European Social and Political Studies provides a rigorous and inspiring grounding in disciplines across the humanities board. Yet its real strength lies in its flexibility. This flexibility generates a rather daunting abundance of options, but allows students the freedom to experiment, discover, and above all change their minds in a way that other degrees do not. Having myself begun ESPS with a political specialisation, I found myself taking more and more philosophy courses year by year, and eventually decided to go on to study philosophy and literature at MA level.
The first year provides a core course introducing students to the study of philosophy, history, politics and law, while guest lecturers present further options such as geography, urban planning and anthropology. Second
year is an opportunity to further explore a range of interests; in my case, discussing the effect of Franco's demise on Spanish cinema, neo-liberal development strategies in 1980s Cambodia, and Kant's philosophy of war, was all in a days classes. Fourth year is the return to order after the excitement of a year abroad; the dissertation acting as the culmination ofresearch interests and skills gained during the degree.
The huge scope of the course is matched by the vastness of the city in which it unfolds, and the wide range of nationalities, personalities and ambitions in the people you will be studying alongside. ESPS is a competitive and challenging global degree in a global city; having completed it you will find the world at your feet. Those in my year have dispersed to the four corners of the Earth already for internships, further education and careers. I myself have chosen to remain at UCL in the Centre for European Studies, and feel that ESPS, more than simply preparing me for postgraduate study, was fundamental to instigating and sustaining my decision to take this path.
Back in Romania, I was looking for a BA that could accommodate my desire to explore a variety of social sciences (History, Politics, Economics) and the wish to learn an additional language. Since I participated in numerous EU-related contests and I travelled in a number of European countries before starting university, ESPS seemed like the perfect BA.
Studying ESPS, I gained an excellent background in European affairs, choosing courses from a wide range of UCL departments. My exchange year in Italy was life-changing because I became fluent in Italian and because I discovered the academic subject I am truly interested in Migration.
The multidisciplinary background I gained from ESPS courses proved very useful in both my academic and professional activities. After graduating from UCL, I did an MSc in Migration Studies at Oxford University. I noticed that my in-depth knowledge of current affairs in the UK and Italy gave me a great advantage in the seminars and workshops I attended. This is the case also in my current job at the British Romanian Chamber of Commerce (BRCC) as the business world requires a good grasp of issues that are at the intersection of economics, politics and law. Thanks to ESPS, I feel well prepared for these tasks.
ESPS is an intelligent course - it treats you and values you as an individual whilst making sure that you meet the high standards of the university. There is a challenge to push yourself beyond your own expectations and by the end of the degree you will have become more confident and aware as a person.
There are very different personalities on the course, with very different backgrounds and different aspirations. What unites us all however, is a certain flexibility of the mind, a curiosity that pushes you to travel, to try new things, to study languages and to do well both on an academic and on a personal level. Motivation and ambition are contagious and studying side by side with excellent students triggers discussions, positive exchange, sometimes disagreements, but it certainly does not leave you unaffected.
ESPS is multi-disciplinary not only in the subjects it allows you to take, but also in the different skills it brings you to develop. Different study-areas require different approaches, and you have to learn to sail between departments and methodologies. I personally specialized in what could be called History of Thought, learning to contextualize modern thinking and events, to understand the present, and to look at the future in a more creative and pro-active way.
What matters the most when you think of getting an education is the university experience as a whole, in other words the combination of what you learn inside and outside the lecture theatre. During my year abroad in Barcelona, for instance, I developed a real passion for documentaries, which I have decided to pursue after graduation. I first did a documentary certificate at the London Film Academy to get some hands-on experience, and a few months later I was shooting a documentary with two friends in the countryside of Luxor, Egypt.
Although it is a shift from the straight academic path I had been following until then, the notions that I learned in ESPS have proved to be applicable to different subject-areas. Not only did I gain a ground (and critical) understanding of the world and of how things go, but I also developed invaluable research, analytical and writing skills. This has added value to my narrative abilities, and to my capacity to represent reality in the most faithful and interesting possible way. I am currently doing a MA in Digital Media & Screen Documentary at Goldsmiths College.
When it came to deciding on an academic programme, ESPS stood out with its flexibility to combine language study with a social science specialisation. I was also attracted by the integrated year abroad as an opportunity to study in my chosen language and experience a different culture. Finally, the chance to work independently on my own piece of research was very appealing.
Now that I have started my career as a management consultant with KPMG Advisory, I appreciate the analytical tools and critical thinking that I have developed during my time in ESPS. Planning the research and managing my dissertation were an excellent preparation for my current role in project management. Furthermore, having developed an inquisitive mind is a key skill when advising my clients on improving their business performance in areas such as Financial Management, IT or Human Resources. I also fondly remember intense discussions with students and lecturers which challenged my thinking and taught me to appreciate other perspectives. Moreover, speaking a foreign language has been an asset when looking for employment and further research opportunities.
As ESPS alumnus I am glad to be part of a growing network of young professionals who have embarked on challenging careers in academia, the public or private sector.
ESPS is a truly global degree, designed for students of any nationality or background interested in understanding world affairs. Although "European" by title, its study and career paths are by no means confined to Europe alone: myself, coming from a Japanese background and having specialised in Economics and Philosophy in my ESPS degree, my research dissertation was titled "A Single Currency for East Asia? Lessons from Europe" combining the study of European monetary integration and its possible application to the East Asia region. With the unique history of integration and the richness of cultures and schools of thought, Europe makes a very interesting region to live in and study, even for non-Europeans.
After graduating from ESPS, I started a career as an investment analyst at Goldman Sachs in its Hong Kong and Tokyo offices. Understanding the global political and economic lanscape and being able to respond quickly to new developments (in my case, knowing which countries and companies would be impacted positively/negatively and thus which stocks to buy/sell) has been key for my success as an analyst. The experience of a year abroad in Florence, Italy, is also my lifetime treasure that I could not have gained with just any Economics degree! The dissertation was a special component of the degree that really pushed me academically - it strengthened my endurance and independent thinking, which is a very similar process to researching an investment idea.
Now back in Asia, I feel I am valued for bringing another world of thinking. The ESPS experience has shaped me into a global thinker, which I believe will allow me to take on global leadership opportunities in my future career.
After graduating from ESPS in 2008 Patrick was selected to work as a speechwriter for Commissioners Leonard Orban and Jan Figel in the Directorate-General for Education and Culture of the European Commission in Brussels. He then went on to work for over 2 years as a consultant for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Damascus, Syria and as an Arabic-language media monitor for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office during the Libya crisis of 2011. He has since been awarded a Kennedy Memorial Trust scholarship to undertake a two-year Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Patrick says :
Too often humanities and social science graduates lament that the subjects they were so passionate about during their undergraduate degrees have little application in the real world and little appeal for employers. This is not an attitude I have found amongst ESPS students.
ESPS is a wonderful degree in the sense that it allows one to combine both a passion for the quizzical, the abstract and the ‘academic’ with more tangible skills - fluency in a language, a proven track record in independent research and, if one chooses, a training in more ‘vocational’ subjects such as economics or law. In this sense ESPS students are provided with a uniquely rounded education which, in turn, translates into an adeptness at quickly coping with unfamiliar topics and disciplines and a propensity for independent and critical thinking. Though the focus of my career has moved slightly away from Europe since graduating these skills, which I acquired from ESPS, continue to serve me well.
The student body itself is also a nice aspect of the degree. ESPS tends to attract students who are hugely varied in terms of nationality, language and academic pursuits but all share the same inquisitiveness and propensity for debate. This characteristic is what makes the final year European Research Seminar (now the Presentation component of the final year Dissertation module) such a valuable and interesting exercise.
How ESPS helped me to get my job in the European Commission (Joanna Parkin, 2006)
Responsible for the preparation and drafting of speeches, press articles and editorials for the Commissioner and senior Cabinet staff. The job involves working closely with DG ECFIN and Cabinet members to produce interesting texts for a range of audiences.
ESPS has been instrumental in obtaining my current position, as speechwriter for the Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Policy at the European Commission, in more ways than one. Initially, it was only through ESPS and UCL that I became aware of the job opening, given that the post was not advertised openly but the department contacted directly by the Commission.
This reflects the level of international esteem held for the university and the degree course. The ability to combine language study while gaining an extensive knowledge of European affairs has proved invaluable given that a second language is obligatory for employment in the European Commission.
At the same time, my employer was impressed with the sheer breadth of courses I studied in ESPS , ranging from French and anthropology, to history, politics and philosophy. Now working with the cabinet of the Commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, this flexibility and willingness to tackle previously unfamiliar subject material has proved very useful!
In a broader sense, ESPS and in particular the year abroad and research dissertation provided a unique opportunity to demonstrate the initiative, independence in working and strong organisational skills that are crucial to the job I do now. In short, ESPS has widened my horizons and equipped me with the necessary skills to do this challenging and exciting work.
ESPS: the first step towards a research career (Alison Mallard, 2006)
On graduating from ESPS in 2004 Alison was awarded a 1-year DAAD studentship to study philosophy at the Humboldt Universitaet zu Berlin. She then went on to obtain an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics and Political Science as part of an ESRC funded 1+3 programme. She is currently a doctoral student at the LSE, undertaking research on Kant’s political philosophy and the right to revolution. As part of her doctoral research Alison will spend Spring Term 2010 as a Visiting Fellow at Harvard.
The degree in ESPS has been central to my academic development in several ways. As a fledgling undergraduate the structure of the degree offered flexibility and variety, which piqued my interest in areas that were new to me, and helped me to establish the area where I wanted to specialise. This variety also gave breadth alongside depth though, which has been particularly valuable to me in later years as a graduate teaching assistant.
ESPS has also opened up opportunities to me as a graduate student. The combination of language and humanities meant I was able to undertake a year of funded postgraduate study in Berlin, made possible both by my language skills, and my previous experience studying in Hamburg as part of the degree’s year abroad. As a researcher I am also able to consult German language commentary and texts, a great advantage in the area of Kant studies, and a nice touch to any academic proposal.
My degree in ESPS was perhaps most formative though in giving me a taste for independent research. Not only did this give me a desire to embark on graduate studies, but also made it possible. Crucially, the philosophical ideas and research skills that I developed as part of the dissertation and the European Research Seminar allowed me to develop a detailed PhD proposal for the ESRC 1+3 application, and secured me funding for the full duration of my graduate studies.
ESPS: the first step towards an international career (Aleksandra Krakiewicz, 2003)
After graduating from ESPS in 2003, Aleksandra went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of Oxford, St. Antony’s College. She completed her MPhil in 2005 and is now reading for a DPhil (PhD) in International Relations. Last year she also spent several months working at the United Nations in New York. The experience she gained working in the Security Council Affairs Division and then in the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping was fascinating and a useful complement to her academic work.
ESPS was an excellent preparation for graduate studies in many ways. The breadth of subjects I studied has helped me to maintain a wider perspective on the more specialised issues that I work on now.
Most importantly perhaps, the Dissertation provided a rare opportunity to produce a first piece of independent research. Initially, this helped me decide that I in fact wanted to continue studying for a research degree. I felt more confident about the task of writing a doctoral thesis and going abroad to do fieldwork. The Dissertation, and the year abroad more generally, helped me develop the organisational skills, independence and self-discipline that post-graduate research requires.
ESPS is also special because it brings together a diverse mix of students from different backgrounds. I not only learned a lot from other students’ experience and knowledge of various European countries - it was also an ideal preparation for working in a multinational environment, such as the United Nations in my case.
I chose to study the degree because it allowed me to combine my interest in modern languages with my interest in politics and philosophy. The programme offered enough flexibility to cater for personal choice, yet enough focus to give a clear sense of aim and direction. Moreover, the opportunities to spend a year abroad and to conduct a research dissertation proved invaluable.
After leaving UCL , I joined the civil service and took up a post in HM Treasury. I first worked in the Welfare to Work team, which aims to expand economic and employment opportunities for all and to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of public services. I have now joined the Tax Policy team, working on general business tax and budget issues. Working for the Government is both exciting and challenging - you must quickly become an expert in your policy area, offering sound advice and critical analysis.
Studying the degree programme developed my interest in politics as well as my skills of analysis and critique. Combined with my year abroad and independent research project, this helped me acquire the confidence to apply these skills and to challenge those around me.