Category Archives: University facilities

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