Frequently asked questions for the Department of Russian

We asked the Department of Russian some questions about what it's like to study with them. Here's what they said.

We are adapting our teaching methods and spaces in accordance with the latest COVID guidelines and therefore the information below may be subject to change.

What makes this department at the University of Bristol unique?

Typically, we recruit 30 to 45 Russian students each year. We are one of the larger departments in the UK, yet small enough to maintain a strong sense of community in the programme.

Students come to study Russian at Bristol because of the professionalism and dedication of our language-teaching team, the range and diversity of teaching in Russian literature, culture, and history, the close-knit and supportive atmosphere in the Department, and the variety of Year Abroad options that we offer students. 

You will study Russian intensively in small groups. Our language-teaching team is second to none: the team of native speakers and non-native experts is led by Elena McNeilly, who previously taught Russian to diplomats at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Our programme allows you to choose from a diverse range of cultural units as well.

In year one, most students will take a broad core unit in Russian literature, history and culture.

In second and final year, there is a range of optional units covering areas such as:

  • Soviet cultural politics
  • the nineteenth-century Russian novel
  • Russian modernism
  • Russian Orthodox culture
  • Stalin’s Russia.

You can also pick from schoolwide units such as Communism in Europe, Gender in Central and Eastern Europe, and Cinema and Revolution. These are open to students of all languages but have a particular appeal for Russianists.

Whereas some universities have a narrow focus in their cultural programme (e.g. only literature), Bristol’s programme is interdisciplinary: your programme will include literature, history, politics, visual culture, cinema, religious culture, and more.

Hear from our staff and students about what makes the School of Languages special.

How does the research at the school benefit the experience of the students at the school?

The Department of Russian offers research-led teaching, meaning that you will be taught by experts working at the cutting-edge of our field.

In addition to our specialist language teachers, our staff includes leading specialists in Russian literature, culture, history, and thought, who regularly publish books and articles and present their research at world-leading conferences.

Particular strengths of our department include Russian literature, cinema, drama, gender and sexuality, religious thought and the Orthodox Church, and Russia’s relationship with Europe and the West.

Our academic staff collaborate with a broad range of partners across the world to respond to global challenges. For example through work on political reconciliation, exile and migration, mental health, cultural heritage, and environmental sustainability. Students are introduced to this work through our teaching.

What does the school do to welcome students when they first start at Bristol?

The School plans a programme of introductory events for new students in Welcome Week. Normally, this includes a plenary meeting for the entire School, where we introduce important support structures such as the tutoring system, the Wellbeing Service, the Careers Service, the Library, and the Student Union. There is also a department-specific induction, a meeting with your Personal Tutor, and time to get to know your lecturers and fellow students socially.

The Department of Russian also normally plans a welcome for incoming first years, where you get to meet your second-year 'parents’ and chat to other students and staff over a glass of wine. Similar mingling events run throughout the academic year.

We work closely with the Slavonic Society (SlavSoc), the student society for all Slavonic languages and cultures. SlavSoc regularly organises meet-ups, East European dinners, film screenings, and other social and cultural events for our students.

Usually, the annual Russian Show is a highlight of the year, organised by the department in tandem with SlavSoc. The programme includes the Russian-language choir, traditional Russian dance, drama sketches, and scenes from classic Russian literature (e.g. Chekhov’s plays, Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin). The evening normally ends with a Russian feast and the audience joining in the singing and dancing!

What is the first year timetable like for this course?

(The following guide is based on the 2019/20 academic year.)

The majority of first-year students of Russian are absolute beginners, so a significant proportion of their timetable (typically six hours per week) is taken up with an intensive language programme. If you have an A-level Russian or equivalent, you will typically have four hours of language per week. You will be taught in small groups, and often these fellow Russianists become friends for life!

You will also take the Understanding Russia unit. This unit, co-taught by specialists in Russian literature, history, and culture, begins with an overview of Russian history. The unit introduces you to key texts and films from Russian culture, while also giving you the critical skills of historical and cultural analysis that you will use throughout our degree programmes. Three-way language pathway students taking ab initio Russian do not take this unit.

Single honours students additionally take Introduction to Russian Literature, where you will read short works by major writers such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Akhmatova, and many others.

Students on joint programmes (e.g. Russian and another language, Russian and English, Russian and Politics, etc.) will have additional classes in their other subject.

In total, all students in Bristol will have at least ten contact hours on average per week; Russian ab initio students may have closer to 12-13 depending on your other subject(s). When not in class, you are expected to engage in private study. In total, you should expect to spend around 40 hours either in class or independent study during a full-time degree programme.

Where can I find out more about the detailed structure and content of the degree programmes?

Have a look at the year-by-year breakdown of required and optional units for Single Honours Russian.

For Joint Honours and Joint Schools degrees, this page has links for the various programmes

What support does the school offer to new students?

We know that the transition to university can be challenging as well as exciting, and we are determined to provide every student with the support they need in order to flourish while studying with us. You will find a supportive and relaxed atmosphere.

You will be assigned an Academic Personal Tutor, who is on hand throughout your study at Bristol (including during the Year Abroad) to help with academic and personal development. Personal Tutors help in many ways:

  • They are someone you can talk to about your degree programme and the subject-specific academic skills you need to do well.
  • They can give advice on how to juggle your studies and extracurricular activities.
  • They can signpost you to help and advice if you are struggling with financial, health or other problems.

The Senior Tutor in the School of Modern Languages is also available to help students with any concerns.

The University of Bristol provides a range of other support services, including Residential Life Advisers in student halls, Student Wellbeing Advisers, and a Student Counselling Service.

How will the course set me up for my future career?

We prepare our students to become agile participants and leaders in the global world. We do this not only by helping you acquire functional competency in one or more languages, but also by fostering a range of other skills and attributes.

These include multilingualism, intercultural understanding, analytical and critical thinking, clarity and self-confidence in communication, an aptitude for collaborative work, adaptability, resilience, and creativity. These transferable skills are all highly valued by employers and embedded in everything we do.

The world of work will change radically in the coming decades. This is why our teaching incorporates our cutting-edge research and encourages independent learning by instilling the habits of curiosity, openness, rigour, self-reflection, and evidence-based thinking, which will prepare our students for a flexible future career. We also provide units in professional practice, for example in translation and interpreting, language-teaching pedagogy, and business culture.

In addition, you can work towards the Bristol PLUS employability award during the course of your studies.

Are there any employers or other initiatives that the school works with for industry placements?

School of Modern Languages students work with a wide range of employers in Western Europe and Latin America during their Year Abroad (third year of the degree programme).

Unfortunately, in Russia, current visa regulations mean that it is not possible for our students to undertake paid employment during their Year Abroad. However, in previous years, our students have undertaken study placements in one of our partner Russian institutions, which include universities across the Russian Federation from St Petersburg in the north to Krasnodar in the south and Tomsk in eastern Siberia.

Occasionally, we have helped our students organise placements in other Russian-speaking countries; two students recently spent half of their year abroad in Kyrgyzstan.

What do graduates go on to do after studying this course at Bristol?

Our students often achieve excellent, graduate-level fluency after four years; many go on to use their Russian in careers such as law, business, or the arts; some go on to pursue professional training in translation or interpretation.

Bristol linguists achieve the third highest earnings among students from Modern Languages degrees five years after graduation (Institute of Fiscal Studies, 2018). Many also go on to postgraduate study.

Examples of occupations: Campaign Executive, Creative Communications Executive, Editorial Assistant, Media Relations Intern for Theatre and Dance, Translator, Arts Public Relations Intern, Gallery Intern, Editorial and Foreign Rights Intern, Customer Operations Associate, Journalist/Researcher and Selling Advertising, Graduate Recruiter, Marketing Assistant, Animator, Website Customer Services Assistant, Film Production Assistant, Account Executive, Secondary School Teacher.

Examples of employers: Allianz Insurance, Barbican Centre, British Council, Brunswick Arts, Deloitte, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Elwin Street Productions, Financial Times and Suitcase Magazine, Gü, Hue Animation Studio, L'Oreal, Marks and Spencer, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Proudfoot, Saatchi and Saatchi, Sprachcenter Mouroum, Welbeck Group, Wessex Translations, Mydex CIC, Sotheby’s, Czech Trade, Liberal Democrats.

Some recent graduates of our Department who have gone on to use their Russian regularly in their job include Catriona (BA French and Russian), who now works as the Advisor to the Director of Translation at the European Parliament, adding Czech to her repertoire of languages at Bristol, and later Slovak and Polish. Iona (BA History of Art and Russian) who works as a Client Strategy Manager at Christie’s, working closely with clients from the Russian art world. Tamar (BA French and Russian), who continued her study of Russian at PhD level, and has recently accepted a job as Lecturer of Russian at Queen Mary University of London.

What opportunities are there to study abroad as part of this course?

Normally, all School of Modern Languages students spend their third academic year abroad. You will spend an extended period in a country that speaks each of the languages you are studying, whether that is one, two or three languages.

For Russian students, popular placement locations include St Petersburg, Moscow, Tomsk (in Siberia), and Krasnodar, while some students also visit Central Asia.

You will enrol in a local university-based programme for your time in Russia. The Russian part of the Year Abroad usually takes place in the second term, so that students will be together in the country at the same time, divided into small groups across the various locations. It also means you can experience some of Russia’s nicer weather!

Single honours students spend the entire Year Abroad in Russia, often in two locations to gain a broader perspective on the country and culture.

What are the facilities like on campus that students will use to study this course?

All our modern languages students benefit from a state-of-the-art multimedia centre with a cinema suite, containing more than 2,000 films, foreign-language DVDs, foreign channels and magazines. It also has an audio recording and video editing studio, a language lab, and several study areas for independent and group work.

We are located on Woodland Road, at the heart of the University, and minutes’ walk away from the shops, bars, and cafes of Clifton ‘Triangle’.

The School spans four beautiful Victorian villas, which have been tastefully extended and converted to include modern ‘smart’ classrooms and a bright and airy student common room as well as the multimedia centre.

Most staff in the Department of Russian have their offices in No. 17 Woodland Road. We are a small department and students often comment on the unique ‘family feeling’: you will quickly get to know everyone in your cohort (and most Russianists in other years as well). Staff soon get to know the students by name and keep their office doors open, meaning students can ‘pop in’ to discuss a grammar point or get some advice on an upcoming essay.

How many hours (on average) are required outside of lectures for additional work and study?

Based on the 2019/20 academic year, students are expected to spend an average of 40 hours per week engaging with their degree programme, of which at least ten hours will normally be contact time (lectures, seminars and language classes) and the rest will be independent study.

Russian ab initio students and all three-language pathway students can normally expect more than ten contact hours.

How do assessments work for the department?

Staff work closely with students throughout the academic year to make sure that you are getting the most of your degree programme.

We distinguish between formative assessment (which is informal, ongoing, and does not count towards your degree mark) and summative assessment (a more formal kind of assessment such as coursework essays, assessed presentations, or end-of-year exams that counts towards your degree mark).

Formative assessment happens continuously in the Department of Russian. In language classes, this takes the form of regular homework such as grammar exercises, translations, reading and writing activities, and preparing for in-class oral presentations. In literature, culture, and history classes, students will be assigned weekly readings and other short exercises; these will be assessed through in-class discussion.

Summative assessment usually happens at set points of the academic year, either midway through term or during the assessment periods. In language classes, summative assessment involves exams that test the key skills (reading, writing, oral, and listening) as well as grammar exercises (at lower levels) and translation (at higher levels). In literature, culture, and history classes, students will write essays in English, developing their critical thinking and analytical skills, as well as deepening their knowledge of Russian culture and history. During the Year Abroad, all students write an extended essay in Russian based on fieldwork conducted in Russia.

What would you say are the main differences between studying at school and study at university?

At university, you have a greater ability to develop and follow your own academic interests, guided by our specialist academic staff. You can tailor your pathway through your degree by choosing to focus on areas such as film, gender studies, history, or linguistics. Students studying one or two languages can also take up a third language in their second year.

At university, you have greater responsibility for directing and organising your own learning. You contribute to an ongoing process of cutting-edge research, as our academic staff often run courses related to their current projects.

What are examples of final year projects/dissertations that students have worked on when they study this course?

You will write an extended essay in Russian during your Year Abroad. Students often choose to work on a topical issue, and conduct fieldwork, interviews, and surveys in-country as part of their research.

Recent projects have included an examination of how Russian food culture has changed since the fall of the Soviet Union, a study of attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people in contemporary Russia, and a comparative study of Russian and Western media coverage of the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

There is also the option of writing a final-year dissertation in English on a research topic of the your choice. Recent projects include a critical study of Dostoevsky’s nationalism, an examination of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s dispatches from the Chechen Wars, and a study of women writers under Stalin.

You can also undertake an extended translation project. Some of our students have gone on to publish their translations.

Is there anything I should check out to familiarise myself with the subject matter before I would start the course?

For an overview of Russian history, check out Nicholas Riasanovsky’s classic A History of Russia, which is available in multiple editions and so should be easily accessible through school or public libraries. It covers the full range of periods of history (from Ivan the Terrible to the collapse of the USSR) that you will encounter in your degree programme.

Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, run by Michigan State University in the US, is a great website for learning more about Soviet history, with lots of multimedia resources that make for an immersive experience. We make regular use of this site in our teaching.

For those interested in Russian literature, you might want to start with some of the Russian classics such as Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons or Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. These classics are available in out-of-copyright translations and therefore can be found for free online. If you want to spare your eyesight, very cheap paperbacks are also available.

If you are coming to Bristol to study Russian ab initio, we do not expect you to make a start on the language before you arrive. If you have studied Russian to ‘A’ Level, you could immerse yourself in the language and culture by watching Russian-language films, or try extending your vocabulary by reading or listening to the news in Russian (eg at

Anything else I should know about?

You may wish to browse through our Twitter and Facebook pages, where you can learn more about our programme, our students, and our staff.

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