Sociologies of Reality TV Symposium Event: Student Experience

Our MA student, Robin Todd, discusses his experience at the Sociologies of Reality TV Symposium Event, on the 7th April.


Can you tell us about the Reality TV Event you participated in?

On Thursday 7th April 2022, the Department of Sociological Studies, along with the Sheffield Methods Institute held a crossover event on the Sociology of Reality TV. This was a chance to bring together and network students, academics and other individuals with interest or expertise in the sociology of reality TV and engage in discussion about the topic. Reality TV sounds like a strange topic to research, never mind hold a whole conference over, but in the field of social science, you can really make anything 'sociologically interesting' - and this event really demonstrated that! The day was a culmination of interesting insights into the world of Reality TV, from Love Island to RuPaul's Drag Race, and provided a look beyond the surface of these seemingly frivolous entertainment pieces. My presentation, for example, invited the audience to question the assumptions they held about RuPaul's Drag Race. Whilst the show has been celebrated for doing wonders for the queer community and revered for breaking boundaries in mainstream television, I exposed how the show continues to hold power dynamics that particularly privilege whiteness and marginalise blackness. 

How did the opportunity come around?

Throughout my time as a student at Sheffield, I have had a very close working relationship with a lot of the staff. Kitty Nichols, former lecturer in the Department of Sociological Studies and now working in the Sheffield Methods Institute, mentioned the event to me with the intention of me helping out with promotion and advertisement. As I was reading through the entry requirements for the abstract submission, I began to wonder... "I did a paper in third year that fits this brief", I thought, reminiscing on my Value of Sociology essay on RuPaul's Drag Race. I never thought, however, that I would submit an abstract or in fact deliver a presentation on my work. However, after mentioning my UG paper to Kitty, she prompted me to submit an abstract and exclaimed that it would be an amazing opportunity. I was having serious imposter syndrome, worried that I was quite out of my depth at a real life academic conference, but the staff in the Department were very encouraging. Even my mum came on the day to spur me on!

An image of TV screens

Why was this event important to you?

I've done minor speaking events in the past, like presenting a group project to a small group of students, but never anything like this. So the stakes felt high. But, ultimately, I'm really glad I listened to the encouragement of others and took up the opportunity as it was a great way of gaining experience and confidence with public speaking and with presenting academic work. It was also an amazing opportunity to hear about the research projects of other academics and listen to their really engaging presentations. A whole day of nerding out about reality TV!

What are your plans for the future?

I hope to, later down the line, complete a PhD and continue on an academic path pursuing research in gender, trans and masculinity studies. I would like to use my area of academic interest to advance awareness for, education about and inclusion of transgender people in society, taking my work to an NGO or charity sector, to address social inequalities that currently persist for trans people. 

Do you have any advice for students considering a postgraduate course?

I would say be prepared for the step up from Undergraduate! But that, ultimately, if you have a passion or interest for a particular area of research, it is an extremely rewarding path. You get to do your own research and put your own knowledge out into the world for people to hear and engage with! It was a crazy experience for me to deliver a paper, one that I thought would just sit on my computer gathering (virtual) dust, and have academics with years of experience and expertise sit and listen to what I had to say and take notes about the observations I had made. An MA really gives you that opportunity to contribute and add knowledge to the ever-growing world of sociology. 

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