQ+ students? Do you think that we live in a post-heteronormative world?
Higher education should be for everybody, and so it is important that universities provide resources that reflect this. The fact that we do not yet live in a post-heteronormative world means that LGBTQ+ students, and other marginalised students, face barriers that they will have to overcome in order to have access to higher education.

What barriers and challenges does the LGBTQ+ community still face? How can the academic world answer those problems?
There are many barriers and challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community, and attitudes to LGBTQ+ people vary across the globe. There are many countries which still criminalise consensual gay sex and relationships, meaning that LGBTQ+ people face imprisonment. In countries like the UK, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2014, there is still work to be done to improve the legal standing of LGBTQ+ people. For example, the UK government does not legally recognise non-binary identities.

Aside from the law, LGBTQ+ people in every country still face social challenges and are at risk of experiencing violence and persecution. The academic world can seek to educate around LGBTQ+ topics, but does not have all the answers. Many LGBTQ+ people, especially those most at risk, will not have access to discussions that take place in universities, despite the fact that their voices are deeply important to the conversation. In order for the academic world to do a better job of advocating for LGBTQ+ people, they need to place an emphasis on accessibility.

From your experience, meeting LGBTQ+ students at Birkbeck, what did you learn that surprised you? What kind of support do you think they need? Did those meetings change you?  Where do you find strength and motivation to be actively engaging in helping and educating the student community about the problems of the LGBTQ+ community? 
I was surprised by how many students have been unsure whether or not they are welcome in the LGBTQ+ community. I think that is one aspect where many students need support, in feeling that they are welcome and accepted in the academic space. As an LGBTQ+ person myself, it is a privilege to be able to help the student community in any way. I feel grateful to the students who have had the courage to reach out to me with their questions or concerns.

London is a very diverse city with official city support for Pride and other campaigns promoting tolerance and inclusivity, similarly we are seeing the corporate world embracing LGBTQ+ inclusivity. Do you think that LGBTQ+ people are safe in London? If not, why do you think so?
This is a difficult question due to the interpretation of ‘safe’, but I do think that LGBTQ+ people are safe in London, to a certain extent. London is a fairly safe city, the whole world considered, and so LGBTQ+ people living here may feel safer than they would elsewhere. However, since LGBTQ+ are, as a marginalised group, at a higher risk of experiencing discrimination and hate crimes, personal safety is something that most queer people have to be very aware of.

In addition to this, since LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience poverty and homelessness, this is a factor which must be considered. Likewise, it is impossible to ignore the relevance of race (and other identity factors) in discussions of safety. For this reason, a more in-depth, intersectional approach would be needed to adequately address the question of whether or not LGBTQ+ people are safe in London (or, indeed, if anybody is ‘safe’ anywhere).

What do you advise LGBTQ+ students who need psychological help? Do you know where they can seek support and help?
Birkbeck’s Mental Health Advisory Service provides a range of help for students. More information can be found here.

Outside of university, if a student (or anyone) is dealing with life-ending thoughts and needs urgent care, they can go to Accident and Emergency, or contact their local crisis team. If they need to talk to somebody over the phone or online, on a one-off basis, there are several charities which provide this service. If they are looking for therapy or counselling, they can self-refer through their GP to be put on a waiting list for a free NHS service.

What would you advise for people who don’t identify as queer or LGBTQ+ and would want to learn more to understand problems and issues that their LGBTQ+ students face?
There is a great deal that a person can learn online, but of course it’s great to speak to LGBTQ+ people in person too—allies are welcome to join the LGBTQ+ Network!

Interview with Daniel Knight, MSc Marketing student

Do you see any difference between how LGBTQ+ issues were addressed when you were studying to get your undergraduate degree and now at Birkbeck?
I did my undergraduate studies between 2004 and 2007. And there wasn’t much of a LGBTQ+ society then. I wasn’t very active in the community, I’d only just come out, so I was working out how to interact with the people around me. It was not easy to find and connect with other LGBTQ+ students. Thankfully, there is more of a presence now at Birkbeck than in the past.

I was interested to see what it looks like at Birkbeck… if it’s more visible and easier to connect. I visited the Freshers’ Fair to find out. As a result, I joined the Birkbeck LGBTQ+ online group. I think social presence is very important.

Do you feel the UK has moved forward in terms of acceptance, tolerance, and inclusivity of LGBTQ+ people in recent years? If not, why do you think that is?
I think the UK is more inclusive and accepting. I experienced very little homophobia in my life. That may relate to the fact that I am not flamboyant and it’s not obvious that I am gay.  That may be why. People in my life were always very accepting and inclusive and they wanted to know about my relationships. I think it became more acceptable to talk about your relationships. I am also aware I am working in healthcare, surrounded by professional people. It may be very different for people working in a different kind of environment. My experience may not be someone else’s.

I’d say as a teenager, when I was in secondary school, I don’t think it was accepted. I think that in the UK there was a switch into the pro-movement, probably in the early 2000, before you got into 2010. When I was at secondary school I wouldn’t have come out, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that, whereas now, I believe teenagers do feel comfortable, and obviously that’s great in that regard, that the desire to come out would now be more positively received than before.

With reference to my work environment, if I experienced homophobia in my office, it would be taken very seriously, and the person would certainly be investigated, but I work for the healthcare regulator, they take equality and diversity seriously.

Did you experience homophobia in your life or work life? What would you advise to LGBTQ+ students who are starting their career in that regard; how to handle homophobia at work or in their personal life?
I think, for them, it should be easier. We are in a different place now- homophobia isn’t accepted. If there is an experience like that, they should look for their HR department, or if it’s a university there is a department that deals with that. I think there are support structures in place now that enable people to feel supported. If they experience homophobia, they should be able to raise it, people will help them. This would not have been the case in the past. My advice would be to talk to people in the organisation who can support you. And look for that support, look for like-minded people, join the LGBTQ+ society at Birkbeck, and you’ll find a lot of like-minded people, and allies as well. Don’t put up with homophobia in any form.

In your own company do you observe that there is a will to create a safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community? Or is it a non-issue?
As part of the new EDI (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion) strategy they have created lots of different groups, among them an LGBTQ+ group, within our organisation. People can go there and talk about their experience and if there is anything that is not quite right in the organisation.

Were you able to make any connections with the LGBTQ+ community at Birkbeck? How do you think universities should address inclusivity and the safety of LGBTQ+ students
Being part of the LGBTQ+ group is important, and for that group to be able to discuss policies with the university on how they can support Birkbeck communities. If the university can demonstrate the changes that have been achieved, that is a good way to show that there is progress for the LGBTQ+ community. They could also do more in terms of events and lectures, I suppose to express different views in the community. Just to show it is taken seriously, you could put information in the weekly bulletins from Birkbeck, to have inclusion there about what has been done, for people to be involved more and find out more. The main thing would be that they have support in place should people have issues, making clear what they can do if they have issues, regarding LGBTQ+ issues.

Further Information

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10 recipes to try this Diwali that are not curry

Today (November 4) is Diwali or Deepavali, a religious Indian festival of light that celebrates victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. This celebration comes from the legend of Lord Rama, who was deprived of his kingdom and sent into exile for 14 years. Rama eventually defeats the evil spirit Ravana and returns to his home. Diwali honours this triumphant return and is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists all over the world. Here, Birkbeck final-year Marketing student, Shweta Menon shares the festival’s culinary delights.

UG Marketing student Shweta Menon

Shweta Menon

Diwali has distinctive celebrations across India and in more recent times around the world. However, lip-smacking vibrant foods, a variety of Indian sweets and the combined play of colours and fireworks remain a constant. Growing up I would see my grandmother prepare an array of snack and sweets for Diwali. There were some traditional items like murukku (crispy rice stick), sheera (semolina pudding), rava laddoo (sweet semolina balls) and some innovative ones.

If you, like me, are away from home this Diwali or want to put on your chef’s hat to try some Indian delicacies, here are some recipes for you:

  1. Murukku

Murukku

Murukku is a traditional South Indian deep fried snack recipe made with rice flour, urad dal and spices. Chakri is like Murukku, but the ingredients slightly differ They are savoury and crispy.

  1. Shankarpali

shankarpali

Shankarpali, sweet diamond cuts, is a crispy sweet snack made with flour, ghee and sugar. These can last you for a good week or two.

3.Gulab Jamun

gulab jamun

Gulab Jamun is a classic Indian sweet made with ghee, milk solids and cardamom powder.

  1. Rava Ladoo (Sweet Semolina Balls)

rava ladoo

Rava Ladoo is yet another classic indian sweet made with semolina, ghee and sugar.

5.Kaju Katli

kaju katli

Kaju Katli is popular Indian sweet made with cashew nuts, sugar and cardamom powder. Kaju, in Hindi, means cashew and katli refers to thin slices.

  1. Aloo Tikki Chaat

aloo tikka chaat

Aloo Tikki Chaat is a famous Indian street food made of spiced fried potato patties served with yogurt, pomegranate and chutneys.

  1. Carrot Halwa

carrot halwa

Carrot Halwa, natively known as Gajar Halwa, is a sweet carrot pudding made in the winter months when carrots are in abundance .

  1. Gujiya

gujiya

Gujiyas are scrumptious sweet fried dumplings. The filling of the dumpling is a delightful combination of dry fruits and milk solids.

  1. Besan Ladoo (Sweet Gram Flour Balls)

besan ladoo

Besan Ladoo is a staple Diwali sweet made with roasted gram flour, ghee and sugar. They only take as much as 15 minutes to make and are absolutely finger-licking.

  1. Turmeric Cumin Margarita

turmeric cumin margarita

This bright coloured Margarita with its smoky notes is the perfect cocktail for the festival of lights

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In their own words: Tips from our Cheveners (references)

We’ve asked our 2020 Cheveners to share their experience applying for the prestigious UK government scholarship. In this blog, we highlight their tips and advice about obtaining references as part of the selection process.

“My advice to the Chevening future applicants is to be realistic and genuine to select referees that (you) know very well and have engaged with on professional levels, be it in academia, at work, or people you have collaborated with on certain projects. Select people who know your capabilities and believe that you have the potential. People who inspire you to inspire others, encourage and motivate you to be successful, and make a difference in your community.”
Menessia Diergaardt, Namibia

“I would advise future applicants to choose people with whom they have a strong professional and/or academic relationship. Someone whom you can trust to speak on your behalf confidently and with objectivity.”
Bongani Njalo, South Africa

“Since I have been working for 10 years and my work was related to the course of my studies, I chose two of my supervisors as referees. They were an important influence in my career, and they watched me grow from a young inexperienced student to a confident young professional and I appreciate their evaluation of my journey. I would advise applicants to choose people that really know them and have worked with them closely so they can give you a thoughtful opinion of your character rather than a general note. And it’s also a nice letter to read while you apply for the scholarship that you may be anxious about.”
Eva Shimaj, Albania

“My mentor and my MSc dissertation supervisor were my referees. Both knew of my aspiration at the early stages of the Chevening application and supported the application idea. I approached my mentor because they were aware of my personal strengths and career aspirations and my supervisor because they knew of my academic strengths and zeal to learn.

My advice for applicants is to be strategic in their referee selection. Pick people who have seen your strengths and have had experience with you professionally and academically, preferably also someone in a senior role.”
Nozipho Nomzana Mziyako, Eswatini

“I knew my referees in a professional capacity however, we had engaged in several academic activities before as part of our professional relationship. I selected them because I maintained a close relationship with them at the moment, also they are both entrepreneurs developing their businesses in a non-ideal environment, so they are driven, motivated and capable people whose opinions and experience I respect and value. Also, I had the chance to work closely with them while they were making significant progress in their businesses, so they know my abilities and qualities as a collaborator and employee.

Future applicants can make better use of their references if they choose people that are close to them and somehow share their interests or vision in life. I considered my references as a guide for what I wanted to achieve in the future because of their attitudes, capabilities and motivations.”
Yoandra Rodriguez Betancourt, Cuba

“You may want to include a brief description of your motivation to apply, what you wish to achieve with the degree and how it relates to your common interests, and most importantly why you think she/he would be a great fit to comment on your suitability. It is about engaging your referee.

You may want to get in touch with more than one referee to make sure that by February you can at least get the formal approval of two referees.”
Zina Diari, Tunisia

You have submitted your Chevening application, what’s next?
“I stayed in touch with the referees, still through our networking, email, phone calls and sometimes meeting up over a cup of coffee to update them about my Chevening journey and asking them advice on different aspects, professional, personal, and self-development. My referees have been very supportive and encouraging, hence we are still in contact, they check up on me and my academic progression.”
Menessia Diergaardt, Namibia

“Keep in contact after submitting the application. As soon as required, I let them know, when I had received the email from Chevening and let them know that they needed to send the reference. Later on, I would call from time to time to ensure that they send it on time.”
Randolphe Severin N’Guessan, Cote d’Ivoire

“When I got selected for an interview, I followed up with a detailed email where I listed the responsibilities I carried out under (my referee’s) supervision, that she could draw upon to develop my reference letter. Keep in mind that referees are generally academics or managers who come across several similar requests to act as a referee. It is important to highlight the period of time in which you have collaborated.

I also shared the Chevening guidelines for writing a reference letter and kept on active communication with my referee during the process.”
Zina Diari, Tunisia

“I stayed in touch with my referees through social media and phone calls. Since they formed part of my network of professionals, it was easier to reach out to them.

Future applicants should create a network of professionals who understand their ambitions, character, and ethics. This ensures that you are easily referenced and supported objectively.” Freemen Pasurai, Zimbabwe.

Further information:

Blog post by Catherine Charpentier, International Marketing and Recruitment Officer (Africa)

 

 

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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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