"The demands of a PhD can be challenging, but it's an immensely gratifying feeling when it goes well."

PhD student Sam Aldersley
Sam Aldersley
PhD student
Sociological Studies
Sam first came to Sheffield for undergraduate study, where he was able to get a sense of the friendly, collegiate atmosphere that the Department of Sociological Studies offered. After moving away for Masters level study, Sam missed Sheffield so much that he returned to embark upon his PhD journey.
PhD student Sam Aldersley

Why did you choose PhD study at The University of Sheffield?

My primary reason for choosing to study for a doctorate at Sheffield was because of its excellent reputation as an institution delivering high-quality research. The Department of Sociological Studies has always prided itself on high-research intensity and quality, as evidenced by its consistent performance in the league tables. Prior to applying, Sheffield seemed like the obvious choice. Since I studied my undergraduate here, I was also aware of how welcoming and friendly staff are in the Department. 

Tell us a little about your higher education journey to date...

I first came to study at Sheffield in 2016, graduating with a first-class BA in Politics and Sociology in 2019. Following graduation, I then began my MSc at Bristol University in Social and Cultural Theory. I completed this in 2020, but because I missed Sheffield so much, I decided to return for my PhD in Autumn 2020!

Tell us a little about your PhD. Why did you choose this area of research?

My research explores how people's experiences with digitally compressed audio formats shape the meaning that they ascribe to music in everyday life. As a music lover and passionate sociologist, I selected this as area of study due to my fascination with how music continues to play a central role in people’s social lives. With reference to the Critical Theory of Theodor Adorno, I am investigating the aesthetic, social and political underpinnings of digitally compressed music. To collect data, I will be conducting an ethnography of album listening parties and silent discos. I am supervised by Dr Matthias Benzer and Dr Alex Dennis

What have been the highlights of your PhD so far? Similarly, what challenges have you faced?

One key highlight from my PhD so far was getting published on the Sociological Review website. I wrote a piece detailing how people used vinyl records during the Covid-19 lockdown to create meaning in an uncertain world. It was a lot of fun writing the article, and although it was a short piece, to have it published online was definitely a big milestone for me, academically and personally. I really enjoy writing about contemporary problems and how sociological theory may be used as a tool to reveal something about their more obscure features. Hopefully there will be more blog posts/publications to come over the next three years!

The biggest challenge for me so far was definitely the preparation for confirmation review at the end of first year. This is daunting because students have to prepare for a viva which decides whether they can successfully go into the second year of the doctorate. It was definitely worth the stress though, because I managed to pass the viva with flying colours! It’s very rewarding.

Now I look forward to the fieldwork and data collection stage of my PhD. 

What do you think about Sheffield as a city? What is your favourite thing to do here?

I absolutely adore Sheffield. I love how strong the sense of community is here and how friendly everyone is. I love how it has a unique urban/rural feel about it and I love how close it is to the Peak District. As a music lover, one of my favourite things to do here is to go to gigs in the area (Sheffield has a solid music scene). I saw Fontaines D.C. recently at the O2 Academy and they were brilliant! 

Students' Union gig

What are your plans for the future, following the completion of your PhD?

I am not 100% sure about what I’ll do after the completion of my PhD, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t flirting with the idea of pursuing a career in academia. I thoroughly enjoy research and teaching and the prospect of taking this further definitely appeals to me. I guess we’ll see how the next three years go! 

What advice would you offer to new students?

If I was to give some advice for new students, it would be to select a research topic that you’re not going to get bored of after a year. In other words, choose something you're passionate about and then immerse yourself into the literature! The demands of a PhD can be challenging, but it's an immensely gratifying feeling when it goes well. Also, try to get involved with the research culture in the Department, meet fellow students, and share your ideas with peers. A PhD journey can be a lonely one, but it doesn’t have to be!

Find a PhD

Search for PhD opportunities at Sheffield and be part of our world-leading research.