Stella’s Starting Study Vlog

This post was contributed by Stella Asante (student ambassador) and Gemma Bauman (student engagement officer). Here, Stella gives an insight into starting at Birkbeck. 

Walking into your first class can be nerve racking! Gathering your books, taking a seat and looking around wondering who to talk to and what your lecturers will be like. This feeling of uncertainty is perfectly normal – it’s the feeling of a challenge; a new adventure.

But, what do you need to know to be a little more comfortable with this feeling?

Final year Linguistics and Japanese student, Stella Asante, shares her tips on Freshers at Birkbeck, covering:

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Conceiving Histories: Being Human 2016

A Birkbeck and Wellcome funded project, Conceiving Histories, is taking part in the Being Human Festival in November 2016, holding a free public event 23rd November 6-8pm in Senate House (book a place here). For more information on the festival, see our news article.

Here, Dr Isabel Davis describes the project which the event runs as part of.

Underneath Desires © Anna Burel 2016

Underneath Desires © Anna Burel 2016

If you type into a Google search box ‘Am I…’, ‘Am I pregnant?’ will be one of the first offered searches. The internet can supply some general answers – for example about what might make you pregnant and what pregnancy might feel like – but it can’t, finally, answer the question ‘Am I pregnant?’. Just as much as it is a pragmatic technology, Google is also a convenient and discrete fortune teller here, a place to ask imponderable things. Whether hoping for or fearing pregnancy, in the time before they can test, women and their partners exist in the same imaginative spaces our ancestors inhabited before home pregnancy testing was available: they too tried to know their futures through impossible technologies. Belief, speculation and fantasy flood into the vacuum created by the absence of objective knowledge. It’s odd to find that we don’t and can’t know; it doesn’t feel very modern.

Conceiving Histories © Anna Burel 2016

Conceiving Histories © Anna Burel 2016

Conceiving Histories is a new interdisciplinary project initiated by Isabel Davis in the English and Humanities Department. It investigates this time before pregnancy diagnosis: how was it described, negotiated and experienced in the past and how might historical knowledge about the time of pre-pregnancy be used to contribute to debates and questions about becoming a parent, or not, today?

Conceiving Histories is a collaboration between academic research and contemporary art practice. Anna Burel, an artist with a long interest in questions about the female body and medicine, is looking at the primary materials gathered by the project. The aim is to use artwork as well as writing to articulate the project’s research findings but also to put different ways of working into dialogue and, in that way, to find new and creative answers to the project’s research questions.

The project works through primary case studies, from different periods of time between the Middle Ages and the late 1970s, when the first home pregnancy tests first became available. The case studies concern hidden, misdiagnosed, imagined, feigned and hysterical pregnancies, as well as the desire to know about and to diagnose early pregnancy. We will be looking, to give a few examples, at the wishful idea of angel messengers who revealed the pregnancies of the saints; the invention and practice of uroscopy, auscultation and other diagnostic tools; the pregnancy diagnostic centres in the twentieth century and the logistics of supplying them with hundreds of thousands of tropical carnivorous toads; cases of false pregnancy like those, famously, of Mary Tudor in the sixteenth century on whose reproductive chances the fortunes of the known world rested; experiments and also plans for experiments to determine the moment of conception; the peculiarity of pregnant temporalities; the possibly pregnant in scandals, trials and sensational stories in both historical and literary materials.

Conceiving Histories: At Being Human 2016

We are showcasing some of this material as part of the Being Human Festival. The themes of this year’s Being Human Festival are hope and fear and we are presenting material from two of the project’s case studies to respond to that theme. For hope, we are looking at a strange late eighteenth-century fashion for ‘The Pad’ which made women look pregnant who really weren’t. We’ll be using this to think about the possibilities for women excluded from the experience of pregnancy and pregnant fashions, the comedy – but also perhaps the humiliation – of pretence.

Our other case study is darker and explores an idea for an Experimental Conception Hospital, described in a commentary on a fraught peerage dispute in 1825-6. With high walls and strict staff recruited from nunneries, the hospital would be a secure and secret space in which a hundred women were brought in as experimental subjects. These experiments would solve pressing questions about how to diagnose early pregnancy in an age before reliable pregnancy testing and calculate precisely the length of gestation. What a public service that would be! The experimental conception hospital presents a fantasy about the future but one which looks back to the medieval past. Just as Conceiving Histories does, it sees history as key to our reproductive futures. We’ll be looking at this intriguing historical example to think about fantasies of scientific objectivity in relation to the reproductive body and why such fantasies might trigger a return to historic ideas and materials.

The event will include art work and short talks as well as a wine reception. Everyone is welcome but you need to reserve a place here. Please be aware that the artwork in this event tackles the emotive subject of the female body in relation to pregnancy. Some people may find the images that will be presented disturbing. Click here to see the character of the work, although not the specific images involved in this event.

Details: 23rd November. Senate House (show on a map). 6pm – 8pm.

Follow us on twitter @conceivinghists and facebook @conceivinghistories and visit our website

Book a place on the individual events:

Read more about Birkbeck’s involvement in the 2016 Being Human Festival

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Goal-setting for women working in a professional environment

This post was contributed by Mark Panton, TRIGGER Administrator. Here, Mark reports from the TRIGGER (Transforming Institutions by Gendering Contents and Gaining Equality in Research) First Early Career Seminar, which focused on goal-setting for women working in a professional environment.

Trigger logoThe issue

Too often, women have to put their broader life goals in the shade in order to pursue their career. This is neither necessary, nor is it sustainable. On 15 September, TRIGGER’s First Early Career Seminar addressed some of the underlying tensions that exist which make it harder for women to pursue a clear and balanced set of goals for themselves and their work.

In an engaging and interactive workshop, board mentor Dr Andrew Atter discussed why goal-setting can be so hard together with strategies both women and men can use to formulate a balanced set of goals for themselves; then influence their environment to enable those goals to become a reality.

The relevance of goal-setting and why it is difficult

Goal-setting is particularly important in relation to gender.  Women often have to make more painful trade-offs than men. For women it may be trade-offs in their family and working lives leading to frustrations and limited options. There is some way to go and this can also be true for men where they may have too little time for their family and too much time at work leading to issues of isolation and loneliness. There is also a sense in which many people don’t have goals and are just influenced by the environment.

What makes goal-setting so difficult?

  • Feeling stuck
  • Always out of reach
  • Aspirational (versus planned)
  • Conflicting priorities
  • Life gets in the way

Strategies

Participants discussed goals they had achieved despite these issues and what could be learned from those achievements. Strategies that were debated included the basic step of asking for help; finding the emotional key and the need for resonance. Standard methodologies of goal setting were considered such as the linear, value alignment and realist approaches.

The seminar finished with the use of Triads (new for some of the participants) for a role-playing exercise involving coaches, clients and observers. Even in this short role-play some interesting responses and learnings included.

“I did have more goals and aims than I thought”.

“It was easier to open-up than expected”.

“It can be difficult to talk about goals with a line manager”

The seminar demonstrated there are practical and useful techniques and “life hacks” that can make a big difference. However, much will depend on your own attitudes and behaviour, rather than waiting for the world to become a more perfect place.

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Megacities, the Knowledge Economy and the Dynamics of City Growth

This post was contributed by James Fisk, graduate administrator at the School of Business, Economics and Informatics. Here, James reports from the 19th Uddevalla Symposium, held at Birkbeck from 30 June to 2 July 2016. Read James’s first, second and third blogs on the symposium.

A bustling Tokyo daytime city scene

Since the advent of the industrial revolution, the notion of the city has held a privileged place in our collective imagination. A place of both prosperity and poverty, a site of both unity and tension, cities are synonymous with modernity and its attendant complexities. Now, for the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population are living in cities and, many people, now reside in Megacities – typically defined as a city with 10 million-plus inhabitants (London is on its way there).

The emergence and continued rise of Megacities is a trend that started in the 20th century, but now looks poised to host many of the antagonisms faced in the 21st. How can cities continue to grow without leaving the rest of the world, and many of their own residents, behind? Is inequality an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of Megacity growth, or is it a matter for political and social intervention? These were some of the questions posed at a keynote panel session held at Birkbeck’s Bloomsbury campus, as part of the 19th Uddevalla Symposium.

The panel, comprising Dr Jennifer Clark, Professor Ian Gordon, Dr Tom Kemeny, Dr Jonathan Potter, Councillor Ali Hashem and chaired by Birkbeck’s Dr Federica Rossi, brought together academics and policymakers to discuss the problematic position of Megacities in the globalised contemporary world. The complex relationship between growth and inequality was a key issue at the panel discussion, with a variety of perspectives on the panel testament to the breadth of the issue and an indication of its wide-ranging implications.

What drives growth in Megacities?

Dr Tom Kemeny discussed the drivers of growth in Megacities and highlighted many features specific to them. Citing London and Los Angeles as appropriate examples, Professor Kemeny discussed how high costs associated with conducting business in cities determine a particular, and necessary, character to the type of service or product produced. New enterprise in both London and LA must be able to contend with the high operational costs associated with the cities, meaning the type of service or product produced will typically be high-value, rent producing enterprises that can offset the cost of high wages.  Furthermore, given the concentration of expertise, many of these products or services cannot be easily relocated to elsewhere and the role of a city as a spatial nexus of innovation and connectivity is central to the success of enterprise in such regions.

Dr Jonathan Potter discussed the importance of globalisation and its role in increasing market size, something he says is fundamental to the growth of Megacities. Increases in the mobility of capital and better communications have overcome the traditional constraints of geography and logistics, meaning that Megacities, with their global outlook, are poised to benefit from this paradigmatic shift. Megacities may be the future, but as much as they present unique opportunities, they also present us with unique risks.

Growth and Inequality

The spectre of inequality is one that often runs parallel to growth; if political decisions are not made to distribute the dividends of growth, won’t inequality continue to proliferate? Professor Jennifer Clark spoke at length about this problematic feature of growth, drawing attention to the importance of political discourse in theorizing an equitable solution. Typically, in recent years, the problems associated with growth have been construed as a matter of social policy, rather than a necessary component of economic policy.

However, if the inequality between regions is not the fault of those regions themselves, but the organisation of production by institutions, then the solution required cannot be a technical question but rather a social and economic one for political intervention. As Professor Ian Gordon contended during the panel discussion, it is these political decisions about distribution that sustain and increase inequality, citing the increase of regional inequality from 15% to 30% during the Thatcher government, a period of drastic economic and social change.

Dr Jonathan Potter discussed a fundamental incompatability between inequality and growth, citing recent research from the OECD that saw areas with high inequality experience reduced growth. The reason for this needs further research, but Dr Potter spoke of the importance of human capital and the impact investment in human capital can have on labour productivity.

Translating to Policy

Councillor Ali Hashem (Hammersmith and Fulham Council) spoke of the role of policymakers in both the growth of industry and attempting to make such growth equitable. The difficulty arises from attempting to reconcile macroeconomics, global currents and capital flow, with regional demands and needs. Again, the issue here is that whilst growth must be engineered through economic policy, the consequences of growth must be addressed as a political issue. In this respect, there are many aspects of the global Megacity that must be thought through not just as regional initiatives, but as part of a larger ecology with implications for both those inside, and outside, the city limits.

Click here to watch a video of the panel session.

You can also hear a full audio recording of the panel session on the Bloomsbury media cloud.  Relevant courses from Birkbeck’s Department of Management and the Economics, Mathematics and Statistics Department are available on our website.

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