Twickenham business woman celebrates graduation after busy two years

A Twickenham businesswoman who has juggled family and study commitments while setting up her own HR consultancy celebrated her university graduation this week.

Sarah Mason

Sarah Mason

On Monday (18 April), Sarah Mason graduated with distinction with a Master’s degree in Management Consultancy and Organisational Change.

During her two-year part-time degree at London’s only specialist provider of evening university study, the 42-year-old Meadway resident established Talent Advantage, her own human resources and leadership training consultancy which built on her experience in senior roles at global recruitment firms. Since her consultancy’s launch in March 2014, it has become well established in the recruitment industry.

She was drawn to the MSc programme at Birkbeck’s Department of Management as it allowed her to combine full-time work in the daytime, while attending up to two three-hour lectures per week in the evenings at the college’s Bloomsbury campus.

She had previously completed a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and a diploma in Employment Law, however the Birkbeck MSc appealed to her as it combined organisational psychology, HR and business – all of which she was interested in deepening her knowledge of at this stage in her career.

While Sarah had prepared herself for a very busy two years upon enrolling, it took her some time to adjust to balancing her multiple commitments.

“It was harder than I thought it would be. I had to give up a lot of my spare time to reading academic papers, writing assignments and doing my research project,” she said.

“I really enjoyed studying but the hardest part was my eight-year-old daughter pushing notes under the door of my study asking me to go to the park with her. I was very lucky that my husband was really supportive and gave me the time I needed to study. Studying alongside a full time job is a big commitment but it was worth it.”

This week, Sarah joined more than 200 fellow postgraduate students from the college’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics at a formal afternoon ceremony held in Senate House. She was joined on the day by her husband, Phil Mason, and her daughter, Tegwen.

She said: “I’m really pleased with this accomplishment. I started off with several goals; get a distinction, learn some useful stuff and hit specific revenue goals for the business.  It was a lot of hard work, but I did achieve them.

“In reality, the grade is much less important than the learning and for some people it’s more about finding a good balance of study, work and life.  For me, having a focus of getting a good grade did push me to make sure I put enough time in to get the most from the course, so I learnt loads.  And I think it’s fine to be a geek!”

Moving forward, Sarah plans to continue growing her consultancy, and further applying the frameworks, theories and evidence-based approach to practice which she learned at Birkbeck.

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Surrey resident graduates with sixth university degree

A Surrey man claimed his sixth university degree this week when he accepted his Master’s in European History from Birkbeck.

Dr David Sutherland

Dr David Sutherland

On Tuesday (19 April), Dr David Sutherland took to the stage at the college’s formal ceremony in Senate House, Bloomsbury. The day marked the achievement of his third degree from Birkbeck, and his sixth overall, across an eclectic field of disciplines ranging from the physical sciences, to language and history.

The 69-year-old Limpsfield resident took his first step on the road to academic success in his native Scotland when he completed a BSc in Physics from the University of Dundee in 1969, followed in 1975 with a PhD in Physics. Well into his career in IT – working for the likes of ICL (now Fujitsu) at the European Space Agency – Dr Sutherland returned to his studies, attaining an MSc in Internet Technology from Queen Mary College in 2002.

From then, he began what is now a hat trick of degrees at Birkbeck – London’s only specialist provider of evening university study – graduating with a BA in German in 2007, and an MSc Bioinformatics in 2012.

Reflecting on his study experiences across the decades and this most recent degree – an MA in European History which he undertook part-time over two years ­– Dr Sutherland said the main difference is the “wide range of fellow students”.

He said: “In Dundee, I was with my peer group and there were very few ‘mature students’. In Queen Mary College I was very aware of being the oldest in the class. Birkbeck has people of all ages and backgrounds so it was easier for me, as an older student, to fit in. However, that is not to say the Birkbeck is only for older students, rather, it is for people of almost all age groups. I believe that this is good for both students and teachers.”

He said that although he initially underestimated the amount of effort required to do course work at postgraduate level, he was able to adjust to the pace.

He especially enjoyed researching and writing his dissertation, which focused on the Scottish Continental herring trade in the ‘long 19th Century’ – a topic which is linked to his family history.

He said: “My ancestors came from Wick in the North of Scotland, and it has been fascinating to find out how their livelihoods depended on a trade that extended far into continental Europe – to Vienna, Moscow, Romania, and even Odessa.”

During the process of writing the 15,674-word dissertation, he was delighted to discover how different the study of history has become thanks to the internet.

Dr David Sutherland

Dr David Sutherland

He said: “In particular, the availability of a wide range of government documents from the 19th century, and of newspapers from the same era, made it possible to gather information much more easily than would have been the case in the past. It is also much easier to collate information gathered in this way.”

This week, Dr Sutherland joined more than 150 fellow postgraduate students from the college’s School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy at a morning graduation ceremony held in Senate House’s Beveridge Hall. He was joined on the day by his wife Sheila, who also graduated in the same ceremony with an MA in Comparative Literature.

Also in the audience was his brother-in-law John Walker, Reader in Reader in German Intellectual History at Birkbeck who first encouraged Dr Sutherland to enroll at the College.

In terms of his plans for the future, Dr Sutherland is now setting up a website based on his dissertation (www.scottishherringhistory.uk).

He said: “This website will not only tell the story, but will also present statistics from that period in graphical form. I am hopeful that it will stimulate further research. There has been a lot written about the Scottish side of the story, but this big, important industry would not have existed without logistics, traders and customers on the Continent.”

As something of an expert on the topic of undertaking a university degree, he had some words of encouragement:

“Study – at any age – can be both demanding and rewarding. Do not underestimate the effort. Plan ahead and do not leave everything to the last minute. You will get the greatest benefit from what you are studying if you attend regularly and participate in the work of the class. You will find that the lecturers are glad to help you, and often even a limited amount of guidance can go a long way. Most of all – enjoy what you do.”

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Camberwell man reaches milestone in legal dream

A Camberwell resident celebrated an important step in his legal education this week when he graduated from Birkbeck.

Chukwunwikezarramu (Zarra) Okumephuna on his graduation day

Chukwunwikezarramu (Zarra) Okumephuna on his graduation day

On Wednesday (20 April), Chukwunwikezarramu (Zarra) Okumephuna received his Master of Law degree at the college’s formal ceremony in Senate House, Bloomsbury.

The 39-year-old Bethwin Road

resident enrolled at Birkbeck following his completion of a Bachelor’s Law degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), however he had concerns about the expense of a further degree.

“Getting a Master’s degree in Law was very important to me as I want to progress on to a PhD, but the cost nearly deterred me,” Zarra said.

“Fortunately, Birkbeck’s payment flexibility and study pattern ensured that I finished within one year. I successfully finished the programme via payment by installment without getting in any debt.”

Since moving to London 10 years ago from his home town of Nteje, Nigeria, Zarra has held a strong in interest in Law.

He said: “The reason I chose to concentrate on Constitutional Law – focusing on Islamisation of the Political Process in Pakistan – and Criminology during my LLM is because of my ambition to eventually work in either the educational, charity or political sector, as an academic, policy adviser or a parliamentary aide.

“It is this all-encompassing and ecumenical nature of Law as a discipline that attracted me towards it and I have no regret in doing that, even though it might take a while to fulfill my ambition.”

Chukwunwikezarramu (Zarra) Okumephuna

Chukwunwikezarramu (Zarra) Okumephuna

During his studies at Birkbeck, Zarra volunteered with the British Refugee Council on the Development Desk, which involved engaging with refugees and other stakeholders in the sector including donors. At the college, he also served as the student representative for his course, and held down a job in retail. Juggling these numerous commitments was hard, but worthwhile, he explained.

He said: “The fact that I balanced both my work and study is the reason I succeeded in the programme. I was able to translate my work experiences into my studies and that was very rewarding.”

This week, Zarra joined nearly 200 fellow postgraduate students from the college’s School of Law at a morning graduation ceremony held in Senate House’s Beveridge Hall.

He said: “I’m delighted to have made this achievement. It was my dream as a young man to do this and I am pleased that today my dream is a reality.”

Looking ahead, Zarra plans to undertake an MPhil/PhD researching the relationship between law and religion in Pakistan.

Hear Zarra talk about his experience at Birkbeck:

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Islington 91-year-old resident graduates with theatre degree

A theatre-loving 91-year-old graduated from Birkbeck this week with a Master’s degree in Shakespeare and Contemporary Performance.

Patricia Bishop and her daughter, Hilary

Patricia Bishop and her daughter, Hilary

As part of her dissertation project, Archway resident ­Patricia Bishop watched 37 performances of Shakespeare’s work at the Globe Theatre in the space of six weeks – at one point seeing three performances in a single day.

One of the UK’s oldest graduates, Patricia received her Master’s degree at a formal graduation ceremony in Senate House, Bloomsbury, on Wednesday (20 April). This is her third degree, having initially graduated with a BA in Psychology in 1945 from Bedford College for Women (now part of Royal Holloway), and then a BA in English from Birkbeck in 2010.

In between these degrees she led a fulfilling career in clinical psychology in England and France, working primarily with young people and their families. She held research and clinical positions in a variety of settings, including the Tavistock Clinic, HM Prison Holloway, and latterly at the Learning disability Services in North London, where she retired at 80.

Patricia's story was covered in the Islington Gazette. Click here to read the article

Patricia’s story was covered in the Islington Gazette. Click here to read the article

Her love of literature and theatre began at a young age when she was a student at Pontefract Girls’ High School in Yorkshire, however she didn’t pursue it as a career path. Upon retiring at the turn of the century, she resolved to fulfill a longtime ambition to explore literature in an academic setting. Birkbeck’s modes of evening and part-time study allowed her to maintain some balance between spending time with her family, some volunteering activities and attending to her studies.

Patricia wasn’t daunted by the classroom environment.

She said: “Of course I was one of the older ones, but most people were in their 20s and 30s which was nice. I have always worked with young people as a psychologist, and so I liked that about the classes.

“In fact the contact with people from different backgrounds and with younger minds was most enjoyable and refreshing. It was good for my morale that younger students often told me that they found my enthusiasm and effort a source of encouragement.”

However, getting to grips with academic writing took some adjustment.

She said: “Although I have been writing reports for years, it’s quite different writing an essay conveying your thoughts on literature. To explain ones enjoyment and to relate it to others’ ideas on the subject is the challenge, but very rewarding as one begins to achieve it. What is important at Birkbeck is that help is available with methods of study and writing in particular in addition to inspiring teachers.”

Patricia was interviewed on BBC Radio London on her graduation day. Listen here (from 02:23:40)

Patricia was interviewed on BBC Radio London on her graduation day. Listen here (from 02:23:40)

In addition to gaining academic support during her two degrees at the College, Patricia also reached out to Birkbeck’s Disability Service and Library for help with mobility and gaining access to learning materials.

“I have huge appreciation for the team at Birkbeck. Throughout my time I have experienced enormous encouragement, support and really practical help,” she said.

For her Master’s dissertation, exploring how Shakespeare’s plays can be meaningful without understanding the language, she attended the Globe’s multilingual festival of Shakespeare’s works which ran as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. In total, she saw all 37 productions in the six-week season

“I really did become something of a fixture at the theatre,” said Patricia, who is still a regular audience member, attending the theatre up to twice a month.

This week, she graduated alongside nearly 200 fellow postgraduate students from the college’s School of Arts at an afternoon ceremony held in Senate House’s Beveridge Hall.

Patricia Bishop

Patricia Bishop

In the audience was her daughter Hilary, granddaughters Violet (16) and Leila (13), and son-in-law Daniel, all of whom were very much looking forward to seeing her graduate once more – especially her granddaughters.

“They think it’s great. They’re very happy and proud. Last time I graduated at Christmas time in 2010, my granddaughters came to the ceremony and absolutely loved it. So they were impatient for me to finish as I have been rather slow in completing my MA, and they have been looking forward to the next ceremony,” she said.

Looking forward, while Patricia isn’t planning to pursue another degree, she is continuing to satisfy her academic interests by attending weekly sessions at the Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution plus many events and discussions in the literary world such as those held at the University of London and elsewhere

As with her time at university, she said she continues to enjoy “the luxury of studying something in depth, having good teachers, and new experiences”.

Her advice to others is to the point:

“I would say go for it, choose what you really want to study or learn more about. And to succeed, you need to learn to focus.”

Jeremy Corbyn House of Commons

Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, mentioned Patricia’s success during Oral Questions at the House of Commons on Thursday 21April 2016. Click the image above to watch the clip.

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