Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Will McDonald

BA Politics and French | 1996 - 1999

Photo of Will McDonald

My current role
I am currently Director of UK Public Policy at Aviva, a role I have just started after completing a Masters in Public Administration at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

For three years before that I was a Special Adviser working for Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP in the UK Government – I moved with her from Housing to the Treasury and then on to the Work and Pensions Department.

It was a great job - long hours but right at the heart of policy-making and politics.

After studying at the University of Leeds, I had started out as an intern in the office of my local MP, and then a vacancy came up, which started me off on six years of working as a researcher to various MPs in the House of Commons.

Parliament has a lot of clever, engaged and interesting people working in it, so there is a never a dull day. I also ran the public affairs team at the Commission for Racial Equality before being a Special Adviser, which was very interesting and a very different role.

Why I chose Leeds
Leeds had a great reputation in politics, and I had family living nearby who could help with a Sunday lunch every now and then!

I really enjoyed my time at Leeds, although I certainly found it a challenge to juggle the social and academic sides of student life at times. In particular, I loved spending time in the libraries and really benefited from having so many sports activities organised on my doorstep.

My course
My joint degree in Politics and French meant I had to choose very carefully which politics modules to take, and I remember being almost overwhelmed by choice. I also remember thinking back then that some of the work and reading was overly theoretical. And whilst it is true that politics is very hands-on, I now realise there is no substitute for thinking through some of the issues at University-level before starting a career in local or national government.

The University had everything in one place – libraries, gyms, seminars, lectures – which I found really helpful.

The seminars and talks from external people were really useful in opening my eyes to issues I knew nothing about. And the University is right at the heart of one of the country’s best cities – not so big as to be overwhelming but big enough to have theatres, clubs, shops all nearby. And of course the Moors just a bus ride away!

Since graduation
My degree gave me a great theoretical and practical base to build on when I came to joining the jobs market – even a decade later as a Special Adviser in Government I was drawing on some of the lessons I took from Leeds.

A politics degree opens up many possibilities – millions of different jobs in private, public or voluntary sectors, international and domestic perspectives, journalism, and so on. It goes to the very heart of how we run ourselves as a society, and there aren’t many topics as important as that.

My one bit of advice is for students to try and get some work experience or volunteering whilst at Leeds – the politics degree is crucial but putting politics into practice in a local authority or your local MP’s office is interesting and rewarding, and may just make the difference when it comes to getting a job after Uni.

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