Frequently asked questions

We asked the Department of Politics and International Relations 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?

Bristol offers a wide range of units which are taught by staff who are passionate about their work and writing. The geographical spread is broad with units on the UK, US, Europe, Latin America, Africa, East Asia and South Asia. We also have a large number of thematic units that cover Political theory, International Relations theory, global governance, global issues and security studies. We admit around 250 students each year into a variety of degree programmes. Wherever possible we ask students to choose the units they want to study, and there are a lot of units to choose from! We run co-curricular activities and social activities. We support our students through personal tutoring and each unit owner has weekly office hours for any queries. Our students are critical and discerning, we encourage you to think politically, not to take things for granted and to question unspoken assumptions. We want you to probe the evidence before you and to ask difficult questions.

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

We have around 37 research active staff who all contribute to our teaching programme. Our syllabus is devised by staff working at Bristol and is distinctive. Each member of staff decides what they will teach and brings their own original research into this process. Each unit is distinctive and some are completely unique. As active researchers we are extremely well placed to supervise final-year dissertation projects. We point our dissertation students towards cutting-edge research and help them identify and fill gaps in the literature.

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

The schools run a series of social events and introductory talks in Freshers' week. Personal tutors meet with their tutees in freshers' week and again shortly after that. We have two students societies: The Politics Society and the International Affairs Society (IAS).

The Politics Society will run social events early on and give you good opportunities to meet with students in your year and also to get advice from second- and final-year students. The IAS tends more towards topical events and this year produced a series of podcasts. 

What is the first year timetable like for this course?

You will complete three units each semester. Typically, each Politics and IR unit runs with two hours of lectures and a smaller group discussion or seminar. If you are single honours student you have an option to do up to two open units in year one, and the schools that deliver those units make their own timetabling arrangements. They are likely to be very similar to our arrangement.

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

The online prospectus has more details for each degree pathway under the heading 'Course Structure'.

Each degree has a foundational and mandatory element in year one.

Single honours Politics and IR has four units which currently are: Thinking Politically, Political Concepts, Theories of International Relations and Comparative Politics.

Joint honours students typically have two foundational units: Thinking Politically and Political Concepts.

Single honours students have to do a final-year dissertation project, and there will normally be a pre-requisite unit in year two, titled Investigating the Political. Joint honours students can do this unit and the dissertation unit as an option if they wish.

Take some time to look at our units; we cover a very wide range of topics.

What support does the school offer to new students?

Each student is assigned a Personal Tutor. There are normally six meetings with the tutor in year one. In the second and final year, there are usually four scheduled meetings. Beyond that, students can drop in during office hours as needed.

We have a Senior Tutor in the school who leads the personal tutoring activity and can also be consulted by students as needed. We have an Academic Writing Adviser to give advice on writing essays. Our admin team work closely with the Disability Services unit and Wellbeing team and can help signpost for dyslexia or mental health support. Seminar tutors also give academic advice and have office hours when students can drop in to ask questions about readings or essay preparation.

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

We want you to leave Bristol confident in your ability to think critically and work independently. Our units help you develop a broad knowledge base, hone your reasoning abilities and develop analytical skills. We expect you to develop your writing and presentation skills. The dissertation project is an excellent way to develop your research skills and learn how to manage a substantial project. We invite graduates to come back and share their experience of work and career building. 

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

We work with the Professional Liaison Network (PLN) to set up mentoring opportunities with local employers and politics graduates. The PLN also help students secure internships to get work experience.

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

Some students progress to further study (including Law conversion courses and journalism programmes), graduate employment schemes with many well-known firms and public sector bodies, and teacher training. More details on how we support employability are given on the Careers Service webpage.

Some of our well-known graduates are: James Landale (BBC), Ellie Price (BBC), Laura Trevelyan (BBC) and Darren McCaffrey (Sky News).

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

There are plenty of options to study abroad. You can view a full list of options here.

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

Typically, most of our teaching is done in the Social Sciences and Arts Faculty buildings that are on Priory Road and Woodland Road. The Arts and Social Sciences Library is nearby and Senate House has been converted into a combination of teaching rooms and student facilities. The university provides study spaces in the libraries and other locations around the Clifton precinct. Our school is close to Park Street (with its lively café culture), Brandon Hill, and the Harbourside. Royal Fort House gardens (part of the Uni) are good for relaxation and Clifton Village is a very attractive part of town. 

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

On average, each 20 credit point unit typically assumes 30 hours of formal teaching and a further 170 hours of independent study (reading for seminars, researching and writing essays and/or revising for exams).

How do assessments work for the department?

Each unit owner decides the content and style of assessment for the unit they teach. So we have a mix of assessments, including exams, coursework essays and student-designed research projects. 

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

I can't speak for your school, but there is a lot of independent learning in our degrees, and you have quite a lot of choice in terms of topics to study and style of assessment. The breadth of the curriculum is impressive and elements of it (including the dissertation) are determined by your interests.

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

Examples of final year dissertation topics include:

- the rise of China in Africa
- the Belt and Road Initiative
- protest movements in Hong Kong
- the Religious Right influence on US elections
- interpreting Brexit
- social media profiles of Westminster MPs
- the BBC and party politics
- Party funding in the UK
- gender and political rhetoric in India
- violence in South Africa
- dynastic politics in Sri Lanka.

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

You might want to dip into one of these books: David Miller's Political Philosophy: A Short Introduction, or Simon Tormey's Populism.

Also, take some time to look over the units we offer. Each unit has a few suggested core books or articles, so you could see if anything sparks your interest.

Anything else I should know about?

We support the ambitions of our high-achieving students. At the end of your degree you will have the tools and knowledge with which to understand the world. And to keep learning!

Our Facebook page will give you a sense of some of the things we did last year.

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