How the generosity of donors transforms the lives of students

On 13 July 2017 Birkbeck welcomed donors, volunteers, students and staff for an ‘An Evening of Thanks’ for all they give to the College. Aziza Sentissi, a PhD candidate in Mathematics and Statistics, spoke at the event, and reflects on what the generosity of donors means for students like her, who may otherwise be unable to undertake their studies. aziza850x450My interest in Mathematics dates back to an early age at primary school. I achieved good academic results in Mathematics and I never felt that it was an effort to tackle my math homework or any math puzzle. I have always enjoyed the thrill of the mathematical challenge. It was (and it is still) like going on an adventure where your only tools are your logic and your instinct. I believe that we all have naturally a set of skills in which we reach our optimal potential. It is just matter of finding, nurturing and using them. In my case, it is definitely Mathematics.

Most of my academic and professional decisions were motivated by the need to use Mathematics on a daily basis. I studied industrial engineering for my undergraduate degree, focused on financial engineering when I studied for my MBA and spent more than a decade working in market risk management in both Toronto and London. My career allowed me to gain an expert-level experience in the field while using the mathematical finance skills I acquired through education and experience.

I know that I should have felt a certain degree of contentment with my academic and professional progression, but in reality, I felt frustration that I was still far from my intellectual potential. I felt that I needed to get back to ‘core Mathematics’. It was just about finding the right programme so that I could reconcile studies and work. Finding out about Birkbeck’s MSc programmes was already a big step toward my goals. Indeed, Birkbeck offered the best opportunity to join a recognized programme taught by an outstanding faculty while working in London.  A few years later, I graduated with distinction from the MSc Applied Statistics (2013) course, and with merit from MSc Mathematics (2015).

Studying at Birkbeck by far exceeded all my expectations. It has competitive programmes with strong curriculums, an outstanding faculty, and dedicated staff. Some companies I’ve worked at have spent a lot of money persuading employees to buy into their mission. Well, at Birkbeck, it is an achieved goal. You can sense the commitment to the university’s mission at each one of your interactions either with the professors or with the staff. I have always been amazed that everybody will make that extra effort to help you thrive in your studies and achieve your goals as you are trying to balance your work life and your studies.

My story with Birkbeck did not stop at the end of my second masters. Indeed, as I expressed my interest in joining the full-time PhD programme while highlighting my financial constraints, my supervisors suggested applying to few scholarships which I eagerly did. After a few weeks, I was approved for the Winton STEM PhD Studentship, which aims to promote gender equality in STEM subjects.

The support from Winton has indeed made it possible for me to join the full-time PhD programme in Mathematics. There are no words that really capture how grateful I am to Winton for their support and for giving me the opportunity to pursue a long-term ambition which is to build a career in research in Mathematics either within the academic world or within a research firm. The subject of my PhD is about optimizing one of the advanced approximation methods (Meshfree method) in multivariate setting.  It is a cutting-edge subject with multiple applications in several fields such as engineering, machine learning and artificial intelligence. I am extremely proud to be working on this subject with my supervisors who are experts in the field.

Through my PhD, I have also had the opportunity to take part in an outreach conference jointly organised by Birkbeck and Winton. At the conference, we encouraged young women from schools in disadvantaged London boroughs to consider studying mathematics at university. It was a privilege and an amazing experience to see the impact of the conference on these girls and to see how it changed their perspective on using their mathematical talent.

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The football player transfer market – an argument for reform

Lucy Tallentire (School of Business, Economics and Informatics) and students Vasiliki Panou (MSc Sport Management & Marketing) and George Totomis (MSc Sport Management and the Business of Football) look at the debate surrounding the football player transfer market. football

On Tuesday 20 June 2017, the Birkbeck Sport Business Society (BSBS) was delighted to host an exclusive presentation by two of the world’s leading academic authorities in the sport economics and sport governance fields. The event – the second of its kind organised by BSBS – brought together a diverse range of perspectives on the theme of the reform of the football player transfer market; Professor Stefan Szymanski, of the University of Michigan, an economist, is a noted critic of the transfer system, and his co-presenter, Professor Stephen Ross, of Pennsylvania State University, is a sport law specialist with a particular interest in the laws of multi-year employment contracts. The seminar proved a great platform for healthy debate, with both experts in discordance over certain key issues.

An exception for exceptional talent?
In the European Union, generally, an employee’s ability to switch employers is governed by the contract law of EU member states.  But in football, further to a 2001 agreement between FIFA, the governing body of world football, the European Commission, and FIFPro, the global football players union, players ability to move between football clubs is more strictly regulated, with a “buying” club having to pay a “selling” club a transfer fee if the player is leaving mid-contract. Professor Szymanski argues that the current FIFA rules provide an unclear set of damages and penalties that sharply limit player mobility in a manner which is both unfair and without justification. Professor Stefan Szymanski and Professor Stephen Ross were invited to discuss the intrinsic issues in this “transfer system” – a product of private arrangement by European clubs adhering to FIFA regulations for when a player seeks to change teams despite having signed a multi-year contract.

Professor Stefan Szymanski began by highlighting the unfairness of the current system. Apart for  those exceptional highly paid players, the majority of professional football players are low-paid. Where European work law usually allows employees to change their position with no restraints, football players find themselves locked into multi-year contracts, from which it is difficult to exit without a “buying” club paying significant compensation, the transfer fee, to a “selling” club; he argued that this accentuates the dominance of elite clubs, who are best placed to pay a transfer fee and creates an exploitative culture trapping thousands of lower-paid players.

The current research focus of his co-presenter Professor Stephen Ross, however, suggests that a player’s ability to enter into a multi-year contract is not a restraint, but an exercise of free movement. A multi-year contract means a player must still be paid the terms of the contract even if they do not play. Professor Ross did not deny that the current FIFA system is restrictive. However, he stated that he  had struggled throughout his research to identify a less restrictive alternative – whatever the system adopted, players will still sign and play under a contract, and both players and clubs will continue to “gamble” by agreeing on a particular salary.

A unique system – without a solution?
Opening up the debate to the wider audience provided many insightful and critical questions on a range of issues, such as the legality of the transfer system, and the role of buy-out and release clauses in players contracts (whereby a player can break their contract if certain pre-determined conditions are met). An interesting debate arose around the idea of the stability that a multi-year contract can offer is a positive benefit for both a player and a club – Professor Szymanski was adamant that selling your labour for more than a year could be considered equal to selling your freedom, by violating the regulations of free movement and security. Professor Ross, on the other hand, argued that multi-year contracts enable especially young and talented players to settle and develop – a great benefit of the current system. Ultimately, players who do not advance to a more elite level can also benefit from multi-year contracts; they can remain where they are without returning the intended value to the club.

In conclusion, the experts and the audience were able to agree on some crucial areas for development, namely providing stronger, more supportive player unions for players of all abilities and pay-packets, or challenging the current law in court.

It is also important to acknowledge the difference between the professional sports’ industry and other business sectors; there is no one-size-fits-all solution, as is obvious in the difference of opinion between these experts. Vision and new proposals for a more inclusive and legal system are vital – the current absence of articulated alternatives should not mean a perpetual problem for professional football players seeking to move employer.

Find out more about BSBS here: Birkbeck Sport Business Society

For further information about the Society, please contact: mailto:bbksportsociety@gmail.com

Notes made by:

Vasiliki Panou – Student in MSc Sport Management & Marketing

vas.pan@hotmail.com

George Totomis – MSc Sport Management and the Business of Football

g.s.totomis@gmail.com

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Celebrating Birkbeck’s TRIGGER project

Lucy Tallentire from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics reports on a celebration event for the TRIGGER project (Transforming Institutions by Gendering Contents and Gaining Equality in Research) – which aims to increase the number of women in university sectors where they are underrepresented.trigger850x450On Wednesday 21 June, the Birkbeck TRIGGER team held a special event of celebration, discussion and networking at BMA House, to mark an end to the four year research project. The event provided an opportunity to share with an audience of friends, supporters and collaborators the team’s final research findings, and hear from external guests from various fields within academia and business on the challenges and successes of gender equality initiatives.

Since its inception in January 2014, TRIGGER has produced vital research to support the increasing presence of women in higher education and business where they are underrepresented. The applied project – a partnership between institutions in the Czech Republic, France, Italy and Spain – has considered and developed initiatives to foster organisational change by promoting the role of women in research and academia, in STEM subjects and in management positions.

A Legacy of Mentoring and Leadership

In his welcome address, Professor David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck College, praised the innovative nature of TRIGGER, which has helped the College to rethink the way it approaches equality through Athena SWAN more broadly, too: “While this celebration marks the end of the TRIGGER project, it is important to note that the initiatives the team have introduced, such as College-wide mentoring and carefully tailored leadership seminars, will go on past the life of the scheme itself.” As Chair of the College’s Athena SWAN committee, Professor Latchman went on to describe the transformative influence that the mentoring programme has had on women academics at Birkbeck, especially on early career researchers.

The TRIGGER project team then took to the stage to present on the following areas of research and impact:

  • Networking
  • Academic Mentoring
  • Rethinking Research Methods to Investigate Sex Differences
  • Commercialisation of the work of women scientists
  • Gender cultures in research and science
  • Gender and Leadership

Each member of the team reflected on the outcomes of their individual part in the project, and on how these outcomes were both impactful and applicable. The project’s focus group sessions, for example, provided a platform to hear the personal experiences of women and men in the institution to analyse the way in which the infrastructure could better support and maintain gender equality in the workplace. Similarly, panel events with external collaborators in London, Dundalk, Lund and Pisa built on internal discussions and offered insight into how these initiatives could be transformed and applied to fit in with organisations beyond Birkbeck.triggerFollowing their research dissemination, a panel of experts in their respective fields of academia and industry were given a chance to react to these findings and comment on their own experiences.

Among concerns such as the gender pay gap, lack of support following a career break, and ‘the glass ceiling, the issue most frequently addressed by the panel was that of unconscious bias, and the need to step away from calling it ‘a woman’s problem’.  Gemma Irvine, Head of Policy and Strategic Planning at the Higher Education Authority in Ireland, described the effect of this on a woman as ‘not a lack of confidence in herself, but a lack of confidence in the organisation to treat them fairly and provide the right infrastructure for change. Unconscious bias is not something that can only be fixed by women – but those who have privilege are often blind to it.’

What can we learn from the TRIGGER project?

Simply recognising unconscious bias does not remove it from the system – and as a society, we must work day-to-day to chance the deeply entrenched stereotypes and imbalances. We need skilled leaders – both men and women to advocate for leadership for women – but there is also a need for women to identify role models, and aspire to the next stage in their career. The TRIGGER project has demonstrated the power of mentoring and of networks, but also the value of a balanced network; while women do not network as readily as men, removing all men from women’s networking opportunities is not a solution to the problem.

Ultimately, the short and intermediate changes, or outcomes, are not enough; we must strive for impact, changes in decision making and a culture shift to a ‘no closed doors’ policy for men and women. Only in collaboration with projects such as TRIGGER can we achieve broader changes within research and industrial communities and wider society. We must stop treating the symptoms of gender equality and start identifying and chipping away at the foundation of the problem to make a change.

The TRIGGER team would like to thank the panel, audience and its many international supporters for their work over the last four years. Find out more about TRIGGER on their website.

Many thanks to all the panelists:

  • David Stringer-Lamarre, Fortis Consulting/Chairman, IoD City of London
  • Amanda Bennett, Fairplay Enterprises Ltd
  • Sally Hardy, Regional Studies Association
  • Aggie Cooper, Aramco UK Ltd
  • Dr Gemma Irvine, The Higher Education Authority, Dublin
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Applying Big Data to Economics

Lucy Tallentire from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics at Birkbeck and CSIS PhD candidate Seongil Han report on a recent conference at the Birkbeck Centre for Data Analytics (BIDA).bidaWhat can we learn from Big Data, and how can Big Data analytics be applied to the field of Economics? These were just some of the questions answered by a one-day conference held by Birkbeck Institute for Data Analytics (BIDA) on Monday 5 June. The event was organised in collaboration with the Department of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics, to bring together researchers from statistics, applied mathematics, computer science, finance and economics to enhance the research environment and promote cross-disciplinary collaboration within the College, and with a wider external audience.

Birkbeck’s Professor Stephen Wright kicked off proceedings with an insightful presentation on the application of Big Data to large-scale surveys and maps. In his research project of residential land supply in 27 EU countries, he examines sources such as Google Maps, ONS/Ordnance Survey and Open Street maps to explain large differences across EU countries and identify whether there are restrictions on residential land. Professor Wright concluded that a large proportion of the regional variation in supply of residential land in the EU can be explained econometrically and is very strongly determined by regional geography and history.

Guest speaker Giovanni Mastrobuoni, Professor of Economics in Department of Economics, University of Essex, provided a unique insight into the role of Big Data analytics on police patrols and crime. Based on recent evidence that police deployment reduces crime, the project was designed to identify whether the elasticity of crime with regard to policing remains the same, and whether it is worth randomly increasing mobile police presence in an area. The results suggest, however, that big data is only useful with good prior identification; elasticity is negligible if identification is low, and random mobile patrolling cannot reduce crime significantly.

The second part of the conference focused on big data in business, economy and strategy. Professor Roger Maull, from the Department of Digital Economy in University of Surrey, discussed business models in relation to the digital economy, introducing 3 new approaches to the economy for big data – digitisation, datafication and digitalisation. He explained business models with industry dynamics and emphasised the following qualities:

  • value proposition, or what the customer pays for;
  • value creation, or how one delivers what the customer pays for;
  • value capture, or how the customer pays for it.

Big data has allowed significant advancements in personalisation and customisation, which also link to HAT (Hub of All Things): an IT business services to store and customise the personal data, as a real business model for personal data.

Final speaker Ernesto Damiani, from the Etisalat British Telecom Innovation Centre, Abu Dhabi, introduced the prospect of big data analytics as a service. He started by highlighting the 5 Vs of big data:

  • Variety in analytics model: static ways vs dynamic ways;
  • Volume;
  • Velocity;
  • Value;

He also compared traditional analytics with big data analytics and explained a change in paradigm for data analytics, which is supported by the example of Google.

The conference succeeded in providing a comprehensive introduction to the many ways in which big data analytics, such as text mining techniques, can be applied to Economics and business. Big data analytics continue to attract a great deal of attention in academia and industry, with an increasing amount of unstructured data available on web; it is vital to apply big data analytics to various problems to supplement qualitative information to conventional descriptive analytics and infer the predictive analytics.

BIDA would like to thank the presenters and all those who attended for their insightful comments and discussion. You can find out more about the Birkbeck Institute for Data Analytics on their website.

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