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Andrew Dalton: Why Social Sciences make you think differently

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Published: 12 September 2017

We caught up with Andrew Dalton, Programme Leader in Social Sciences at the University of Sunderland, to find out why Social Sciences are a great area to study at degree level.

Andrew Dalton

What do you teach and what is your academic background?

“I’m Programme Leader for the Social Sciences degree programme, which is an extended four-year course. It has a foundation year attached to the beginning and is for people who didn’t get the UCAS points they thought they might, or for adults who want to return to education but don’t have A-levels or access courses. It gives them a full year to get their feet on the ground and then specialise in an area.

“I’m a sociologist by trade. I worked for 16 years in the charity sector – I managed charities, groups and took part in research and campaigns for charities, so I’ve done quite a bit - as well as taught! I’ve always had charity work and teaching in schools, colleges and now a university.”

What do you enjoy most about Social Sciences and why should students study it?

“It's ace! Social sciences make you think differently about the world that you live in. Whether you’re looking at crime, society, health, community or culture, social sciences make you more critical, they make you see the world in a different light; how it operates and how it works. I think part of that is identities and how we form them, or thinking about global issues and understanding why some of these things happen.

“Social Sciences make you think differently about the world.”

“The other day, for example, I was doing a lecture on genocide and how globalisation impacts on genocide. So you can go from genocide one day to the sociology of the family on another, and do prison work on another day – it’s varied and I think that’s the best thing about the discipline of social sciences. It gives you a taste of everything and you can specialise in something that interests you.

"Obviously, it’s also a subject that makes you employable. But, to me, it also changes you personally. We know that you want to come to university and you want to get a good job out of it, and we’re very good at doing that for students. But I also think you change so dramatically between the ages of 18 and 22, and the course helps you understand some of those processes and why they take place."

What skills do Social Sciences give you, and how can they help students in their careers?

“First of all, you end up being a trained social researcher. A lot of people forget that! You come out with your degree, but also with your training in quantitative and qualitative methods, so you can understand statistical research as well as face-to-face interview research and be able to do that and face the problems that come with it.

“We give the critical thinking skills, but we also offer that kind of worldly wisdom because we understand societies. I think we manage to fire up people without them realising sometimes! Some of our students have set up an amnesty international human rights group, one of my students is doing a fashion show for HIV, and we have another who’s setting up a food bank. It makes people more humanitarian, and I think that’s a massive part of it. A lot of people come into Social Sciences wanting to change the world but they don’t know how. We get them to think about how to do it – we don’t push them – we get them to think about it by offering them options.”

What kind of careers can students look forward to after graduating in Social Sciences?

“That’s a question we always get! Our students go into such a mix of areas. We get the ‘change the worldies’ – those who want to affect the world in some way and go into the third sector organisations like Oxfam and Red Cross or even set up their own charities!

Quite a lot of students go into the police force or the justice system and probation because they like the criminology aspect of the course. We’ve got students that go into health and health-related things such as the NHS or mental health, and we’ve got students who go into youth and community work who want to make a difference in their communities. So it’s varied! And teaching, teaching is very common as well as nursing and social work.”

What areas of Social Science can students specialise in across the course?

“The course is quite unique because, after the first year, students can choose to specialise in one of four areas – Sociology, Criminology, Health and Social Care, or Youth and Community Studies. After they’ve passed the first year successfully, they can then specialise in an area so they end up with a degree in Social Sciences with their chosen specialism.

“Within that, you can specialise in all sorts, so with Sociology, you might look at gender and gender equality, domestic abuse, sexuality, or race and ethnicity. For Youth and Community, you might focus on community development and the importance of volunteering and volunteer management. With Criminology you might go into the study of prisons and the justice system or policing or youth crime. For Health and Social Care, you could go into sexual health, palliative care, or health and social care itself – promoting public health campaigns. So you can specialise in quite unique areas. Although the degree looks broad on paper, it’s meant to be because you are meant to specialise as you go through.”

“We’re a great department with a lot to offer!”

What kind of opportunities are there for students whilst they are studying?

“Tonnes! We go a bit above and beyond I think – I get a bit carried away! We offer internships for students in this programme. So some of my students are going to Freedom from Torture – the organisation – to work with and support people who have been victims of torture. We’ve got internships with Durham and Northumbria Police, and the NHS, which they can do alongside their degree. A lot of students have self-initiated their own things, like the fashion show and the food bank. But we do a lot of stuff on volunteering because I am an ex-volunteer manager. So I promote volunteering a lot and the benefits of it.

“We’ve also got a really lively social group; we’ve just come back from London this weekend. They had me run ragged! We go out to offer things away from the classroom because I think studying social sciences isn’t just in the classroom, it’s going out into the social world and seeing it. We saw exhibits in London on slavery – modern day and historical, and we went to the Jewish museum and saw the Holocaust exhibitions – what happens when societies become too controlling and isolate certain members.

“We have a lot of guest speakers too. We’ve had someone come in from Gay Advice Darlington to talk about transphobic crime and what it’s like to be trans, someone came in from freedom from torture, amnesty international, and someone from Changing Lives to talk about sex work – how it operates and the changing nature of sex work and human trafficking.

“On every route that the students go down after the first year, they can also do a placement for each one. With Criminology, Health, and Youth and Community Studies, it’s about getting you into those sectors. But with Sociology you would go into an organisation and do a research project for them, so you get the actual skills of sharpening up your research background.

"I think we do a lot for the scale of the programme we offer. We’re quite a new programme and we’re unique – you can’t get another version of this program anywhere else in the country. I think my students feel quite special when I tell them that!”

Why is the University of Sunderland a great place to study Social Sciences?

“Our Sociology programme is the 10th best in the country for student support – better than many of the red brick and Russell Group universities. Our graduate rates are 0.5 per cent below Newcastle University (I know that makes us sound really in competition) but our graduates do just as well as Newcastle’s and Durham’s! I just think we’re getting better, it’s a great place to come to university because it’s a home which offers a lot of support. We offer above and beyond in terms of things I wish I would have had when I was at university!

“For Social Sciences we’ve got a lively programme. We’ve got the Centre for Applied Social Sciences where students can come to and get involved with free public talks – the last one was on Jack the Ripper. We offer loads of extra training and courses that the students can go on. I just think we’re a great department with a lot to offer!”

“You can’t get another version of this program anywhere else in the country.”

What resources and facilities do students studying Social Sciences have access to?

“We offer them a lot of specialist equipment. Students doing their research have to be able to use special software, so although we don’t have labs (our research is done in the real world!) we offer the computer software programs. A lot of the facilities come through our CASS (Centre of Applied Social Sciences). We also have links with research departments at other universities that allow students to use a variety of facilities.”

What positive advice would you give to students thinking about studying Social Sciences?

“Be open-minded and be prepared to have your world totally changed. The things that you take for granted have to be explored as to why you take those things for granted. For example, I was teaching earlier about love and marriage and the concept of romantic love. It was really interesting because students had this perception that we’ve always had this option available to us that we could marry who we wanted when we wanted. But actually, if you lived about 170 years ago you would’ve had an arranged marriage – we practised arranged marriage for about 800 years in the UK. So the concept of romantic love and marrying someone for that reason is relatively new, and it’s common sense things that we take for granted where once we scratch beneath the surface we get a lot more depth. I think it’s being prepared to have your mind opened a little bit and become a researcher and get used to research and how it operates.

“Be prepared to get passionate! Because people sometimes come in not knowing who they are or where their place is in the world and what that little fire in their belly is! Some of them come out and decide to help refugees for example, or students become passionate about different causes and quite politicised, and I think that’s what we do very well as a subject – and teachers as well I hope!"


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