Developing key skills and new perspectives

Postgraduate student Lewis beside a statue
Lewis Atkinson
Postgraduate Student
MA International Relations
"The knowledge accumulated in the areas of how the world works has given me the ability to explain complex problems in a more presentable and explainable way. The degree utilises and develops a wide range of key skills employers may be searching for."

 Why did you choose to study both your undergraduate and postgraduate degree at Sheffield?

I grew up in South Yorkshire, so I have always been aware of Sheffield and the university. During my secondary school years I participated in the Discover US programme, which is an outreach programme the university does to target students who have the potential to go to university, but are from underrepresented backgrounds. After participating in the programme’s activities I knew that the only university I wanted to attend would be Sheffield!

Politics has always been an area of high interest to me, and during my college years I participated in the Model UN, which was held by the Department of Politics and it gave me the opportunity to experience the high quality engagement the academic staff has with its students. Students are treated as equals, seminars are a two-way process where everyone’s opinions are respected and the tutor does not just lecture for two hours, it is active learning. 

Lewis atkinson attending the discover US programme in secondary school
Lewis Atkinson attending the Discover US programme in secondary school

How did studying History for your undergraduate degree lead you to study International Relations at postgraduate? 

History and politics go hand in hand. History has been my fascination from a young age, especially modern history and the Cold War period. Studying the foreign policy of the United States during the Cold War sparked my interest in International Relations. International Relations introduces more of a theoretical framework to give a causal explanation and answer questions such as why do states go to war? History and Politics are intertwined, but International Relations applies theoretical lenses which can open up new perspectives of not just contemporary events, but those of the past.

What sort of things have you chosen to study for your postgraduate degree?

I’ve taken a range of modules, but my personal favourite area has been security studies which was introduced to me through the Contemporary Global Security module. The module looks at how our definitions of security have changed over time, especially since the Cold War period. We no longer are solely focussed on war and conflict. What about pandemics? Climate change? Gender based violence? Security has become broader overtime in an attempt to address the complex question asked within an increasingly globalised and interconnected world. In terms of an area for my dissertation, most likely I will study an issue that has sparked my interest from the post-Cold War era, such as what ramifications did the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela present to US national security? The election of a left wing president during the Cold War led to a series of bloody coups and a rise of right wing juntas across Latin America. What action would the US take after the fall of the Soviet system? This would build on my undergraduate dissertation which looked at the Nixon administration’s response to the election of Salvador Allende in Chile.

What are your plans for after you graduate?

A career in Politics, or Education seems the most appealing to me. I want to make a difference to whatever career I embark upon, and my time in Sheffield will definitely aid me in this quest. The knowledge accumulated in the areas of how the world works has given me the ability to explain complex problems in a more presentable and explainable way. The courses I’ve been on involve a lot of reading, writing and an ability to present data and information in a clear and concise manner, which will be helpful in preparing presentations or administrative work.

How does your course increase your employability prospects?

The course focuses on independent study, and to manage the time so there is an effective balance between seminars, lectures, assignments and reading. Information has to be presented clearly, so good written communication is important. Information has to be relevant, and it can be challenging to find sources of use given the huge mass of literature on the Internet, and the university libraries. Once evidence is gathered, critical thinking is required to analyse and produce answers to important questions within international politics. So the degree utilises and develops a wide range of key skills employers may be searching for. 

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about studying International Relations?

My advice for people with anxieties over studying politics at degree level is not to worry. The department is well aware that a majority of students at postgraduate level may never have studied politics before at university. Students I have met come from all sorts of different academic backgrounds, accountants, history, journalism, just to name a few. Every course the department offers will include a compulsory core module that will introduce and explain the main ideas and theories of your chosen area, for example, the module debating international relations for the international relations programme. If on your course you feel yourself struggling, overwhelmed or falling behind in work, do not be afraid to ask for help from your tutors. Every student is assigned a personal tutor who will be available to give academic advice, and point you in the right direction to the wide range of services available at the university.

Four students laughing while sat at a bench, outside the Students' Union

International scholarships

We offer a generous package of financial support for international students, including undergraduate and postgraduate taught scholarships towards the annual tuition fee. Applications are open for existing offer holders.