Union discount helps Sia achieve an inspiring Masters at Birkbeck

Being able to claim the trade union discount on her course fees at Birkbeck helped UNISON Member Sia Livingstone enrol on a postgraduate course.

UNISON member Sia Livingstone

Social worker Sia has been sharpening her skills by undertaking a full-time master’s degree at Birkbeck, University of London.

Sia explained:

It was my work with children and families and my keen interest in children’s and adolescents’ mental health that inspired me to think about postgraduate research.”

And I realised that the best route for me was to do this master’s at Birkbeck.”

Sia’s original plan was to keep some money coming in by working part-time during her MSc in social research. But she had to think again once the one-year course got underway last September.

Sia said: “I had thought about doing part-time agency work to help fund myself but in the end I made the decision early on that the intensity of postgraduate study on a full-time programme meant it wasn’t going to be possible to juggle both.”

While you can study for a master’s degree part-time at Birkbeck, Sia decided on the full-time route.

Doing it part-time over two years would have been the dream but as a mature student you’re conscious of every year as you get older and that every year is valuable.”

Fortunately, in addition to her 10 per cent fee discount as a UNISON member, Sia has been financially supported by her twin sister Edisa.

Sia said:

Luckily, I could rely on my twin sister who has an income so I could study – ironically, I did the same for her a couple of years ago when she did her master’s!”

Sia has relished the course’s mix of abstract thinking with practical, down-to-earth tools she will be able to use back in the field, as she explained:

It’s really opened my mind about my way of thinking and it’s given me a strong grounding in methodology, the ethics of being a researcher and what makes good practice.”

And I really enjoyed the module on quantitative social research – that gave me the opportunity to learn computer programmes which I would never otherwise even thought of learning and I can then go back and use that in employment as an extra string to my bow.”

Before she returned to her studies, Sia had been able to draw on UNISON support at some crucial moments in her career. Sia explained:

Speaking from the perspective of a black social worker, I’ve found that it’s not just the clients you face – you are often misunderstood within the profession and having a UNISON representative when differences of opinion put you in the hotspot has been like a life-support system.”

It was that support that has given her the confidence to ask for help when she’s needed it on her course – which has been vital after the long gap between her undergraduate degree and Assisted and Supported Year of Employment (ASYE) and the MSc.

Sia said:

Asking for support is vital. There are lot of people in academia and in work who find it difficult to say they’re struggling. As professionals we advise people to ask for help, but we don’t always apply it to ourselves!”

And while she has loved her course, Sia is looking forward to putting it into practice when she returns to work.

I’ve enjoyed my research but it’s really inspired me to go back to social work because I have recognised that what I have been doing is of greater worth than I thought – and I never expected that to be the outcome.”

To find out more about discounts for trade union members at Birkbeck follow this link