Birkbeck Graduate Research School Relaunches

This post has been contributed by Rima Amin, Registry Officer at Birkbeck.

To Brexit or not to Brexit, that was the question posed to students and speakers at the Birkbeck Graduate Research School’s (BGRS) “Relaunch” event on Monday, 23 May. The event hosted a Brexit debate followed by a drinks reception and an informal group discussion on the development of the Research School.

The BGRS is a network providing resources, skills workshops and social events to support students during their time at Birkbeck. These are currently provided through the BGRS website, academibirkbeck-entrance1.jpgc workshop calendar and email communications.

The BGRS is currently revising the services it provides, how it communicates and seeking further ideas on how it can be improved to meet research students’ needs better.

In his welcome speech Pro-Vice Master Julian Swann said “Tonight is about engaging in debate on Brexit which is an event of great topical interest to us all. Development of the research school is a priority for Birkbeck, so along with the debate tonight we look forward to having you give us your views about how to create a stronger community for research students.”

Chaired by Professor Rosie Campbell from Birkbeck’s Politics Department, the debate began with Ben Harris-Quinney from the Leave side making his case saying: “Research students are a crucial group who can find great opportunity in Brexit as they are people ready to engage in the world with ideas.”

He said that Britain is a bigger contributor of academic research opposed to its European counterparts inferring that research students are currently giving more than they are gaining.

Next was the turn of Lord Richard Balfe from the remain side who began by criticizing campaigners on both sides of Brexit who treat the referendum as though Britain is going to end if they don’t get their way.

Lord Balfe spoke of Britain in the 1950’s where racism was rife and signs saying “No dogs. No Irish” were visible on the streets. He said that Britain had come a long way since then and migrants have played a key role to the current well-functioning economy in Britain.

The students raised challenging insights to both speakers. Lord Balfe was questioned over the lack of transparency over decision-making in European Parliament compared with British Parliament.

The conclusion from the remain drapeaux européensside: “One person’s red tape is another person’s working rights- we should be proud of what we have achieved.” And that from the leave side: “With champagne receptions and lobster dinners, the EU can appear glamourous, but when you see through it, you realise democracy is more effective when local.”

The Chair of the debate thanked the speakers and the questions from the students calling the contributions “a much richer discussion than what we can find in the papers.”

Research student Ekua Agha said “The debate was extremely innovative and provoked a lot of thought on the issues. The informal setting but formal discussion was struck at a nice balance.”

Birkbeck Graduate Research School would like to thank Ben Harris Quinney, Lord Richard Balfe and all attendees.

It’s not over.

If you couldn’t make last night’s debate, we still want to hear your thoughts on how we can develop the research school. Here are the questions we asked research students at the event. Please send your thoughts to 

1. What do you want the Graduate School to be/do?
2. What’s the best thing about studying at Birkbeck?
3. If you could change 1 thing about your time at Birkbeck, what would it be?
4. How do you want to find out about training & events?
5. What do you think about tonight’s event?/Ideas for future events?

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Out of this World: An Evening with the Planets

This post was contributed by Henry Rummins, Communications Manager at Birkbeck, University of London

1.-SpaceIt is a question which humans have pondered for thousands of years when looking up at the night sky and seeing the thousands of dots of light which gradually twinkle into view: what is out there, beyond our world?

It was these questions, too, which led Dr Louise Alexander, now a post-Doctoral researcher at the UCL/Birkbeck Centre for Planetary Sciences, to follow her curiosity and begin a journey which would begin at introductory classes at UCL to a Master’s degree and PhD at Birkbeck to her current destination, analysing rock samples brought back from the Apollo 12 mission to the moon, to determine lunar geology.

Her story was one of six presented on the evening in a showcase of planetary wonders hosted by Steve Cross, Head of Public Engagement at UCL, comedian and founder of Science Showoff, looking at aspects of the solar system ranging from our closest neighbour, the moon, to distant Pluto and beyond. Yet while the planets were the stars of the show, the stories of all the researchers in planetary science reminded us that reflecting on the cosmos often brings that questioning back down to Earth, and what it means to be human; to look up and the night sky, and wonder.

It was a theme which ran through Clara Sousa Silva’s look at Twinkle, a space mission that will analyse light reflected from planets outside the solar system to reveal the chemical composition of their atmospheres, as well as, it’s hoped, their weather and history, giving crucial clues to worlds outside the solar system and potentially spotting clues for life elsewhere.

As well as the science behind the project, she also looked at how to encourage more women into studying science in school through to university level, and subsequently pursing research as a career option, illustrating her point with some sobering facts on the current low level of female participation in the sector.

A fly-by of planetary science made up the evening’s contribution from Dr Pete Grindrod, who busted some of the most widely believed myths about Mars, with a look at the origins of planets and the Rosetta comet mission by Geraint Jones and a look at missions to Jupiter by Lucia Ray making up the trio.

The evening rounded off with the first performance of a new piece of music interpreting the celestial dance between Pluto and its moon Charon, called Pluto and Charon – A Planetary Waltz. The piece – commissioned by the Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL/Birkbeck – was accompanied by grainy footage of Charon orbiting Pluto, enhancing the original piece played as a piano duet between Valentina Pravodelov and Kerry Yong. It ended the evening where we started: stimulating the excitement and curiosity of wondering, what’s out there?

An Evening with the Planets was presented by The Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL/Birkbeck

Find out more 

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Who doesn’t want to learn? Reflections from Learning at Work Week

This post was contributed by Annette McCone, Widening Access Manager at Birkbeck, University of London. This blog was originally posted at UnionLearn

I remember fondly one of my first Learning at Work events at Balham Job Centre Plus hosted by one of the most vivacious union learning reps (ULRs) I have had the pleasure to work with. She had put on a fantastic day of events to include salsa dancing, massages, manicures. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to be able to bring to life our prospectuses with quite the same passion and panache.

Fortunately, one of the staff had already studied with Birkbeck, starting on our Certificate of Higher Education, progressing to his BA History and now studying a PhD. He took full advantage of the tannoy system and encouraged his colleagues to come and speak to me, which they did.

Happiness and Wellbeing-at Work

Happiness and Wellbeing-at Work

It never surprises me to learn that two fifths of our first-year students have heard about Birkbeck from word of mouth and over 92% of our students recommend us to their friends and family. I believe it’s because we genuinely know how to support adults who want to return to study no matter their motivation – career change, career progression coupled with a real desire to develop personally.

But it wasn’t just the staff who learned something that day, I realised Birkbeck needed to work much harder at providing adults in the workplace with a flavour of higher education which led to the Well-Being at Work and Get Started initiatives.

The Well Being project offers a series of workshops exploring the “Big Seven” of Well-being identified by Professor Richard Layard:

  • family and friends,
  • community,
  • health,
  • work,
  • financial situation,
  • autonomy and
  • belief systems.

The project pools the different skill sets and experiences of academics working at the cutting edge of research. Over the past three years, we have delivered this with HMRC, Southwark Council, Brent Children’s Services and of course, Balham Job Centre Plus.

But we realised that, whilst this might have helped to ignite interest in different subjects, it still didn’t really help provide the practical information people needed to get started. So, we decided to implement a monthly workshop, which provides information on fees and funding, advice on how to prepare for university study and practical tips and hints on making a successful application.

Essentially, this means providing adults with the information and advice given readily to young school leavers. Again, this has proven really effective to adult returners with 50% of attendees going on to apply, equating to approximately 300 learners each year.
But success isn’t just about how many people sign up for a Birkbeck course after we’ve met with them. We understand there is too much to consider to take this decision lightly.

This is why it is important to make long lasting and meaningful partnerships. It is vital we keep working with ULRs and visit the same workplaces each year so people understand Birkbeck will always be an option for them. Just don’t forget to invite us.

If you want to find out more about Birkbeck’s courses come along to the Open Evening on 25 June from 4pm until 7.30pm, at the Royal National Hotel, London.

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