A Look Back on Semester One of PG Politics at Newcastle

I thought it would be an interesting idea to write a piece looking back on the first semester of MA Politics Research at Newcastle University, looking over the different units you undertake and challenges you face. So I did, and here it is.

  • Thinking About Political Research

Also called ‘Theories and Approaches to Politics” to non-research folk, this module aims to introduce you to the philosophy of political research (ontology, epistemology), key concepts and approaches in political research (postcolonialism, positivism, rational choice theory, Marxism, postmodernism etc.), all of which are approaches to political research in which Newcastle has experts on staff that use them in their day to day work. Each week you are introduced to a new approach. I personally found this a fascinating and intellectually challenging experience, as you are constantly going over the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, comparing and contrasting them with each other, seeing where they are similar and where they clash. It also focuses the mind of which approach, or combination of approaches, can best answer the questions you are formulating (or in my case, I already have) for a PhD research proposal. If anything, it shows just how of many complex and diverse ways scholars can take to research politics in the modern age. For that reason it can be difficult and confusing at times, but like with many complex problems, they gradually become clearer overtime.


  • Thinking About Research

Delivered by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (HaSS) PG Research Training Programme, this unit looks at the nature and practical aspects of the research proposal process (how to formulate research topics, questions, appropriate methods to answer these questions, theoretical approaches etc.). It also looks at how to approach fieldwork, like interviews, and the challenges this can bring. As part of the assessment, you work in a group of other research MA folk on a designated social science topic (for me, underage drinking), formulating you own questions and research methods. You then present your research proposal in front of your peers and a panel of judges, to pitch your proposal as if you were trying to win a research grant. This again was a challenging but beneficial experience, as it develops your skills at presenting academic work to a large audience in a group, defending your choices with reasoned argument. It was also an interesting look on how the research proposal works, both in theory and practice.

  • Information and Library Skills

This was a short HaSS unit of three sessions delivered at the Robinson Library. Its aims are to introduce you to what research resources Newcastle and the outside academic world has, how you can access them and which ones will benefit you in your research. It also helps you think more carefully about how you gather and stay on top of the latest information relevant to your field. It is probably of more benefit to those that have not previously been at a UK university, but it certainly has helped me think more critically about my research strategies and how I make sure I don’t miss important developments in my area of interest (email alerts on journals!). You might think, ‘Well I know all of this already, why do I need to go to this?’ In my opinion I would pause when thinking this, as I did, and think do I really know all the sources of information in my area, every single one, and the easiest way to access them? This answer, if we are honest, is probably not.

  • Nature of Explanation and Enquiry

Truth be told, this is very similar to ‘Thinking About Political Research’, and for those doing both units (as I did) there was often a great deal of crossover when exactly the same approaches were discussed. Not to worry if you are a prospective student reading this, as this has now been changed, thankfully. However it was very interesting to listen to the lectures by staff that use the different approaches, from across the Social Science community at Newcastle, discuss how they approach academic explanation and enquiry. The discussion groups afterwards, with 1st year PhD researchers and a few MA research students like me, were also very interesting as so many people, from so many different academic fields, had many perspectives on the approaches I hadn’t always considered before. It again really focuses the mind on what approaches are most appropriate for you, in your own subject and for your own area of research.

All in all, it has been a great start to the scholarship. I feel I know much, much more about what it takes to do political research, the processes you must go through and the challenges/difficulties you face. What I know for certain is that the world of political research is a complex one, and I have a lot more to learn next year and in the future.

About Me

My name is Tristan Martin, and I am a MA Research student in Politics at Newcastle University. I am in the first year of a 1+3 research scholarship, eventually starting a PhD next year. The aim of this blog is to give my perspectives and insights on the process of working through a Research masters in Politics. I will be updating this blog at least once a month, more often if I can. Hopefully I will be able to share some useful experiences to those considering going into PG research in Politics here at Newcastle.

I am also the PGT School Representative for the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, as well as being a PG Ambassador (the main reason for this blog). Additionally, I am a graduate member of the UK Political Studies Associaton.

A small biography of me: I am 25, born in Sussex (South East of England) but have spent most of my formative years growing up in York, North Yorkshire (North of England). I did my BA in History at the University of Sussex, Brighton. I also hold an MA in Politics from the University of Leeds, West Yorkshire. My research interests focus on the ideological divisions within the Conservative Party around European integration, and to what extent pressure from UKIP and coalition government with the Liberal Democrats are distorting, changing and intensifying these divisions. I am also interested more generally in the Conservative Party, British politics, political parties and the European Union.

Check out my Twitter page for tweets on British politics and the EU. Please check back here soon for more updates.

You can also read the Q&A style profile I did for the Politics section of the Newcastle University website here.

Thanks for reading.