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Alumni bursary donations pave the way for two Birkbeck psychology students

Two successful Birkbeck psychology alumni are opening opportunities for the profession’s future leaders to study for their Master’s degrees, by creating the Psychology Alumni Bursary Scholarships.

Two of Birkbeck’s BSc Psychology graduates have been given the chance to progress to their Master’s degrees this year, after alumni couple Bill and Clare Acker donated funds for bursaries to make the experience possible.

Kareen Duffus and Zarina were ecstatic to receive backing from two of the College’s 1974 psychology cohort, which has allowed them to take on an MSc in Educational Neuroscience and an MSc Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology respectively.

Kareen, 45, came to England from her home country of Jamaica when she was 18, on her grandmother’s orders to attend college. She chose to work instead and after 22 years in management at a dry cleaner and then a joinery, as well as raising her family of three children, she finally decided to enrol in BSc Psychology at Birkbeck, aged 40.

She said: “I knew within myself that if I could study three or four subjects per week while working 32 hours a week and being a mother to three children at the same time, I was capable of a degree.”

After graduating in 2016, she was hungry to study more – a Master’s programme beckoned and was made possible when she won an Acker Bursaries Scholarship.

Kareen said: “I have a real passion for studying and I wish I could do it on a full-time basis, but I cannot because I have to work. My long-term ambition is to become an Educational Psychologist and it’s only a matter of time before this goal is achieved, because of the help and support from Birkbeck and from the scholarship.”

For Zarina, a 36-year-old former care worker for elderly and disabled people, the bursary was a major factor in supporting her career in neuroscientific research.

She said: “Understanding how the brain works is important to me for many reasons – I want to help develop successful strategies for treating neurological and psychiatric disorders which devastate the lives of millions of people. It’s very interesting to learn how far neuroscience as a field has come and how much is still unknown.” “This bursary has made it possible for me to enrol in the MSc programme and develop my career in research, so I feel privileged to have been given this opportunity.”

The generous alumni, who described their time studying at Birkbeck in the 1970’s as ‘life-changing’, came to Birkbeck after working with the US Peace Corps in South America. Upon moving to England, they completed their BSc Psychology at the College and went on to build successful careers with the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, the NHS and their own practice.

Clare, from Bromley in Kent, said: “We discovered Birkbeck at the right time in our lives and studying there enabled us to go on and have the careers we’ve had. We have been totally gratified with our careers in different ways and without Birkbeck that wouldn’t have been possible, so we wanted someone else to experience that good fortune.”

Bill, who came from Glen Cove in New York before becoming a British citizen, reflected that after nearly 50 years of marriage and supporting their four children through university, the couple wanted to give back to the College’s psychology programme.

He said: “We felt it would be a pity not to continue investing in the future. As much as these students deserve to learn, we think society also deserves to have as many able, committed people contributing to their fields as best they can and we would encourage others to support future generations as much as possible."

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