Meet Professor Katharine Charsley, Professor of Migration Studies in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies.
Tell us about your journey into academia…
As an undergraduate I was enrolled on a Geography degree at Edinburgh, but took Social Anthropology as an outside subject and became fascinated by the study of people and society (which played a more minor part in the Geography curriculum), so switched to that as the main subject for my degree. By the time I graduated four years later with an MA, I was pretty sure I wanted to give an academic career in social sciences a stab, and applied for and was offered a research assistant job on an interesting project at the University of Bristol. So, that’s how I discovered this wonderful city and started my connection with this University.
I returned to Edinburgh to do a PhD (jointly in Sociology and Social Anthropology) on marriages between British Pakistanis and partners from Pakistan – a subject I had become intrigued by whilst working at Bristol. The fieldwork took me to Pakistan, and then back to Bristol, and the research led to a passion for the study of migration.
After my PhD I had a postdoctoral fellowship and a one year teaching job at Edinburgh, followed by a 3 year post at Oxford, setting up and running a Migration Studies degree. I have been so fortunate to work in three amazing places with wonderful colleagues, but Bristol always had a special place in my heart, so when a lectureship came up in Sociology, I applied, and have been back working at the University of Bristol since 2009. Here I’ve found a stimulating and friendly community of Sociologists, great colleagues in the wider School, and am part of developing a substantial and dynamic network of migration researchers from across the University.
What’s your favourite thing about teaching on postgraduate taught programmes at Bristol?
It’s hard to pick one favourite thing, but probably the opportunity to teach on subjects about which I am passionately interested. It’s good for the students – the research-led teaching which is a key feature of our master’s programmes means that you’re being taught by people actively involved in the field rather than just teaching from a text book. It’s also great for me – when I bring my own research interests into the classroom at master’s level I often get new perspectives which stimulate my own thinking. And in teaching on migration, the diverse backgrounds of our students makes for a particularly stimulating conversation.
I’m writing this having just taught my last master’s seminar for this academic year, and it has been so rewarding to hear from students about how their interest in the subject has blossomed across the course of the unit, and the new perspectives it has given them on issues of gender, family and migration.
What’s your number one top tip for prospective postgraduates?
Make the most of the opportunities available to you here, both inside and outside the classroom. Bring an open, critical and curious mind to your studies, and throw yourself into classroom discussions and your own research. Keep an eye out for all the other events and opportunities around the University such as those offered by our interdisciplinary Research Centres and Institutes. And apply your sociological imagination to the social world around you in Bristol, and the local or global communities and activities in which you are engaged. Each should enhance the others in terms of your intellectual development, and your experience during your degree.