Colin graduated from Queen Margaret University (QMU), Edinburgh in 2017 with a BSc in Public Sociology. Prior to enrolling on the course, Colin wasn't sure if going to university was the right choice as it didn't seem to him like something that people of a working-class background did. However, thanks to the encouragement of his parents, Colin decided to submit his application and hasn’t looked back since.


About you

Why did you choose to study at QMU and what attracted you to the course?

I chose to study at QMU as everything can be found on one campus. I have a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and can experience a high level of anxiety due to being on the autistic spectrum. QMU gave me the opportunity to undertake my studies without feeling too overwhelmed as everything was in one area.

I was drawn to study Public Sociology because I wanted to learn more about the society we live in. My interests lie in culture and social class, and coming from a working-class background, I wanted to learn more about these topics. The strange thing was, once I started studying public sociology at QMU, I came to realise that I knew more about sociology than I thought I did. My lecturers taught me how to articulate knowledge I already possessed into sociological meaning. Through introducing me to the works of Pierre Bourdieu, Karl Marx etc., I was given the means to understand my own experience as those theorists’ ideas mirrored my own reality. So, in coming from a working-class background, I realised that sociology was a major part of my everyday life; but it was at QMU I was taught how to take my own experiences and translate them into sociological awareness.

The course

What did you enjoy most about your course? What were the highlights?

My two favourite modules were Sociology of Scotland and Engaged in Sociology, though I did enjoy all of them. With these two modules in particular, I was able to zone in on my two key interests; social class and culture, and Scottish society. I especially enjoyed working on my dissertation as it was through this that I developed my passion for writing.

How did your lecturers support your learning?

My lecturers were amazing; these were people who believed in me, which in turn gave me the belief that I could succeed in academia. I always felt that I could go to them with any concerns I had, and they would always listen to me and did what they could to support me.

I lost my mum during my final year at QMU. This was obviously devastating for me, but my lecturers were brilliant and gave me a lot of support. This is something I will always be grateful for. I really can’t speak highly enough of the Public Sociology team at QMU.

What challenges did you face with the course and/or university life? How did you overcome them?

As I’ve already mentioned, I come from a working-class background and with this, I internalised self-doubt as to whether I would be able to keep up with the middle-class students on my course. No-one ever made me feel this way as my insecurities were driven by the nagging voice inside my head that was telling me I was out of my depth. Once I started on the course, I would listen in class as some of the other students would debate books that I had never heard of, by authors, some of whom I could barely pronounce, and it did freak me out a bit!

But the one thing that made me realise my potential to do well was limitless, and not limited, was when I began to get to know my lecturers on a personal level; all of them shared similar backgrounds to mine and I realised they had been where I was and were now where I wanted to be. In seeing this, I became aware of the fact that although we might not share a similar background to our middle-class peers, that doesn’t mean theirs is better than ours, it’s just different.

Do you have any advice for students who might be interested in this course?

My advice is to grab the opportunity to study Public Sociology at QMU if you can - you won’t find a better course to be part of! The topic is fascinating, and you will have wonderful lecturers who will help support you every step of the way. Don’t let your postcode decide what your life chances will be as we all possess the potential to succeed in academia, even if internalised self-doubt tells us we cannot.

Did you join any schemes/initiatives to enhance your learning and development such as a mentoring scheme, volunteering scheme, etc.?

I never did, but if I could change one thing about my time at QMU, it would be this. There are a lot of fantastic opportunities available to students and ones that will enhance your understanding of what you’re learning and your experiences at QMU. If I could go back, I wouldn’t miss out as I did - I think any of these options would be a great learning curve.

Which University services did you use to support you through your academic journey and how did they help you?

Throughout my time at QMU, I accessed Learning Support services, and what a great support they were to me. Living with any sort of disability can be challenging, so having a good support network can make the transition a lot easier and the team are very supportive.

Life as a student at QMU

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

Just enjoy yourself and make the most of what you are learning. Your time spent at QMU, especially as a Public Sociology student, will be an amazing one. All the staff want you to succeed and there is a good social environment at QMU - you will make new friends as you learn your trade as a sociologist.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned at university?

This sounds cheesy but it's probably ‘just be yourself’. As I mentioned previously, I had self-doubt heading to QMU, but I learnt that my life chances aren’t dictated by my background - it all really comes down to us. When you want to do well at something, you can do it, and with the support network like the one within the Public Sociology team you will be given every opportunity to succeed.

"Throughout my time at QMU, I accessed Learning Support services, and what a great support they were to me. Living with any sort of disability can be challenging, so having a good support network can make the transition a lot easier and the team are very supportive."
Colin Burnett

After graduation

Can you tell us about your life post-graduation (your career path, notable achievements, etc.)?

I am currently trying to become a professional writer. At QMU, my dissertation was focused on modern Scottish working-class writers. Through this, I found my passion for writing both fiction and non-fiction.

I write sociological short stories in Scots, and my work is heavily influenced by what I learnt while studying Public Sociology. The course really opened my eyes to the oppression of the working class, and through this I was driven to shed light on the social and cultural issues present today and to deliver an authentic voice of the working class.

I also write non-fiction on Scottish politics and culture. To date, I have been published in The Sociological Review and Bella Caledonia, as well as in So Fi Zine and few others.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about life at QMU or as a graduate?

If you have any concerns regarding the course or the wider University, don’t feel daunted at the prospect of seeking help. You will find members of staff to be very supportive and understanding.

Visit Colin's website to read his short stories and articles on Scottish politics and culture.

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