I had wanted to study Democratic Studies when I finished my BA at Leeds but didn't have the funding. Then I started work and joined The Countryside Agency. I worked for six years on three projects that sought to get people working together in their local community to improve their local environment and understand their local heritage. When the organisation changed I took voluntary redundancy. Several years on and the course seemed even more relevant, I was more interested in the ideas of democracy, particularly involving people in decision making at the local level, and so I applied.
I chose to undertake my MA at POLIS as I had taken my BA in Political Studies here and I liked the university and the school and still lived and worked in the city. The University has really great libraries, you can spend hours in the collections at the Brotherton Library.
I wanted to take a step back from the practical experience I had of working with communities and organisations at a local level. The course enabled me to explore theories including methods to involve people in the democratic process at a local, state and international level and the factors that impede the democratic process. It was exciting to discuss ideas and consider what is the 'ideal' way for a State or group to organise itself politically. The course enabled us to look at all sides of the argument and that was refreshing.
The Democratic Theory seminars that were held on a weekly basis were the most enjoyable because they were open and relaxed. The recommended reading for this module was really interesting and provoked a lot of discussion. The subjects were very broad and although the seminars had structure and focus, it was easy going enough that the group felt free to explore lots of ideas during the session about politics and society. I always came away from those seminars feeling like we had stretched ourselves trying to get to grips with whatever the topic was.
Dr. John Schwarzmantel is an excellent tutor. He is thoughtful, encouraging and welcomes discussion. This was important to me as a mature student coming back to study after working for several years in a professional environment. He was really supportive as I was working up the idea for my dissertation by suggesting texts and discussing ideas as well as more practical support with time management.
If you are thinking of undertaking an MA it's helpful to speak to the course tutor first who will be able to offer you guidance. If you like to explore ideas about how state and society organises itself and political representation then MA Democratic Studies is an excellent course to take.
After I graduated with my MA I was offered a job working with The National Trust and English Heritage. The job was to update the World Heritage Site Management Plan at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal in North Yorkshire. One of the main roles was to facilitate the involvement of all the interest groups, statutory organisations, volunteers, visitors and local people to decide what would be the priorities for the new Management Plan. The MA had given me a thorough theoretical basis for much of the work I was embarking on. I worked there for nearly two years before leaving in 2008 to have a baby. My job involved public speaking, facilitating workshops and focus groups, researching and writing, now I am even busier looking after my son! In my spare time I walk our dog, an energetic golden retriever called Meg in the countryside around Ripon.
In the future I'd like to continue to work in conservation. In particular I would like to work on a project in that field that opens up involvement in local conservation issues to a wider audience.