Dr Mark Shanahan: putting politics into practice through innovative undergraduate experiences
Dr Mark Shanahan, Head of Department of Politics and International Relations, believes it is important to offer innovative and unique modules to students.
“Some of our students stay in the political world, but others use their political knowledge to do fantastic things in many other fields. They go into all sorts of jobs, so we give them analytical skills, strong communication skills and the ability to investigate, find solutions and use knowledge that can be applied across a whole range of occupations.”
Engaging directly with political practitioners
Mark runs the undergraduate "Parliamentary Studies" module which enables you to gain first-hand experience of the inner workings of the UK political system through a partnership with the Houses of Parliament. The University of Reading is one of only 20 UK institutions that Parliament is partnered with for this sort of module.
In the first part of the module, you focus on the roles of professional staff in Parliament: the people behind the scenes that make it all work, such as the clerks you see sitting in front of the Speaker of the House of Commons.
“It is very direct participation and shows our students that an aspiration to work in politics is not something that is a million miles removed. They can be directly at the coalface, meeting the right people, engaging with those right people and sometimes, as with our recent visit by House of Commons Speaker John Bercow MP, they're making the news themselves.”
The second part gives you the opportunity to work directly with current and former members of Parliament. These practitioners come in to lead seminars and provide a fascinating and honest insight into a number of topics and issues. You also get to spend a day in Parliament, seeing how it all works for yourself.
Political Voices is a seminar programme where influential speakers from the world of politics visit the University to give a talk to students. Past and current students have found these seminars to be very inspirational, showing them that the career path into politics is a lot more open than you might think.
“We look for influential speakers to come in to break down the barriers that perhaps exist between dusty books and even dustier theories and the practice of politics.”
Over the past two years, the University has hosted a number of high-profile speakers, such as former Cabinet minister Sir Vince Cable, former US Ambassador to the UK Matthew Barzun and, most recently, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons.
Developing media production skills through the study of politics
The Department's "Media and Politics" module gives you the opportunity to contribute towards the production of a weekly politics radio show.
“Students come together as an editorial team, using local news, international news and ongoing issues in politics to craft an hour-long show that features different talents: production talents, presentational talents, people who get involved in interviews and those who go out and conduct surveys.”
Your production skills are assessed as part of the module, and it's an excellent opportunity for you to learn editing skills and software, as well as broadcast skills. In the past, the Department has brought in the BBC to guide students on how to shape a radio programme, giving them advice on how to make effective use of the news agenda to develop an interesting, high-quality broadcast.
It's a great way to boost your confidence too: presenting on a live radio show and learning the art of scripting, for example, can help you with how you present yourself in a job interview or in a work presentation. It is a fairly unique piece to put on your CV that you were part of a politics radio show that has potentially been listened to by thousands of people.
Step into the shoes of a UN diplomat
Through the Department's "Model United Nations" module, you can take part in simulation events in which you play the role of a nation within the United Nations. You explore a number of different aspects of the UN and get to undertake tasks based on real-world processes, such as dealing with briefing papers and trying to influence your peers (who play other nations) to support your objectives.
“You build skills you can't get from writing standard essays.”
You will have the opportunity to travel to Belgium and take part in a conference and simulation exercise with other European universities.
Learn more about our undergraduate modules
Covering topical issues and incorporating innovative learning methods, our undergraduate modules enable you to develop an in-depth political knowledge and relevant transferable skills.