From Guyana to the ‘big city’ and beyond

Marc Benjamin (BSc Mathematics, 1986) reflects on achieving his study aspirations as an independent young adult and the global opportunities a Birkbeck degree made available to him.

Marc Benjamin had to think creatively about financing his studies. Having spent part of his childhood in Guyana, when he returned to the UK aged 18 he was ineligible for a government grant and student loans were not yet available. However, Marc read about Birkbeck in a magazine advertisement and found he was able to work whilst studying, which made going to university possible.

Marc was the youngest in his classroom. His contemporaries included a chemical engineer, an architect, and many who had missed out on an undergraduate degree earlier in life. Marc fully embraced his time as a student in London whilst both working and taking up the opportunities the ‘big city’ provided. He later went on to obtain a part-time MSc in Astrophysics from Queen Mary, University of London.

Landing an IT role with Price Waterhouse Management Consultants, Marc was exposed to a range of industries, from property management to electricity trading. Then a former manager reached out to him about a role at JP Morgan. “At the time, I didn’t know much about financial services… but I must have impressed them somehow!” This started a 27-year IT career in the financial services sector, with subsequent roles at Merrill Lynch and as a director at Credit Suisse. In these roles, Marc had the opportunity to travel extensively, spending time in North America, South America, Europe and Asia.

Marc encourages current Birkbeck students to research their desired industries to understand what employers are looking for and how their experience is relevant. Marc has been a beneficiary of on-the-job training in a graduate trainee scheme and observes that even though these schemes might not have specialist entry requirements, it is still advantageous to show understanding and interest in the industry and role. For example, talking about relevant modules from your degree course or showing how the skills you have learned are transferable. Marc also encourages ‘talking with confidence about your experience to employers. It gets easier with practice, so try your pitch out with a friend or family member first!’

Asked to summarise his time at Birkbeck and endeavours since then in three words, Marc responded: “Fun, hard work.”