Newham Young People’s Careers Fair

Hester Gartrell, Outreach and Widening Access Senior Officer at Birkbeck, discusses the recent careers fair at our Stratford campus for Newham residents aged 16-24.

On Wednesday 29 August, Birkbeck’s Stratford campus hosted Newham Young People’s Careers Fair. The fair which was delivered in partnership with Workplace, Newham’s job brokerage, provided support, advice and guidance about education, employment and training for young people aged 16-24.

The event is the result of an ongoing partnership between Birkbeck Access and Engagement and Workplace and was a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase our campus to Newham residents. A key part of our access work is to demonstrate to potential students that Birkbeck is a welcoming place which will support them throughout their studies. Opening up our doors to what can seem a daunting and gated space is essential to this.

The fair also gave us the chance to speak to local residents about Birkbeck and its flexible study options right in the heart of Newham as well as being a culmination to the work that we’ve been doing throughout the borough this summer. This has included joining Workplace on their roadshow across Newham, holding regular information and advice drop-ins at local libraries and attending community festivals.

In addition to hosting 179 Newham residents, we also had 30 organisations exhibit at the fair from sectors as varied as construction, television and further education. Not only did the event allow us to build links with these businesses, it again allowed us to show others our campus where they may want to host their own events or where they or their colleagues may want to consider studying.

We’re looking forward to hosting more Access and Engagement events and activities on campus in autumn and beyond with plans for our own events and further partnership working.

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Celebrating Birkbeck the One World way

Dr Sanjib Bhakta, Assistant Dean (International and Partnership), School of Science & Chair of the One World Festival Planning Committee, writes on what to expect from the College’s first One World Festival. Booking information for each event is available here.

Globalisation does not mean to forget where you are originally from. London, one of the great global cities of the world, is a melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities, languages and socio-economic backgrounds.

In order to celebrate Birkbeck’s positive contribution to the local and global societies, its exceptional international reach, and its rich and diverse cultures, we will be holding our first One World Festival. This will feature public lectures, workshops, film screenings, global art, international food and music, pot-luck picnic, historic walking tours and more, offering the participants – particularly international students – the opportunity to meet, interact, and learn about other cultures.

Birkbeck One World Festival will run from 24-29 September 2018, ending with the College Orientation activities at the Student Central, the University of London’s Student Union building, and a performance from a string quartet entitled Around the World in 45 Minutes. A special international edition of The Lamp and Owl, the Birkbeck Student newspaper, will be published to mark the festival, along with a supplementary international cookbook. Birkbeck’s international students will later have an opportunity to meet with the Master of Birkbeck, Professor David Latchman, on 16 October 2018, at the Keynes Library.

The key objectives of this event are:

  • To celebrate Birkbeck’s multicultural community of staff and students from all over the world.
  • To increase involvement and solidarity in the celebration of the multicultural community, and to educate others about varied cultures, values and aspirations which are different from their own.

The One World Festival will enable outreach at a community level to work beyond any boundary such as culture, ethnicity, gender and creed, and recognise that Birkbeck is part of only one world in combating inequality and discrimination. Hopefully, this event will motivate activities which would nurture values of unity in diversity and lead to learning, understanding and action for global justice. Finally, this multicultural event week would nourish and replenish the social positivity, enrich culture and help people to combat against any social odds. I would like to thank volunteers from different departments in the College, External Relations, International Office, Birkbeck Student Union, various Birkbeck International Societies to formulate a One World Festival organising committee and meet regularly to plan and launch the event with excitement, fun and colour, and to engage the whole of the College family.

Please join us in celebrating the first ever One World Festival at Birkbeck!

Booking information for each event is available here.

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Science Week 2018: The Rosalind Franklin Lecture at the ISMB Symposium

Dr Clare Sansom reports on Birkbeck’s annual Rosalind Franklin Lecture, delivered this year as part of the biennial Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology (ISMB) Symposium. The lecture was delivered by Berkeley’s Professor Eva Nogales, a distinguished scholar in electron microscopy research.

Professor Eva Nogales (right) with Birkbeck’s Professor Nick Keep

Since 2016, Birkbeck has held an annual lecture named in honour of perhaps the most famous woman scientist ever to work there: Rosalind Franklin, whose extraordinary, meticulous experimental work was a necessary part of solving the structure of DNA. This lecture is part of Birkbeck’s commitment to the Athena SWAN equality initiative, and is it given by a woman scientist distinguished in one of the disciplines represented there.

The 2018 lecture differed from its predecessors in forming part of both Birkbeck’s annual Science Week and the eighth ISMB Symposium. The Institute of Structural Molecular Biology (ISMB) is a centre of excellence, founded in 2003 to promote and integrate multi-disciplinary research in molecular, cell and structural biology in Birkbeck and its much larger neighbour, UCL. It holds a varied programme of events for faculty members, research staff and students; symposia, held in ‘even years’, are intensive conferences, generally held over two days and featuring talks from international research leaders.

This symposium was held over two afternoons on Monday 18 and Tuesday 19 June, with the Rosalind Franklin lecture as the last one on the first day. In planning the symposium, its organisers chose to highlight one technique among all those available for researchers at the ISMB: electron microscopy, as used to study the atomic structures of large protein complexes and ‘molecular machines’. The Institute’s director, Gabriel Waksman, highlighted Birkbeck’s acquisition of a new and very powerful electron microscope – a Titan Krios – in his introduction as ‘something to celebrate’. According to the School of Science Facebook page, Birkbeck’s Department of Biological Sciences is the smallest UK university department to house such a powerful microscope, and it is only through the ISMB that it is able to punch so far above its weight. And the Rosalind Franklin lecturer, Eva Nogales from the University of California in Berkeley, was only one of several distinguished proponents of this technique to present their research during the symposium.

Few women have achieved as much in electron microscopy research as Nogales. Following a short introduction by Professor Nicholas Keep, Dean of the Faculty of Science at Birkbeck, she began her Rosalind Franklin lecture with thanks. She paid tribute to two of the distinguished researchers present, Helen Saibil and Ken Holmes, describing Saibil, the Bernal Professor of Structural Biology at Birkbeck, as an ‘inspirational’ pioneering woman in electron microscopy. Holmes, who had given one of the previous talks at the symposium, worked with Rosalind Franklin as a PhD student at Birkbeck in the 1950s and went on to make ground-breaking discoveries about the structure of the muscle protein, actin.

Nogales’ main theme during her lecture was her lab’s efforts to decipher the structures of several large, multi-protein complexes that are involved in the process of gene expression. The different types of cells in our bodies – with a few odd exceptions, such as cancer cells – all contain exactly the same DNA in the chromosomes in the cell nucleus. What makes a brain cell differ from a bone cell or a heart call is how the information carried by the genes on those chromosomes is expressed in the functional molecules, mainly proteins.  Only a fraction of the genes in a genome are expressed in a given cell at any particular time. Gene expression is the term given to this incredibly complex and exquisitely sensitive process, which can be divided into two stages expressed simplistically as ‘DNA to RNA’ and ‘RNA to protein’. Work in the Nogales lab focuses on two protein complexes that are involved in the first sub-process, the transcription of the DNA sequences of genes into RNA. These bear the rather cumbersome names of polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) and transcription factor II D (TFIID).

If the DNA in each human chromosome could be stretched out it would measure tens of centimetres in length. It is packed and compressed to fit into the microscopic cell nucleus by winding around histone proteins to form circular units of structure called nucleosomes. Proteins in the ‘transcription machinery’ can only access the DNA to start gene expression if these are loosely packed. PRC2, as its full name implies, represses this process: it does so by adding methyl groups to the alkaline lysine residues of the histones, making the nucleosomes pack more tightly together. The protein complex therefore forms an ‘on-off switch’ for gene expression. Disrupting its function can lead to the uncontrolled cell growth and multiplication that is characteristic of cancer cells and it is therefore a useful target for the design of anti-cancer drugs.

Nogales explained that PRC2 is a very large protein complex and that determining its structure using electron microscopy presented a considerable challenge. The first structures, obtained before the ‘resolution revolution’ in this technique, could only show separate protein molecules as ‘blobs’: later, better structures that revealed the positions of individual atoms proved that these were ‘accurate but not very precise’. The complex is now known to exist in several distinct structural states and to be able to add methyl groups (‘active’) in two of them. The main difference between these is in the position of one helix, which is bent against the rest of the molecule in the ‘compact active’ conformation but straightens away from it in the ‘extended active’ one.  PRC2 binds to two protein co-factors in ways that mimic the binding of the flexible ‘tails’ of the histone proteins in methylated and unmethylated forms respectively.

She then showed some even more impressive structures to explain how the complex interacts with nucleosomes. One complex binds between a pair of nucleosomes, and as long as the DNA that links the two is the right length, binding the first nucleosome positions the second so that the right amino acids are brought into the right position in the PCR2 active site for methylation to occur efficiently.

The second complex discussed, TFIID, is active exactly when PRC2 is not, as its presence is necessary to begin the process through which DNA is transcribed into RNA. This begins with the step-by-step assembly of proteins close to the position on the DNA where transcription is due to start, forming a ‘preinitiation complex’. TFIID is the first component of this complex to assemble, and this ‘nucleates’ the complex by recruiting other transcription factors so RNA synthesis can begin. Nogales described distinctive structures of parts of the preinitiation complex obtained by members of her group, finishing by showing some unpublished work on its structure and dynamics that included this vital component. If this fascinating lecture has inspired the many young electron microscopists in the audience as much as Helen Saibil’s work inspired Nogales, then the future of the discipline will be in good – and often female – hands.

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The case for greater evidence-based policing in the UK

Dr Almuth McDowall from Birkbeck’s Department of Organizational Psychology reports on the recent international conference on policing education and training.

On Wednesday 27 June 2018, Birkbeck hosted an International Symposium on Evidence-Based Policing.  As most of us are aware, there are quantum shifts ahead in the UK policing training landscape. According to the Policing Education and Qualifications Framework (PEQF), going forward, there will be three graduate routes to entry as a Police Constable: a) an apprenticeship, b) graduate entry conversion, and c) policing degrees. This requires a fundamental rethinking of how we train police officers and what we can expect of them. What can the UK learn from other professions and contexts? This was the overall question guiding our symposium with around 70 delegates, including academics and policing practitioners, many of whom were international attendees.

Professor Jennifer Brown, Co-Director of the Mannheim Centre for Criminology at London School of Economics and Political Science, opened proceedings to question if there is evidence that graduates will do a good job in law enforcement. The consensus is that research is lacking in this area, especially in the UK context, and there is an increasing need to better understand the value that ‘graduate readiness’ adds to policing on the streets. David Gamblin, Research Assistant at Birkbeck, presented research conducted as part of a Home Office Funded Innovation grant which was spearheaded by the Mayor’s Office for Policing in London (MOPAC) and led by Birkbeck’s Department of Organizational Psychology, Birkbeck’s Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR), and University College London (UCL).

This tracked participants from ‘Police Now’, a leadership training programme over time and also investigated their take on ‘Evidence-based Policing’. Findings show high motivation to make a real difference, the importance of the environment once ‘on the beat’, and highlights that direct effort to train in evidence-based approaches can be helpful, but effectiveness depends on how this is done. Tiggey May, Senior Research Fellow at ICPR, outlined qualitative research from the same project which shows that the environment in forces varies greatly and that there is a need to be clear about what can and cannot be expected from graduates in training. Dr Jyoti Belur, Senior Lecturer at UCL, outlined a stakeholder review to question the extent to which forces are ready for the changes in training, highlighting an all-round need for more education and guidance.

Dr Cody Telep, Assistant Professor at Arizona State University, built on these themes by outlining his own programme of research which focused on police receptivity to research. His findings show, perhaps not surprisingly, that there is a real difference between ‘chiefs’ and ‘officers’, especially as more senior officers have a higher chance of being exposed to evidence and being willing to conduct research.

Dr Norma O’Flynn from the Royal College of Physicians presented data from the medical context, noting that more access to evidence means more drug prescriptions. A key question is whether this is always in the interest of the patients. Her presentation also highlighted that one needs to be clear on the purpose of evidence – is improvement in quality, rather than quantity, of care, not a key objective? Dr Karen Lumsden, Associate Professor at the University of Leicester, continued with the evidence-based theme, also using qualitative approaches to understand evidence-based policing. She highlighted the importance of context as a driver and the strong influence of the (policing) performance culture.

Finally, an interactive world café got everyone off their seats to work together towards solutions. All agreed that graduates have the potential to bring critical thinking, a desire to question, and upscaling of skills to policing – if these qualities are actually utilised. This depends on the culture, protecting learning time, good partnership between forces and education providers, and how policing is actually taught. Forces need to be transparent, to co-design and co-deliver training, and to promote the right kinds of skills and knowledge. Academics also need to do their bit by fostering innovation, combining rigour with realism and drawing on best practice research.

Delegates told us how much they had valued the event; in particular, they stressed that we got the balance right between critical dialogue and not ‘losing’ the practitioners with an overly academic take – “Great event full of insightful resources – thank you!” was a resounding comment.

We hope to draw this learning into a publication, so please so stay in touch if you would like to know more about our activities. A Special Issue of Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice is underway for 2019.

Read Extending the Remit of Evidence-Based Policing.

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