Studying Politics: Case Studies

The Political Studies Association's booklet Study Politics: a short guide to studying politics at university in the UK is available for download here.

Rebecca Roffe
University of Sheffield

I am an Environmental Law Associate at commercial law firm Nabarro LLP, based in Sheffield. I studied a BA in Politics at Sheffield University, graduating in 2003. Law is a competitive world, so you have to set yourself apart. Luckily, as a Politics student, you are half way there…

Commercial awareness is key to getting into (and succeeding at) a firm like mine. This means understanding the sectors that our clients work in, and the pressures they are under. Politics graduates do this naturally - as you have a hunger and ability to recognise the context behind policy changes; the need to balance competing interests (both in government and the commercial world); and the impact of European and foreign markets on UK decision-making. This sort of knowledge enables me to really converse with our varied client-base.

Having learnt from university to critically analyse everything I see and read, I am also able to find different ways to approach a problem, which is the key to innovation in my job.

So don't apologise for your degree when applying for jobs – sell it. It got me to where I am (and Chambers legal directory even calls me an "Associate to Watch" so I must be doing something right!)

Hannah Harrison 
University of Aberdeen 

On finishing University in September 2012, I undertook a four-month internship with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) in York. Whilst there I was based predominately in their housing trust (JRHT) where I worked on a Resident Survey, interviewing JRHT residents in order to identify which of them are going to be affected by the pending Welfare Reforms. After the fieldwork period, I took the lead on analysing the findings and presented these to the Board of Directors. Whilst at JRF I also worked on a group project which looked at challenging attitudes around poverty in the UK.

In January 2013 I started my current post as a Welfare Reform Research and Online Knowledge Officer with the Improvement Servicewhere I work with Scottish Local Authorities and their partners in order to help them manage the impact of the welfare changes. We provide practical support in addition to conducting research and analysis.

MA (Hons) History-Politics, University of Aberdeen, 2007-2011
MRes Political Research, University of Aberdeen, 2011-2012

Matthew Grainger 
University of Sheffield

I was a student at Sheffield between 2006 and 2009 studying straight Politics. Following graduation, I joined the Civil Service, getting a job in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Rather than it being the specific course related knowledge, it was the general employability skills that I developed during my degree that helped me to find that all important first job. 

Employers across all sectors are keen to recruit people with good analytical skills, those who can work as part of a team, and those with the ability to research and work independently. All of which are skills that a degree in politics will help you to develop. Specifically regarding a career in Government, a motto that I've developed is 'good policy making is like writing a good essay'. So if you can learn how to write good essays as part of your studies, then you are tailor made for a successful career in Government!

Sophie Fish
Manchester Metropolitan University

What first attracted me to the Public service degree was the range of subject units on offer; from Politics and Law to Education and Management. The variety of lectures kept the course interesting and provided me with a well rounded knowledge of Public Services.  Furthermore the course offered a placement year in a public service working environment.

I was lucky enough to find a paid placement as a Business Manager Assistant with Manchester Learning Disability Partnership, a partnership between the NHS and Manchester City Council. This experience was invaluable, not only in providing me with specific skills but in giving me the confidence to apply for similar roles in the future, giving me an edge on other graduates. It also assisted me in my final year of study as I was able to use my experience and knowledge when contributing in class discussions and in essay writing.  

David Bull
University of Bath

“Take a Masters in Development Studies, but make sure it is interdisciplinary.” This was the advice of the late Dudley Seers (Google him!) when I was worried that my Economics degree wouldn’t give me the skills and opportunities to make the world a better place. “Find a course that covers wider social and political aspects of development.  Economics alone can’t bring true development” he said.

I took his advice and chose the Bath MSc in Development Studies. I learned that development, human rights and environment are connected aspects of a better future for the poor and oppressed, South and North. To bring change is about political and social engagement and empowerment as well as managing the money. After graduating I worked in a wholefood collective before joining Oxfam’s Public Affairs Unit. Then, after 3 years in Kenya and three back in the UK helping academic refugees, I joined Amnesty International UK for nine years as Director. I've been Executive Director at UNICEF UK since 1999, working for children's rights, equity and development. A campaigner at heart, I am still working to make a difference for the most vulnerable.  Dudley’s advice worked for me and I hope he would be proud.

Jason Cooke
Manchester Metropolitan University

In July 2012 I graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a 2:1. Studying my BA Public Services opened my mind to the way in which we are governed. I studied in detail things such as disaster management, modern day policing, the infrastructure of the council and the history of Britain’s political power.

The sandwich placement is a great opportunity that gives Public Services graduates the ability to seek a broad range of careers. Many people from my course have gone into teaching, the police, NHS, local council and recruitment. In March, after I had handed in my dissertation I used the free time I had before my exams to do some volunteering for the British Red Cross. Currently I work at MMU, tracking down graduates and I’m having the time of my life. I’m involved in arranging events, collecting student case studies and I work in the press office.

Since I graduated from Manchester the only thing I wanted to do was move back! I’ve lived in both London and Manchester and Manchester will always be the city for me.

Lewis Osian
University of Cardiff

The seminars were really enjoyable. Every seminar was a room full of politically-minded people of different backgrounds and ages, sharing ideas, solutions and theories and the banter was always brilliant. I completed the Masters full-time while working part-time for a political party so the workload was tough but always enjoyable. I learned a lot through reading and writing for seminars and essays and feel far more confident in my ability as a political researcher now than I did before. Every session was followed by socialising in the pubs around the campus and most of us are still in touch despite being spread all over Europe. I am now working full-time as a political researcher in the National Assembly, focusing on Energy and Economic policy. I am also a Director on the board of the political engagement organisation, Tomorrow's Wales and the Vice-Chair of the UK Changing Union Partnership's youth engagement arm, Our Future. 

Sophie Chivers
Manchester Metropolitan University

I graduated with a combined honours degree in International Politics and Global Studies in 2011. Since leaving university, I have volunteered at various festivals, on behalf of People and Planet as well as the recycling charity Green Messengers. I then became a stall manager for a fair trade organisation at the Manchester Christmas Market. I am now working as an Employability Intern at MMU, engaging with students to help them consider types of work experience and volunteering that could add value to their degree.

Studying at MMU helped me widen my horizons and opened my mind to the different career paths I could take within the field of international politics. I found a focus in Latin American Studies and wrote my dissertation on social movements within the region. I really enjoyed my course and am now considering taking a Masters in Latin American Relations in either Spain or the Netherlands.

Rachel Belmonte
University of Cardiff

My Political degree at Cardiff University was European Politics and International Relations. I initially took to this degree discipline after studying politics as an A level and, wanted to have a deeper understanding of the subject especially on an international level. I loved learning about European Politics and International Relations which opened up my eyes to the wider issues the UK faces. From learning about globalisation, country interdependency, diplomacy and national politics, have all contributed greatly to the position I am in now.

After graduating I got a job as a Finance Analyst at RSA Insurance Group. I specialise in financial processes for the IT and Operations department for the whole of RSA Group internationally meaning, I am talking to colleagues internationally every day from Hong Kong to Chile, Dubai to Scandinavia. I have to keep up to date with current affairs in all 27 countries which the business operates in and, I have to display tact and diplomacy core skills which I acquired from my degree. Other areas to my job are auditing, procurement and contract work which all require problem solving, analytical and strong communication skills. The most rewarding part of doing a politics degree is not solely learning about the discipline and broadening ones knowledge. It is also gaining and developing so many interpersonal skills which are vital if one wants to work for a international company.

Lewis Brimblecombe
University of Bath

I studied Politics with Economics (Bsc W/Placement, Alumni Scholarship for Academic Excellence) between 2008 & 2012 at the University of Bath. 

During my third year of university I, in conjunction with the Universities Politics department placement office undertook a yearlong placement at GRM International. GRM is an international development firm with expertise in health, governance and accountability, education, agriculture, food security, and economic growth, trade and livelihoods. Operating in more than 85 countries GRM manages development programmes on behalf of DFID (UK), AusAID, European Commission. 

Since Graduating in June 2012 I have re-joined GRM as a part of its Young Professional (YP) Programme. The YP programme takes talented young Politics and Economics Graduates and supports their progression as Development Professionals. As part of this programme I am currently based in Dubai as the Project coordinator on the European Commission funded; Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock Institutional Development Project. The project sits within the Deputy Minister’s office; working to build the capacity of the ministry, improve public sector service delivery and most importantly increase agricultural production and reduce poverty in one of the world’s poorest countries.

As a Project Coordinator I support the in country project team in day to day operations, staff management, forecasting and invoicing. This has meant regular trips to Kabul to work closely across the full spectrum of project activities. I have also had the opportunity to be exposed to higher level discussions and activities surrounding support to development of Ministry policy and its regulatory frameworks.

Studying politics gave me the skills I needed to engage with practises of good governance that are core to effective Development. Of particular relevance to my current work have been lessons learnt relating to comparative political institutions. Only through the extensive work at University on understanding different countries ethno-religious, cultural make up and historical contexts and the resulting shaping of political dynamics, could I develop an intellectual ‘toolkit’ to support my working life. This ‘toolkit’ has allowed me to understand and fully engage with the implementation of holistic development programmes that address context specific identified blockages, constraints and opportunities for progress within bureaucracies.

Dr Jacqui Briggs, AcSS
Head of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Lincoln

Having initially gone to university to study French with International Relations, I had to choose a third subject. Never having studied politics before, I thought it might be interesting to find out more about it. I became absolutely fascinated by political study so much so that I decided to focus upon single honours politics. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, called it the 'master science' and, leaving aside the sexism, I can certainly see why this should be the case. Politics is central to how we organise our lives. As the famous American academic Harold Lasswell said, in his classic 1936 text, politics is about 'who gets what, when, how'. Clearly, politics involves making difficult decisions relating to the allocation of finite and often scarce resources and, if you are involved in politics, you will recognise that you cannot please everyone.

Politics involves the study of politics, in the same way that you would research and investigate any other academic discipline but it can also involve the practice of politics; politics in action. Studying politics can provide a good grounding for those wanting to become involved in 'doing' politics but it can also lead on to careers in other areas which, on the face of it, appear to have relatively little in common with politics. This is because political study equips graduates with transferable skills such as; problem-solving, critical thinking, the ability to distinguish between fact and mere opinion, or a recognition of bias, presentational skills, group-working and a whole host of others. For me, the beauty of the discipline is the way that it is constantly evolving and adapting to the changing world, newer fields such as gender and politics or a focus upon specific contemporary questions, such as, 'Should 16 and 17 year olds be given the right to vote?' (as is happening in the forthcoming Scottish referendum), mean that the discipline is at the forefront of debate and never ceases to fascinate and maintain its appeal.

Paul Tobin
PhD Student- University of York

I'd never studied politics before university; all I knew was that I enjoyed the most modern parts of my History A-Level. Although I was unsure about how well I would do at it, my natural interest for current affairs in the news fuelled a desire to read about what was going on in the world, and then to keep reading.

Soon I'd discovered my passion for international politics, which in turn led to my specialism in environmental politics. If it weren't for starting with politics, I'm not sure I would ever have found out about my passion for the study of climate change policy.

Dr Andy Mycock
Reader in Politics, University of Huddersfield

I grew up in a small town in rural Derbyshire. After leaving school, I worked in an engineering factory for ten years. Politics was rarely discussed at school or work and neither my friends nor family took much interest in politics. As a young person, I was in many ways politically illiterate and much of the student radicalism of the 1980s passed me by. It took an event of the significance of fall of the Berlin Wall to shake me out of my political torpor.

During the summer of 1990, I went inter-railing on my own, criss-crossing the former Soviet empire in Eastern Europe. I had little understanding of causes of the collapse of the communist regimes or the challenges facing Eastern European societies. I learnt much from talking to (very patient) English-speaking locals who kindly overlooked my political ignorance in discussing their hopes and aspirations. My trip whetted my appetite to learn more about the momentous changes as the Cold War came to an end. In 1991, I undertook another rail trip to Eastern Europe. The sight of the first refugees from the Yugoslav Wars at Budapest station in September 1991 really brought home my lack of comprehension of the complexities of end of communism. On my return, I signed up for a part-time Access to University evening course at my local FE College and in 1994 began a degree in Politics and Contemporary at the University of Salford.

What studying politics means to me is therefore a complex mix of personal and professional development. I strongly believe that studying politics has enhanced my ability to understand myself and the world I live in. I now find it difficult to look back and appreciate how narrow my view of the world was before I came to University. It was furnished me with critical skills and aptitudes which have proven readily transferable within arrange of academic, vocational and personal contexts. Studying politics has allowed me better understand the processes of policy and decision making, and also quickly evaluate and summarise their implications. Most business courses do not encourage the critical approaches which underpin the study of politics.