Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Alexander Jackson

MA Politics | 2014-2015

Photo of Alexander Jackson

Please tell us a bit about yourself, your background etc?

I was born and raised in Sunderland and attended a local independent school.  I was involved in many extracurricular activities both within and outside of school – I completed my Bronze and Silver Duke of Edinburgh Awards and participated on an expedition to Malawi with my school.  I was a member of the school football, cricket and athletics teams and I captained the rugby union 1st XI throughout my school career.  Outside of school I played rugby for Sunderland RFC but my main sporting interest lay in hockey; I played for Sunderland HC 1st XI and represented Durham County and Northeast England.  I learned to play guitar and played in a couple of bands with my mates as a teenager, playing a few local gigs but this was never anything serious.  I also played in the school orchestra and in the backing band for school drama productions.  I still play and have maintained a deep passion for music.  Academically I was interested in the sciences and mathematics – I went on to do biology, chemistry and mathematics at A Level – but my main interests lay in history and politics.  Having completed an A Level in history I went on to study BA History and Philosophy of Science and Politics (Joint Honours) at Leeds; I found this course very intellectually stimulating and it afforded me the opportunity to study topics ranging from the medical philosophy of Hippocrates to contemporary Chinese politics – I ended up doing my 3rd year dissertation on the effects of national identity on relations between China and Taiwan.  Throughout my time at Leeds I have played hockey for the university men’s hockey society (LUUMHC) and have enjoyed every aspect of this, from captaining the club’s 2nd XI and being the club’s general secretary to the weekly club socials on a Wednesday night.

What made you want to apply to your MA course and to Leeds?

Having studied a joint undergraduate degree programme, half of which was politics, I felt there was much more I could learn about politics and that an MA programme would be the best way to do this. Politics is not a subject to take on half-heartedly and as most political students will tell you, the seminar debates can evoke deeply held passions and opinions that can lead to some fiery confrontations – but this is what makes it such a great subject to study.  Listening to what other people have to say and putting your own arguments into the fray to see how they stand criticism is the best way to develop your opinions, and the academic environment at Leeds is absolutely brilliant in enabling its students to do this.  My own beliefs have changed massively since I began my undergraduate degree but I feel much more confident in them and my own ability to advance and defend them.  When it came to applying for my MA degree Leeds was therefore the natural choice – I already knew just how good the staff, facilities and academic environment was and I didn’t see any reason to look elsewhere.  It’s a fantastic university in an amazing city and I don’t regret my choice to stay on here for my masters one bit.

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

I have always been deeply passionate about politics and forthright in my views as any of my friends would tell you; this stems from growing up in a family environment where politics was often a hot topic of conversation.  My dad is a retired bank manager who now works as a binman and my mum is a retired teacher, they both have very strong political opinions  - they encouraged me to think about issues being discussed in the newspapers or on tv and to develop my own independent opinions about them.  Growing up in Sunderland, a city with deeply-held, often tribal political convictions, also had a major impact on my political thinking – I’m strongly against loyalty for loyalty’s sake in politics and I always want to try and make people think about why they believe what they believe and say what they say when discussing politics.  Politics impacts on pretty much every aspect of our lives and there are so many different aspects of it, this has made it a deeply intriguing and enlivening subject to study both from a personal and an academic standpoint.

What aspects of the course are the most enjoyable?  

For me, the most enjoyable thing about the course is the sheer scope of the topics I’ve been able to study.  I’ve done four modules which have looked at advanced political theory and analysis, contemporary British politics, the rise of China and American foreign policy.  This is a wide range but the diversity goes further, as within each module there is a huge variety of topics to look at.  There is also a lot of flexibility within each module with regards to the assessments. I have been able to pick and choose the topics that have most interested me instead of just being told what subject I have to write an essay or do a presentation on, even if it doesn’t much appeal to me.  So the flexibility of the course and its wide range of topics have made it fantastic to study, and I’ve definitely never found myself bored or lacking an interesting topic to get stuck in to.

What would you say about Leeds as a city?

It’s great. Whoever you are and whatever you’re into, there is something here for you.  The nightlife is fantastic, there is a massive and growing music scene that has something for all tastes, if you’re sporty there are a whole host of clubs to join or teams to go watch, and there are cinemas, museums, shops-a-plenty and an awesome and diverse range of restaurants for carnivores and veggies alike.  Whether you enjoy a dark lumpy ale or an appletini there is a bar or pub for you and to top it all off you’re only a 15-minute drive from the thumping countryside of Yorkshire just outside the city.  There is also some real history to the city – Leeds was at the centre of the industrial revolution and everywhere you look there is some reminder of the city’s cultural heritage, from the beautiful Corn Exchange building in the city centre to the charming Clothworker’s Buildings that are now used by the university.  If you are a history buff or are just looking from general interest, there is an endless list of things to see and do.

Leeds is a fantastic city and it is only going to get bigger and better – for student experience I can’t recommend it enough.

What has been the most surprising thing about coming to Leeds?

The people.  I’ve met fellow Northerners with thick regional accents, geezers from Essex whose dads sell cheap, knock-off motors, and chaps from the Shires who speak the Queen’s English – but they’re all brilliant.  I thought that after four years at uni I would have seen and heard it all, but no matter what I do and where I go in Leeds, I’m always surprised by the people I meet and the new ideas, attitudes and stories I encounter.  Being a student here opens you up to thousands of different stories and each one has its own unique surprises – it’s one of the best things about studying at Leeds.

What would you say about the learning facilities in your School and at the University in general?

The learning facilities are excellent.  The libraries have a seemingly never-ending supply of books on a seemingly never-ending range of subjects and I’ve never been in short supply of interesting and engaging reading materials for my studies and assignments.  The online learning facilities are also very good, giving students access to countless online journal articles, research papers and other such materials.  24 hour access to many facilities means students are able to do their work whenever it suits them, and access to the latest technology and programmes means students are at the head of the pack in their respective fields.

What other activities are available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones have you tried out yourself?

There is a massive variety of extra-curricular activities for students to get involved in at the university. Whether you have a set idea of what you want to do or you want to try something entirely new, you will find what you’re looking for.  If you’re a musician there is a Big Band or the Rock Society, if you’re a sportsman/woman there’s everything from cricket to quidditch, or if you want to find your true calling as an activist you could join Amnesty International or Save the Children.  And if, by some miracle, you can’t find what you’re looking for, then you can set up your own club or society and see where that takes you.

I joined the university men’s hockey society as a fresher and have never looked back.  I have loved every minute as a club member and for four years it has given me massive highs, extremely hungover lows, and some of the best friends I could ask for.  The club is closely linked with the women’s hockey club and there are weekly joint socials every Wednesday after the teams compete in the BUCS leagues.  I was fortunate enough to captain the club’s second XI to victory in the BUCS Northern Conference Cup competition in my final year as an undergraduate and I was the club’s general secretary as a postgraduate.  Being involved in a society’s committee is not only enjoyable and rewarding, but it is something employers look very favourably on – so being involved in a society isn’t just a great way of making friends and having fun, it can also be massively beneficial moving forward into a career.

I would strongly advise anyone coming to university to join a society as it is a great way of meeting new people outside of your fresher halls or your course, and it is the best way (in my opinion) to enrich your student life.  Besides, there is nothing more enjoyable than early morning lectures or seminars the day after a society social, it really will be the highlight of your university career.

What do you like to do outside of studying?

I’m a keen hockey player and I love sports in general so, outside studying, sports take up a lot of my time, both playing and watching.  I still play guitar and enjoy going to gigs.  I’m also a big fan of real ale and proper food, so drinking and eating are high on the agenda.

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

Do it!  If you’re interested in politics, either on a purely personal level or as a potential career path, this course is for you.  The wide range of topics available to study and the flexibility within all the modules mean that wherever your interests lie, there is something here for you.  Do it.  You won’t regret it.

What do you plan to do once you’ve finished your course?

I have accepted a job working for Charlie Goldsmith Associates, an international development consultancy operating in Fragile and Conflict Affected States in Africa.  I’m going to be based in Juba, South Sudan, and I will be working on a variety of projects CGA has going on, including working on linking-up health and education within the country, and continuing CGA’s excellent work on the Girls Education South Sudan project, which aims to get as many girls into school as possible and has already succeeded in getting well over one million girls into full-time education. This is a really exciting opportunity which I can’t wait to get involved in, and that I hope will open up a long career in the international development sector.

Politics is definitely something I would consider going in to in later life but I want to have a real-life career before I even think about doing that, as I’m a strong believer that politicians should have proper life experience before entering politics.

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