2020 Annual Cumberland Lodge Dialogue, Arts and the Union (Online)

6pm on Thursday 5 November.

Birkbeck students and staff are invited to join the virtual audience for the 2020 annual Cumberland Lodge Dialogue, Arts and the Union, taking place on Zoom from 6pm on Thursday 5 November.

In partnership with Goodenough College, London, this public panel discussion examines the cultural bonds that unite the UK’s four nations and the role that the arts can play in building social cohesion across the British Isles. The panellists will explore topics such as: how national identities are expressed within the rich artistic heritage of the UK; the role of the arts in building bridges within and across communities; and how the power of the arts might be harnessed to bring the four nations closer together.

Clarivate Web of Science webinars

Colleagues in the Birkbeck Library have highlighted the following 2 sessions which are part of a series of training sessions and webinars provided by Clarivate.

Kick off your academic year with the Web of Science essential tools for researchers

SEPTEMBER 29 AT 11:00 AM BST

Whether you’re an early-career or well-established researcher, the suite of integrated tools from the Web of Science will supercharge your workflow, making every stage of your research journey a smart one. Learn how to make the most of the Web of Science platform and start off the year on the right foot.

Register here

All the ways to save and export your findings in the Web of Science

SEPTEMBER 30 AT 10:00 AM BST

Discover the various tools that will help you save your searches and results and export data outside the Web of Science platform in multiple formats.

Register here

In times of Pandemic

A BGRS Blog post by Nicola Clarke (PhD History)

I am a mature student, just beginning the second year of my PhD in Early Modern History, so I am currently preparing my first research chapter for my upgrade from MPhil to PhD. My research focuses on accuracy and the value of accuracy in seventeenth-century English news sources, with particular reference to the period between 1649 and 1685. It was always work that was going to have some resonance in the 21st century; “fake news” is very definitely not a modern invention.

One of my main topics looks at the 1665 Great Plague and the Fire of 1666. I am interested in whether both producers and consumers of news approached accuracy any differently when dealing with natural disaster as opposed to news about political, civil and military strife, of which there was a good deal in the seventeenth century. When I decided, with my supervisor (Dr Brodie Waddell), to make this my first research chapter, neither of us had any idea that I would be working on it during a 21st century pandemic and a national lockdown….. and that archive access might be a bit trickier than normal. So many thanks are due to Brodie for advice on how to deal with that and to all the archives and their staff that have re-opened in the past few months.

At the start of lockdown in March 2020 I decided to keep a “Covid journal” prompted by a number of academics I follow on twitter. I used to be a journalist and I am trying to be a social and cultural historian, so I figured that keeping a diary might give me some insight into those diary keepers, commonplace book authors and letter writers whose news consumption habits I was trying to understand.

Historians should be rightly cautious about making comparisons between the past and the present, so I am very careful about drawing direct comparisons.

However, despite the considerable advance in medical science and news technology in the last three hundred and fifty years, the search for reliable information and the debates about how to act on that information have a familiar ring.

People in seventeenth century London tracked the weekly Bills of Mortality, as we have all followed the graphs at the daily government news conferences. The efficacy of shutting people up in their houses once a case of plague was discovered was debated from the street to the medical journals. News came at the seventeenth century citizen from a huge range of sources, orally from neighbours, business partners, customers, from Authority – the King, Parliament and the City Authorities, from newspapers, which as well as editorial content, ran huge numbers of adverts for all sorts of plague cures and preventatives.

Those citizens of seventeenth century London, who remained in the city, had to juggle a lot of conflicting information, with the need to maintain daily life and work, and if I have learnt one thing in the last six months it is to have considerable respect for how they managed to do that.

Bob Woodward & the Case for Rethinking News Values

A BGRS blog post by Naomi Smith (PhD Film and Screen Media)

Naomi is also the Birkbeck Student Union Women’s Officer

Legendary American journalist Bob Woodward has a new book out, another deep dive into the inner workings of the White House, including extensive interviews with President Donald J. Trump in which he admits, on tape, to having deliberately downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 virus in early 2020. These interviews were conducted between December 2019 and July 2020, but the revelation that Trump was aware how deadly the virus is and deliberately sought to conceal this information from the American public wasn’t published until recently, when CNN obtained a copy of the book ahead of its 15 September release.

The revelations immediately led to recriminations against Trump from all sides – politicians, journalists, members of the public on social media – and, more surprisingly perhaps, against Woodward. Fox News, for example, questioned his decision to hold onto this information for so long if it was so important. So why did Woodward choose to withhold those interviews until now? And was the decision to do so inherently unethical? Some suggested that Woodward was motivated solely by profit and the desire to sell more books on the strength of the revelations, and others even alleged that he has “blood on his hands”. In response, Woodward argued that he could not verify the information at the time and wanted to investigate further, and that Trump’s attitude to the virus was already public knowledge and was not, therefore, immediately newsworthy on its own. Erik Wemple, the Washington Post’s media critic, argued that Woodward was following standard practice for writing a book and that his sources would have had an “implicit understanding” that they would be interviewed multiple times until he could “stitch together something authoritative, in book form”. If he were to have published “daily dispatches”, then it is unlikely that he would have kept getting those rare on-the-record interviews with Trump. In Wemple’s eyes, the decision was not whether to publish in March or September, it was whether to publish in September or not at all.

When analyzing decisions regarding news selection, we often talk about news values, a theory developed by two Norwegian researchers in the 1960s, which describes a set of criteria that form a definition of newsworthiness. The more of these criteria are satisfied by an event, the more likely it is to be reported on by the press. The results of that Norwegian study have been reviewed and updated over the intervening years, particularly in the context of the rise of digital media but rarely challenged outright. And despite satisfying several key news values – surprise, negativity, conflict, etc – the revelations in Woodward’s book went unreported for seven months.

My research asks whether – especially given that our current conception of news values did not predict and does not fully explain the actions of a veteran news reporter – we can continue to use a one-size-fits-all taxonomy, rethinking the concept of news values as one that can be generalized across different formats in multiple markets, using American broadcast news as an initial case study.

Reference

Galtung, J & Ruge, M.H., 1965. The Structure of Foreign News: The Presentation of the Congo, Cuba and Cyprus Crises in Four Norwegian Newspapers. Journal of Peace Research. Vol. 2, No. 1. Pp. 64-91.

Starting my PhD during a Global Pandemic

A BGRS blog post by Swathi Kumar (PhD Biology, Cancer Biology, ISMB)

I’m now in my second year of the BBSRC LIDo PhD programme. The first year was composed of two 4-month rotation projects, the first of which was based at both Birkbeck and UCL and is now my full-time PhD project. Like many others, March 17th was my final pre-lockdown day working in the lab and I was one month in on my second rotation project based at Barts Cancer Institute. The rest of the summer was a blur with days spent teaching myself to use command-line interfaces to run bioinformatic tools in an attempt to produce any data whatsoever for my project that had then become wholly computational. I managed to complete a coding course covering MATLAB, R and Python which was a mandatory part of my first year and a useful skill to learn as a biologist. All that remained was to return back to my old lab and officially start my PhD.

My first day back in the lab was July 27th – 4 and a half months post-lockdown. I had fastidiously read all the ‘returning to work’ documentation and was prepared for Birkbeck to look quite different to how I remembered it. Sure enough, the corridors were filled with COVID-19 safety measures and a 2-metre rule had been implemented. Luckily, I was already trained in the microbiology techniques I would need for the first month of my PhD thanks to my rotation project last year. My PhD researches the pathogenesis of the Kaposi Sarcoma-associated Herpes Virus with a particular focus on a viral oncogene it produces called vFLIP. I am interested in cancer biology having done a master’s degree in it, and my interdisciplinary PhD combines structural biology and virology. Overall, the majority of my PhD is wet lab based.

Being supervised while adhering to social distancing rules vaguely resembles a Quickstep dance. The 2-metre rule was recently relaxed to 1-metre with masks on at all times, which made it significantly easier for my supervisor to teach me how to use structural biology equipment. Later this month I will be demonstrating these techniques to undergraduate summer camp students and supervising an undergraduate placement student – both firsts in my career. Apart from eating our lunches at desks spaced 2-metres apart, the daily work routine is becoming relatively normal. I do look forward to the day we can attend seminars and lectures in-person rather than online. However, I will say that the switch to online talks gave me the courage to try a new profession – teaching! Overall, I’m thankful that my transition from working at home to experimenting in the lab has been smooth. I hope my story encourages others who may have some anxiety about returning to work to not be afraid and to believe in themselves!

Meg Kiseleva tells about founding the Birkbeck PhD Network

A blog post by Meg Kiseleva (PhD Organizational Psychology)

I joined Birkbeck as a PhD student in January 2019. Being one of the few people who started halfway through the traditional academic year, initially I found it quite a solitary experience. Luckily, the BGRS were very supportive when Alex Leggett and I decided to start the Birkbeck PhD Network within the Students’ Union to help PhD students meet, network, and find information and support.

For a typical Birkbeck student – busy, juggling many responsibilities, often in employment alongside their studies – finding ways to connect with others may be an overwhelming experience. While the BGRS training events are a great opportunity to meet other PhD students across College, the networking is usually done within the constrains of a workshop: you may chat with someone or even have a coffee together during the break but then usually just rush off to your next appointment.

Within the PhD Network, we are trying to provide an informal space for meeting others, socialising, discussing our experiences as PhD students, and supporting each other on the PhD journey. While we cannot physically meet while the COVID-19 restrictions are in place, we are trying to make up for it with our WhatsApp chat, which you can join by dropping us a line at SU-PhD-Network@bbk.ac.uk, and Facebook group.

Our aim is to bring together people from different departments, different backgrounds, and with different experiences to enable a deep multidisciplinary conversation. Besides, talking to people from other disciplines sometimes opens an unexpected perspective on your own research (and meetups with other PhD students provide an opportunity to practise your “elevator pitch”!). Serious talk aside, we also try to make sure everyone has a comfortable space just to discuss anything the PhD community can provide support with.

On top of that, the Network frequently acts as a point of contact between the PhD community and the BGRS since we can collect comments and queries and bring them up with the BGRS via email or at PGR reps meetings anonymously.

Please use the links above to get in touch and we look forward to welcoming you to our community.

HS2 Student Placement in the Colne Valley

Photo Credit: Samantha Brummage

A blog post by Samantha Brummage (PhD Archaeology)

In 2018/19 Birkbeck PhD student Samantha Brummage was successful in gaining access to a placement supported by the AHRC funded CHASE DTP. In the piece below you can read about Samantha’s experience on the placement and the skills she acquired through it.

BGRS Conference – Postponed

As a result of the current situation we have had to postpone the BGRS Conference which will no longer take place on 22-23 April. However, we do intend to find an alternative date for the event later in the year and will confirm this once available.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank all who had helped to shape the conference through contributions by email, discussion off line, by attending any of the BGRS conference meetings, or by volunteering to take part in the student sessions on methods/ disciplines or the poster competition. Many thanks too to speakers who had agreed to take part.

Thanks in particular to those of you who have been active in the conference steering group and who had until recently been choosing and inviting speakers and helping to set things in place. I’m hopeful that we will be able to build on the work done so far and deliver an exciting event later in the year.

BGRS Conference Poster Competition announced

Poster competition – entries now open

All current Birkbeck PhD students are invited to enter the BGRS Conference Poster Competition which will provide a fantastic opportunity to share your research interests and successes with doctoral students from across the College.

How to take part

If you are a current Birkbeck PhD student and would like to take part in this Poster Competition please complete this brief form by 31 March. All those who enter will be able to claim back up to £30 for poster printing costs from the BGRS.

Prizes

Judging of the posters will take place on day 2 of the conference (23 April) and you will be asked to attend your poster in order to answer questions while judging takes place. The following prizes will be awarded:

  • £300 for the winner
  • 3 x runners up prizes of £100 each

BGRS Conference: A call for student methodology talks

We hope you will have seen that as part of the BGRS Conference (22-23 April) there will be a session where PhD students are invited to give brief presentations (around 10 minutes each) about a methodological aspect of their research project. The aim of this session is to provide opportunities for attendees and contributors to find out about methodology they are not currently familiar with, or to hear from doctoral researchers who have an interest in a similar or related methodology.

We would like to encourage all current Birkbeck PhD students to contribute to this session in order to make it a success. We think this session will be both useful and interesting for the following reasons:

  • You will have the opportunity to present your work to your fellow students and to respond to questions in a supportive environment.
  • If you haven’t yet given a presentation on your research this would be a great opportunity to do so.
  • If you have previously given a presentation on your methodology in another setting you are welcome to use that as the basis of your talk or repeat it.
  • The session will provide the chance to engage with doctoral researchers from across Birkbeck and to receive useful feedback.
  • You would be contributing to the success of the conference and helping to build connections between research students across departments at Birkbeck.

Please do use this brief form by 24 March if you would like to take part in this session.

PhD student members of the BGRS Steering Committee