What Should You Expect in Your First Year?

Q&A with Dr Tom ClarkPicture of Dr Tom Clark
Lecturer in Research Methods

We spoke to Dr Tom Clark, Lecturer in Research Methods in the Department of Sociological Studies, about his experience within the Department, as both a student and a lecturer, and asked him what his advice for new students would be.

Tell us a little more about your background:

I came to the Department in 2002 to study for a Masters in Sociological Research – and have been here ever since. I went on to study for a PhD, trained for my teaching qualifications here, and now I’m very proud to say I’m employed as a Lecturer; I literally get paid to ‘find things out’!

Whilst a huge amount can be said for the history and reputation of the Department, as well as its broad range of interests, one of the main reasons I’ve stayed is because of the people who work and study here. I’ve always been encouraged to develop to the very highest level, and some people have really pulled out all the stops to help me to do that. It’s the sort of thing you can’t measure in a satisfaction questionnaire, or even find out at an open day, but there are a lot of people here who really do care about making a positive impact on people’s lives, whether that be students who study here or people living in the local community. That has always meant a lot to me and it’s something that I’m proud to be a part of.

How do staff in the Department of Sociological Studies support students?

Coming to university is a big step for most people. All of a sudden you’re independent and have to manage your own time and money, as well as finding the right balance between your personal and professional life. Everyone has a different experience of that transition, intellectually as well as socially. We make sure that you are supported as you make the bridge between college and university. We’ve made some innovative changes to the way we teach our courses to help you achieve exactly that. Not only have we made our programme a much more interactive experience than most, we’ve also built a number of mechanisms into the course that will help you to adjust to the demands of university life.

What advice would you give to new students?

We have high expectations of our students, but we don’t expect you to be perfect from the off. What we’re trying to do is develop your ability to learn quickly and think flexibly and critically. These are skills that you will acquire during your time here, but you’re not going to be able to everything within a week of a week of starting lectures. We have designed a progressive programme that will help you develop the skills that will be invaluable to you whatever career path you choose, but this takes time and practice, so don’t worry if everything doesn’t come immediately.

Over the course of your degree, you’ll also have a number of opportunities to engage in all sorts of extra-curricular activities that will help you in both your personal and professional life. There are any number of societies, voluntary groups, and academic organisations within the wider university and the city of Sheffield that you could contribute to and we’ll help you to find out what is available and encourage you to try a few things out. So think about what skills and interests you want to develop so that you can make the best of the opportunities available.

What should new students expect in their first year?

We’re going to expect you do things! Whilst lectures will always be a part of the university experience, the social world isn’t confined to the walls of a lecture theatre – in order to investigate the realities of everyday life, you have to go ‘out there’ and experience it. We’ll introduce you to some key ideas and concepts and give you the opportunity to apply them to the world in which we all live so you can see how they work in practice. This may involve collecting data, analysing evidence, or reflecting critically on your own experiences. We are going to challenge you, but we’ll also support you so that you can develop to your full potential – just as the Department did with me all those years ago!