All posts by Lynsey Ford

Lynsey Ford is an alumnus of Birkbeck College, with a BA in Film and Media. She contributed to Lamp and Owl throughout her studies, and was Managing Editor in her final year. Lynsey is interested in film history, literature and theatre.

A one to one with… Andy Stirups

Andy Stirups has been the Alumni and Student Ambassador Officer at Birkbeck College since September 2013. As well as coordinating volunteering and mentoring opportunities for former students, Andy also manages Team Birkbeck, the College’s student ambassador programme.

Here, Andy talks to us about the role of alumni, and their impact within the university.

How can the alumni community help current students?

Alumni can help current students in a number of different ways, specifically through volunteering, mentoring, or donating to Birkbeck.

Birkbeck is in a unique position with over 70% of graduates continuing to live and work in London after they graduate and because of this, we are really able to harness their enthusiasm and commitment to volunteer to support current and prospective Birkbeck students.

A significant number of our former students participate in one of our volunteering and mentoring opportunities. Over 300 alumni volunteers have supported seven alumni engagement programmes just in this past year alone, giving up some 3,200 hours of their own time. These alumni engagement programmes are designed to support and develop the lives of our current and even prospective students. From helping prospective students decide whether Birkbeck is the right institution for them, to sitting on an employability panel – alumni can really make a significant difference to Birkbeck and its student body. Alumni also play a huge part in bedding in our international students – they are on hand in their first term to help practise conversational English, figure out where the library is or give their tips about what to do and see in London.

Many alumni also decide to donate to Birkbeck. Donations from alumni make a significant difference, by funding areas that will benefit current and future generations of students and make Birkbeck an even better place to study. Nearly £1.8 million was generously donated by alumni in the past year, with nearly half of those alumni who were asked to donate in the last alumni telephone campaign deciding to give. This is a wonderful testament to the generosity of alumni and we are incredibly grateful for their support.

Can you describe the involvement of the alumni community with Birkbeck Talent and Careers & Employability?

Birkbeck Alumni can advertise roles and internships through the College’s professional recruitment service, Birkbeck Talent. Birkbeck graduates know first-hand how talented and highly motivated current students are and are often keen to exclusively advertise roles within their companies to Birkbeck students.

Alumni also enhance the careers and employability prospects of our current students through two volunteering programmes. Every month alumni volunteers participate in the Careers Clinic, a programme designed to review current students’ CVs and job applications, offering essential advice to students about how to improve their employability. A small number of our alumni also run mock interviews for current students, which helps to ensure that they are best placed when reaching the interview stage of a job process.

Our alumni can also participate in a cross-College programme, Mentoring Pathways, which raises the soft skills and employment prospects of our current students before they graduate from Birkbeck.

What can the alumni department help former students with?

There are a number of benefits and services available to Birkbeck Alumni.  All graduates are eligible to join the Birkbeck Library and Senate House Library as a former student of the College. The Careers and Employability Team also provide careers advice and workshops for recent graduates. A full list of alumni benefits and services can be viewed here.

We also help to coordinate a number of alumni groups, based both in the UK and overseas, and our office helps to support these networks to ensure that former students can stay in touch with old classmates after they have graduated.

What is your impression of our institutional mission and values?

Birkbeck’s founding mission, to provide education for working Londoners, is still as relevant today as ever before. If George Birkbeck were alive today, he would recognise the College as the same institution he founded over 193 year ago. Birkbeck continues to be a world-class institution, known for its academic excellence and I am proud to work for such a great university.

What is Team Birkbeck?

Team Birkbeck is the College’s student ambassador programme. There are nearly 50 current Birkbeck students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, who represent the College at a number of events and activities such as Open Evening and campus tours. Team Birkbeck have worked a total of 2300 hours in the past year, carrying out a number of outreach activities, such as visiting schools or FE colleges to talk to students about university life, or to teach them subjects such as mathematics to ensure that they are equipped with the best possible chance of furthering their education. Around 25 to 30 students participate in one of the Careers Clinic Sessions.

Working for Team Birkbeck is a great way to get involved with the institution and it’s something that I would highly recommend to any current student looking to enhance the CV.

A One To One With… Pete Williams of Birkbeck Libraries

Pete Williams is the Assistant Director for User Support, Academic Liaison and Collections across the Malet Street and Stratford Campuses of Birkbeck. Here, Pete explains some of the challenges faced to support students across the libraries:

Birkbeck Library provides three main things: collections (print and online); a space to study; and practical support to our users.

My advice to new students would be go to your library introductory talk but if you miss that, or need more help, you can always make an appointment with your Subject Librarian – the purpose of their job is to support you!

Our Subject Librarians meet with academic staff all the time but we’d really like to improve our communication with our students, either through the Student Union or through other channels including social media.

There is a Library Advisory Group, consisting of staff from each department, which meets twice a year usually in March and November. Its remit is to offer advice on library policy and to monitor our performance.

Birkbeck students studying in Stratford have full access to UEL’s Stratford Campus Library. They can borrow any of the books housed in that library and their Birkbeck ID card automatically lets them in through the turnstiles. We have dedicated members of library staff based out there and they work both in the UEL Library and also in the USS Building, where there is a study area with PCs called the Weston Learning Centre. Stratford-based Birkbeck students can also use all the Malet Street facilities.

Compared to taught postgraduate students, research students need a greater range of library materials as there is no reading list for a PhD. To really succeed, they also need to understand the wider information landscape by which I mean a greater knowledge of the information resources available and the different ways scholarly work is published and disseminated.

There are plenty of challenges but perhaps the main one is limited space. We are constantly balancing the need to provide an adequate number of study spaces with the fact that our collections are crammed into a relatively small amount of space. We realise that the Library is still becoming completely full up in the afternoons, and that this is a highly unsatisfactory situation, and we are currently exploring options for creating significantly more study spaces in summer 2017.

We’re currently reorganising the way we staff the Library at evenings and weekends to make sure students coming in at these times get as good a service as possible. We have a ‘back to the floor’ policy and all library staff (including the Director) work on the helpdesk at least once a week. In October, the library opened a new group study area.

Like all Birkbeck departments, we receive an annual budget which covers everything we do, including all the information resources (books, journals) we purchase. However, for more substantial one-off refurbishment work, such as the creation of the new group study area and the Accessibility Centre that happened this summer, we have to make a business case to Birkbeck’s Estates Committee for additional funding.

We hope to develop better links with the SU, but we are also trying out other methods, including focus groups, greater engagement through Twitter and Facebook and making sure we attend any student/staff forums in individual departments.

In February we will be conducting some ‘ethnographic’ research into how students use the library. In September 2016 we received about £4,000 from the Birkbeck Alumni Fund to do this. We will be employing Birkbeck students to help us, so look out for people with clipboards observing you when you use the Library!

For other upcoming developments, please take a look at our annual Operational Plan which lists in full the various projects we are currently engaged in.  Our mission is “to put students at the heart of everything we do”.

I think Birkbeck has a strong identity as London’s Evening University, which both its students and staff buy into.’

Images courtesy of Birkbeck Library and Wikimedia Commons

The Birkbeck Centre For Contemporary Theatre

Dr Fintan Walsh & Dr Louise Owen are the co-directors of The Birkbeck Centre For Contemporary Theatre.  Situated at 43 Gordon Square (The School of Arts), the BCCT is a thriving, multi-disciplinary platform where theatre professionals come together to create and research pieces on cultural politics and identity, new writing, contemporary theatre and early modern theatre and performance.  Here, Dr Walsh & Dr Owen explain some of the exciting developments which have evolved over 2016.

Please can you describe the structure of the BCCT programme?

We usually have some kind of event – such as a workshop or conversation – planned each week. Some involve centre fellows (we appoint twenty who are attached for three years) pursuing research and development towards their projects.  Others include people working in the theatre industry, or with other academics.  Many events will be open to staff, students and the public, and will address some aspect of contemporary theatre. We also run a number of symposia a year, which arise from our research interests, and fellows sometimes host their own workshops or talks here too.

When did BCCT form, and what do you consider its key objectives?

The centre was founded in 2006 by Professor Rob Swain, who runs the MFA Theatre Directing, as a space for hosting conversations between academics and theatre artists. These objectives have evolved over the years depending on shifts in research focus and staff, and when we took over the Centre in 2014 we had a chance to refine them again ourselves, to reflect our own interests and ambitions.

Can you explain more about the work and involvement of BA, MA and PhD students in Theatre and Drama Studies, Directing, and Creative Writing? 

Theatre and performance lecturers are involved in teaching on the BA Theatre and Drama Studies and MA Text and Performance (run in conjunction with RADA). Rob Swain looks after the MFA Theatre Directing. Some of the Creative Writing lecturers are also professional theatre and screen writers, and students have the chance to take their courses too. A lot of our practical classes take place in G10 studio space in 43 Gordon Square, which is where we also stage final performance projects. Students are welcome to attend many of the events run within the Centre too. And last year, along with the University of Winchester and the University of Kent, we collaborated with Camden People’s Theatre on two festivals entitled Being European, exploring the moments before and after the EU referendum.

With fellows ranging from playwrights to theatre directors, can you please discuss some of the themes and highlights of 2016, and beyond into 2017?

We invite a wide range of people involved in theatre to participate in centre events as it’s such a diverse discipline. The centre’s goals shift slightly year- on-year depending on the research focus of academics and Fellows, and we try to integrate these by working to a research theme, which this year is ‘transmission’. We have many events coming up in 2017, but three symposia we’re currently working on include Politicians & Other Performers in January, Twofold: the Particularities of Working in Pairs in March, and Theatres of Contagion in May. When we can, we podcast our talks on the Centre for Contemporary Theatre website. The centre runs events every day during Arts Week – discussions, symposia, performances. In May 2016, we welcomed Tassos Stevens (Artistic Director of Coney), who talked about digital media and social life with Birkbeck academics Seda Ilter, Scott Rodgers and Joel McKim.  We run a Scratch Night every year for students at all levels to show work in progress.  The MFA Theatre Directing students will create an original piece of performance in collaboration with an academic.  Last year, they worked with Gill Woods to create a brilliant short interactive piece exploring ‘part scripts’, widely used in early modern theatre.  We also support artists to show longer pieces of work in progress in the context of Arts Week too (for example, the work of Theatre North).

What would you like to see introduced?

The Centre is ten years old this year, so we’re hoping to mark that by running a range of events that reflect upon its achievement next year.

What have been the challenges faced by the theatre?

Time! There is so much we would like to do, and with limited time…

Would you consider arranging a society through Birkbeck SU for Drama?

Students have expressed an interest in forming a Birkbeck drama society, and we would fully support the activities of such a group. As an SU activity it’s not for us to initiate it.

And finally, what do you consider the chief mission of the theatre?

The Centre’s mission is to host conversations between all those interested in theatre – academics, artists and audiences – and to be responsive to contemporary concerns and issues. This aim, above all else, informs the work we do, and will guide future developments


Images: Courtesy of The Birkbeck Centre For Contemporary Theatre

For further information, please follow:

Birkbeck German Society


The German society is one of the most vibrant societies of Birkbeck, and  has recently celebrated its fifteenth year in Malet Street. Under the current President, Ryan Gray, and Secretary, Geraldine MacMahon, there are twenty seven active Birkbeck students affiliated with the society, alongside eighteen associate members.

International trips have included excursions to Dresden, where members visited the Semperoper (Dresden’s Opera House), the Frauenkirche, and the Zwinger Palace.  The society also travelled to Meissen, situated North-West of Dresden, the home of Albrechtsburg Castle and Gothic Meissen Cathedral.

Ryan and Geraldine will be arranging events at The Goethe Institute in South Kensington, and The Austrian Cultural Forum in Knightsbridge. Admission is generally free of charge for events, but occasionally trips may cost a couple of pounds.London trips have included an excursion to Wigmore Hall for a liederabend, where students enjoyed an evening listening to the songs of Franz Schubert. The society also took in a performance of Berholt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Three Penny Opera at The National Theatre in June. Ryan and Geraldine hope to plan a trip to Munich in March 2017.

The society regularly meet up at Bierschenke, an authentic Munich beer hall in the City, and  The George Birkbeck Bar.  Ryan and Geraldine intend to arrange at least one film screening at the beginning of next term, and arrange guest speakers to give a talk on current affairs including Germany’s future in the EU post-Brexit.

From the beginning of the next academic term (2016/17), the membership fee will be £10 for current students, and £12 for associates to join. There will be opportunities to run for a variety of prominent positions within the society including President, Treasurer and Secretary.

For more information, follow the Student Union website at:–4

Lebt wohl, liebe leser!



The Birkbeck Student Geological Society



The Birkbeck Student Geological Society (BSGS) is at the heart of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Malet Street. It is dedicated to those studying and undertaking extensive environmental research, and the society organises a vast array of field trips, lectures, social nights and committee meetings throughout the year. Dr Simon Drake has led a successful field trip to Ramsgate, where the BSGS explored the chalk tunnels built during WWII, taking in the view of the local environment around Ramsgate Harbour, Pegwell Bay, the Cretaceous Tertiary (known as the K-T boundary) and Monkton Wildlife Reserve. International visits have included a trip to Tenerife in December 2015, where students examined the powerful impact of local volcanoes, and  the block and ash deposits that are produced throughout the Tajao region. The group undertook a trip to Cuevas Negras, Las Canadas, and Teide, examining obsidian flows, lava and phreatomagnetic sequences.

BSGS lectures have included talks on the East Antarctic ice sheets, and the Earthquakes and Geohazards in Northern Italy. Talks have been led by Professor Gerald Roberts (Birkbeck College), with contributions from Dr Tina Van der Fleidt (Imperial College) and Dr Chiara Petrone (The Natural History Museum).

The society recently went on a field trip to Cornwall between 10-12 June 2016, which was organised by MSc Geochemistry Professor Karen Hudson-Edwards and post-doctoral research assistant David Kossof. The trip allowed students to explore the old tin mines and china clay pits of the 19th century Wheal Maid trail, where dams have managed the ongoing issue of pollution from the Wheal Jane mine. The trail forms an essential part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site.

The mine has provided a rich source for tin, copper, zinc, silver and arsenic over the last two hundred years, although it officially closed in 1985 when the world tin price collapsed, and the groundwater levels rose, washing over the exposed rock faces.

The society also visited The Wheal Martyn Heritage Museum in the Ruddle Valley in St Austell. The major constituent of china clay (kaolin), it was discovered by Quaker minister and pharmacist William Cooksworthy in 1746. By 1910,  half the world’s china clay was produced from St Austell deposits, which now accounts for approximately 120 million tonnes of china clay used in dye, cosmetics, paints, porcelain and paper-making. The society enjoyed the major exhibitions which provided an in-depth analysis of how production methods have changed considerably over the centuries as one of Cornwall’s major industries.

The BSGS held a follow-up workshop on the weekend of the 18th June to evaluate the former mining sites and to assess possible remediation. Professor Hudson-Edwards discussed the society’s field observations and recordings, and David Kossof produced Cornish mineral samples from the Department of Earth and Planetary Science mineral stores.

It was determined that the preservation of the Wheal Maid had suffered from a lack of funding (the site is owned by the local parish council). Also, being a world heritage site, it is severely affected by changes to the environment. The society agreed that certain measures had to be implemented including prominent signs on toxic hazards, increased fencing, a ban on motorbikes and trail bikes, and better awareness of the hazards around the site.


The 2016 BSGS committee consists of Liz Pedley (marketing), Kirsty Harrington & Ben Dixon (membership and events planning) and Felicity Benson (finance). Friday lectures take place in Malet Street Room 612, and the committee holds meetings in The George Bar. The annual membership fee stands at £9, but talks are free for members of the public to attend.

For more information, follow:


Photo: Felicity Benson

Flashback: The BISR Guilt Group, in conversation with Patrick Marber

On the 17th of May, Dr James Brown of the Birkbeck Institute of Social Research’s (BISR) Guilt Working Group  chaired a Q&A discussion and film screening with playwright and director Patrick Marber in the School of Arts, as part of Birkbeck Arts Week.

Here, the Birkbeck community were treated to a retrospective of Marber’s multi-faceted career as stand-up comic, television scriptwriter, playwright, screenwriter and director.

As a screenwriter he has adapted his own hit play Closer (2004), as well as novels by Patrick McGrath (Asylum, 2005) and Zoe Heller (Notes on a Scandal, 2006), the latter earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Patrick’s love of literature became evident at the age of 15: “I wanted my books to be in the school library. I wanted to be a writer, like the people I loved. The writers who have inspired me through the years have included Graham Greene, Harold Pinter, Ian McEwan, Arthur Miller, Oscar Wilde and Philip Roth. I also like restoration plays. It’s important for the dialogue to sparkle.”

Studying English at Wadham College, Oxford under literary theorist Terry Eagleton, Patrick initially branched out into comedy, working as a puppeteer, and as one half of a slapstick duo with fellow student Guy Browning, then as a solo stand-up comic at The Oxford Revue: “I never wanted a proper job. I was biding my time. With stand-up, I only had to work twenty minutes in the evening! I tried to write a satirical poem but it blew my confidence and I felt defeated. I didn’t feel comfortable writing prose.”

However, Patrick was still determined to write a novel, and after graduating in 1991, stayed in Paris for six months. Returning dispirited, he was approached by an Oxford contemporary, BBC producer Armando Iannucci, to work on Radio 4’s On The Hour. Following on from this success, he collaborated with Steve Coogan on The Day Today and Knowing me, Knowing youwith Alan Partridge, where he also took on acting roles, including the delightfully incompetent reporter Peter O’ Hanraha-hanrahan. Patrick looks back on this time as an invaluable learning opportunity; “I had a seven year ‘apprenticeship’ on radio and television, I felt I had some confidence for once. I also felt better expressing myself as other people.”

At the relatively late age of 31, he made his theatre debut with 1995’s Dealer’s Choice, which premiered in the National Theatre’s Cottesloe Studio. Based on his own experiences of gambling addiction, the play is set in the repressive confines of a restaurant basement, with the final act centring around a game of poker. The play was developed in the NT Studio in 1993, starting off as, “a bag of bones”. Artistic Director Sir Richard Eyre sat in at one of his workshops, offering Patrick the chance to direct his piece for The National. It won the Evening Standard Award for Best Play, and cemented his reputation as a serious contender, alongside his hero, Harold Pinter.

“I got on with the cast really well. They were alert to the text, what they needed to say and what they didn’t need to say. I want characters who are burning with intensity, disagreeing. As a writer and Director, I don’t want it to be all ‘white’ in my work. The National Theatre is still my home. When (Sir) Nicholas Hytner came in as Artistic Director, I didn’t feel welcome. You go in and out of fashion. I’m glad Rufus (Norris) likes my work.”

Closer also had its world premiere at the NT in 1997. It is a tale of sexual betrayal, longing and duplicity, seen through the eyes of a quartet of lonely twenty-something star crossed lovers, who cross over allegiances. Closer is unflinching in its often graphic depiction of vice and misogyny, the voyeurism of cyberspace, viciousness of sexual jealousy, and the inner turmoil of one man (Dan) who veers between two women (wife Anna and stripper Alice).

Closer transferred to Broadway, with Patrick developing and directing the production for two and a half years, opening at the Music Box Theatre in January 1999. It was also staged in Paris and Prague; “I put in six different casts. I was exhausted. I never wanted to see another play again! It was very hard to write a play after it. But it was all good really. It was a blessing.

Patrick went on to write the 2004 screen adaptation, directed by Oscar-winner Mike Nichols, and starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. “As Mike said ‘It either has to be a fight, negotiation or seduction. If it’s not, it’s boring.’ Audiences want to be entertained more visually. The fashion at the moment is for effect, but there’s a hunger for new work; it’s a great time for new writers.”

Using semi-autobiographical elements within his narrative, Howard Katz (2001),  the play charts the journey of a middle-aged East End Jewish talent agent, whose life is spiralling out of control with no spiritual direction. Patrick directed, again at The Cottesloe, and played off-Broadway with Alfred Molina in the lead role. Receiving mixed reviews for its depiction of one man’s breakdown and crisis of faith, Patrick has been philosophical about its initial reception; “the press wanted me to write a raunchy play. I wrote the opposite of that, it was about my own mid-life crisis. I like the idea of ambivalence; we should be feeling two things. We don’t live cleanly. We live in a flug.”

For five years from 2007, Patrick struggled with writer’s block, while he had a variety of screenplay commissions to contend with. Patrick’s productivity now sees him write from 9pm until 2am: “After two to three hours, I know where the play’s going. I have to keep writing movies, and other things are just things to keep my hand in until the next play, which is the most important thing to me. I’d rather write less if it’s from the heart.”

Recent work includes The Red Lion (2015), a three-hander, set in the changing rooms of a semi-professional football team, where a gifted player finds himself caught between a bullying manager and a veteran player (Patrick is the Director of Lewes FC in Sussex). After Miss Julie (written twenty years ago) will be touring the Theatre Royal Bath (4-9 July), Richmond Theatre (11-16 July), and Milton Keynes Theatre (18-13 July). Based on Strindberg’s 1888 play, Patrick’s version of the erotic, psychological thriller is set in an English Country House during the eve of the Labour landslide of 1945.

Patrick’s approach to theatre making is simple; “Be ferocious, be unpopular. It’s your play. You’re the host of this party. I would encourage all new playwrights to direct and to learn on the job. The first play I directed was Dealer’s Choice at The National. All writers also need two to three good readers you can trust. Two supporters have been Sir Richard Eyre and (fellow Playwright) Nicholas Wright. My wife (actress Debra Gillett) has read every draft, every line endlessly. But I did dedicate my work to her! There’s a lot of playwrights who write but don’t know where it’s going. That’s okay. We all have conflicting feelings about life.”

Click here for more information about the work of The BISR Guilt Group.