“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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“I gave birth to my daughter two days after submitting my final project”

Daniella Kroni has graduated this week with a MSc in Human Resource Management. Daniella completed her Master’s whilst being pregnant, caring for a one-year-old child and working full-time.

Daniella Kroni

Daniella started an MSc in Human Resource Management in 2017, her first foray back into higher education since graduating from Royal Holloway with a degree in Management with Human Resources in 2012. No stranger to juggling the demands of a busy life, having balanced a 90-minute commute, her studies, a part-time job and a 6-month internship while an undergraduate student, Daniella faced exceptional circumstances as a postgraduate student with Birkbeck.

Daniella was working full-time as a Human Resource Adviser and wanted to gain further qualifications to progress with her career. After weighing up several options, she felt Birkbeck held the most appeal because of its international renown and leading academics, along with its flexibility concerning students and their circumstances.

Like many Birkbeck students, Daniella had to manage the rigours of a postgraduate course with family and work commitments. However, she had even more exceptional circumstances to manage. Having completed her first year with a one-year-old child to care for, her second year coincided with her second pregnancy.  What followed was several months of hard work and dedication – it is no mean feat to be in the library for hours on end while heavily pregnant feeling tired and exhausted.

Having a strong support network as a student is always valuable and Daniella counted on support from a range of people. Her husband dropped her off at the library to avoid her taking the tube carrying textbooks and a laptop, and her mother helped with childcare and the school run. Daniella’s studies were sponsored by her employer and her colleagues took a real interest in her studies. Daniella found the College to be very accommodating, with her personal tutor offering her friendly support and encouragement throughout her studies and pregnancy, giving her the chance to take extensions and submit mitigating circumstances.

Ultimately, though, it was Daniella’s determination and commitment that ensured she was able complete her studies. It became a source of pride for her that she never gave up. Using her weekends and taking annual leave to complete essays, revision, and projects, she didn’t miss any deadlines or re-sit exams. It is a testament to Daniella that she refused the offer of mitigating circumstances and extensions, to the point of completing her final project just two days before happily giving birth to her second child.

Rightfully proud of her achievements, seizing the opportunity and remembering what motivated her to study were paramount in completing this marvelous feat. Following her studies, Daniella has secured a position with one of the world’s leading healthcare providers. It is a reminder of the opportunities that Birkbeck can provide and the fantastic students who work so hard to make the most of them.

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Location, location, location

An epiphany led to Natalie Pulfer selling up her house, moving to London and embarking on a two year MA Arts Policy and Management degree at Birkbeck. This is her #BBKgrad story.

This is a photo of graduand Natalie Pulfer

Natalie Pulfer

Natalie Pulfer is no stranger to the performing arts world having previously performed at the Royal Albert Hall with a background in local theatre. Yet, she put all of her creative ambitions aside to become a social worker and for the past 20 years has worked within the field, with specific responsibilities for children’s services.

Three years ago, she recalls waking up one day deciding that it was time to revisit her passion and look at ways of getting back into the Arts. She says, “I’m originally from Suffolk and I decided to sell my house, up sticks and move to London with the pure aim of getting back into the Arts somehow and this course seemed to be the best way that I could do it. I literally sold the house in April/May (2017), moved to London in September and started the MA in October. It really just all fell into place.”

The last time she had pursued academic study was in 2015, as part of continuous development for her social work career, but she relays that the Master’s was on a totally different level in terms of the approach and acquiring knowledge. To adapt to the challenge, she credits embracing the task ahead and being open to the support needed to overcome this as well as learning from others enrolled on her course in terms of easing back into learning.

Peer support was quite crucial to Natalie’s study path though she was conscious of her age and recognized that she was one of the “older ones”. However, she says she wasn’t acutely aware of this: “Everyone else was in their twenties and early thirties whereas I was in my mid to late thirties but I see that was also to do with the course I’d chosen to do. You tend to have to get into the Arts at a younger age. It was good to get those people around me with their energy. I quite enjoyed that.”

The flexibility of the Birkbeck learning model was also noted as pivotal to her study success and whilst she was working all day until 5pm and then having to go off to study at 6pm, she shares that she might have gone in lectures tired but never left tired. She would be doing 9am-9pm days, getting home at 10pm but shares, “The energy that you got from it was just great. You didn’t feel that you couldn’t engage and that was down to the tutors, really. They brought a lot of energy to it.”

Natalie studied her course over two years, on a part-time basis and whilst the experience was hugely beneficial; with her recently taking on some production work for an online festival and some further work with a production company, she notes that it wasn’t without its challenges. In her second year, she was diagnosed with dyslexia but found the College extremely supportive with adapting the study approach and providing technical equipment.

To anyone considering study at Birkbeck, she offers the following words of encouragement, “Just do it and don’t think about the barriers.” She adds that her social work career might have deterred her from applying elsewhere but Birkbeck identified her previous management skills and arts experience and was also able to draw on her knowledge of policy from her social work; which were all considered as part of her application.

As to the best part of studying in London, it’s clear she’s in no doubt the move from Suffolk to London was for the best. She says, “For the Arts, I think learning your craft in London is key because you have access to the theatres, arts projects and arts communities and that made a massive difference.”

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