Sarah looks confidently into the camera

Sarah Bristol-Abbott

Black Studies MA

Before her master’s, Sarah didn’t think she was destined for success. Studying at BCU has given her the confidence to be her most authentic self and start a business that makes a difference to marginalised communities.

“I did well in my undergraduate degree but because I didn’t see myself represented in education or senior positions, I thought that was the end of my education journey. I’d always been told that my skin colour, tattoos and dreadlocks would hold me back and I was afraid of speaking my mind in case people labelled me as ‘aggressive’. I’d internalised these things about myself, and it made me believe I wasn’t made for a successful career.

I got a job as a retail manager and enjoyed my job but one of my lecturers from BCU kept in touch and kept telling me that the Postgraduate Black Studies course at BCU was a great opportunity. I had no confidence in my abilities, but the course did sound interesting, so I thought, why not?

As soon as I started the Master’s, I knew that my lecturer had been right, this was where I was meant to be. I became interested in academic research and impact evaluation. I found my niche and focused on black girlhood in my work. All my research led to my Master’s thesis, which I’m really proud of. I wrote a report and produced a digital magazine for young black girls, which still circulates in schools today and makes a difference to young black women.

During the master’s, I was also able to take on work experience opportunities like becoming a research assistant. Beforehand, I didn’t even know that research or data evaluation was a career possibility, but once I was doing it, I knew it was what I was good at.

I was also able to support the planning and delivery of BCU’s award-winning Black Studies Summer School. We only had five and a half weeks to plan the summer school, but we pulled it off! Students from local schools came to BCU to learn about topics such as black femininity, intersectionality and much more. For me, the summer school was transformational. On the final day of the summer school, all of the students’ families came to see the students’ work, and the reaction from their loved ones was overwhelming. I felt like I’d made a difference and I’ll forever remember that moment. It increased my passion for working with marginalised communities and working to give them these opportunities.

These experiences during the degree made me realise that I could make a difference and become the representation that I felt was missing in education when I was young. I’ve used my research and evaluation knowledge to start my consultancy – SBA Consultancy.  After working freelance and building up client relationships, I realised I could do it on my own, but I never would have had the confidence to without studying my MA.

In my consultancy, I carry out research, project management and community consultations to amplify the voice of marginalised young people and put them in a decision-making position. The best thing about having my own business is that I’m able to do the work that is most important to me. I only say yes to clients and projects that I feel will make a difference. Plus, because it’s my business, I can come as my authentic self and work with clients that fit my ideals.

I’ve been very successful so far, I work with Ipsos, a global market research agency, and I’ve just won contracts to work with Coca-Cola and Mars. Plus, I won the Market Research Society award for best qualitative methods, thanks to the creative methodologies that I experimented with during my master’s and still use in my work today.

I’ll forever be grateful to BCU and my lecturers for giving me the confidence to make it on my own and provide a voice to underrepresented communities, and for teaching me that I don’t have to shrink myself down to do so.

To me, ‘I am BCU’ feels like homecoming because BCU is full of people that helped me succeed and feel championed.”