Saffron Dunk on why she loved studying Philosophy and Religion at Sheffield

Saffron recently completed her BA in Philosophy and Religion.

Photo of Saffron Dunk

Why did you choose to study in Sheffield?

My journey to Sheffield was quite a complicated one but I feel that it ended up having the most fortunate outcome for me. I didn’t get the A Level grades that I was expecting and I had to go through clearing to get into university. I originally applied to study History and Sheffield was my insurance. Deciding what to study at degree level was quite difficult as I enjoyed all of my subjects; I think History piqued my interest the most at the time in which I was applying. After applying and receiving my results I changed my mind about what I wanted to study and used clearing as an opportunity to change my application. I was very lucky to be offered a place to study Philosophy at Sheffield and that Sheffield has a brilliant philosophy department, and more so that I was able to attend a university I had already applied to go to.
People don’t often talk about the clearing process and it is incredibly daunting to navigate on your own. I think it is important to share such experiences and for people to know that it isn’t all doom and gloom. Having completed my degree, I am certain that I ended up in the right city and doing the right degree - I think this serves to counter the typical conception of the clearing process.
When applying I focused on city-based universities and predominantly in the North. Having come from a big city I wanted a similar environment but a place of my own. I had heard great things about Sheffield and it definitely lived up to expectation. Sheffield was attractive to me because it allowed me to live the city lifestyle I wanted but was small enough that I didn’t feel lost or out of place; it was only a 2 hour train journey away from home; and a very student orientated city where I felt safe.

I would not change any of the time that I have spent living and studying in Sheffield - it is an incredible place filled with incredible people.

saffron dunk, Philosophy and religion

What made the University of Sheffield stand out for you?

I liked the diverse and contemporary range of modules available here in Sheffield. The courses I looked at were eclectic in what they had to offer, allowing me both the freedom to explore new topics and providing a broad selection of choice within my areas of interest. The modules I was often drawn to focused on, or incorporated, societal and political matters. It was clear to me that Sheffield was a forward thinking environment that would encourage and enable me as a student to invest and apply my learning.

The academics here at the University of Sheffield have a strong international reputation and the teaching I experienced on the Offers Day I attended was engaging and thought provoking. The Students’ Union in particular was very impressive, it seemed to be the heart of the city campus for students, staff and the public alike. There was a buzz around the area that made me feel welcomed and comfortable.

What do you particularly enjoy about Philosophy?

There is no one question to ask, and no one answer to give - sometimes there are more questions than there are answers. This can sometimes be a frustrating aspect of Philosophy, but the uncertainty is definitely something that I enjoy as well. It means that discussion is limitless, it encourages you to consider all possible perspectives, and asks you to think as far outside of the box as possible. Something that has definitely become more apparent the more I have studied philosophy is how pervasive it is. Such ways of thinking now contribute to my own worldview and the way I see things. It's also pervasive in the sense that it is not restricted to its own discipline, it can be found in everything: science, education, law, medicine, politics, religion. Greater than that, it asks the questions that no other areas face, challenging conceptions that are often taken for granted.

How did the Department of Philosophy help support you through the whole process from application to settling in?

I received a lot of information and support from the Department once I accepted my offer. In advance of my arrival, the Philosophy Department provided me with a schedule for Freshers’ Week which detailed various activities to attend. This included things like introductory lectures, library sessions, a meeting with my personal tutor, and participating in a practice seminar. I found this to be particularly useful as it was an opportunity to warm up to the start of term and experience a seminar before official contact hours began.

Tutors and lecturers within the department are very approachable and always willing to discuss course content and talk about how you are getting on, whether this be studies-related or not. Likewise, the Philosophy Office is also brilliant - the staff are very helpful, supportive, and always on hand to answer questions. Both of these supports have certainly stood for the duration of my degree.

My highlight of studying in Sheffield was the Philosophy of Education module that I participated in during my second year. We were tasked with creating and delivering Philosophy lessons to pupils from local secondary schools for a week. I found it really interesting being asked to engage with the course in a different way to conventional assessments, and felt I gained valuable experience.

saffron dunk, philosophy and religion

What are your top tips for any students thinking about studying Philosophy in Sheffield?

When applying to study for any degree at any university, I would always recommend visiting the university and the city first - I think this is the only way to gain a true feel for a place. I found that visiting universities on Open and Offers Days drastically changed the ideas I had about where I would apply to. When I visited Sheffield I instantly had a good feeling, I felt at ease and I could see myself living here. You will be calling this place home for at least three years so it is important to make sure you feel like you would enjoy living in that place as much as you would enjoy studying at that university.

My advice for those looking to study Philosophy in Sheffield: one, don’t be apprehensive about speaking up in lectures or tutorials (even if this is to say that you don’t understand). These are the best opportunities to discuss your thoughts and ideas - live discussion can sometimes be where you express your thoughts most clearly. The more you engage, the better your understanding, and the more you will enjoy it too. Two, because a lot of your study is independent, it’s good to try and have some routine and self-discipline. Three, it is most likely that you will be required to do close, critical readings of one (or a few) text. They aren’t always straight forward and might require re-reading to really get to grips with it. Wider reading can sometimes be helpful when trying to gain a better understanding of a topic if the main text is proving to be difficult.

Tell us about being a student in the department.

Being a student in the department is great, I really have been made to feel at home here. A worry of mine was that I wouldn’t fit in with my department because I had come through clearing to university and switched courses, but it has never been an issue. Students and staff alike, everyone in the Department is really friendly and approachable. The Department is quite small in comparison to others but this definitely gives it a stronger sense of community as you get to know most of the students. I have also found being in a smaller department beneficial for a learning environment as lectures and seminars can be fairly small groups, which often allows more time for discussion and asking questions. Involving and engaging yourself with the content is never unwelcome; your own thoughts and opinions are always encouraged. It’s nice to feel that you are contributing to the learning process and I think it is something that the Philosophy Department at Sheffield value.

What is your highlight of studying and/or living in Sheffield so far?

My highlight of studying in Sheffield was the Philosophy of Education module that I participated in during my second year. We were tasked with creating and delivering Philosophy lessons to pupils from local secondary schools for a week. I found it really interesting being asked to engage with the course in a different way to conventional assessments, and felt I gained valuable experience. It also fuelled my interest in exploring philosophy and education further. The content of the module influenced my choice of dissertation topic: Religious Education policy in the UK. I was able to apply my learning and reflect on my own experiences and observations of the education system. The module was one of those moments where the scales fell from my eyes as I came to know more about the philosophy of a system that I have been in for most of my life.

My greatest highlight of living in Sheffield has definitely been the people I have met and the friends that I have made here. They have been the biggest contributor to my experience of Sheffield and in making a home away from home.

What do you know now about Sheffield that you didn’t know before you came here?

Despite the widely held belief that Sheffield was built on seven hills, I hadn’t realised quite how hilly Sheffield was until I came to live here. It was an element that required some adjustment as the most convenient way to travel around the city for a student is by foot, but it also makes for good exercise - some claim to have Sheffielder legs of steel. The hills are worthwhile as the high points mean that there are beautiful views wherever you go. Sheffield is also one of the greenest cities in Europe, which is unexpected given its industrial history. In addition to the neighbouring Peak District, Sheffield is home to lots of beautiful parks and green spaces.

By far the best thing that I have learnt about Sheffield since moving here is that it has some of the best food to offer. Notty pies, Proove pizza, Falafel King - there is a wide selection of cuisines available in Sheffield. All of which come from high quality independent businesses around the city - again, another unique trait of Sheffield.

What are your plans after your study?

I hope to go on to postgraduate study at a later date, but for now I want to spend a year (or two) outside of education. I went straight from school to university without taking a break, so I think now is a good opportunity for me to take time out. I am also undecided about what specifically I would like to study at postgrad level, so I hope that time away will help to provide me with some clarity about what aspects of study I would like to pursue. My current thoughts are that I will do an MA within the areas of philosophy and politics, or philosophy and education, with the hopes of going on to work in the education sector.

Anything you’d like to add?

I would not change any of the time that I have spent living and studying in Sheffield - it is an incredible place filled with incredible people. I feel that I will always have a home here, and given the complications I faced getting to university, I am very fortunate to feel this way and to have had the amazing three years that I have. Sheffield is a beautiful and rare kind of city - and when the sun shines it is the best place to be.

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