Graduation stories: a family affair

Samiya Lerew graduated with a BA in Global Politics and International Relations at Birkbeck’s Autumn Graduation Week 2017, at the same ceremony as her son Edwin. Here she talks about how she came to Birkbeck and how much it has meant to study as a family.

I can’t thank Birkbeck enough for granting me such a great opportunity to study. For the longest time I’ve been politically active, but never pursued politics academically. Growing up in Mogadishu, I had seen the effects of what dysfunctional nationalism combined with dictatorship can do on the place I call home. So naturally, I wanted to study the nature of politics (which Dr Jason Edwards has described as “the very best things we can achieve in a society, and the very worst things we can do to each other”) in order to help me reach the right conclusions and certify myself as an ‘intellect’!

I came to London as a student in the early 1980s. At that time I was studying English, general office work, Pitman short hand and touch typing (my short hand is non-existent, however, my touch-typing skills stays with me to this day). But I was unable to take my studies further because as soon as I completed my course, my stepfather died. As he was the bread-winner of the family, I had no choice but to find work in order to help my widowed mother.

From that point, I was unable to pursue a full undergraduate degree because I was working full-time for Haringey Council as a rate rebate officer, and was then married with three children (two daughters and a son) with a mortgage on a home in Barnet, north London. However, I did manage to help form coalitions with a number of charities dedicated to problem-solving in the Horn of Africa. I set up the Help Somalia Foundation and in 2004, I attended a UN Human Rights conference; my input has helped to resettle Somali minorities in western countries, I have worked with Minority Right Groups and I briefly chaired AFR (Agenda For Reconciliation). But I have always found it difficult to cut red tape unless I had “BA (Hons)” next to my name.

So, encouraged by academic colleagues in these charities, and realising that it never really is too late, I applied to study Global Politics & International Relations at Birkbeck not long after my 56th birthday. Birkbeck couldn’t have been more welcoming after I submitted my application and took an active interest in my exploits. Studying part-time also allowed me to continue my charity work and activism for the affairs of my country of birth.

I admit that it has been particularly difficult at times to juggle the demanding academic studies, work, activism and house-keeping but I have been lucky to be studying with my son Edwin; he applied to do Government & Politics the same year as me and he became my study pal. Mind you, in four years he managed to dodge all of my classes!

We read Adam Smith, Machiavelli, Karl Marx and Foucault. We regularly exchanged ideas and had conversations about politics and how some of the concepts we studied at the Uni could be used as tools for contemporary world politics. It was great to have him study at the same time – he is also a great friend and a carer.  And we actually graduate at the same time. He’s now doing his MA at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and has his theory class at Birkbeck, telling me that all the political philosophers are turning up again!

“You might try and escape politics, but politics will never escape you”, I say to him.

<div style=”position:relative;height:0;padding-bottom:56.25%”><iframe src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/6ay8ZQQ_5ss?list=PL2Fy-5oxIlb737wdMXjiN4MD_xJ1JGpA7?ecver=2″ width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ gesture=”media” style=”position:absolute;width:100%;height:100%;left:0″ allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

Share
. Reply . Category: Categories, Social Sciences History and Philosophy . Tags:

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

This post was written by Jenna Davies from Birkbeck Careers

cyber-2

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.

Share
. Reply . Category: Categories . Tags: , ,

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.  

Share
. Reply . Category: Categories

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:

Share
. Reply . Category: Categories . Tags: , , ,