“I fell in love with Birkbeck the moment I began studying”

Patricia Bonifaz Carrillo arrived at Birkbeck without a formal qualification, but her desire and ambition to learn saw her complete the Higher Education Introductory Studies course and a BSc Business degree. Here is her #BBKgrad story.

Patricia Bonifaz Carrillo on her graduation day

Patricia, mother of five, left Colombia for the UK 15 years ago, to be closer to her children and grandchildren. She began her Birkbeck journey back in 2016, when she undertook the Higher Education Introductory Studies (HEIS) course (opting for the Business Studies pathway). Patricia became aware of the course because of Bridges to Birkbeck – an initiative in partnership with Haringey Council that aimed to meet the educational and career aspirations of residents in Tottenham. She found the course hugely enriching: “Enrolling on the HEIS course marked a new life for me, taking away the bad and sad memories I had. I studied alongside 19 peers from a rich variety of backgrounds and we all loved the experience of studying and getting to know one another.”

After completing the year-long HEIS course, Patricia enrolled onto the BSc Business degree in 2018, “I fell in love with Birkbeck, and I just thought, if others can do a degree, why can’t I? I felt much more confident in studying at degree level after the HEIS course, and the evening classes and part-time study option meant I could continue working and attend to family duties. I discovered that social inclusion and mobility are at the heart of Birkbeck’s philosophy, and are real facts, not words. I wanted to study business because it is the core activity around the world – everything has to be profitable.”

Patricia enjoyed all of her degree modules and she was very pleased to receive academic support for English and maths during one-to-one sessions throughout her degree. She explains, “I felt very supported at Birkbeck – the English support I received was excellent and really helped challenge me and improve my maths and English language skills. My course fulfilled my ambitions of learning about the economy, microeconomics and macroeceonomics, statistics, philosophy, governance, law for business, sociology, finance, business plans, psychology, research methods, marketing laws and understanding cyber-attacks prevention. The academic and administrative staff from the Department of Management were very caring, efficient and professional.”

She is hugely proud to have completed her degree this year, aged 69: “I’m so happy to have graduated, I never thought doing a degree in the UK was possible for me, and I’m the first in my family to have studied at degree level. I would encourage others to never doubt their skills and abilities, to not be afraid and to apply to study at Birkbeck to help them realise their dreams. The excellent reputation and relationship that Birkbeck has with the biggest employers and the support delivered to its students and alumni really enhances your skills and employability.”

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Birkbeck’s Tier 5 Employment Event

Guest speakers Lucy Robinson and Zenia Chopra helped Birkbeck international students navigate the world of Tier 2 and Tier 5 Visas and employability.

A slide from the talk outlining different types of Tier 5 visa.

Many of Birkbeck’s international students seek full-time employment after their graduation, facing the need to apply for a Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa in the UK, so La Young Jackson, International Liaison Officer, organised a talk outlining the steps students need to take. On Friday 28 February, she welcomed Zenia Chopra and Lucy Robinson to share their knowledge regarding employability at Birkbeck and beyond.

Beginning with a quick overview of Birkbeck Futures and her role as manager of the Pioneer Programme, Lucy Robinson outlined the many ways in which Birkbeck Futures continues to support and guide students in building their future careers. Moreover, in starting a business, or in getting an idea off the ground, Birkbeck’s Enterprise Pathways programme offers plenty of support to students and alumni alike. Lucy’s team continues to help students in developing their entrepreneurial skills, enhancing employability opportunities and advancing their future careers.

Secondly, Zenia Chopra – from legal firm Kingsely Napley – went on to discuss the procedural guidelines for working visas in the UK. As she was once an international student in England, Zenia was able to present her first hand experiences. From official fees to qualifying criteria, Zenia was able to answer all of Birkbeck’s students’ questions regarding the Tier 2 and Tier 5 visas.

La Young Jackson would like to say a big thank you to Lucy, Zenia and to all of our attendees.

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Student Circus and Tier 4 Employment

In November, Birkbeck Futures delivered two workshops for international students to set them up for career success.

November proved to be an informative month for Birkbeck’s international students, with Birkbeck Futures offering two key employment events.

Birkbeck Futures is a one-stop service that combines the Careers Service, Enterprise Pathways and Birkbeck Talent to support our students and graduates in their future lives.

On the 5 November, Jenna Davies spoke to a bustling audience about Birkbeck’s Student Circus initiative.

Presenting an insightful and inspiring workshop detailing the British job market, Birkbeck Futures encouraged all international students to explore entrepreneurship. Among other topics, this workshop presented students with an overview of the employment environment in the UK as well as tips and tricks for Tier 4 students looking to a begin their professional careers.

Following the Student Circus event, Lucy Robinson then led a session on Tuesday 19 November which outlined employability for Birkbeck’s Tier 4 students.

In her role as head of the Enterprise Pathways scheme, Lucy shared her insight into student employability and the many ways in which work can support students’ evening studies at Birkbeck, from meeting new people to getting a foot in the door of your future career.

Alongside work, she reminded students of the many extracurricular opportunities at Birkbeck, both in their Departments and delivered by the Students’ Union.

Lucy advised students to plan ahead and work out how many hours they can commit to work and other activities in order to get the most out of their time at university.

By seeking to enhance students’ entrepreneurial skills and to help develop business ideas, Enterprise Pathways provides bespoke support for those looking at starting a business.

For further information about the Student Circus initiative, and all other divisions of Birkbeck Futures, please visit the Birkbeck Futures website.

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Breaking through the ceiling: BSc Business and Management at Birkbeck

Jeremy Galea came to Birkbeck to further his career. Last week, he graduated with the Best Project prize in the Department of Management.

When I was growing up, there wasn’t much emphasis on education at home, but I’ve always had a strong work ethic. I failed my last year of school in Australia and got a job straight away. I did everything from cleaning supermarkets to polishing stainless steel; being a hard worker was my way of escape.

After moving to the UK to start a junior project management role, I started to worry about hitting a ceiling. I was really into my career and very ambitious, but I could only get so far with no formal qualifications. I’d done courses along the way, but never tackled anything as big as university study.

I chose Birkbeck because it was the only university that would allow me to continue working while studying in the evening. The first two years were tough; I didn’t have access to Student Finance, so I worked seven days a week to fund my studies. Working 70 hour weeks and then studying on top meant sacrificing other areas of my life, but coming into lectures and meeting people who were in the same struggle motivated me to keep going.

I’ve always been able to put on a confident front, but Birkbeck really gave me that self-belief – my ambition is higher now than when I started. I never submitted an assignment in high school – my first university assignment was a 70!

I was just about to finish my second year at Birkbeck when I got my current role in the senior operations management team in the NHS. Drawing on my experience of my course really helped me in the interview, as did the confidence I’d gained along the way.

When it came to choosing a topic for my research project, my seminar teacher gave me some great advice: you don’t get extra points for a ‘sexy’ title! It’s best to write about what you know.

I chose to research whether outsourced organisations or in-house provide better non-clinical support services to the NHS. Having worked in operations for over ten years, I knew my subject matter pretty well. Basing my project on my work has taught me so much; it’s had an effect on how I think and I’m already directing things in a different way than I would have done before. In large organisations, management don’t know what it’s like on the front line and the front line has tunnel vision, so it was fascinating speaking to people across my organisation.

I was lucky to have the support of my line managers at work and of Dr Marion Frenz, my supervisor. In the end, I didn’t come to a definitive answer in my project, but that didn’t stop me from doing well as loads of information on management and relationships still came out of it.

My advice to students undertaking a project would be to start early: it can be hard when your nerves get in the way and you’re juggling work as well, but the quality won’t be there unless you allow yourself time.

If you’re in work, Birkbeck is the place to study to further your career. You can learn so much from other people’s life experience on campus. Undertaking a work-based project gets your name out there within your organisation – even if you work in a coffee shop there’s a business model there that you can learn from.

At school it felt like you were either naturally talented or dumb and there was no in-between, but now I believe that if you set your mind to something, you can achieve it. There’s nothing negative about further education; you learn how to analyse, research and make up your own mind. The world opens up to you once you’ve had that experience.

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