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"Good teachers make such a difference, and Birkbeck has a lot of them"

Sarah Chamberlain did two degrees at Birkbeck: BA History and Archaeology and MSc Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability. She talks about her experience and shares her thoughts on the importance of learning and good teachers.

Sarah wearing a graduation gown and cap, holding her baby son.
Sarah Chamberlain on her graduation day

Learning is for life 

I love learning and understanding new things about the world, and finding how they are relevant to my life, my job, or to the lives of others. I believe that if you close yourself off to learning, it makes your world smaller, so for me learning really is a lifelong thing. I like to be open to new ideas and keep my world big.  

It’s never too late 

After finishing my A-Levels, I went to Kings College to study nursing but for a variety of reasons, I never finished my degree. Instead, I got a job as a legal secretary and as my friends started graduating one after another, I started to feel a twinge of regret. I thought to myself: I could do that; I could get a degree. But I also wanted to keep working, so Birkbeck’s evening study model seemed like the ideal answer. I decided to study history, as I’d always loved it at school, and when I found out Birkbeck offered a BA History and Archaeology course, I thought that could add an interesting dimension to it and went for it.  

Investing in myself 

Between starting my undergraduate degree and finishing it, I got a new job, doing operations in finance, and that’s when my interest in corporate responsibility and sustainability (CSR) first started. I was lucky enough to then get a CSR entry level role Lloyd’s, and soon my manager started talking about getting me up-skilled. I saw it as a fantastic opportunity to study again... and found myself applying to the MSc Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability course at Birkbeck! Why not? I knew from my first degree that I could balance work and study, and how much there was to be gained through studying something that you’re passionate about.  

Birkbeck provided the accountability and structure I needed 

I love studying, but I’m also human – when I started studying the MSc, I was a single mum, and by the time I finished, I also had a new partner and baby – so I definitely needed some accountability and structure to keep me focused on my studies, and Birkbeck provided exactly that. The teaching model of attending lectures and seminars, of having a shared space and relationships with tutors and fellow students was really centering and motivating for me. I don’t think I could have done as well doing an Open University course, which is entirely self-guided, for example. 

The importance of teachers 

I believe that a good teacher can teach you anything. In my undergraduate degree, I found a tutor whose teaching style and enthusiasm I really liked, and I basically signed up to everything they taught. I learned things that I never thought I’d be interested in... and I learned them really well. Then, when studying for my master’s, I had a tutor who made the point that if we put in the effort, he’d match it. He’d mirror the effort we were putting in, to support us. And he did! He went above and beyond to provide excellent learning opportunities, guidance and support - especially when things got really tight with me having Covid, being in my third trimester of pregnancy and having looming deadlines. Good teachers make such a difference, and Birkbeck has a lot of them.  

Learning leads to confidence 

My first degree at Birkbeck gave me a sense of accomplishment which led to confidence. My second degree gave me specialist knowledge, which led to even more confidence. By the time I finished my masters, my team at work had undergone some big changes, and a combination of circumstance and the completion of my degree meant I had the opportunity to lead the team. I met that opportunity with much more confidence than I would have prior to studying. I thought: ‘I now have a masters in this, so, yes, I do know what I’m talking about, and yes, I can lead this team! 

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