Setting an example: mother and son graduate in the same year

When Miroslava Ezel’s teenage son started browsing university prospectuses, she couldn’t resist taking a look as well.

Miroslava Ezel had always wanted to study Mathematics, but prioritising work and family life meant plans for further study were put on hold. Still, while encouraging her son to apply to university, she couldn’t resist taking a look for herself.

Then she stumbled across Birkbeck. “The evening study model appealed to me as I could fit studying around my work and family life,” she explained. “I also felt it would help me meet people a similar age to me – it did, but in reality I’m friends with people of all ages on my course, so I needn’t have worried.”

Miroslava began studying the BSc Accounting at Birkbeck’s Stratford campus, which was conveniently located near her home in Southeast London. She attended academic writing workshops on campus to develop her skills and prepare for full time study. “Coming back to the classroom after a break and as a speaker of English as a second language, I wanted to make sure I was prepared to write an academic essay,” she explains. “I love Maths, so I applied to study accounting, but I became really interested in microeconomics and macroeconomics, so in my second year I transferred to BSc Accounting with Finance.

“I had some fantastic lecturers, like Dr Ike Ndu, who teaches Financial Economics – we loved Ike! Another lecturer also told us “we are not here to fail you, we are here to help you” during exam term, which was really reassuring. I think it’s really important to see your lecturers as people who are there to support you and help you do well.”

Graduating with a first, Miroslava admits to being very strict with herself and prioritising her studies, and with two students in the family at the same time, it was easier to stay on track. She also credits the friends she made through her course for helping her succeed: “We would be great motivators for each other – we knew what we wanted to get out of the experience and we pushed each other to do our best.” She admits that the first day of a new course can be daunting, but has now made friends for life at Birkbeck.

Miroslava’s confidence grew so much through her studies that, before finishing her degree, she had switched careers from retail to banking. Her son graduated from his degree in Law in July, although she had to rush back from the celebrations to sit one of her final exams in the evening!

For Miroslava, studying at Birkbeck has fulfilled a lifelong dream: “I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve always enjoyed learning, but I never knew before what I was capable of, especially in a second language. When I got here, I realised that age is not a limit: all that matters is knowledge, drive and your desire to prove yourself.”

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Birkbeck International Students Cook up a Storm at L’Atelier des Chefs

Students were treated to a kitchen session with professional chef Neal Cooper to learn quick and easy recipes to use throughout their studies.

On Friday 18 of October, twenty international students from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics took part in the first ever Birkbeck cooking class at L’atelier des Chefs. As part of the cookery chain’s Cook, Eat & Run series, Birkbeck students were treated to an hour-long kitchen session with professional chef Neal Cooper. In the space of just sixty minutes, the students were shown how to prepare roast salmon with sweet potato mash alongside a fiery ginger dressing. Naturally, the students could then enjoy their self-prepared meals with a large dessert order of polenta cake.

The cooking classes offered by L’atelier des Chefs have allowed students to learn quick and easy recipes to use throughout their studies and beyond. With the first recipe being a classically British one, future sessions will focus on global cuisine as we celebrate our international student diversity.

By bringing our international students together – all in the name of delicious food – the first Birkbeck cookery class has proven to be a resounding success.

See below for a full insight of the day’s events.

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Building better workplace wellness: a practical guide

On World Mental Health Day 2019, Birkbeck and CIPR Greater London Group came together to discuss how to manage the ‘always-on’ culture in the workplace.

Work, Workaholic, Writer, Programmer, One, Laptop

In the 26th year of World Mental Health Day, CIPR’s Steve Shepperson-Smith acknowledged that organisations are starting to take the issue more seriously – and rightly so, when mental health is the number one concern raised by PR practitioners, above finding or keeping work. More concerning still, is the fact that nearly a quarter of those in the industry who did raise mental health concerns with their managers reported that nothing had happened as a result. Clearly, then, there is more to be done.

In an evening of discussion between experts in workplace mental health and PR, we looked for practical solutions to combatting the ‘always-on’ culture in the workplace.

A key refrain of the evening was that actions speak louder than words – it is, of course, fantastic that organisations are acknowledging the importance of mental health, but this must translate into concrete steps to support their workers.

A case study of good mental health practice

Darryl Sparey, Business Development Director at Hotwire UK’s honest account of his company’s approach to mental health showed ways that well-meaning words can become more through a company-wide approach.

What will people think of me? is something that people ask themselves too often before they’re honest about their mental health in the workplace”, he said. Hotwire UK have developed a thoughtful working policy, where “We see work as a thing you do, not a place you go. We treat our staff as adults and let them do what works for them – if that means taking a break in the middle of the day for a run and returning to work later, then that’s what you do.”

Staff can also access a number of benefits that focus on mental health: the employee assistance programme includes a free helpline providing confidential support, both directly related to mental health and on issues that cause stress, such as legal and financial concerns.

From the top down, Hotwire UK have also worked to create a culture of openness, with everyone from the CEO to junior colleagues talking openly about their mental health day-to-day. Through actions as well as words, then, the organisation have shown their commitment to creating an environment of openness, where everyone can bring their whole self to work.

Mental health support at Birkbeck

The impact of leadership on workplace wellness was picked up by Charlotte Williams, head of Birkbeck’s counselling service. She shared the work of Birkbeck’s mental health consultancy, who are considering how leadership impacts workplace wellbeing, as well as how leaders can look after their mental health.

Williams stressed that mental health, like physical health, is a continuum, and when one in six British workers are affected by a mental health problem every year, it’s something that needs to be taken seriously. As the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is suicide, she spoke of the need for people to talk about their problems – “There’s a misconception that talking to a suicidal person might prompt them to take drastic action, but in fact talking about mental health almost always diffuses the issue,” she said.

While self-care is important on the side of the individual, Charlotte also had some practical advice for employers: “Value health and wellbeing as core assets in the workplace; train compassionate line managers so they are equipped to support their employees; address discrimination so that the wellbeing policy doesn’t just sit on the shelf; and ensure the CEO sets the tone for the organisation by talking about mental health.”

The research behind the ‘always-on’ culture

Almuth McDowall, Professor of Organizational Psychology at Birkbeck, shared how the changing world of work is fuelling the ‘always-on’ culture. She addressed the ‘double-bind’ that technology brings, providing at once greater opportunities for flexible working and a way of being forced to continue working outside designated hours.

“There is a culture of longer working hours developing, where it’s almost a badge of honour to have been in the office the longest,” she explained, “but in actual fact, once we work for longer than 50 hours a week, our productivity and performance nosedives, and the worst thing is that we don’t realise it.”

A few attempts have been made across Europe to address this new working culture. A law has been created in France where employees have the right to disconnect from their devices outside working hours. Meanwhile, in Germany, some companies are opting for systems where emails are held on the server and not sent to recipients during the evening or overnight.

Professor McDowall is sceptical of these one size fits all approaches, calling instead for organisations to work with employees to develop strategies for their unique setting and for everyone to build up their e-resilience by pursuing purposeful engagement with technology and e-communications, so that it is healthy and sustainable.

How to go about doing that? Professor McDowall advises beginning with the questions below, then starting a conversation in the workplace about mental health.

Some Questions:

  • Do you check your phone on the toilet?
  • Do you regularly take sneaky peeks at your laptop/tablet/phone while doing other tasks?
  • Do you multi-task on other gadgets while watching TV/films on your laptop?
  • Are you more likely to be on your gadgets at night than read a book?
  • Do you tell your kids off for always being on the phone, but don’t hear it when they speak to you because you’re checking emails?
  • Do others comment on your message checking behaviours?
  • Are you more likely to check your messages first thing in the morning than cuddle your partner or do other things?
  • Do you talk to others about, and if necessary negotiate, your technology and gadget use?
  • Is your bedroom a gadget-free zone?
  • Do you consciously think about how you use technology?
  • Do you set an example to your staff/co-workers about when and how to use technology for communications?
  • Have you communicated clear expectations about e-comms at work?
  • Would you rather speak to people than write an email?
  • Do you set yourself actual limits/boundaries for how and when to use technology?

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Birkbeck launches One World Festival

New students came together to network and find out more about the College’s diverse community.

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On Monday 23 September, Birkbeck hosted its inaugural event of the One World Festival 2019/20 – a year-long programme designed to celebrate the College’s international community.

The event was introduced by Professor Kevin Ibeh, Pro Vice-Master (International), who offered his congratulations to arriving students. This was followed by a talk from Lucy Robinson from Birkbeck Futures on the importance of networking for career success.

Students were then given the opportunity to put their networking skills to the test at a welcome reception organised by Andrea Williams and La Young Jackson.

This year’s One World Festival is now officially underway with a variety of events planned throughout the year to celebrate and support Birkbeck’s thriving international student community.

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