By Amy Jones
So, you have just arrived at Keele University with a world full of expectations and now you have come to grace this spacious superstructure with your presence, you are left with the prominent question of ‘what now’ and a bunch of worrisome ‘what ifs. What if I don’t make friends? What if I get lost? What if I cannot comprehend and engage with the courses being taught to me? Well, as a current Keele graduate I wish to answer some of these prominent questions and to candidly reveal to you what studying at Keele, particularly Sociology, is really like, in order to show you that the next three years of your academic journey holds a stimulating promise of enrichment, enjoyment and excitement.
Whether you have studied Sociology before or not, becoming a Sociology student entails a form of equality which unites you and your fellow comrades together in a quest to comprehend the complexities of the sociological world. Thus, regardless of your past experiences and qualifications you will be treated with the same gracious manner as every other student and will be offered the same high standards of teaching, learning and guidance as all your fellow peers. Furthermore, by becoming a Sociology student at Keele you have now become part of a form of Sociologists R Us, in which you will be able to choose from a selection of assorted courses all offered under one roof. For example YOU will have the CHOICE to study topics such as social theory, the body, work, families, health, risk, conspiracy theories, post-colonialism, feminism, consumption, cities, utopias/dystopias, research methods and much much more and to add that extra special cherry on top, all the courses are taught by extremely professional, talented and experienced academics who specialise in the subject fields being taught.
Furthermore, studying Sociology at Keele offers you so much more than the opportunity to learn creative and distinct subject specialism’s, as the department encourages you to think independently, originally and critically. Therefore, if you do not agree with a specific sociological theory and can back your claims up with some form of evidence (no matter how quirky this may be), then say so, whether this be in your written assessments (essays, posters, dissertations and examinations) or more verbal assessments (class presentations and seminar classes). Do not be afraid to question and challenge, as despite what you may think, all the academic staff want you to show innovative thoughts in your work and the ability to do so is one of the most rewarded skills at Keele. You never know, your views may even enlighten the most experienced of academics!
If I am to briefly and candidly tell you my own experiences of studying Sociology at Keele, I would start by saying that when I began at Keele University I was a shy individual who knew not a single soul in the courses I was taking (Sociology and History) and worried terribly about all the ‘what ifs’. However, whilst I may have walked into the wrong toilets within my first week at Keele and wondered why everything was backwards; the other worries were all in vain! I realised, like you will do, that all the teaching staff want nothing more than to see you fulfil your own goals and reach your potential and therefore are happy to facilitate and guide you in any way possible and that the majority of your fellow students are in the same position as you are; nervous, excited, and looking for valuable friends who they can depend upon. Thus before I knew it, I was surrounded by a cohort of friendly and encouraging people who would support me through the journey of gaining a degree and by special friends who not only shared a laugh with me over a drink, stressed with me during assessment periods and graduated with me when we all successfully finished our degrees, but who will unquestionably become lifelong friends. Therefore, whilst you may understandably be worried about the prospect of starting at Keele, rest assured that upon your arrival there will be a considerate and accommodating community waiting for you!!
As for the courses offered upon the Sociology programme at Keele, I can honestly say that when I was an undergraduate I enjoyed every course which I attended, whether I was learning about the body, health, risk, cities, social theory or research methods, I found them all stimulating, challenging and incredibly insightful in their own unique ways. I also have to say, that the Sociology department go to extraordinary lengths to allow their students to take their first choice option modules in the majority of cases, which is undoubtedly to their credit. However, as a student who has been there, if you do find yourself being placed upon a course which was not your first choice (due to timetable clashes or oversubscription to a module), then the secret to success is to not walk into that first class with the attitude that ‘this course is going to be awful’, as it may become a self fulfilling prophecy. Instead, keep an open mind, try to emphasize the positives and be willing to be embraced by diverse and thought-provoking sociological perspectives, as often modules which you did not initially rank very highly in your order of preferences, prove to be fascinating and interesting courses. They just require a little extra effort and a greater enthusiasm to engage with them. I would actually argue that the ability to overcome difficult situations and circumstances leads to the greatest rewards!
I think it is also important to stress that the assessments for Sociology are not as bad as you may think. I remember when we first began at Keele and we were told that we would have to take part in many presentations and write a 10,000 word dissertation and suddenly being engulfed by trepidation and hoping that that day would never come, as did a lot of other students. However, having survived the experience I would like to tell you that they aren’t as bad as you may think. An awful lot of students feel anxious about the thought of standing in front of their peers and their lecturer and giving a presentation, but the fact is, you are all in the same situation and we all make mistakes. I remember giving a PowerPoint presentation in my final year, shaking like a leaf, my voice going three pitches higher than usual (screeching and turning a tomato colour became a new norm for me whilst giving presentations at university), going to press the mouse button on the laptop to start the PowerPoint Presentation and pressing the wrong button and losing the entire presentation...which if I had thought about that happening before, I would have imagined my world coming crumbling down around me! Yet, whilst in that momentary second I may have desired someone to dig me a hole a mile deep to bury myself within, I soon realised that there was nothing to be frightened of, as no one was mocking me and instead they only desired to help me fix the problem. So in relation to presentations, try to enjoy the experience and don’t worry about making errors, we all make them and we and others can always learn from them.
As for the dissertation, there is no disputing that it will be one of the most challenging things you ever do, because it involves a lot of hard work and dedication and predominately absorbs your time in your final year (forget sleep: coffee and Redbull become your new best friends), but the fact is that the majority of students thrive upon this challenge, because it is their time to shine and show themselves and others not only what they are interested in, but also what skills they have acquired over the previous two years at university. If I were to give you some tops tips for completing a successful dissertation, I would say; 1) Take the RESEARCH METHODS course (in your second year) seriously because if you can conquer this in your second year, it becomes so much easier to write your thesis in your third year, 2) Utilise all the ADVICE you can, especially from the academic staff because they have, after all, got an abundance of knowledge and years and years worth of experience within their specific sociological fields and 3) probably the most important tip, is to choose a subject which you are ENORMOUSLY INTERESTED in because you will be stuck to it like a fly caught in a spider’s web for over a year and a continued enthusiasm really is the key to success!
However you decide to spend the next three years of your life at Keele, which ever courses you choose to study, you can rest assured that you are now part of one of the best Sociology departments in the country and that a multitude of exciting opportunities lie at your feet. I promise you that after you have studied Sociology at Keele your eyes will be opened to a new form of realism which you never knew existed, as you will find yourself perpetually questioning, challenging and critically appraising the world and humankind around you, which is precisely what being a Sociologist is all about. Enjoy your time at Keele as it all flies by so quickly and finally from one student to another, I wish you all the luck in the world for the future!
Amy Jones graduated in summer 2009 with a first class honours degree, having achieved straight firsts in all her principal Sociology modules and her dissertation received not only the highest mark in 2009, but was one of the highest ever awarded in Sociology at Keele.