Making the Most of your MSc – a CIMR alumni event

Embarking on an MSc is challenging at the best of times, but the COVID-19 pandemic brings additional complications. The Centre for Innovation Management Research (CIMR) sets out to enhance the student experience by engaging them with the extra possibilities Birkbeck offers. Our events are aimed at helping them learn from people who have been through the process – from industry and policy experts on their experiences of driving forward innovation frontiers and from our own academics about their research interests – in bite-sized pieces.

On Tuesday 3rd November, the CIMR hosted its second alumni event, showcasing the activities of the CIMR to current MSc students.

Making the most of the support available

The event started with a short talk from Dr Luca Andriani, Lecturer in Economics at Birbeck and founder of the social media initiative, 5-minutes. Luca shared his journey from the conception of the idea to delivery and the support he got from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics and his Birkbeck colleagues. He encouraged students to be bold in pursuing their own ideas/initiatives and to broaden their research scope by listening to the speakers featured on 5 Minutes.

Innovation in times of crisis

Knowledge of the innovation landscape, especially from industry experts is a good indicator of what a student should focus on during their studies and possibly research for the MSc dissertation. It was therefore exciting to hear from Pari Datta (Senior Innovation Consultant at Cambridge Design Partnerships) and Ian Cox (Innovation Lead at Innovate UK), who shared their experiences as innovation experts. From giving us an idea of a typical day at work, they elaborated on the key skills required to do their job, and what skills will be required to work in innovation in the future. As we are currently in a time of crisis, Melina Padayachy, CIMR alumni member who conducted the interview, steered the conversation towards ‘How to innovate in crisis’. Pari said “realise that in a crisis, things change continuously …so you need to come up with innovations rapidly at a more affordable rate …. You need to make tough decisions and it has to be based on research, not gut”. Ian reflected on past crises and concluded that crisis has a way of spurring innovation. He went on to cite examples of how Innovate UK has handled this COVID-19 pandemic and it was interesting to have one of the students in the audience confirm that her company had been a recipient of one of the schemes Ian talked about.

Advice for new MSc students

Professor Helen Lawton Smith, Director of the CIMR picked up on key messages from the two speakers and encouraged students to:

  • Not stop learning
  • Be eternal students
  • Network

She went on to explain how the CIMR supports students and its alumni, for example by hosting events and helping with publications. She encouraged students to plug in and benefit from the events scheduled for the rest of the year.

In the alumni panel, we heard from Alexander Mitchell (CEO of Blind Cupid) and Leila Marie Kehl (Plug & Play in Silicon Valley). Leila shared her experience of moving to the US and working as a research assistant for Professor Henry Etzkowitz, the co-founder of the Triple Helix concept (with another member of CIMR, Professor Loet Leydesdorff), who she met through CIMR. According to Leila, “the connection with Henry helped me get started when I knew nobody, after moving to Silicon Valley”.

She also talked about her current role at Plug & Play and how concepts and theories she learnt while studying at Birkbeck helped her adapt to the role. Talking about modules which have been very beneficial to alumni, Alexander was full of praise for the Entrepreneurial Venture Creation module. According to Alex, he came into Birkbeck not knowing the next steps in his desire to start a company,  and the opportunity to create a business plan plus the coaching he got from the module gave him the confidence to quit his job and pursue his entrepreneurial dream. Networking seemed to be a recurring theme all through the event – Leila shared the influence of the ‘engaged student body’ she met at Birkbeck, which triggered the question on how this can be done in this COVID season. Alexander reminded us that he completed his last semester in lockdown and was able to make friends and participate in Birkbeck’s Pioneer programme, which he won. Alex’s experience offers our new MSc students hope that,with determination, every student can, in spite of COVID, maximise their Birkbeck experience.

In all, it was a great evening and a highly recommended watch, which you can access online.

This post was contributed by Helen Lawton Smith and Doyin Olorunfemi