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"I wanted to do something, anything, towards combating inequality in the world"

In her quest to drive social change, international student Jennifer Francis decided to study MRes Social Research and Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck. She shares her thoughts on how education can make a difference in the world, and why Birkbeck’s radical history made it the ideal place for her to start advocating for social change.

Jennifer stood in front of a brick wall smiling

I never imagined I would go back to university again

When I studied in the United States, where I'm from, I majored in psychology. I loved the subject but found studying intense and didn't see myself doing it again unless it was for something that I really cared about. I've spent my career so far working in marketing and advertising at various agencies. I wasn't exactly a-political, but I don't think I interrogated the way things are in society much; I assumed the important things in life would be taken care of by the systems in place.

Wanting to drive change

The last few years have brought a lot of societal issues to the forefront of my mind, from Black Lives Matter to the fight against climate change. I see how the systems the world is built around aren't designed to help the most vulnerable people or protect this planet. I stopped believing that the powerful take care of those who need it most. I felt frustrated with the level of inequality I saw in the world, and its cost to both human lives and the planet. I know I'm just one person, but I wanted to do something, anything, towards combating inequality in the world. Educating myself seemed like a good place to start.

A place to nurture learning

My husband is from the UK, so when it was confirmed that we would move there from the US, I looked for postgraduate social science courses that could equip me with the knowledge and skills to make a positive impact in the world. I have a strong interest in research, and wanted a course that would feed that interest. I chose MRes Social Research and Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck not only because it had a great curriculum that offered many research opportunities, but also because of the affordability of being able to work by day and study by night.

A radical history that informs a transformative future

As an institution that saw the value in my lived experience, Birkbeck also felt like a place that would nurture my learning, even though my undergraduate was not in the same subject area I wanted to study. It's an inclusive and open environment, which was important to me. Firstly, as an international student, it put my mind at ease that I'd be welcomed and adequately supported, which has been the case. Secondly, I wanted to do something geared towards social justice and change, and Birkbeck is an institution whose history is literally founded off those principles. It puts learning and access to learning first. In my time here, I've seen my professors do amazing things both in the classroom and in the world of research, and it's been inspiring. They care about impact, but they also care about opening-up perspectives by asking the right questions: who benefits from societal systems? Why do people strive for certain things in life? Who votes for which political party, and why?

Perspective is powerful

The most valuable thing I've learned at Birkbeck is to remember that your viewpoint is just one perspective, and that there are a myriad of ways of analysing a situation - which is why perspective is so powerful. In social science there is not always a single truth you are measuring. More often, you are studying various perspectives, their relationships to power, and how these relationships have contributed to the systems we have in place. That's why I believe that studying social systems and understanding them can lead to change. Too many of the world's injustices, whether relating to gender, race or class are seen as one-off issues that sit separate to how the world is structured. I believe there needs to be more research into inclusive and sustainable systems and what those would look like. My dissertation is about the entwinement of climate change and capitalism, and after I finish studying, I'd like to enter the world of policy research or do research at a non-profit. I want to help create systems and policies that support a more sustainable and equal world.

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