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NEWS > Careers > Phoebe Bradford PGS 2015 - 2022

Phoebe Bradford PGS 2015 - 2022

Phoebe lends some valuable insights into her life as a Politics & International Relations student at the wonderful (small) city of Durham.
31 Jan 2024
Written by Phoebe Bradford
Phoebe outside Durham Cathedral
Phoebe outside Durham Cathedral

I applied to study Politics and International Relations at St. Andrews, Cambridge, Durham, Warwick and Sheffield and accepted an offer at Durham. I’m currently in my second year of a BA, so will graduate in 2025. At Pate’s, I studied Politics, Biology and History 'A' Levels with an EPQ. Initially I was interested in Dentistry, but the humanities subjects I took were too interesting to pass up the opportunity to study a degree in something similar.

Durham is a unique city, especially for students. It’s incredibly rich in historical culture and the spread of the university campus buildings means you can fully immerse yourself in the city. I attended an in-person Open Day (which I would highly recommend if you have the opportunity), and knew I’d enjoy the collegiate structure and energy around the city, as well as the high standard of education I’d receive.

My Course Content

Politics and International Relations at Durham gives you great opportunities to tailor your course to what you’d like to get out of it. Although First Year modules are mostly compulsory, in second and third year you can choose from a list of around twenty modules offered. You have access to a very wide variety of interests, including philosophy, economics, geography, mathematical analysis, coding, current affairs, political history, cultural history etc. This makes the three years a lot easier because it will never feel as though you are confined to one course. I would say this is something that is reasonably unique to Politics degrees when I compare it to the experience my peers have, and the breadth of education you receive is reflected in the opportunities you will have when looking at starting your career. In addition, my course has the option to apply for a placement year after your second year. This can take place in the UK or abroad, and means your degree is extended from the normal three years to four. This is very common and is available across many courses, so you’d never be the only one left studying four years! There is a massive range of opportunities in terms of location, length, public/private sector etc so it’s definitely an option worth investigating.


Although I can only speak for my experience at Durham, I think the experience of Humanities students is reasonably similar across most universities. I have an average of about eight contact hours each week, comprised of lectures and seminars (or tutorials). Lectures are timetabled at the same time for every student on that module, whereas seminars split students into groups of about ten. Seminars in particular, are extremely useful for Politics students - a seminar provides every student the opportunity to form an educated opinion and justify it to the rest of the group. However, it can be frustrating having so few contact hours. It means that the majority of your degree will be spent learning independently (reading and writing essays), and sometimes it can feel as though you aren’t receiving much actual teaching. If you would prefer to spend more time learning from someone and have a little less independent study then it would be worth exploring other options to understand which courses have more contact hours. Assessment will also vary depending on the university and course. It will likely be a combination of ‘formatives’ and ‘summatives’, the former not counting towards your overall grade but acting as an exercise to receive feedback in order to prepare you for summatives, which do contribute to your grade.   

Durham’s ‘Campus’

Universities tend to be concentrated on one campus, or spread out over the town/city they’re in. They can also be collegiate like Durham, which means that students are allocated a college which means they live on their college campus, can join college societies, eat with their college and have college-wide events such as balls or formals. I personally enjoy the collegiate structure as I enjoy having a little more separation between work and home, though everyone’s approach to this will be different. It also means you get to explore Durham city, which I can guarantee is probably quite far removed from the ideas most people have of what their uni city will be like before they arrive! 

Durham probably doesn’t meet many people’s expectations of a city in terms of size, and can feel a little claustrophobic at times. Durham City (the student part) itself, is similar in size to Stroud, definitely smaller than Cheltenham. For this reason, it is not very common to bring a car up. Most houses I know, perhaps share one car between 4/5 students, and many don’t have one at all. The University does not allow parking on its learning sites for students, so cars mainly get used for journeys further afield, or to get to the sports centre. Furthermore, with the city being as old as it is, there is much of the centre that either enacts charges or is simply inaccessible by car. However, there is a plethora of restaurants across the city which, although aren’t limited to, certainly favour Italian cuisine. In terms of nightlife, the absolute highlights are the college bars! Incredibly cheap nights out, very characterful and brilliant for bar crawls. Further than that, clubbing is reasonably average and certainly good enough to put up with for three or four years! I’d also add that distance from home is definitely a factor that should be considered when choosing your university. I was keen on going a bit further afield (Durham takes about five / six hours by car, from Gloucestershire), but it does mean that I stay in the city from the start to end of terms.


Again, accommodation differs largely depending on where you complete your degree. At Durham, your first year is spent in college (halls), then the rest of your degree is spent ‘living out’ (renting your own place). It is reasonably common for some students to continue living in College after first year, renting in Durham can be a fairly trying experience! However, if you are looking for a little more independence and to have the opportunity to choose who you live with then renting is definitely a good option. Your encounter with student housing is likely to be dependent on the quality of letting agents available nearby. It’s really helpful in allowing students to start to stand on their own two feet, but it can also be a little daunting. I found a really lovely house with a nice group of people, despite being one of the last ones to sign, so although people like to whip up anxiety about the process you should never be left high and dry! Additionally, Durham is really quite small and even houses that are further from the main lecture site don’t tend to have to walk further than 30/40 mins. Don’t forget that most universities will have some sort of group you can go to to advise you with any housing matters or disputes. Additionally, it can be hard to deal with balancing signing a house quick enough, whilst also signing with people you think you will get along with well enough for the next year. Again, this is a pretty alien experience, but there will most likely be somewhere you can go for advice with any worries you might have.

Life at University

Even at a relatively small University like Durham, the opportunities for you to personalise your activities and experiences seem almost endless. There is room for you to follow a myriad of interests, at many different levels of commitment. There are over thirty music societies at Durham and over 550 different sports teams at Durham! Apart from extracurricular activities, friendships form a massive part of your University experience. I was very nervous before first year- I had no idea what to expect and was terrified I wouldn’t find ‘my people’, especially because only a couple of other people from school were also coming to Durham, and only having moved schools once when I was 11! However, there is a niche for everyone at whatever University you go to and although it’s natural to have worries about making friends it’s always a comfort to remember that everyone else is in exactly the same boat. The self-catered college experience is the most conducive for making friends in my opinion. You eat at the same time as everyone else, in a dining room, and its so easy to get chatting with anyone- particularly right at the start. Colleges also mean you live really close to a few hundred people which seems a little more manageable than confronting thousands at once! As a result, all my close friends are from my college, especially as my course has relatively few contact hours meaning there is much less opportunity to make friends on my course (although I know this is different with higher-contact hour degrees).

Future Career Aspirations

Speaking of societies, as well as extracurriculars, there are many opportunities to pursue interests that go alongside your degree that can make you a really impressive graduate applicant. University-level societies often provide a really good opportunity to network as well, and there are countless opportunities to attend free events, apply to be an executive member, or simply get advice from others with similar interests about how to progress professionally. University societies are an opportunity for you to try new things, gain valuable experiences, and learn from mistakes whilst being in a very supportive environment, so make the most of it. For example, I joined my University Diplomacy Society and recently was selected as the society’s Communications Director. This involves running social media across our whole society, reaching out externally and working with the rest of the Directorate to help grow membership and access special opportunities- it’s a fantastic experience that mimics a lot of what you may experience in full-time employment. The society has an advisory board comprising of several celebrated British politicians, and regular Q&As exclusively for members of the society- the power of Uni societies should not be underestimated! I will also be applying for a summer internship, which is commonplace across the University. You’ll get lots of advice on these when you start Uni and they’re fantastic to get involved with if you get the chance.

And finally....

I’m loving my time at Durham even though I had big reservations at the start - my final words would be to throw yourselves into as much as you can manage at University! The opportunities are endless and you’ll miss it once you’ve graduated! I’m very happy to speak to anyone wanting any advice about Durham or University in general, so don’t hesitate to get in touch. Parents of interested current students can contact me on

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