Tag Archives: career

“A year into my degree I fell pregnant and experienced numerous complications during and after my pregnancy – the support I received from Birkbeck was second to none.”

Ella Michalski graduated this month with an LLB Law degree after becoming pregnant with twins during her degree and her daughters experiencing many health complications. Ella persevered with her degree throughout this traumatic time, even studying from hospital. This is her #BBKgrad story.

Ella Michalski with her family on her graduation day

Ella Michalski with her family on her graduation day

I spent my teenage years in the care system with a local authority. When I entered my early twenties I was desperate to travel, so I used my savings from various hospitality and retail jobs I’d had to travel around the world. I returned from travelling aged 25. I had an amazing few years but I was ready to return to normality again and wanted to settle in one place.

My late twenties soon came around and I decided I wanted to enter higher education to pave and develop my career, but I wanted to find a way of studying that meant I could keep my daytime commitment of working in retail. I knew I wanted to study law, with criminal justice being a huge interest of mine.

I came across Birkbeck after friends recommended it to me – studying in the evenings provided the perfect solution. I signed up for a Birkbeck open day, and after attending I just knew Birkbeck was where I wanted to go. It had a real feel, straightaway, of a strong student community. Despite having no previous legal experience, I took a deep breath and enrolled onto the LLB Law degree.

A year into my degree, when I was aged 29, I became pregnant. Unfortunately, I experienced numerous complications during my pregnancy, and at 12 weeks into my pregnancy I was told with near-certainty I would lose my twins. I spent 14 weeks on bedrest in hospital. The Wellbeing Team at Birkbeck were so supportive with finding me alternative ways to study in hospital, and despite being in such a traumatic situation, studying really helped give me escapism from my difficult reality at that time.

When I gave birth, my twins were born with chronic lung disease. They spent three months in intensive care, with multiple medical difficulties whilst they were there. I spent my days visiting the hospital in the day and studying in the evening. Knowing that I could tell my daughters about how I studied for a degree kept me going as I knew how proud of me they’d be one day.

When my daughters were finally discharged from hospital, they were on oxygen 24-hours-a-day for a whole year. Despite their severe health needs during this time, I continued with my degree. It was certainly hard but Birkbeck ensured I had the support in place, and with my strong network of family and friends I was able to persevere and eventually complete my degree.

Reflecting on my Birkbeck experience as a whole, it’s provided me with skills that I didn’t even know existed and given me so much more than I ever anticipated. The skills I’ve gained will stay with me forever and go far beyond just academic skills. My degree has propelled my confidence – it’s made me believe in myself a million more times more than I ever thought possible. When I was able to attend lectures in person, I found the teaching incredible. The lectures were always so informative and inclusive with students in the room, and questions were really encouraged. I’d describe the learning experience at Birkbeck as gentle and encouraging. I particularly enjoyed group work – I found it brought people together and the Library facilities were brilliant as we could book group areas easily to work together.

Thankfully, my daughters are now well and thriving. In the future, I plan to pursue a career in criminal justice. I’m hoping to volunteer for the Innocence Project soon, which aims to free innocent people from incarceration. I also enjoy being an ambassador for the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity, which provided invaluable support for my family and I through our challenging times.

I’d 100% recommend studying at Birkbeck to anyone – the level of education, flexibility and support I received was second to none.

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Changing career paths: from working in criminal justice to lecturing at a university

Janet Omondi studied for a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education from 2019 to 2020 as a tool to aid her career transition from working in the National Probation Service to lecturing at a university. Here is her #BBKgrad story.

Janet Omondi’s story of what led her to study at Birkbeck showcases perseverance and courage after she underwent a complete career change a few years ago, taking the leap to pursue her passions of educating young people about health.

Janet first began her career as a Probation Service Officer for the National Probation Service after completing her first degree in BSc Business Computing. She held the position for seven years but in 2009, she was faced with no option but to give up her job to become a full-time carer for a family member. During this challenging and emotional time, Janet came to the decision that she wanted to change her career and follow her dream of lecturing about health at a university.

In 2012, she began studying BSc Health Promotion at the University of East London, followed by an MSc in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In 2016, she took up a teaching position as a Lecturer in Health Sciences at the University of East London. She came to study a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education at Birkbeck in 2019 to develop her skill set and knowledge further.

When asked about her experiences of studying at Birkbeck, Janet said: “I quickly developed rapport with my fellow students. I found sitting and learning with a cohort of people that were so passionate about the course too really inspiring. The best thing about Birkbeck is the diversity of students who come from all walks of life, which brings a rich wealth of viewpoints and perspectives, as well as the sharing of cultures and experiences.

“The pandemic hit the UK mid-way through my course, so I had to adjust to the new way of learning online quickly. At first I felt a bit apprehensive, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought, and my classmates and I didn’t experience much technical difficulty at all. The lecturers have been so dynamic, supportive and understanding throughout. Birkbeck responded remarkably well to the pandemic and the transition to online learning was seamless. I now feel very comfortable being on camera when I’m in an online lecture!”

In her spare time, as well as looking after her three children aged 10, 18 and 22, Janet is a Trustee of Riana Development Network, which promotes and delivers community programmes for young people in the UK and overseas. Janet provides crucial guidance by contributing to the charity’s culture, strategic focus, effectiveness and financial sustainability.

In the future, Janet aspires to continue learning and her words of encouragement to others are that “we should continue to learn in all aspects throughout our lives”.

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“I dedicate my MA to my late mother, who was my rock”

Carolyne Megan graduated last month with an MA in Digital Media Design after caring for her late mother throughout her degree. This is her #BBKgrad story.

Carolyne Megan – © Photo by Joel, Peter Dyers Photographic Studio

I had a thriving career at University College London (UCL), working as a Web/Graphics and E-learning Technologist in Psychology and Language Sciences. I loved my professional career very much. Then in 2013, my father had cancer, so I left UCL to help my disabled mother care for him in his last months.

After my father died in August 2013, I applied to work at Imperial College London in the same role as UCL, but in their ICT department. I was extremely lucky as I was offered a job, and started in October 2013, as I was grief-stricken. After I started at Imperial, I was responsible for keeping my frail elderly mother supported in her home with carers. My main concern was to keep my grieving mother safe in her home and looked after by external social care.

In 2014, I paid for myself to do a Postgraduate Certificate in Web Design and Development at Birkbeck. I had a fantastic time, embracing new skills for my web portfolio. I built a great rapport with fellow students and then later attended the graduation ceremony at Senate House in 2016.

During 2013-2015, my mother’s situation deteriorated, and she was not coping well after my father died so I made a decision to leave Imperial in December 2015. In 2016, I sought low paid temporary Learning Technology jobs and by July 2016, I had reached a crisis with my mother. She was unable to look after herself, so her social worker and I facilitated a move to a good care home that was local to her.

It was an extremely painful process to endure in the summer of 2016, as I had to move my mother’s belongings and clothes into cases and take them from a five-bed detached house to one room in a care home. I was heartbroken for her. I promised her that I would spend three days every month in Sussex visiting her. So that became my routine. I sold her house, auctioned her possessions, gave her clothes to charities, her beloved book collection to refuse collectors as book sellers weren’t interested. It was painful process to go through.

My mother took a few months to settle in the home. She had an IQ of 140, despite being disabled by botched surgery and very frail. After she had settled, I applied for a job at UCL, in the libraries team, which was perfect as I have a love of books! My job involved processing new stock before sending the books to Main Library.

In 2017, I was approached by the Birkbeck School of Arts administrator, to notify me that there was a new MA in Digital Media Design. I was told that my credits from my previous course would enable me to do less modules to get the full MA. I really couldn’t afford it as I was on low pay. But my mother gave me a wonderful gift. She told me that she felt that I had given up my career to care for both her and my late father, and she wanted to pay the fees, so I could continue to ‘stretch my brain’ as she called it.

I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to do an MA, but I jumped at the chance to try. I asked my supervisor if I could do my dissertation in 2018, instead of 2019, and he allowed me to do this. With hindsight this was the best decision I made. I received a Merit for my dissertation and I dedicated it to my mother and gave her a copy of the book. She passed it round to all her visitors and it was full of coffee stains and blotches. She told me she was very proud and we were both emotional.

In February 2019, she was admitted to hospital with a blocked bowel and we were told that she was probably going to pass away. She was such a fighter and was sent back to the care home to be in a palliative care room. She was now unable to get out of bed and had to be turned every two hours. Her life was not really a life. She picked up and managed to carry on until July 2019. She overheard someone say that she was never getting out of the bed, so she stopped her fluids, food and medication and died after two weeks at the age of 95.

I miss her every single day, but I am glad she did not have to live in the year of the pandemic, as we would not have been able to have seen one another.

I dedicate my MA to my late mother, who was my rock.

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“It took two pregnancies, a fierce fight against cancer and finally a pandemic, but I made it, I graduated!”

Carmen Cinque graduated last week with a BA Modern Languages degree. This is her #BBKgrad story.

Carmen Cinque with her family

When I enrolled on the first year of my course in 2015, I was pregnant. With my first daughter due to be born in the middle of the academic year I knew that studying would be no easy task. I was also working full time as a bookkeeper for a restaurant. However, I was highly motivated and eager to start my course – finally, at 36, after many professional and personal experiences, I was about to start studying to obtain my first degree.

My daughter was born at the beginning of January. I continued to study and complete assessments and exams thanks to the understanding and availability of lecturers and the support of my husband and sister. I even sat a German exam with my daughter in the room while I was breastfeeding! Everything was going well, but suddenly in spring, I started to feel very, very tired and unable to concentrate.

My doctor thought it was just the difficulty of reconciling everyday activities with caring for a little girl, and at first, I agreed with her. However, I did feel there was something more. So, after a lot of analysis, stress, frustration and many dead-end diagnoses, at the beginning of August 2016, I met a doctor who urged me to have a biopsy. I was given a horrible diagnosis: I had a rare form of pregnancy-related cancer called choriocarcinoma. My world crushed, my family and I had to deal with a long treatment and all its devastating side effects. I had to put my degree on hold. Chemotherapy did not allow me to take care of my daughter alone, let alone studying. I don’t deny – it was hard, but luckily in March 2017, I was cured. Still very weak, but cancer free.

I had doubts as to whether to start studying again or to drop out; I was scared and fragile. My husband, however, did not allow me to give up. In September I started my second year at Birkbeck and this turned out to be a great choice. It was the best way to pick up my life where I left it. Everything started to go well again. In November I fell pregnant, which wasn’t a surprise as we always wanted a second child – only it came a little earlier than expected! Oscar was born on 30 June this year – a week after my last exam and during the pandemic.

Beside learning a new language (German) and deepening my understanding of Portuguese, my experience at Birkbeck widened my horizons professionally and personally. It gave me the motivation to try and change my career path, and I plan to start a qualification soon to become an interpreter, thanks to my degree qualification and the knowledge I gained whilst studying.

2020 is a peculiar year, but the birth of my second child and graduation make it an exceptional year for me! I am so happy and proud of my achievements. It was not always an easy path but not trying is the biggest mistake to make in life and I am very grateful to the professors, my family, and my dear friends for the support I have received in this amazing journey. Studying at Birkbeck was a wonderful experience, a privilege and an important achievement in a phase so full of positive and negative events in my life.

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