Frequently asked questions

We asked the Department of Sociology some questions about what it's like to study with them. Here's what they said.

We are adapting our teaching methods and spaces in accordance with the latest COVID guidelines and therefore the information below may be subject to change.

What makes this department at the University of Bristol unique?

It would be misleading to describe any department or programme as ‘unique’. The reality is that if you are selecting between the best sociology programmes in the country – and Bristol is acknowledged as one of those – then many things, such as teaching methods, research-led teaching and even the content of some first-year units, are going to be quite similar. What makes each programme distinctive is a combination of the people who are teaching it, the location in which it is based and the students who take it, and in this regard we think Bristol has something special to offer. Here are just some of the things that we think contribute most to making Bristol a great place to study sociology:

  • Be taught by leading sociologists in their field. In the most recent assessment of the research conducted at UK universities, 80% of our research was categorised as ‘internationally excellent’ or ‘world leading’ (REF 2014). Come and be taught directly by the people who write books that are used in other universities.
  • A strong commitment to teaching. To us, our research and our teaching go hand in hand. As well as conducting research and scholarship, all of our core staff teach on our programmes, at all levels. Neither do we farm out our teaching to externally-sourced temporary workers while our research stars focus on their research. That means that you will get to discuss ideas with leading professors from the start of your degree, rather than just being taught by them at more advanced levels.
  • A sense of community. While we certainly have enough staff and students to create a vibrant atmosphere, our sociology programme remains small enough that staff and students are still able to get to know each other. Studying sociology at Bristol means that you won’t just become a faceless member of a crowd. We run staff-student social events, such as quizzes and coffee mornings. Coupled with the support that we offer via personal tutoring and dissertation supervision, that means that we are able to develop stronger educational relationships with our students.
  • The city. You will be hearing elsewhere about what a great place Bristol is to live (and it is!), but it’s also really interesting sociologically. From its long histories of migration to its contemporary street art cultures, the city offers a rich tapestry of sociological opportunities, that you will be able to explore throughout your time here.

How does the research at the school benefit the experience of the students at the school?

As already mentioned, we are involved in internationally-recognised sociological research, and we bring that expertise and knowledge into the classroom. So, as well as being able to teach you the wider canons of the discipline – we also have our areas of particular expertise, including: gender and sexuality; ethnicity, citizenship and migration; motherhood; modern slavery; popular music; East Asian sociology; miscarriages of justice; social theory; sociology of consumption; the environment; digital society (and more!).

This creates a number of advantages, but where the connection between research and teaching is perhaps most apparent is in the units that you will be able to select from your second year onwards. If you come to an offer holder event, you will hear us talk about how you can tailor your degree by focusing on a speciality: ethnicity, migration and mobility, for example, or perhaps environmental sociology, or sociology of culture. Or, you can mix and match in order to get exposure to different areas of sociological interest. Although the specific units available will vary in any particular year, they all reflect the research specialisms of the staff in the department. So the array of units that are available to you, and the content of those units, are distinctive to the programme at Bristol – you won’t find precisely this combination, or precisely the same unit content, elsewhere because they represent our own sociological identities and interests.

What does the school do to welcome students when they first start at Bristol?

There is a student-led Sociology Society (SocSoc), and staff often attend some of the events that they organise (but not all; you really wouldn’t want us at some of them). The department also organises a number of events during ‘welcome week’ in order to help you meet the staff and other students on the programme. These have previously included a ‘coffee and cake’ session with academic tutors, a welcome drinks reception, and ‘Bite Sized Lectures’ presented by staff to give students a taste of some of the ideas and issues they will learn more about throughout the programme. Our welcoming attitude doesn’t simply end at the end of Welcome Week!

What is the first year timetable like for this course?

When we designed the curriculum we decided that, by the end of the programme, we wanted our students to be practising sociologists. Not simply people who have learned some sociology, but sociologists capable of interpreting the world around them in a sociological way, with the ability to conduct research into how the world works. Our entire programme was thus designed with that goal in mind and, in the first year of the programme, we focus on establishing the fundamentals of the discipline, explaining what makes a sociological way of seeing the world unique and important, and also how influential sociologists have theorised the societies of both the past and the present. This helps to get everyone on the same page, and is why it doesn’t matter to us whether you have studied sociology before or not (which is a common question).

To achieve our goals, below is a list of units that we typically run in the first year.

Compulsory for all students:

Thinking Sociologically: this unit discusses what it means to consider something sociologically, how sociological thinking is different from other kinds of thinking, and what are the key questions that a sociologist needs to ask in order to understand something sociologically.

Compulsory for all single honours students; students on joint honours must select 2 from 3:

Social Identities and Divisions: This unit introduces students to general sociological frameworks for thinking about social divisions such as class, race, gender, ethnicity, disability, age.

Key Social Thinkers is about discussing contribution and continuing relevance of major sociological theorists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, W.E.B. Du Bois and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Doing Social Research: How is sociological knowledge created? This unit introduces students to the methodology and methods applied in the design, administration and completion of research projects in order to equip them with the skills to critically interpret data and evaluate sociological research. 

Optional for single honours students:

Sociology in a Global Context: This unit investigates issues that by their nature extend beyond national boundaries, such as migration, climate change, and digital economies, as well as considering sociology’s role in projects of de-colonisation.

Sociology of Culture: By exploring substantive topics such as digitisation, social media, cultural authenticity and racial stereotyping, this unit will introduce the key aspects and dynamics of culture and the relationship between culture and other forms of social power.

Where can I find out more about the detailed structure and content of the degree programmes?

Visit our online programme and unit catalogue.

What support does the school offer to new students?

Each student is allocated to an Academic Personal Tutor – a member of academic staff who will meet regularly with them throughout their academic career, acting as a first point of contact for pastoral care and advice regarding academic development. After Welcome Week, new students receive six scheduled meetings with Academic Personal Tutors in the first year, with a number of them focusing on developing the study skills and habits that you need in order to thrive at university. Students are also able to drop in to see their Academic Personal Tutors, as well as their seminar tutors during office hours. There are also two Academic Writing Advisers in the school who students can see to discuss particular skills issues. Finally, there are Wellbeing officers in the School every day whom students can arrange to see for a variety of issues related to health and wellbeing support.

How will the course set me up for my future career?

Sociology provides a unique set of skills for entering the job market, which are valued by employers. Sociology is a subject that can help you develop a critical understanding of the world around you, and that opens up a wide range of possibilities for the Graduate Job market. Part of developing as a sociologist involves learning a number of skills around data production, interpretation and presentation that are easily transferrable, and highly regarded, in a wide range of fields. The school also puts on a number of careers-focused events each year, including the opportunity to talk to former sociology students about their current careers and how they are using the skills that they learned with us. The University also has an excellent careers service that can provide tailored advice about your career choices. The University of Bristol, of course, has an excellent reputation among employers, being the 4th most targeted University by Times Top 100 Employers (High Fliers 2020).

Are there any employers or other initiatives that the school works with for industry placements?

The University Careers Service provides support for students who are interested in internships, placements and other job opportunities whilst studying for their degree. They run student events across the year about finding work and experience. They also build on and develop relationships with external organisations and institutions to extend the range of placements, internships and other opportunities for students so they can gain valuable experience in different fields.

Visit our Careers Service website for further information.

What do graduates go on to do after studying this course at Bristol?

Sociology is not a ‘vocational’ subject, in that it doesn’t lead to any specific job (we think that’s a good thing). We have diverse students and the skills that they learn lead them into a wide range of different careers – in the public and charity sectors, media and public relations, finance, the civil service, research, human resources and administration, and others. A number carry on to further study either with us or elsewhere.

What opportunities are there to study abroad as part of this course?

We are an international university, not just in our research and teaching reputation, but in what we offer to our students through the curriculum, and our study abroad opportunities. Typically, there are four-year versions of most of our programmes in which students can spend one year studying at one of our 20 or so partner institutions all over the world. Visit Global Opportunities for more information. 

What are the facilities like on campus that students will use to study this course?

Students have access to the many facilities across campus, including the many libraries, online resources, meeting rooms and study spaces. Within SPAIS, UG students have their own common room: a place to make and enjoy a cup of tea with peers, heat up their lunch, or study in-between classes. 

How many hours (on average) are required outside of lectures for additional work and study?

(The following guide is based on the 2019/20 academic year.)

Studying at university means a greater emphasis on independent and self-directed learning than at school. Students normally take three units per teaching block, each comprising three hours of scheduled class time. This time is balanced between lectures to all students taking the unit that provide broad summaries of the topics being discussed, and seminar groups centred around small-group discussion. In the first year, students will typically have two hours of lecture per week per unit, and one hour of seminar per unit. In the second and third year, units typically reverse this ratio of lectures and seminars, to give more space for interaction between students and staff.

Because of the emphasis on small group discussion and independent thinking, it is vital that students spend sufficient time reading and preparing for each seminar. As well as this weekly preparation work, students also need to complete additional readings that will help them to prepare for their assessments. Over the course of a term, this averages out to around 35 hours a week. It’s up to students to plan their independent study time in ways that work best for them. We know from our students that there are periods where they work more, and periods when they work a little less.

How do assessments work for the department?

There are a variety of assessment methods used in the department, including coursework, seen and unseen exams, and group projects. In the first year, the split between coursework (essays) and exams is roughly 50/50. In later years, there is much less emphasis on exams. Students on single honours programmes will also complete their own small sociological research project in their final year (this is optional for joint honours students).

What would you say are the main differences between studying at school and study at university?

Studying sociology at university is a lot more interesting and a lot more fun than studying it at school! You get to study topics at a level of depth, and with a level of critical engagement that is not possible at school. You also get chance to plot your own path through the subject, selecting units and topics that reflect your own intellectual and social interests. These benefits arise from being taught by leading researchers and by the way in which students are required to take more responsibility for their learning and to develop their own intellectual ideas.

What are examples of final year projects/dissertations that students have worked on when they study this course?

As part of the dissertation process students receive individual guidance from members of staff and we do our best to ensure that any topic in which a student is interested can be developed into a viable dissertation project. That means that the range of topics chosen each year can be extremely diverse. Recent dissertation topics include: narratives of young homeless people; male Primary school teachers; Banksy’s position in the art field; tall women and the sociology of height; eating habits and family life; populations and sustainability; dismantling white privilege.

Is there anything I should check out to familiarise myself with the subject matter before I would start the course?

On our departmental webpage, you can browse units, explore the news and find out what has been going on in our department.

You can read some introductory sociology texts including Charles Lemert’s Social Things or Gregor McLennan’s The Story of Sociology.

You could look at Discover Society, to which many leading sociologists contribute, and which discusses contemporary social issues.

Anything else I should know about?

It’s hard to put across a real sense of our ‘personality’ in these questions, but we pride ourselves on providing a welcoming and intellectually stimulating academic environment in which we support you to become more independent, inquisitive and sociologically informed individuals. We are proud of the graduates we produce and our students are also appreciative both of our expertise and commitment to their learning. In the 2020 National Student Survey, we received a score of 96% overall satisfaction from surveyed BSc Sociology students. 

If you have any more questions, please ask!

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