Author Archives: Katrinah Best

“I had great exposure to leading scholars”

Cobus Van Rooyen has completed three courses at Birkbeck and has credited the College community with exposing him to a “vast amount of knowledge and experience”; and helping him to achieve chartered status. Today, he graduated with a PhD in Geography. This is his story.  

pic of Cobus Van Rooyen

Cobus Van Rooyen

I moved to the UK from Cape Town, South Africa in 2000 and considered undertaking further studies at a UK university. 

Given the fact that it’s very expensive to study full-time without an income, I was really happy to learn that Birkbeck offered part-time courses.  This allowed me to be employed while undertaking my studies.

The best part about studying was the fact that my peers were also in full-time employment and had a vast amount of knowledge and experience in our field of study to share.   

During my PhD research I also had great exposure to leading scholars and found much inspiration from their work.  The part-time PhD was immensely difficult but I am very grateful for my supervisor’s (Dr Joana Barros) support throughout this journey.  I definitely couldn’t have done it without her.  

Although the PhD process was less demanding than the MSc in terms of structure and short timeframes, it had its own challenges.   

Firstly, undertaking research in isolation is quite challenging and much self-motivation is required.  As a PhD researcher I also had to be very disciplined in how I planned my time to ensure I kept to the deadlines and targets I set for myself.     

I was offered a studentship for the first five years of my research. 

Beyond that, my research was also made quite affordable through the payment plan Birkbeck offers, whereby fees can be paid in instalments.  

While studying part-time, I was in full-time employment as a GIS consultant in multi-disciplinary engineering.

Eventually, my studies helped me achieve chartership and I currently function as Fellow and Chartered Geographer (GIS) (obtained from the Royal Geographical Society) and Chartered Scientist (obtained from the UK Science Council). 

What was most memorable from my time at Birkbeck was the opportunities it presented me with.

I had the opportunity to present my research at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) conference in Las Vegas and also to visit MIT for advice on the urban simulation model I was developing.  I was also asked to co-author a textbook chapter with a professor from another university. 

I would like to encourage every person, thinking of studying at Birkbeck, to most certainly do so.

I am very relieved that I was able to complete my research successfully but I will really miss Birkbeck immensely.  Birkbeck contributed greatly to both my personal and career growth and I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to further my studies there. 

Further information: 

Study Geography at Birkbeck
Read more about Birkbeck’s international student community
Find out more about studying for a PhD at Birkbeck
Research at Birkbeck 

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Overcoming an initial language barrier 

Originally from Italy, Martina Innocenti chose to study an MSc in Childhood, Youth and International Development at Birkbeck because of the in-depth course content and the flexibility evening study afforded. From being incredibly worried that her language skills might hold her back academically, to winning multiple prizes for her dissertation, this is Martina’s story.  

pic of Martina Innocenti

Martina Innocenti

I kept saying to my tutor, ‘I’m not good enough to do a Master’s 

I moved to the UK one year before starting my Master’s. At the time, I couldn’t speak English well.  was taking language classes and working with early years children as Montessori early years educator. When I got accepted into Birkbeck, I was happy but I was also very worried about the language barrier, like I wasn’t good enough to do well in my studies because of it. I kept saying to my tutor, ‘I’m not good enough to do a Master’s – maybe mentally I’m ready to do it, but practically, I have this limitation.’ She encouraged me every step of the way, eventually suggesting that I convert to studying part-time rather than full-time, which made such a difference.  

Being a part-time student was amazing 

Being a part time student was amazing! It allowed me to continue working and gave me the vital time and space I needed to gain confidence in my English. I had time to really explore and deeply understand the specialist subjects I was learning about. It meant that I could actually enjoy the process of studying. 

My language proficiency did not represent my intellectual capability 

Now, when I consider that I was conducting evening interviews with youth in Peru, reviewing 50-page transcripts in Spanish then translating them to English and analysing data, all whilst working, it makes me feel quite proud. I was able to speak, work and think critically across two languages, neither of which were my native tongue, to gain very insightful data about something I’m passionate about. When I found out I won the Children, Youth and International Development prize for my dissertation, I couldn’t believe it! Then when I also won the Birkbeck Gender and Sexuality prize, I saw it as proof that my language proficiency did not represent my intellectual capability. 

I felt like a proper researcher! 

I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to do my master’s over two years, and Birkbeck’s approach to structuring my course options was brilliant. I had room to grow at the pace I needed to become fully knowledgeable about my area of study and approach my dissertation with the attention, intensity and critical thinking it deserved. I felt like a proper researcher! Having a part-time structure to do all my literature reviews, data collection and analysis, and write the dissertation was empowering; I felt like I was able to give my best. 

It was all just a matter of confidence 

I realised through my Birkbeck journey that I’m a competent and multi-skilled professional, it was all just a matter of confidence. It took a while, and multiple strategies, to build this confidence. For instance, I made an effort to see my classmates in non-academic settings, so I could get more comfortable with listening to and speaking English. I also reached out for help whenever I could, asking my friends, housemates and tutors to review my writing style and feedback wherever possible. And I shared my thoughts and frustrations with my dissertation supervisor, who was a source of great inspiration and support. In the end, my determination combined with the support I got, meant that my dissertation was a uniquely valuable intersectional contribution to literature and research about Latin American working children.  

Further Information:

Find out more about studying MSc Children, Youth and International Development 

Find out more about being an International Student at Birkbeck  

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Birkbeck’s Community Leadership workshops reach a new group of residents

In this blog, Ali Dunk, Access Officer, talks about the Community Leadership Programme for Camden Residents and how it was expanded from the department’s previous work in the London Borough of Newham. 

promotion material for camden leadership programme

 The Community Leadership Programme for Camden Residents is run by the Access and Engagement Department in collaboration with the Community Development and Public Policy BSc in the Department of Geography. 

Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, the project aims to bring university learning to the Camden community and is part of the Access and Engagement department’s aim to bring education and learning opportunities to groups underrepresented in higher education. 

After a successful three years of running Community Leadership courses for Newham Residents, Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement team and Department of Geography recently joined forces to expand the programme into the college’s home borough of Camden. Working closely with representatives from Camden Council, the existing course was reframed and updated to reflect the challenges of the pandemic, as well as focusing on specific issues faced by residents across Camden. It is a unique offer – a free five session course offering workshops that support representatives from the Camden community to make change in their local area as well as offering a space for the residents to collaborate and share their own experience and resources. 

Community leadership programme in session

The course leader, Dr David Tross, said, “The course is called Community Leadership, not because the participants necessarily have any formal leadership role, but because they all, in various ways and through various roles, are making a contribution to their local area, demonstrating how local people can instigate change because they have a passion or will to do so. The workshops themselves cover a range of subjects, from how to develop and deliver a community project to supporting residents’ health, wellbeing and resilience.” 

Some of the themes and topics discussed by the group in-session included how to utilise social media to recruit volunteers, how to access local grant funding and the best way to run a voluntary organisation. One workshop participant remarked after the final session: ‘[the course] was superb. I particularly liked how the course leader conducted the workshop and engaged with everyone perfectly’.  

The support of Camden Council has been integral to the expansion of the course, with representatives from the Adult Education and Inclusive Economy teams working with Birkbeck to publicise it as well as co-designing elements that speak specifically to the issues of the borough. The course is just one element of Access and Engagement’s outreach work in Camden but works as an effective introduction to the college for many who live on its’ doorstep. Whilst the first four weeks of the course were held remotely via Microsoft Teams, the final session was on Birkbeck’s Malet Street campus, allowing participants to meet face-to-face as well as experiencing the college’s facilities first hand. Access to the course materials was provided via the college’s Moodle platform, giving the participants an insight into how to use a virtual learning environment. 

camden community leadership team and testimonials

If you’re interested in getting involved with Access and Engagement’s work in the community, email the team via getstarted@bbk.ac.uk 

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Welcome to Birkbeck for 2021 Chevening Scholars

International culture and exchange are once again celebrated with the new cohort of Chevening scholars; and all are encouraged to ‘leave their mark’ on both Birkbeck and wider society.

2021 Chevening scholars

On the 9th of November 2021, the International team held a Welcome event for the 2021 Chevening Scholars. The Scholars this year hail from 23 countries: Paraguay, Ethiopia, Iraq, South Africa, Nepal, Uganda, Sudan, Russia, Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Dominica, Bolivia, Albania, Montenegro, Georgia, Morocco, Santo Domingo, Tunisia, Peru, Ukraine, Guatemala and Laos. The International diversity of the Chevening Scholars is a pivotal part of Birkbeck’s success and this was demonstrated during the event.

Professor Kevin Ibeh, Pro Vice Master (International) opened the Welcome event by highlighting Birkbeck’s achievements over the years and emphasized to Chevening scholars the importance of leaving their mark. Professor Kevin Ibeh said: “Birkbeck will be celebrating 200 years as an institution in 2023, and you we all be part of it as you are the 198th  year of students at Birkbeck University.”

There were also speeches from academics from several of the Schools including Professor Sanjib Bhakta from the School of Science, Professor Alexandra Beauregard and Andrea Williams from the School of BEI, and Dr Ali Guven from the School of SSHIP. The academics shared knowledge on their expertise. Professor Sanjib Bhakta discussed the significance of diversity and encouraged everyone to always embrace their different cultures.

The event celebrated the rich diversity of the Chevening Scholarship recipients through a Welcome to Birkbeck presentation by the international team and gave the scholars an opportunity to learn about each other’s talents, goals, and aspirations through a fun group activity. To conclude the event, the scholars enjoyed light refreshments and shared with their student journeys and advice they would give to future international students wishing to study at Birkbeck.

Nina Perunovic from Montenegro spoke about the benefits of studying at Birkbeck: “Getting to know other international students, their culture and share experiences and different approaches to the same problems is quite interesting to me”.

We look forward to celebrating and sharing more stories from our 2021 Chevening Scholars.

Further information

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