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Politics and political thought govern (quite literally) the way we live our lives, on a local, national and global level. Many people are drawn to this subject during their A-levels and undergraduate degree, but to really further your knowledge or hone in on a specific area in politics, graduates opt for a masters degree. If you are relatively new to the subject but want to change direction, there are plenty of courses that don’t require politics as an undergraduate degree.
Jane Watkinson studied Politics with Research Methods at Sheffield University. “I originally chose this subject because the MA would enable me to go onto a research PHD given the covering of research methods but I have since decided to have a break from studying and any PHD plans are on hold. I also importantly love researching and learning about new things, especially to do with politics and therefore my passion for politics and sociological, theoretical and methodological inquiry was married up perfectly in the course.”
Studying politics at postgrad level doesn’t restrict you to this area; in fact, it’s more likely to broaden your options than limit them, as employers recognise the higher level of skills and knowledge acquired at postgraduate level. Roles at NGOs, charities and even commercial companies can require someone with specific knowledge of government, politics, international relations, social policy or strategy, amongst many other areas. Roles could be in research, or even, depending on your experience, in leadership. Additionally, there are research opportunities at think tanks and in the civil service. Sometimes the focus of a candidate’s PhD or thesis will influence the role they go into, as well as their likelihood of securing it.
Jane continued her job whilst studying: “I am SilenceBreaker Media's Research and Development Director so the development of research skills through my MA was very useful.” She has continued to work for SilenceBreaker, a Sheffield based social enterprise, which produces grassroots community based media and reduces waste by rebuilding used computers for the benefit of disadvantaged communities in South Yorkshire. “ I am also currently writing my own self-published book, The Capitalist Production of ‘Ideals’, to look at how the capitalist, neoliberal social, political and economic relations – that have developed from the 1970s and early 1980s, with the rise of finance and the profit culture – influence the way we interact with each other especially through de-constructing neoliberal ‘ideals’ that appear to be universal interests but are rather means of reinforcing the hegemonic political economy.
“Furthermore, I am currently working as a writer/producer for Return to Doncatraz, a guerrilla documentary by Jay Baker about the elite’s retention of everything wrong about the post-war era, and rejection of all we got right.”
What did you enjoy most about the course?
“Learning new, interesting things that I would never have learnt if I hadn't done the course, especially regarding the role of the dollar and how key it has been since the Bretton Woods System and the Nixon Shock. It helped me analyse news stories more critically, advancing from my undergraduate studies in Sociology.”
What was the most challenging aspect?
“It did get challenging juggling the work with my MA, given my work at SilenceBreaker Media involves constant funding deadlines and project responsibilities that were just as pressing as completing an essay. It did help improve my time management skills though!”
Oliver applied for Strategy & Strategic Studies as a follow on to a degree in War & Security Studies, unfortunately the course wasn't running, so he was offered a place studying International Politics.
“I needed a 2.1 to continue, however as the course coordinator said I would be able to continue on with a 2.2 as he believed I would be well suited for the course. As the course was pulled I was offered International Politics as a substitute. Both courses required a 2.1, so I guess I got lucky.
“Oliver believes having an MA will be in his favour when he looks for a job afterwards; “It’s something that will improve the first impression of prospective employers: seeing a 2.2 improved upon with an MA, especially as most jobs require a 2.1 minimum.”
What did he enjoy most?
“I have enjoyed the challenge, but specifically I've enjoyed analysing case-studies and key figures of strategy such as Alexander the Great of Macedonia and Napoleon. My course has been tailored to strategy to keep it relevant to my previous degree and my interests. I also enjoy the seminar discussions but it heavily relies on other students doing the reading and participating too.”
What was the most challenging aspect?
“The balance between work, study and free time has been particularly difficult. Time-management, relaxation... it's a difficult challenge that can sometimes bring more stress than the workload alone.”
When asked what advice she’d give to someone considering applying for politics masters, Jane said: “Only do an MA if you could imagine really wanting to spend several hours a week, regardless of other commitments, reading about that subject which will challenge and enhance the way you think about life. Don't do it because of pressure or because other people, the system or whoever else tells you too - there are many things in life you can do other than formal education but if you want to and can, go for it, as you'll love it!”
As with most humanities postgrad courses there is little funding available, however there are a few scholarships and bursaries available, most of which can be found in our dedicated Funding section.
Jane relied on part-time work and family support to get through her course “Alongside working part-time at Silence Breaker Media - who were very understanding of my studying commitments - my Dad also helped me get through my MA and I am very lucky and grateful for that. It's a shame a lot of the funding options have been cut or are very competitive as it is hard to finance an MA now and education should be a universal right.”
Oliver is working two jobs and studying his course part-time to make ends meet. “A Masters is somewhat of a condensed course that requires an immense amount of reading and essay writing. As such, it made sense for me to do it part-time, particularly if money is an issue. You get some degree of flexibility to organise your timetable and that helps to spread out the workload whilst working alongside. As jobs aren't always easy to come by I found it's been useful to allow me to save up for a short period of unemployment after graduation.”
To find out more about the cost of postgraduate study and sources of funding, read our Ultimate Guide to Postgraduate Funding.
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