Cyber Security professionals offer students advice and insights at Birkbeck Careers event

This post was written by Jenna Davies from Birkbeck Careers


Students were exposed to plenty of practical advice, industry insights and networking opportunities this week as professionals from the world of cyber security shared their experiences as well as their thoughts on getting into the sector at a panel discussion organised by Birkbeck Careers.

The fundamental message was extremely positive, with every panellist indicating that there is a route for anyone to get into the industry; it’s a case of finding the right one for you.

Nigel Jones, CEO of IAAC (Information Assurance Advisory Council) highlighted that companies are often looking for bothnon techie’ as well as techie people. He revealed his outlook that there’s always a way to map your route into cyber and no matter what your background, there’s a career in cyber if you want to go down this path.

The ever growing skills shortage was a hot topic of conversation and Nick Wilding, General Manager of Cyber Resilience at AXELOS Global Best Practice (a joint venture between the UK Government and Capita plc) highlighted the demand for the skills today’s students have. Being a geography graduate, Nick emphasised that the skills required are multi-faceted and the growth of the industry demonstrates the need for those in the audience to put their skills to use in this arena.

Fellow panellist Erin Jones – Senior Associate at PwC UK cyber security practice – took her teaching role developing computer science and IT schemes and turned it into a career within cyber. Erin spoke of her own education at an all-girls school, indicating that tech was never advertised as a career option, which is controversial given the low number of women currently working within technology. The barrier for Erin isn’t the lack of women in the industry; it’s the lack of awareness as cyber is often seen as the ‘dark art’.

Nick reiterated Erin’s description and the need to change its perception with organisations, who are often tired of hearing about the threats they face and need holistic approaches from those who can support them.

Daryl Flack, CIO of Blockphish facilitated the event and touched on the vast range of roles available within cyber security; management alone provides lots of opportunities such as working as a consultant, within sales, as a creative addition to the team, an entrepreneur or within the ethical side of the industry. He advised the audience to start getting into something remotely cyber to kick off their path, or checking out new websites that need something more secure and finding your route in this way.

Like the majority of successful professionals it starts with passion and commitment, and regardless of your chosen course of study it seems very plausible to get into this ever growing industry.  Erin pointed out that one of her current colleagues does threat intelligence and studied geography at university while another studied Spanish and now works in their technical response team. Anything applies as long as you have that passion.

The conversation continued over networking and undoubtedly left some attendees with the motivation and belief that they can very effectively contribute to this field of work. So more of us can now step forward to stop the hackers, fight the phishing emails and join this exciting and valuable sector that impacts just about everyone in this day and age.

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All done and dusted; dispelling the myths of LGBT equality 50 years on

This post was contributed by Leslie J Moran, Professor of Law in the Birkbeck School of Law

It was a great honour and privilege to welcome Peter Tatchell back to Birkbeck to give the 2017 College Annual LGBT History Month Lecture. Peter has a long and notable reputation for his work as an activist promoting gender and sexual justice for LGBT people. The title of his lecture was, ‘All done and dusted; dispelling the myths of LGBT equality 50 years on.’

Peter Tatchell with Les Moran

Peter Tatchell with Les Moran

The ’50 years on’ refers to the fact that 2017 is an auspicious year, marking the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967. That Act holds a key place in the history of struggles for sexual justice and sexual citizenship. Following the recommendations of the Wolfenden Committee the ’67 Act decriminalised two criminal offences, buggery and gross indecency, as they applied to consensual sexual relations between men over 21 years of age in private. Acknowledging this major achievement, Peter also noted a more sinister side of this reform. In the wake of the ’67 reforms the number of convictions and cautions relating to consensual sexual acts between men increased dramatically; by as much as 400% between 1966 and 1973. And it wasn’t until the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that criminal offences associated with State sponsored homophobia were finally reformed.

Peter went on to identify key moments in what he called ‘the unsung civil rights struggle of our times’; the law reforms that transformed the status of LGBT people from dangerous outsiders who threatened the state to respectable citizens. Highlights of this major revolution include the Human Rights Act 1998, Gender Recognition Act 2004, Civil Partnership Act 2004 and the Same Sex Marriage Act 2013. But as Peter explained these major achievements also contain provisions that allow prejudice to continue. These are a part of ‘unfinished business’ of the struggle for gender and sexual justice that he then went on to catalogue.

The qualified exemptions from some of these reforms based on religion have the potential to sustain discrimination in the delivery of a wide variety of services now provided through faith based organisations. While the civil partnership and same sex marriage legislation introduced sweeping changes they did so through the creation of 2 types of marriage; one for mixed sex couples and one for same sex. Separate, Peter concluded, is not equal. He concluded with a long list of ongoing problems that effectively work against equality for LGBT people; ranging from the particular difficulties facing LGBT refugees to ongoing failure to respond to homophobic harassment and bullying in school and the blight of day to day experiences of hate crime. Change, he concluded, needs people to come together saying ‘enough is enough’, to dream of what a better future might look like and then to engage in the struggle to make it happen.

It was particularly rewarding to note how Peter’s lecture resonates with the internationally recognised research and teaching at Birkbeck. BIGS, the Birkbeck Gender and Sexuality forum has a lively programme of activities that brings together scholars working in the arts and humanities and the social sciences and encourages dialogue with practitioners in the creative industries as well as with non-academic constituencies. The College’s MA Gender Sexuality and Culture provides Birkbeck students opportunities to study sexual justice and social change across the social science, humanities divide. Birkbeck’s School of Law has a long tradition of research and teaching that explores the interface between sexual and gender justice and law. Undergraduate and postgraduate modules cover a wide variety of issues in both law and criminology/criminal justice.

The event was a wonderful opportunity to bring together and celebrate not only the work and passion for justice of Peter Tatchell but also that which is to be found in the wider Birkbeck community.

Leslie J. Moran is College Equality and Diversity Champion, Chair of the College Equalities Committee and Professor in the School of Law. His published research explores sexuality in law in a variety of contexts, from Criminal law and hate crime to debates about sexual diversity in the judiciary.

The Annual LGBT History Month Lecture is part of the College’s programme to promote knowledge and awareness of equality and diversity issues both within the College and the public.  The programme is organised by the College Equality and Diversity Leads in the Human Resources Department.  The College is a proud member of Stonewall Diversity Champions programme, an Athena SWAN Bronze Award holder, Disability Confident member and Mindful Employer.  It is committed to working towards a Race Equality Charter award.  

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Women in tech panellists inspire students to break the gender disparity in the industry

Jenna Davies, Employability Consultant, writes about the Women in Tech Panel Talk, held on 24 January 2017

women-in-techBirkbeck Careers’ Upscale programme welcomed an exciting panel of women in the tech industry to deliver a thought-provoking discussion around their journeys within the world of technology. With stories ranging from eye opening career hurdles to key bites of advice for aspiring techies, guests were treated to an evening of laughs, gasps and inspiration.

Emma Beer, Senior Delivery Manager at the Government Digital Services, revealed a past fear that many women today resonate with: that you have to be a proper ‘techie’ to work in the digital world. But every tech company requires the so called ‘old skills’. Communication is vital, having the natural ability to talk articulately and express yourself well. Project management is also among a host of skills that are equally crucial to such organisations, yet often overlooked by potentially strong applicants, who are bound by this belief that they don’t have the right knowledge for this sector.

The knowledge topic proved to be a fundamental part of the discussion and Nicola Byrne, successful entrepreneur and CEO at Cloud90, identified with Emma’s point. Understanding tech is one thing, but you don’t need to necessarily do it to succeed in this world. Nicola has built extremely successful businesses by understanding the industry and highlighted the vast amount of jobs that she, and fellow entrepreneurs, have created that never existed before. The job for those in the audience is working out how to innovate for the future, looking ahead at jobs that don’t exist now but will in five, 10, 20 years’ time.

wit3Jo Salter, Director in People & Organisation at PwC and the first female fast-jet pilot in the RAF, looked at where children start their tech journeys; primary schools are doing great things but it’s soon reinforced that tech isn’t ‘cool’. Exciting, vibrant people are needed in IT classrooms to teach children and young people the exact opposite; that tech is the way forward. Jo also highlighted that pivoting in your career is perfectly acceptable and thoroughly encouraged; changing direction builds experience, presents new skills and keeps you moving.

The panel discussion, facilitated by Gen Ashley, Director of Women Who Code, certainly succeeded in positively influencing the audience towards the reasons women need to be key players in tech sector, with many guests indicating they’re inspired to get back on track with their tech goals. Gen emphasised the importance to be yourself in tech, and reinforced a key piece of advice from Emma to join Ada’s list, the global community for women in tech where Gen is part of the leadership team. The evening ended with guests and panellists mingling over wine and continuing the conversation, bringing more women into the world of tech.

So what did we learn? Networking is vital. It’s ok to pivot. Being ‘flighty’ is good. And that watching a demo on folding a fitted sheet could change your life.

Further information:

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Archives of feeling: the AIDS crisis in Britain, c.1987

This post was contributed by Birkbeck alumnus and staff member, Dr Ben Winyard. A podcast of Prof Matt Cook’s inaugural lecture is now available.

Do emotions have a history? We might assume that certain emotions – joy, grief, fear, anger, surprise, disgust – are an intrinsic, universal aspect of being human that have existed in all places and across all time periods. Yet, the word ‘emotion’ didn’t exist until the sixteenth century, when it originally referred to a public disturbance, and it only came to have its present meaning – ‘a strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others’ (OED) – in the nineteenth century. We might also think about the shifting definitions of, and relationship between, the concepts of instinct, passion, feeling, sentiment, sensibility and emotion. Furthermore, emotions are defined, learnt in, and moulded by culture and bound by geographically and historically malleable norms and rules of behaviour and expression. Institutions that have a powerful, tutelary role in shaping human behaviour – such as the family, Church, government, law and education – can forcefully shape how people think and feel – processes that can be historically excavated, contextualised and understood.

Exploring how people in the past have experienced and expressed their feelings has drawn historians towards a range of under-appreciated and neglected sources and archives. The cultural historian Ann Cvetkovich coined the phrase ‘archives of feeling’ to delineate the ways in which a myriad of literary and cultural artefacts can reveal emotions in the past. Cvetkovich has emphasised how experience, memory, everyday objects and ephemera, and oral history are particularly important for queer archives: a queer archive of feeling might include magazines, flyers, pamphlets, aural and visual recordings and remembrances, alongside memoirs and autobiographies.

In his inaugural lecture on 1 December 2016 – World AIDS Day – Professor Matt Cook discussed his own research into the AIDS crisis within specific archives of feeling. The AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, which had a disproportionately catastrophic impact on queer people and was lethally exacerbated by homophobia and political intransigence, has provided historians with rich material for exploring and rearticulating the complex reactions of people at the time. People who suffered and died from AIDS, those who cared, advocated and fought for them, and those who observed – and condemned – from the sidelines, recorded their emotional experiences in multiple forms, generating ample and expansive archives of feeling.

Professor Cook focused on 1987, when there was a marked increase in the UK of deaths from complications caused by AIDS, and on one archive – the Mass Observation archive at the University of Sussex. Many people know of Mass Observation’s work during the Second World War, when nearly 500 ordinary participants from many walks of life recorded their wartime thoughts and feelings (including Nella Last, the famous ‘Housewife 49’). The project was closed in the 1960s, but revived in 1981 –  it continues until this day. In 1987, as the AIDS death toll rose to over 600, with the impact felt particularly strongly in London, around 633 Mass Observation respondents were recording their feelings on the looming health crisis, the climate of uncertainty about transmission routes and the most effective preventative methods, the political activism of the gay community, and the marked increase in homophobia in the tabloid press in particular, but also within society at large. Opinion polls taken at the time confirmed a massive spike in homophobic attitudes, with the majority of respondents condemning same-sex relationships out of hand.

Professor Cook observed the difficulties of comprehending the emotions of people in the past, but he stressed that emotion is at the heart of historical experience and operates as an engine of change – ‘emotions are never “merely” personal’. During the AIDS crisis, we can observe a ‘dominant emotional pulse’ through mainstream sources such as newspapers, but also through the everyday language deployed by the Mass Observation participants and in a range of ephemeral evidence, including diaries, letters and oral testimonies. Professor Cook described this as a ‘poisonous emotional climate’. In January 1987, to take one of many dismaying examples, the Daily Mail described AIDS as ‘a moral Chernobyl’, comparing the incipient health crisis to the Ukranian nuclear disaster of the previous April. Professor Cook delineated the ‘conventions of fear’ that moulded emotional responses to AIDS, as tabloids deployed widespread anxieties about Cold War showdowns and nuclear strikes to stoke apprehension and direct the blame towards gay men. This was a time of widespread ‘disgust, distrust and anger’, particularly as the right-wing government of Margaret Thatcher, in cahoots with much of the Fourth Estate, promulgated a moral conservatism that extolled ‘family values’ and heteronormative life choices, even as neoliberalism was destroying working-class communities across the UK.

The Government itself was divided on the question of AIDS education, with Norman Fowler, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, energetically pushing for a nationwide campaign, which Thatcher baulked against as potentially inflammatory and vitiating. For Thatcher, describing particular sexual practices explicitly would dangerously encourage children to try them. ‘The child’ thus figured as, in the words of theorist Lee Edelman, ‘the perpetual horizon of every acknowledged politics, the fantasmatic beneficiary of every political intervention’. ‘The child’ also stood, in contradistinction to the corrupted homosexual, as the symbol of an innate, morally superior heterosexuality, embedded in and bolstered by ‘Nature’. In these internal wranglings, Professor Cook argued, we can see how the Government understood itself in gendered terms as masculine, rational and paternalistic, in opposition to an inchoate ‘public opinion’, which was imagined as femininely irrational, volatile and unpredictable.

As Professor Cook observed, though, in dominant emotional responses to the crisis, gay men were rarely, if at all, understood or represented as sons, while the suffering of their parents was underplayed or simply overlooked. In various archives of feeling, Professor Cook has unearthed ample evidence of parents struggling to support their sons and wrestling with the intense grief of watching their children ail and die. Grief was also used as a metaphor for parental responses to sons coming out, particularly the sense of homosexuality as a form of social death that was also, in the era of AIDS, brutally actualised as physical death. Organisations such as PFLAG (Parents, Friends [and Family] of Lesbians and Gays), helped parents negotiate and understand their conflicted and negative feelings towards their gay children, enabling some to counter shame, disgust and rejection with pride, love and acceptance. Professor Cook observed that, during the AIDS crisis, the mothers of gay men who were dying were afforded a moral purchase when they spoke publicly about their suffering and grief that was often denied to gay men themselves.

We might thus espy the power of emotional rhetoric to shape what was felt. Within a culture, there may exist emotional imperatives: in mainstream culture in 1987, the imperative was on mourning ‘innocent’ victims of AIDS, such as hemophiliacs or children born to infected mothers, while simultaneously framing death as a divine or ‘natural’ punishment for men whose sex lives were depicted as morally offensive and dangerous. In a homophobic emotional climate, the experience of physical suffering and death was elided and instead crudely represented as a just castigation for iniquitous bodily pleasures.

Within the Mass Observation archive of feeling, then, we come up against ‘anger, fear and disgust’, as respondents reflected the emotional consensus. In the 1980s, we can observe a backlash against the gay rights movement, which had become increasingly visible, vocal and demanding over the preceding decade. For many, gay men had dubiously encroached upon public consciousness and space in a manner that undermined the limited permissiveness of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which only permitted consensual sex in private between two men over the age of 21. Rather than limit themselves to the ‘conditions for middle-class tolerance’, as Professor Cook called it, gay men were embracing modes of living that placed a premium on openness, honesty and experimentation and that self-consciously reconfigured dominant norms of individual and communal life.

We can observe the Mass Observation respondents’ ‘daily negotiations’, as they articulated their fears of contracting HIV, even as knowledge of transmission and safer sex were publically promoted. One respondent reported a friend’s obsessive, irrational fear of contracting the virus from everyday objects, while another wrote about a colleague who was shunned in her office and eventually forced to leave her job after it emerged that she had visited a dying gay friend in hospital. Her colleagues were so uncertain and frightened about how the disease was transmitted that they physically quarantined her by moving her desk away from theirs, citing their children as justification. Many of the diarists responded negatively, parroting the crude morality of the tabloids, but others responded with concern and sympathy, articulating their sorrow and anger at the dominant mood of homophobia and intolerance. A female respondent living next door to a gay male couple wrote matter-of-factly about how ordinary, even boring, the circumspect couple seemed, while salaciously fantasising about some of the more outré behaviour that she imagined might be going on behind closed doors.

For the gay Mass Observation respondents, we can see a ‘complex emotional juggling act’, as they negotiated the crisis and the feelings of fear, grief and rage it evoked. Some took on the shame and opprobrium that others piled on them, while other diarists counter-responded with anger, pride and pleasure, combining mourning with militancy and contributing to the nascent Queer movement, which rejected assimilationist politics and adopted more confrontational, disruptive and consciously rowdy and irreverent modes of political engagement. Age and generation were important indicators for emotional response, with older gay men more likely to inhibit their feelings and prioritise quietism, blending in and privacy. Some gay men recorded that they didn’t speak to friends, family or colleagues about their fears of contracting the disease or their experiences of visiting and nursing dying friends. For some men suffering from AIDS, concealment could feel like a professional and personal necessity, despite its huge emotional costs. Now as then, shame and fear ensured the continued transmission of the virus, as individuals struggled to access knowledge or negotiate safer sex practices. The queer thinker Sara Ahmed has recently termed emotions such as shame and fear ‘sticky feelings’, in their glutinous ability to adhere to the psyche and to pick up and conglomerate other emotions.

Professor Cook did stress the difficulty of comprehending the emotions of people in the past, particularly as emotions can be fleeting, shifting, amorphous and confusing or contradictory. Mass Observation participants, for example, could reframe, downplay, censor or reinterpret their feelings when they sat down to write their accounts. We can struggle to understand or express our own emotions, so historians must tread carefully when venturing into the terrain of feeling.

Nevertheless, the archives of feeling under discussion provide immediate and moving access to the range of emotions experienced by people with AIDS and their friends and family, as well as the feelings of people not directly affected. Throughout these archives of feeling, Professor Cook argued, we can observe emotional ‘styles and dynamics’ and explore the ‘emotional terrain’ negotiated by individuals. We can also gain historical insight into how emotional responses are regulated, framed and moulded by culture, and appreciate how something that feels intensely personal is also deeply communal and determined by multiple forces outside of the individual.

LGBTQ archives in London








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