What is a Postgraduate Student Ambassador?

One of our postgraduates, Rosie, talks about her role as an Ambassador at the University.


What are you studying at Bristol?

I am currently three years into a PhD in synthetic biology at the University of Bristol. My PhD is a lab-based research project on bacteria that make plastics, and I spend most of my day in the lab or at my desk reading and analysing data. I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh and so choosing to move to a new university and a new city was an exciting step.

Why did you apply to be a Postgraduate Student Ambassador?

Last year I applied to be a Postgraduate Student Ambassador so that I could try to help answer the questions that I wish I had asked when I was applying. Being a prospective student to a new university can be a daunting process, and I really wanted to be part of something that makes it easier. Often these roles are filled by master’s students and I think it is important to ensure there is some PhD representation too. The PhD postgraduate experience can be slightly different to a master’s, and the additional few years here has given me extra insight about both the city and the University to share with incoming postgraduate students – I didn’t discover my favourite bakery until last year!

What sort of things do you get up to in the role?

Being a Postgraduate Student Ambassador is a great way of earning some extra money while still being able to complete my lab work. Each job is individually applied for, which means I can work flexibly around my timetable and only apply for work when I know I have the time. The jobs themselves are also quite varied; from an hour-long online chat, to whole-day events like open days, so there is something to suit every schedule. Each day is slightly different – you could find yourself giving tours around campus, answering questions on an information stand, and talking on a Q&A panel session in a single day! These events often include preparing the space before and after events, and so as well as getting to know other students, it also allows you to meet members of staff in both the Postgraduate Recruitment office, and at the location you are working.

What do you enjoy most about the role?

Working with other ambassadors has been a fun way to meet other students, especially those in humanities subjects that I would be unlikely to meet otherwise. The team work together all year round, so you get to see the same faces month after month and make friends. I found the more I expanded my network of people at Bristol the more interesting events, cafes, and places I learnt about. This also gives me more information to pass onto perspective students.

Why would you recommend the role to others?

I would recommend postgraduate students who are friendly and engaging to apply to be a Student Ambassador. If you’re looking for flexible work, can take initiative, and like speaking about your university experience this is the perfect job for you!


Applications to become an Ambassador for this year have now closed. If you have any questions about the role, contact us at postgraduate-recruitment@bristol.ac.uk.


It’s not too late to apply

Did you know that many of our programmes are still open for applications to start in this academic year? While 2020 may continue to try to throw our plans off course, we’ve got some guidance for you to complete that last minute application and make 2020 count.

1. Choose your programme:

Browse the online programme finder to see what programmes you are still eligible to apply for. Note that many of the deadlines are in mid-August!

2. Begin your application:

You’ll need to use our online application system to apply. Entry requirements can be found in the admissions statement for your chosen programme.

3. Upload your supporting documents:

Whichever programme you’re applying for, there are standard documents that you need to provide with your application. Please check the admissions statement for specific requirements, such as whether you’re required to identify an area of research that you’re interested in.

4. Submit your application:

Make sure you’ve uploaded all the necessary documentation, and read through your application. Some programmes may also require an application fee.

5. Check your progress:

For taught postgraduate programmes, we aim to make a decision on complete applications within 21 days. For research programmes, we aim to get in touch with you within five days. You can check the progress of your application using our online application system.

If you’re unsure about whether the blended learning approach for this academic year will suit you, we understand. Keep checking our COVID-19 advice page for prospective students, and why not read about some of our current students’ experiences of online learning: Katherine and Jess – Our experience of online learning.

If you have any questions about the application process, we’re available to chat. Our telephone lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday on +44 (0)117 394 1649, or you can email us at choosebristol-pg@bristol.ac.uk. You can also find application guidance in this short video.


Katherine and Jess: Our experience of online learning

Here at the University of Bristol, we’re working hard to develop the best possible blended-learning curriculum for this academic year, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This will see a mixture of small face-to-face group teaching and mentoring with an innovative and engaging online learning aspect.

But, what is learning online like? For many prospective postgraduate students, you may not have ever studied online, and we understand this might be unsettling and leave you wondering whether you’ll still receive high quality teaching. We want you to know that if you still want to study in 2020, you don’t have to put your postgraduate plans on pause – but don’t just take it from us.

We’ve been chatting to Katherine and Jess, current students on our MA Translation, which is taught completely online. While the blended learning curriculum will still have an aspect of face-to-face teaching, we hope their experiences of studying online will help many of you find out a bit more about online learning.

Katherine, MA Translation
Jess, MA Translation


Tell us about your motivations for choosing the MA Translation…

Katherine: Having just had my first child, I was looking for a career change into a field in which working could be flexible around family life. With an undergraduate degree in French and Spanish and a passion for languages, translation was always something that had interested me. Researching Translation MA courses and looking into the career further convinced me that it was the path I wanted to take. The MA Translation at Bristol appealed to me because it was fully online, so I could take the course from home, it had part-time options that I could fit around parenting and the University has an outstanding reputation. I also love the city and visit fairly regularly so it was appealing to me that I could make use of the University’s facilities when I am there.

Jess: Having studied my undergraduate degree online with the Open University, I was already comfortable with distance learning when I started my online MA in Translation. I had different reasons for choosing to study each of my degrees online. For my undergraduate degree, it was simply because I was disappointed by the experience of going to university at 18. I felt that it was too similar to school, and I was ready to be out in the world! During my first year, I left and spent some time working and travelling. When I settled in one place after a couple of years, I started studying online, because I didn’t want to lose the freedom that I had to be in charge of my own schedule. I’ve always loved working and being self-sufficient, and I didn’t want to lose that, or to have to arrange work around uni.

Studying online suited me perfectly, and there were optional in-person tutorials where I met other students. The flexibility was great for me; while studying, I changed jobs a couple of times, trained to be a piano teacher, started a business, moved house a few times, trained to be an English teacher, and then moved to Spain. Which brings me to the Masters!


How does your programme provide you with the high-quality teaching you expect?

Katherine: Teaching on the course has been delivered in a number of ways, from video calls with my tutor, podcasts from my lecturers, audio-visual presentations delivered by other students and written course notes. I think the most effective learning I have done has been through the comprehensive feedback received on my own work as well as the opportunity to read other students’ work.


Do you also get the opportunity to work with your fellow students, despite it being an online programme?

Katherine: The Blackboard Online Learning Environment provides a forum for the group to share ideas, we all submit exercises and are actively encouraged to feedback to one another. I have learnt a great deal from other students’ work and quite often we share our individual feedback on the forum too, so we can learn from each other’s feedback. I feel that technology allows us to work together and collaborate effectively.

Jess: Another student once sent me an email after a funny exchange we had on Blackboard, and since then, we’ve been in touch regularly and will definitely meet in person once travel is back on the cards!


What’s your favourite thing about your programme?

Katherine: My favourite thing about the programme is that it can be flexible around my other commitments. I’m doing the course part-time which works for me as it allows me to complete paid work alongside the course.

Jess: It’s different from my previous experience in that interaction with other students is a big part of the course. That is my favourite part of it – we look at each other’s translations and discuss them on Blackboard. The tutors also join the discussions, so we receive regular feedback from them.


Have you had any problems with the online aspect of the programme?

Katherine: The only slight challenge I have come across is access to relevant course books that are not online. The vast majority of the necessary material can be found via the library online so this is rarely a problem, but I would just say that it takes a little organisation to check which books you may wish to access that aren’t online. You can then submit a request to the library who will post them out to you.


Do you have any tips or advice for prospective postgraduate students who may be daunted by the blended-learning approach for this year?

Katherine: My advice would be to consider the positive aspects that online learning can bring, such as the flexibility. It’s also important to take into account that the skills being learnt through online learning will be extremely useful in the majority of the careers/study that students move on to. So many careers and study opportunities require competence in remote working, using technology and learning to familiarise yourself with different online platforms. I also feel that successful completion of online learning demonstrates your motivation, organisation and adaptability to potential future employers.

Jess: If you’re new to studying online and you’re feeling nervous, or you’re worried about what you might be missing out on, I would urge you to think about how to make the most of the benefits! You can still meet your fellow students and form real friendships. As long as you manage your time and keep up with your work, studying online is so rewarding and gives you the freedom to develop other interests and areas of your life. I hope you enjoy it!


We are regularly updating our COVID-19 webpages for prospective students. Visit www.bristol.ac.uk/students/coronavirus/applicants to keep up with the latest developments. If you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at choosebristol-pg@bristol.ac.uk.


Meet the lecturer: Dr Florian Scheding

Meet Dr Florian Scheding, Senior Lecturer in Music.

Tell us about your journey into academia…

There was no grand plan behind my journey into academia. Rather, it was a journey of curiosity. One aspect of this is that I wanted to know about and live in different countries, and moving from degree to degree led me to study at universities in Germany, Spain, and Britain. I was very lucky along the way (and perhaps I also did well in my academic work) because opportunities always presented themselves, until, after jobs at different institutions, I was fortunate to be offered a position in Bristol.


What’s your favourite thing about teaching on postgraduate taught programmes at Bristol?

The MA Music in Bristol rightly has a reputation of being one of the country’s best postgraduate taught programmes in music. I love teaching the excellent students who choose to study here. With their diverse backgrounds and interests, many of our postgraduate students take advantage of the flexibility the programme offers them and tailor their unit choices to best suit them, and accompanying them on their journey is a real privilege.


What’s your number one top tip for prospective postgraduates?

Embarking on a postgraduate taught programme at a top University like Bristol may be one of the most intense experiences you ever do: you learn things every day, you are challenged every day, you discover something new every day. Try to get the most out of it while you’re here: go to events, be proactive, get involved with societies, meet people. Your postgraduate study is a unique time, and that intensity can make it one of the most enriching years of your life.


Meet the lecturer: Dr Andy Flack

Meet Dr Andy Flack, Lecturer in Modern and Environmental History.

Tell us about your journey into academia…

To be honest, I fell into my academic career. There was no particular plan that I opted to follow. Having completed my BA in History, I undertook an MA in Contemporary History before going to work in the Third Sector in London. I was lured to undertake doctoral study – An Animal History of Bristol Zoo – four years later not because I aspired to an academic career, but because I was relentlessly curious. I missed the university environment and the kind of learning that it fosters.

Indeed, I’ve loved learning from an early age. From childhood through my teenage years and into my adult life, I could usually be found with my nose buried deep in a work of history, or alternatively a work of natural history. From that point of view, it’s perhaps unsurprising that I’ve ended up working as an environmental historian; a field which combines history with the natural sciences, and which studies the ways in which people in the past have interacted with the natural world. I also need to note that I undertook all my degrees here, at the University of Bristol. There is certainly something about this place – and the way in which it teaches History – that has kept me ‘hooked’.


What’s your favourite thing about teaching on postgraduate taught programmes at Bristol?

I love teaching on postgraduate History programmes. MA students on our courses tend to be committed to learning about the past in active conversation with their peers, both staff and students. Indeed, we very much feel that our master’s students are valuable co-investigators as we collectively look to the past to see what we can unearth.

In particular, the MA History course allows students to undertake deep reading and research across historical periods, places, and topics. There are several specific areas where our University is especially strong. We have a strong team of historians of modern Britain, modern America, and slavery, as well as the largest grouping of environmental historians anywhere in the world, beyond a couple of institutions in North America. The MA course gives me an unequalled opportunity to teach my own specialism – modern environmental history – with my colleagues and in depth – to students who are committed to and excited by the past and the lessons we might draw from it that can help us to address some of the greatest crises of our times.


What’s your number one top tip for prospective postgraduate students?

My top tip for prospective postgraduates is to enter your studies with an open mind. Certainly, you’ll most likely have identified the kinds of histories you know you like via previous degrees, for example. The MA will give you the chance to dive deep into those histories. However, the most rewarding aspect of postgraduate study, in my view, is embracing the chance to study people, places, and approaches to the past that you might be deeply unfamiliar with. Take a ‘risk’. What about Medical History? Or Environmental History (of course…)? Take the road less travelled and you might find that your way of thinking about the world – in the past and present – is changed forever, opening an array of new opportunities in the process.



Meet the lecturer: Dr Juan Zhang

Meet Dr Juan Zhang, lecturer in Social Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology.

Tell us about your journey into academia…

I encountered Anthropology by chance! Growing up in China and studying Urban Planning for my undergraduate degree, I wanted to gain a more human-centred understanding on urban space and social relations for my postgraduate training. With that, I decided to study Sociology in Singapore. There I was introduced to Anthropology and fell in love with ethnography and participatory research.

My master’s research was an ethnographic exploration of how migrant workers in Singapore formed weekend communities that led to drastic transformation on urban space. This experience was a revelation that Anthropology could provide a unique perspective into the ways in which people interact, make connections and create new meanings and practices that would challenge any fixed or taken for granted thinking on space and society.

I completed my PhD in Anthropology with a project at the China-Vietnam borderland that looked at the relationship between borders and livelihoods. An ethnographic approach has helped me understand human complexities and social change that challenges any black-or-white thinking about society at the everyday level. With my PhD, I worked as Research Fellow and Lecturer in Singapore and Australia before finally coming to Bristol. (Yes travelling is a big part of being an Anthropologist!)


What’s the best thing about your postgraduate taught programme?

The MA in Anthropology is a PGT programme that I designed and have directed since 2019. I teach the Anthropological Theory and Practice core unit as well as the Work Placement in Anthropology optional unit.

The Theory and Practice unit focuses on both theoretical training and practical application of anthropological knowledge on complex social problems in relation to design, technology, work, and sustainability. Guest lecturers with different disciplinary backgrounds come to our MA class with diverse expertise that cover topics from nature to energy, big data to digital museums, the future of work to social policy. Work Placement in Anthropology offers the excellent opportunity for students to be connected to Bristol-based companies and organisations beyond the university setting. Current placement projects involve We the Curious, Icon Films, Realise Design, local museums, community and charity groups. Immersive experiences with these employers and networks created through internships and placements are what makes the MA Anthropology experience meaningful and rewarding.


What’s your number one top tip for prospective postgraduate students?

My top tip for prospective students who wish to be the next generation of Anthropologists is to embrace independence and critical thinking. This MA will help you value research and social engagement as a way of understanding people and society through their diversities and complexities.

This programme focuses on research training and will offer opportunities to students who show their passion and ambition towards research initiatives, which may potentially transform ideas and practices!

Meet the lecturer: Dr Egle Cesnulyte

Meet Dr Egle Cesnulyte, Lecturer in Politics and International Development in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies.

Tell us about your journey into academia…

I was supposed to be an economist – I did my undergraduate degree in Economics and got a good job in the field after my studies. However, very quickly I realised that thinking as an economist does not help to answer many questions that I still had. I came to Bristol to do MSc in International Development, got super interested in gender and how it interacts with economic and political structures, and this led me to a PhD in International Studies and Politics at the University of Leeds.

In my doctoral research I explored the agency and its limits of women selling sex in Mombasa, Kenya. After completing my PhD I taught at the Universities of Leeds and Warwick before completing the circle and coming to work here at Bristol where my academic journey had started many years ago.

What’s your favourite thing about teaching on postgraduate taught programmes at Bristol?

I love that our MSc student body is so diverse – we have people coming from different places in the world, with different professional backgrounds and with a wealth of local, national and international experiences and knowledge. I teach an MSc unit ‘Gender and Development’ and bringing all those experiences and knowledge into a classroom is an amazing resource – I learn so much from my students, and our conversations and discussions are always so rich and thought provoking.

What’s your number one top tip for prospective postgraduate students?

Use your time at Bristol to explore things beyond the compulsory classes. SPAIS has three vibrant research Centres (Gender Research Centre, Global Insecurities Centre, Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship), the University hosts amazing institutes (Cabot Institute, Migration and Mobilities Institute, Centre for Africa Research and Partnerships to mention just a few) – all of them organise events, lectures, discussions and workshops that are open to students. This is your chance to engage with top researchers and hottest research topics in academia as part of our community – use it!


Meet the lecturer: Professor Katharine Charsley

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.


Meet the lecturer: Dr Emma Williams

Meet Dr Emma Williams, Lecturer in Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, School of Economics, Finance and Management.

Tell us about your journey into academia…

When I was a student at university studying psychology, I never planned to be a university lecturer. Instead, I’ve taken a more roundabout journey in my career so far, following opportunities that arose and things that I was interested in, and here I am!

I’ve worked in many places, including hospital settings, Special Educational Needs contexts, and in behavioural and social science research roles in both the public and private sectors. In 2015, I decided to return to academia so that I could develop more specialist expertise, undertaking research to explore how people behave online, specifically how we can empower consumers and organisations to be more secure in online and digital contexts.

Last year, I became Programme Director for the MSc Marketing in our School of Management and have hugely enjoyed interacting with our marketing students this year, watching them grow in confidence, challenge their preconceptions and develop their interests and knowledge in relation to contemporary marketing.

What’s your favourite thing about teaching on postgraduate taught programmes at Bristol?

I love interacting with our students, discussing their ideas and critiques, exploring what they think about the various areas that we teach and how they consider this to apply to the challenges of marketing practice.

Within the programme, we very much focus on developing a critical view in students, understanding the ethical implications of marketing practice, as well as current global issues that marketers face, such as sustainability, social impact, and the responsible use of big data and other innovative technologies. In this way, we try and prepare students for the challenges that contemporary marketers may face in the future. This is something that we aim to continually develop on the programme, based on student feedback and emerging research, to identify the best ways that we can engage students and develop a supportive and friendly learning environment where they can work both with others, and with us, to learn about contemporary marketing.

Within the school, we also try and provide students with as many links to industry sectors as possible via visiting speakers and the opportunity to undertake an Applied Extended Project in collaboration with an organisational partner.

What’s your number one top tip for prospective postgraduates?

My top tip has to be: be open to exploring different interests, ideas and concepts throughout your postgraduate journey.

I was once told to constantly reflect on what it is you actually want to do with your life. Postgraduate study provides a unique opportunity where you’ll have the time and space to read a range of material, be encouraged to challenge and consider different views and experiences, and really explore what it is that you’re interested in and what kind of future you want to pursue. This is time that is often missing when we move into a full-time job! Within the MSc, we provide students with a number of opportunities to critically consider a range of different topics in relation to contemporary marketing practice and students are often surprised about what areas they actually find the most interesting. So, be open to the experience, curious about your interests, and ready to challenge your expectations…!


Meet the lecturer: Dr Lloyd Fletcher

Meet Dr Lloyd Fletcher, Lecturer in the School of Economics, Finance and Management.

Tell us about your journey into academia…

I took a long and twisting road, moving from my roots in science and engineering to the ‘dark side’ of social science! I had no long range plans, more a series of tactical steps as my interests and skills evolved.

After a first degree in physics in the UK, I studied computer engineering at master’s level in the States. Despite the urging of my dissertation supervisor to stay on for a PhD in computer vision, I then spent several years in the US telecoms sector as an analyst, project, and product manager. This developed my interest in business and management, so I went back to school for an MBA.

After graduating I spent some time as an independent management and research consultant in America, before returning to settle in the UK, where I ran IT departments for a scientific publisher. Following that, I became a freelance consultant again, helping organisations with their strategic thinking and project management problems.

Throughout my academic and business careers, I had developed a desire to explore and explain why businesses and organisations seemed to be so often dysfunctional, suboptimal, inefficient and disappointing! Plus, I’d nurtured that temptation to go back for a PhD, in part for the intellectual challenge, but mostly because I’d always enjoyed teaching and research, and wanted to do it at the highest level in an area that drew on what I’d learned on my journey so far. This led me to a PhD in management at Bristol, and a lectureship here.


What’s your favourite thing about teaching on postgraduate taught programmes at Bristol?

Light bulbs going off! (I mean metaphorically in the heads of our students.) Seeing someone ‘get it’ – a challenging or complex idea that we’ve been discussing in class or they’ve been reading about, and through applying it to a real life case, or exploring the theory in depth, they suddenly fully grasp it and get excited about how they could use it – that might be in their future careers or even in their own academic studies.

These sorts of ‘tangible truths’ are especially common in my project management courses, where students leave with practical tools and valuable insights that they can use right away. Projects are everywhere, and we need good project managers, so our focus is on helping students become critical, systematic, and rigorous thinkers about projects and their management: in other words, we try to shed light on the subject from both a theoretical and a practical perspective. So the more light bulbs the better!


What’s your number one top tip for prospective postgraduates?

Develop a clear rationale for why you want to study at this level and what you want to get out of it in the long term. Then be prepared to fully engage and commit to what it will take to get you there. And to figure out what that entails, talk to faculty and students: tell us what you’re hoping to achieve, and ask us what we think you’ll need to do to accomplish those goals on our programme. Armed with those answers, decide if you think you’re willing and able to ‘do what it takes’.