My choice to pursue a Politics and International Relations degree was not clear-cut at the beginning, but ultimately it was one of the best decisions I made throughout my university journey. For instance, when I began to think about uni seriously – near the start of sixth form – I didn’t even consider studying Politics at university. Despite the twists and turns I went through to get to where I am, it was completely worth the fascinating and thought-provoking lectures, readings, and seminars I have encountered during my first year of study.
To Politics or Not to Politics?
Initially, I had a circulation of degree subjects I was researching that were not linked to the political field. As a bookworm, a budding writer, and also someone passionate about social issues and humanitarian causes, I was interested in studying journalism as I thought it would combine so many of my interests together. But as I was looking into these journalism courses, I still didn’t feel satisfied with pursuing that degree.
Months went by as I debated undertaking psychology and marketing courses, but as interesting as those subjects were, I still felt like they weren’t the options for me. I believe that my growing curiosity about socio-political issues was brewing in my subconscious mind and causing me to reconsider these degree subjects.
The ultimate spark to applying for a politics degree was when I started to realise that I was very inclined towards careers involving local politics and humanitarian work. A politics degree would be, in my opinion, the most suitable path to getting the skills, knowledge, and experience in those career fields.
Obviously, this isn’t to say that it is impossible to work in the aforementioned fields without a politics degree as so many degrees I previously mentioned are so broad and expansive in what you learn. However, when I began to look at the modules, assignments, work experience, and much more involved with learning about politics, I knew that this was the right path for me.
I then enrolled on the Politics with Economics course when applying to the University of Bath. A few months into studying the course, after the commotion of settling into university life, I knew two basic things - I love learning about Politics … and I found the Economics part less enjoyable.
So what is fun about politics?
Studying politics during my first year was a blast! The lecturers were clearly passionate about the topics they talked about, which manifested in all of the rich and detailed information we would get from each lecture. In fact, I could even read my lecturers' current published academic journals to get further insight into the modules they were teaching.
The seminars for politics units are sort of ‘discussion groups’, where our seminar leader would usually plan some slides going through a topic we learnt about in a previous lecture and we would discuss the topic in further detail, and possibly even debate contentious issues! These were challenging as the seminar leaders are usually determined to make sure everyone contributes. Basically, if you hadn’t paid attention to previous lectures or read some of the readings assigned for the module, you wouldn’t know what to add to the discussion which could make things a bit awkward.
This is why seminars were such a good opportunity for me to ask questions to my seminar leader about particular topics. My seminars often motivated me to deeply read the assigned readings, rather than fall into the habit of skimming them. This ensured that I could better contribute to each seminar and entirely understand the topics we would be debating.
Through my studies, I also had a wonderful tutor assigned to me, as every student does. He was not only available to help me with subjects I found tricky to understand but he also greatly helped me when applying for work experience opportunities in terms of being a reference, and was there to listen and advise me at the beginning of the term when I revealed how terrified and insecure I felt about settling into university and handling academic life.
Here are my partners-in-crime throughout my 1st year of studying Politics:
Side note: Do not buy every single textbook required and/or recommend for the course! There are plenty to find at the uni library (or to beg your older year friends to borrow!), but these books are too expensive to buy lots of them. Also, there are numerous academic journals available online, the majority of which are free for students to access, which are also a huge part of learning politics at university.
To truly understand the scope and immense research involved in learning Politics at Bath, the POLIS department page on the university's website is great for more details, but when you become a student there will be so much more you will uncover!
Now, for the hard part …
But what about that elephant in the room? Essays and Exams – yikes. Well, maybe not quite. Everyone’s experience of completing coursework assignments and revising for exams will also be unique, but what remains pretty much a constant is the amount of support the University offers along the way.
Don’t be scared to contact lecturers for help with writing essays! It may seem daunting as they are so busy, but it could also help to start by sending an email with a general enquiry, or maybe even sending an outline for your essay plan during a coursework assignment and asking for their feedback. Then later, if you believe that a proper appointment would be best, you can arrange meetings with your lecturers preferably during their office hours – all things that get fully explained to you during the academic induction week.
During the week, there are also what are known as ‘PAL’ sessions on our timetable, which are basically sessions where you can meet older students from the same or a similar course to you, and you can ask them any questions you have about a unit and work with them to grasp tricky assigned readings. This can be a less daunting opportunity to get academic help as it is coming from your peers.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for how the University helps you with assignments. On the University website, there are numerous other avenues to consider when you need academic support. During my first term as a student, I also got access to weekly Zoom calls with a PhD student who taught us about what is involved in writing a great essay, how to reference, and how to form critical arguments. There are also student blogs to read (after mine!) dedicated to explaining the intricacies of writing essays and exams from their unique experience. All of which to say, if you have ever felt stuck on any topic you are learning about, you can always get the support you need.
But what if you are still unsatisfied with your course?
As alluded to, I did end up transferring courses a few months into my studies – though I transferred within the same department as I didn’t have an issue with learning about politics itself, I found the economics part too tricky to continue studying for the next 4 years (with placement).
I did feel some dread as it gradually dawned on me that I still wasn’t completely satisfied with my course, but one thing I will shout from the rooftops is that if you EVER have any concerns about how you are progressing through your course, talk to someone about it. I made one of the best decisions during my 1st year, which was to book an appointment with an academic advisor to discuss transferring courses.
From there, I was able to speak with my Director of Studies and see that it was totally normal to have these concerns and that because I would be spending the next 4 years studying my course, it was important that I felt secure and confident in the topics I would be learning about. With some calls and a few emails, I was able to do what was best for me and change my course to Politics with International Relations – which was definitely the right move for me as I marvelled in how much more relaxed I felt during 2nd semester.
But everyone is different, and sometimes changing courses might not be suitable to address issues you might be experiencing with learning your course. All I can stress is that talking to someone is so effective in figuring out what is best for you.
There are lots more interesting things you will come to discover when studying Politics with International Relations, or any politics degree at the university. Hopefully, my experience will spark an interest for budding writers, bookworms, analysts, and so on with an inclination for all things politics to consider pursuing this degree!