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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