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Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)


Studying Politics at Cambridge - tell us more!

In these short clips, we asked some of our students to speak about their favourite things about their course.

 Joe tells us what the best thing about studying politics at Cambridge is

 Joe talks about his favourite lecturer

James and Katya discuss their favourite book

James and Katya talk about their favourite podcaster


Student testimonials about why Politics at Cambridge was the right course of study for them:

Alice Hawkins, Politics and International Relations

My first year reading HSPS has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. This is because what makes this course so excellent is not merely the content, but the way it makes you think in a very, very different way about the world you see around you on a day to day basis. And rewarding is the word – I hadn’t thought it would be possible to learn so much in such a short period of time, beyond the pages of any book. To have my perspective so thoroughly challenged and actively reconsidered and transformed has been incomparable to any experience I’ve had. This rings equally true for analysis of the greatest political turmoils and most minute of details in the way we think, act, and behave as nationalised identities every day. It is this synthesis of micro and macro interpretations and the dynamism of learning that has made reading politics an experience I could never have anticipated, and one that has created such a strong impetus to keep going in the years ahead. To so genuinely enjoy and value what I am learning is something I consider a gift, and this is what reading politics and international relations has been for me.  

Joe Robinson, Politics and International Relations, 2014-2017

Politics at Cambridge is a unique experience. At its core, the course is about the gap between political theory and political practice, how people’s expectations and grand schemes for social transformation often fall short of either understanding the messy and disjointed realities of political life or changing them. In some ways, it’s three years of looking at how politics doesn’t quite fit together in the way we expect it to.

This begins with the Cambridge school’s unusual approach to the study of politics. This focuses on the essentially coercive nature of the modern state as the lynchpin of contemporary political life and how even relatively safe and prosperous societies are based on an appreciation of the state’s unique ability to haul us off if it thinks we’re not playing ball. So the first year paper is an exploration of the modern state: how it’s been understood, how it works (or doesn’t) in its modern representative context, and what the alternatives might be. Even if you don’t study politics past first year, you’ll still have a unique analytical frame for thinking about politics.

With first year under your belt, part II (years two and three) provides you with the opportunity to pursue your interests and think about politics in different ways and in different contexts. You’ll study politics in a comparative context across countries—with third-year papers allowing you to look at specific regions including Europe, Africa and the Middle East—you’ll look at political thought across time, and you’ll have the opportunity to think about broader political questions in long essays, dissertations, and the best paper ever, the third-year POL9 course which ties together your three years of study by providing an avenue for thinking about politics as a whole and what its general features might be.

Lectures are accompanied by supervisions, which are perhaps your most important learning tool at Cambridge. You’ll write essays where you try out different arguments and explore different perspectives on a given topic to try and make a compelling argument, and then you’ll have the opportunity to discuss them with a world-leading academic in order to explore, test and flesh out your ideas. It’s an invaluable experience that can also be tremendous fun.

Politics at Cambridge gives you both an understanding of the substance of politics and also a set of tools for understanding and making arguments, thinking critically about ideas, and working to very tight deadlines and everything that goes with that. I’ve had the best three years of my life—so far!—and it’s been incredible.

Joanna Banasik, Politics and International Relations

Studying HSPS at Cambridge has enabled me to think deeper, broader and to form concise, followed-through arguments. Looking at any current developments in world politics now prompts me to form my own opinions about them; and HSPS has given me a context to place them within and the skills to analyse them. 

I studied Politics, International Relations, Sociology and Social Anthropology in my first year and have enjoyed all the four modules. They offered both breadth and depth of analysis, and the opportunity to learn different academic approaches and angles to examine any question within the social sciences. In my second year, I enjoyed being able to choose from a variety of papers and pursue my interests, I read three papers on Politics and International Relations and one in Social Anthropology on post-socialist communities, an area in which I am interested as I come from a formerly socialist country. I am looking forward to my chosen papers next year and to writing a dissertation.

As an international student, I have found studying in my second language somewhat challenging at times, but also extremely rewarding. I have been given all the support I needed from my supervisors and am so happy to have achieved a fluency in defending my opinions and writing essays in English.

Connor MacDonald, Politics and International Relations

HSPS offers all the depth of a Cambridge degree with much more breadth. In my first year, I completed modules in international relations, politics and anthropology which together were much more than the sum of their parts. Even better, HSPS has some truly superb supervisors, many of whom go out of their way to help and to broaden intellectual horizons. While I still am undecided about the next steps, caught between a desire to return to Canada or enjoy the old world for a few more years, I can say that I have never for a second regretted my decision to study HSPS. It offers all the best of what Cambridge has to offer and much else besides!

Jun Pang, Politics and Sociology

Although I came into HSPS intending to specialize in Politics and Sociology, the opportunity to explore Social Anthropology and International Relations in first year allowed me to gain a broader appreciation for the social sciences as a whole. In my second year, I chose to pursue a joint stream, which enabled me to explore contemporary global issues using two different but ultimately complementary perspectives.

The best part of my degree has been the Cambridge supervision system. The chance to be taught and even mentored by leading academics has enabled me to learn and to grow in ways I did not think possible. Through our work, we are encouraged to deconstruct existing norms and ideas via rigorous academic inquiry. Despite the high expectations and the often heavy workload, we as students are supported in exploring our interests, however niche they may be.

HSPS has equipped me with a critical awareness of global social and political problems, which has been bolstered by collaboration and discussion with my classmates. In this vein, in terms of future plans, I am intending to pursue a master’s degree in politics, gender studies, or migration studies. Afterwards, I am interested in working in the fields of human rights and/or public policy.

Jack Higgins, Politics and International Relations, 2014-2017

If you want to study politics and international relations, Cambridge is the right place to be. The course is extremely broad and flexible, and enables you to consider the centuries-old political thought of Hobbes and Rousseau, as well as pressing modern issues such as global poverty. The breadth of issues covered within individual courses enables you to tailor your reading toward your specific interests, and it is often the case that what you’re reading links to real-world incidents. Studying politics at Cambridge provides ample opportunities to conduct research and develop your own arguments within independent essays on topics that political scientists are themselves grappling with. You are challenged to turn your hand to a variety of topics and to form an opinion about that which is alien to you. 

In terms of what I’ve gained from the course, I feel that it has, amongst other things, improved my ability to think for myself about complex issues, to construct a detailed argument, and to work efficiently to tight deadlines. As for my plans post-graduation, I have secured a job with a Magic Circle law firm and will be moving on to legal study.

Jamie Philippsohn, Politics and International Relations

My favourite aspect of studying HSPS at Cambridge is the holistic perspective which it gives not only to the topics which we study but also those in the real world. You start with a broad base and then narrow down depending on your interests and this enables you to pursue options which you had never considered before. I find that the work is intense but it is all the more rewarding for it. You never get bored with the mix between reading, socialising and playing sport. HSPS also gives you a lot of transferrable skills for after University with all career paths be it law, banking or anything you can think of being realistic targets - this means I have quite the decision to make come third year.

Katya Warwick, Politics and International Relations, 2014-2017

Studying Politics at Cambridge has been eye-opening and inspiring. My degree has allowed me to better understand how the world works- learning what Hobbes can tell us about international relations and the complexities of war in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. The course has allowed me to watch the news in a completely different way and understand tensions and hidden meanings in political statements and events. I hope to use my more thorough and enlightened understanding of politics to work in creating or reviewing policy in the future.

Eleni Courea, Politics and International Relations, 2013-2016 

If, like me, you're interested in the social sciences but have fumbled around trying to find your passion, you'll gain a lot from studying HSPS. I was accepted to study Geography at Cambridge in 2013, but switched into HSPS at the end of my first year having cultivated a strong interest in politics. I soon became immersed in the history of political thought, and ended up specialising in areas which, months earlier, I didn't know existed – I wrote my final-year dissertation on the role of war in the political thought of two Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, David Hume and Adam Ferguson.

Studying the history of political thought at Cambridge has been an enormous privilege – I’ve been taught by world experts in a way that has deepened my understanding of the history and force behind the political ideals that we cherish today. Marrying this with a study of contemporary political practice – by electing, over the course of two years, to take papers like Ethics in World Politics, Conflict & Peacebuilding, even Statistics & Methods – has made my course hugely rewarding and uniquely interesting. In particular, it has taught me to think critically, to examine problems from a fresh perspective and to question the assumptions behind contemporary policy documents and political rhetoric. 

Having just graduated in June 2016, I’ll be spending the summer in Cambridge interning for a startup – Africa’s Voices – which was spun out of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR), itself launched by POLIS. Afterwards I’m hoping to find a job in London, working as a journalist or policy researcher. 

James Wand, Politics and Sociology, Part IIA

Politics at Cambridge goes deeper than voting systems, voter turnout and voting behaviour; it explores further the ideas of community and control, sovereignty and the state. Politics at Cambridge couples contemporary events and issues with a firm grasp of the history of key political themes and the individuals who have shaped our lives. From the birth of the nation-state to the ideology of a decaying society and culture, Politics poses challenging questions about what constitutes our civilization. Taught through lectures and supervisions, the course encourages critical thinking and the ability to challenge assumptions, whilst at the same time allowing students to bring to fruition their own ideas. Indeed, this ability to challenge historical concepts in a modern way reveals just how broad, relevant and interesting the subject is. If you’re an individual who has an opinion, outlook, and love for understanding the world around you, how it’s moulded and how it can be changed then there is no more obvious route than studying politics in Cambridge.

Luke Vaz, Politics and International Relations, 2013-2016 

Studying as broad and as topical a degree as HSPS has resulted in an enriching experience at university. Despite initially knowing little in depth about anthropology and international relations, the interdisciplinary nature of the course means they all inter-relate and connect allowing for issues to be thought about laterally rather than strictly in the confines of their discipline. Not only are you showed how to use political philosophers and worldwide examples to voice a point evidentially, but you are taught how to think and evaluate issues rationally, from Socrates to Syria. HSPS is the course everyone wishes they had applied to - as its broad appeal marries the ability to specialise in a region, philosophy or thinker that you find interesting. Not only this, but you leave the degree with a palpably improved global understanding.

After graduating, I hope either to begin a law conversion course in London, take a gap year and do an internship in international politics as part of the UN, or stay here for a fourth year! The multi-topical nature of the course allows for many different paths to be taken, as the argumentative and critical aspects lend greatly to any career imaginable.

Sophie Gammage, Politics and International Relations, 2013-2016 

If breadth of study is something that appeals, I would recommend wholeheartedly taking on the (enormously rewarding) challenge of HSPS at Cambridge. I’ve always been interested in politics and international relations - the area in which I now specialise - but the most appealing thing about this course for me was the fact that it enabled me to take papers in anthropology, sociology and history additionally across my first and second years. These extra areas of study were not only fascinating (as well as entirely novel in some cases) but also incredibly useful; as my degree has progressed I’ve found myself incorporating a myriad of different elements that I had picked up from them along the way, and my work has undoubtedly become more conceptually sophisticated as a result. 

Asia Lambert, Politics and International Relations Part IIA, 2014/15

The HSPS course has expanded my understanding and interest within politics in a way in which I had never imagined. Prior to coming to Cambridge my perception of politics had been solely focused on the modern world, yet now, I look at politics from a far more historical and intellectual point of view.

Having the History of Political Thought as a compulsory component was daunting at first, but reading the original texts has provided a framework through which I can consider the events of today, and has been surprisingly enjoyable! It would be wrong to say that there have not been moments where I have found the course challenging, but what you learn is that you have the ability to overcome these challenges no matter how insurmountable they may seem at first.

Supervisions are most definitely my favourite part of studying at Cambridge; after all they are what is unique to the experience. It is really satisfying to go over a topic in depth with a supervisor one-to-one and explore the areas which you have not been able to fully understand through your own reading.

I am looking forward to having the opportunity to expand my knowledge in Part IIB. There are so many areas to choose from that it can make it rather difficult, but at the same time that's the beauty of the course. No matter what you are interested in, there will be an avenue down which you can pursue it.

Xavier Bisits, Politics and International Relations Part IIA 2014/15

Politics at Cambridge is not like politics at most other universities.  It's not about knowing stuff.  Anyone can learn facts about - for example - the American political system.  And at Cambridge, facts will come up as you sift through the evidence.  Fundamentally, though, it's about dealing with a problem - and then discussing it with or defending it to a world-class academic.  I love my supervisions.  It teaches you to think clearly.  From the very beginning, your supervisor will challenge your assumptions.  This process teaches you critical thinking, an ability that is highly valued in the workplace and why Cambridge gives you such great employment prospects.  I have an internship in consulting, for example; other friends are interested in NGO work, policy, diplomacy and law. This whole experience is challenging but you are supported by your College and well-structured lectures from academics who feature prominently in the literature of the same topic you're studying.  I cannot speak highly enough of the faculty. 

Emily Evans, Politics and International Relations Part IIA 2014/15

I changed to studying Politics and International Relations after two years of studying Economics, and I’m so glad I did. The course is open to interpretation so I’ve been able to carry through everything I loved about economics, but apply it in refreshing and eye-opening ways. Whatever your specific interest, it will be catered for in the large number of modules and options available throughout the three years.

Having been unsure about what I wanted to do in my future, now that I have switched to politics I am thinking about continuing on in academia and studying for a bit longer, either through a Masters or PhD course. I don’t know if I will feel the same next year when I graduate, because it is hard work and constantly challenging, but right now I am excited by everything I’m learning, from country based analysis of Russia and Poland, to the political thinkers of the French Revolution, and I want to go on and study more.