QMU student Brogan Dickson chose BSc/BSc (Hons) Public Sociology as one of her five UCAS options when she was applying to university back in 2019. However, still unsure of what she wanted to do after school, she took a gap year. The following year, she applied to the course again and took her unconditional offer as a sign that QMU was where she was meant to be.

What interested you about your chosen course?

I am very passionate about social issues, equality, and justice and many times throughout my high school career and time at college I expanded on these passions by writing about social problems and their impacts on our communities and society. Especially over social media I’ve campaigned very hard for recognition that social change needs to happen, having my own blog at one point to draw attention to certain social problems. When I properly investigated the contents of this course, I felt drawn into the type of culture it presents. I was interested in the possibility of developing my ways of thinking, of taking on a sociological perspective and understanding the root cause of our problems or what we could do to challenge the power imbalances and problems we all face daily. I was interested in how this course could educate me in being able to contribute to change, how by understanding social institutions along with certain politics you could understand more about which communities and societies you belong to, and the individual role play in being part of them.   

What attracted you to study in Edinburgh?

I have lived in Edinburgh since I was 8 years old, so much of my reason for choosing to remain in Edinburgh to study is because I am so familiar with it. It is within my comfort zone to be here because I’m aware of my surroundings and everything is within close proximity. The idea of studying far from home was quite daunting to me and I felt it would restrict me too much in being able to enjoy my experience as a university student.

The larger part of my reasoning to remain in Edinburgh to study is because I have spent many years as a carer to some close members of my family, and the thought of leaving them, or rather being far away from them left me with an insurmountable feeling of dread. I wanted to be close by so that if something were ever to happen, as I’m sure everyone understands how unpredictable life is, I would be able to help where needed. Studying out of Edinburgh was not realistically an option for me so, I decided to stay.

What have you most enjoyed about your course? What has been the highlight?

What I have most enjoyed about the course so far is the freedom to be able to write about social issues that I feel passionate about in my assessments. I’ve had the chance to write about gender violence, toxic masculinity, the diversity of family structure and healthcare inequality faced by those experiencing poverty just in the span of two years.

"It is very motivating hearing your lecturers express how they’re looking forward to hearing your take on a topic, it makes you realise that your voice or opinion is truly respected and listened to."
Brogan Dickson

One of my highlights was when we focused on a module that explored education discrimination in the UK and Europe due to your race or ethnicity, I found it astounding to learn the different circumstances countries across the globe present to their native and non-native citizens regarding their educational achievements, it was really an eye-opener for me to see how big a role discrimination played in something so crucial as being able to experience even a basic education, it was really something that interested me.

How have your lecturers supported your learning?

For one of my modules last term, Current Debates in Sociology, we were to choose a topic that had been of popular discussion from within the last ten years and pair it with a sociological dichotomy that was relevant to what we wanted to discuss. I chose to write my essay on the healthcare inequality and availability experience by those of a poor socioeconomic status through the lens of the Public vs Private dichotomy, before I wrote this essay, I was unsure about what dichotomy would be most appropriate, or whether my topic was current enough. I sent an email to my lecturer, only containing one or two sentences just expecting to receive a yes or no answer, and I was truly amazed because I got such a detailed email response back. The email covered all my questions – ones that I hadn’t even asked because I was concerned that I would come across as looking incompetent, and it really offered a lot of clarity and increased my confidence moving forward to realise that I was on the right track and that my questions were valid ones. It really supported me in setting up the perimeters of my essay and I was grateful for the effort taken to give me such a useful response.

What have been some of your challenges with the course and university life? How have you overcome them?

I think my most difficult challenge with university life is balancing my schedule between being a full-time university student and maintaining a part-time job. I found that what helps me to manage my schedule is to keep a dated diary, so that I can know what I’m doing on any given day to stay on top of my coursework, working schedule and what time I’m free for any social events.

Have you taken part in a placement as part of your course and if so, what was your experience?

The Public Sociology degree does not require a placement, but during our Engaged Sociology module we were introduced to different opportunities to be involved in community projects through volunteering, I did not pursue this opportunity because I have expanded on other projects outside of university but I did think that this could be a proactive way for students to gain more experience working directly with communities as it fits into our degree very well.

Do you have any advice for students who might be interested in applying to the Public Sociology course?

My advice would be to really pay attention to what it is you’re learning, because as the course carries on, you’ll begin to realise just how much of what you are covering in class relates to not only your life and practice but the lives of others too. From my experience on this course there have been many assigned reading papers, and to be completely truthful it can seem at times either irrelevant or unnecessary to read – but these papers are incredibly useful in helping you to develop your sociological imagination and perception, it gives you an insight into the progression made in the field from conception to present day, and they can act as very useful resources to you as the time comes to conduct essays, projects, or class discussions. Usually, each module will have a reading list, I would advise new students to pick some papers from each module and give them a read, familiarize yourself with the content so that when it comes to lecturers or seminars, you’re confident in your learning and able to contribute to class discussion. It’s ideal to attend so that you can sit and listen to what other people are saying around you, but in my experience, I’ve been able to further my learning by being able to understand what is being said around me. In a seminar, answers may not necessarily be wrong but the lecturers want you to be able to back up your argument, asking questions such as “why do you think that?” or “how have you come to this conclusion?” your thought process is considered to be just as important as the answer you provide.

Have you been a part of any extracurricular programmes during your time as a student at QMU? If so, how has it helped you develop skills and experience?

I have not been part of extracurricular programs whilst at QMU, but I am aware of the Careers and Employability Service that QMU offers. The online vacancy service can be logged into by students where they can filter results to look for opportunities that fit the criteria they’re aiming for. There are paid and unpaid opportunities listed, and I used this server to look for my own volunteer opportunities before I was able to secure something outside of the university environment. I would recommend to students who may be interested in volunteering or looking for employment to use this server as it does offer many roles that students especially could be interested in.

What QMU student services have you used to support you through your university journey and how have they helped you?

In the beginning of my second year at QMU I sought out the support of the Wellbeing Service. I was struggling with my mental health and my motivation to commit to university, and I wasn’t sure how to manage either. A friend who spoke very highly of the support the had received recommended it to me, and although I felt very nervous about reaching out, I decided that it would be the best thing for me so that my coursework would stop suffering as a result.

"I reached out to the Wellbeing Service by selecting which sub-service I was hoping to access, and my self-referral was acted upon in a remarkably fast manner. I was truly surprised because I hadn’t had that kind of experience before, and I was glad to see that the university took care in how they wanted to be able to support me."
Brogan Dickson

The Wellbeing Service supported me through university as I was given the opportunity to share my concerns in a safe space, without judgement. Any concern or problem that I had was treated delicately, I wasn’t made to feel insufficient or dramatic, and I was supported to understand that my feelings were valid. Accessing resources from this service enabled me to refocus on my coursework, the support I was given to navigate my way through certain issues was beneficial to my overall experience as a student.

What’s your ‘top tip’ for making the most of being a student?

My ‘top tip’ for making the most of being a student would be to slow yourself down if you can. “The uni experience” is thought to involve you following a particular lifestyle, and students should know that your experience doesn’t have to look the same as someone else’s just for you to feel like you fit in, that you belong. I think making the most of your time at university is about remembering there are still ways to have fun, which can be hard to do when you’re struggling with coursework or trying to make ends meet, but when you are able to have those moments, it can really give you a sense of enjoyment. I would say to remember that your experience is unique to you, and if you are enjoying your time at university in any way you can, you are having “the uni experience”. For quite a while I thought my experience was lacking, because my individual experience was not reflecting the same kind of activities and social events as others, but I’ve come to realise that isn’t how your time at university should be measured. Regardless of what extracurricular activities you do or do not do, and what’s scheduled in your social calendar you are still maintaining “the uni experience”, just in your own way and it’s okay to see the differences between you and someone else, it’s not a universal expectation that everyone needs to act the same way and that is something important to remember.

What has been the most valuable lesson that you’ve learned at university?

The most valuable lesson that I’ve learned since I started university is that it is okay not to have all the answers to your questions. You don’t need to have everything figured out just because you are at university, there are some things that don’t need to be meticulously planned out, and it is okay to see where the road you’re on takes you. It can be a good idea to have some inkling of what you want to be in your future, but being at university can be a good time to learn who you are as a person, to expand on yourself. A lot of pressure is put on the young people of our society to have their whole lives planned by the time they leave high school and that just is not a realistic expectation, for someone to know exactly what they want without any room for error or a change of mind. In life we will be deterred or derailed in certain ways that we cannot control or predict so it’s okay if you don’t have your life together just yet, is there really a way anyone can have it “together”? Or for mature students, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a fresh start for yourself, or to explore new opportunities, develop abilities you might not have known you had. Living your life is not a linear process, there are so many ups and downs, so I don’t expect to graduate with the answers to all of life’s problems and that’s okay, because there are certain things that can’t be controlled and you can adapt to be okay with that, that is the most crucial thing I’ve learned so far.

What are your plans after graduation? Tell us about your ambitions and where you see yourself in the future?

I’m not entirely sure what I will see for my future. I’m really interested in pursuing a role in community development, recognising the areas of my community that could benefit from this. I would hope that I could establish a career that would allow me to act upon my passions, to work for social justice or be part of an organisation that would enable me to do this. I would love to intern for institutions such as Amnesty International or the United Nations to establish myself, however unlikely that may be, it is something I can hope for. I spend a lot of time trying to make my way through the day-to-day, so I do not always delegate time to consider what comes next, but I do not think that is necessarily a bad thing, I’m figuring the direction my life will take as I go along and seizing whatever opportunities I may be lucky enough to ascertain as time goes on.


Find out more about our BSc/BSc (Hons) Public Sociology here.