Spotlight on… Academic Staff.

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As you can imagine, academic staff within the School of Social and Political Science become a big part of your life as a student at Edinburgh. They are one of the biggest sources of knowledge that you can tap into as a student. Forming good relationships with academic staff members is extremely beneficial as they have been in the same position as you are now and can help you reflect on your academic progress and suggest ways that you can move forward. They are specialists in their field and are always happy to advise students on any topic of academic nature, so please utilise them! To encourage you to approach our fantastic academics, I interviewed two who have both made an extremely positive impact on my own experience within the School of Social and Political Science.

Dr Claire Haggett – Lecturer

When I first started university I felt really uneasy about approaching lecturers. This wasn’t any fault of their own but rather, a new found shyness that I had gained since starting university. In my head I had decided that they would never want to hear from me. I was very, very wrong. Once I finally plucked up the courage to approach a lecturer in their office hours, I was faced with a warm welcome, an offer to have tea and biscuits and a very in-depth discussion about the particular question I had.  Approaching your lecturers with academic queries, questions or discussions is thoroughly encouraged within the school and I would highly recommend doing it as it allows you the brilliant opportunity of talking to an academic one on one.  To show you just how friendly and enthusiastic our lecturers are, I interviewed one! I had the pleasure of  interviewing Dr Claire Haggett, who taught me in Sociology, and is the Programme Director for MA Sustainable Development. Claire is a wonderfully engaging , makes crazy words like ‘epistemology’ understandable and will always offer you a biscuit if you go to her guidance hours.

Why did you become a lecturer and what do you like most about it?

“I love teaching – it is the best job in the world! I started my academic career studying Sociology as an undergraduate. When I was in 2nd Year I had a very inspirational lecturer who inspired me with a want to save the world. From then on, I had tunnel vision and was set on wanting to inspire, even in a small way, the next generation.”

If you could give one piece of advice for incoming students, what would it be?

“Lecture slides are always available 24 hours before a lecture, there I’d suggest that it is always useful to look at and have the slides with you before you go to a lecture. Going through the lecture with the slides allows you to write down what is being said rather than what is on the slides.”

What is something that students don’t do enough?

“1st and 2nd year lectures can be big and this means there can be very little contact between students and lecturers.  But if you want to ask a question, please come to our feedback hours and ask us! We won’t know you’re confused if you don’t tell us. We are always willing to talk so please use your initiative and ask for guidance, as that is what we’re here for!”

Any advice for our incoming students? 

“Edinburgh is your oyster! There are so many opportunities, everything is available to you from workshops and events to societies and socials. Make sure you ask for help if you need it. We love what we do, we’re always happy to see keen students, ready to discuss ideas – so knock on the door!”​


The wonderful Dr Claire Haggett and the lovely tutor and PhD candidate Megan Melanson.

The wonderful Dr Claire Haggett and the lovely tutor Megan Melanson.

Megan Melanson – PhD Canadian Studies Candidate & Tutor

Tutorials in 1st year can be daunting. Suddenly your lecture halls of 300 people have been downsized to 15 or 20 and you are expected to join in discussion. Speaking up can be scary and not speaking at all can seem even worse! Although you will quickly acclimatise to tutorials and feel more willing to speak, not everyone uses tutorials to their full advantage, especially when it comes to utilising the many skills of their tutorial tutor. Megan Melanson tutored me in Canadian Studies and was consistently encouraging, warm and friendly. She made approaching her for help very easy and in the following interview she gives advice on how you can make the best of tutorials.

What is your role within the School of Social and Political Science?

 “I have worked as tutor for Canadian Studies 1A, as well as Sociology 1A and 1B. I have also guest lectured for Canadian Studies 1A.”

 Why did you become a tutor and what about it do you enjoy the most?

“Before I moved to Edinburgh, I taught skiing and snowboarding for 8 years and coached soccer and swimming. I found that my love for teaching and the skills acquired from teaching sport technique were transferable to the academic classroom. I most enjoy getting out of my PhD thesis bubble and working with the students. I always plan a tutorial around a general conclusion and lesson, and the most rewarding moments are when the students come to that conclusion through their own discussion.”

 What is the role of a tutor and how can a student use a tutor to their advantage?

“The role of a tutor is to facilitate discussion in the tutorials, and mark essays/projects/exams. As the first point of contact for the course, we are also there to answer questions and help as much as possible. Many tutors offer assistance with essay outlines; I highly recommend that students take advantage of this. Some of the most common errors that I have seen amongst first year students are due to essay formatting that could have been clarified during a meeting with your tutor. Not to mention, we are the ones marking your work so we are excellent resources.”

 How can a student have a positive impact on their tutorial group?

“Attend and participate! The best way to clarify the readings and lectures is to discuss and debate within tutorials.  Tutorials are so informative, and provide different ways to learn than lectures. I have used techniques such as powerpoints, drawing exercises, and roleplays as a way to facilitate discussion, but also to relate to students with different learning types. Secondly, read the appropriate articles before the tutorial. You, the student, will get so much more out of the discussion, and it will make participation easier.”

Any advice for our incoming students? 

“As mentioned previously, take advantage of your tutorial leader; he/she is working towards becoming a specialist in his/her field and is willing to share his/her knowledge. Finally, take advantage of the tutorial and your classmates in it; facilitated discussion with your peers can be the best way to learn!”

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