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Studying social sciences: the Dean's perspective

In this post, Professor John Craig, Dean of the Leeds School of Social Sciences, shares his thoughts on the skills of a social sciences graduate.

A recent British Academy study showed that students studying social sciences develop a wide range of transferable skills that are relevant to a wide range of careers. They are able to analyse complex problems, explore and assess different solutions, and communicate their findings effectively. Their subjects require them to work with both quantitative and qualitative data, understanding the insight that both can provide. They learn and are assessed in both written and oral formats, allowing them to develop a range of effective communication skills to share research findings and make a well argued case.

Social Science students also have an edge in that the topics that they are studying are constantly evolving and often highly contentious. To be able to study outlook for international relations in the context of the Trump presidency, or understand the challenges and opportunities that are presented by Brexit, requires students who can think on their feet, weight new evidence as it comes through, and adapt to situations in which things that seemed certain yesterday, no longer do today. Perhaps it is not surprising that this prepares social sciences students well for the fast changing workplaces that they enter. And that is not all. The contentious nature of many of these topics require social science students to develop the ability to explore issues from different standpoints, and be able to understand how different people see the world. Again, in a time when globalisation has made the world smaller, these intercultural skills are invaluable.

But a Social Science degree is not just about the skills that students develop, it is also about knowledge. This brings us back to the question of what social science is about. Whether it is criminology, psychology, politics or sociology, it is about human behaviour. It is about how individuals, families, communities, and nations, interact with one another, and this is why it is so valuable. Take issue such as climate change and pollution. We know the damage that is done to the environment by vehicle emissions, plastics and other things. Science can help us to identify the technical solutions that can mitigate the impact of these and develop cleaner and more efficient products. But we know that often the stumbling block to putting these into use is human behaviour. People don’t do what they need to do to address the problem. The same could be said for many areas of health, exercise and well-being. There is plenty of information available to help us live healthier lives, but we don’t always do what we should. Social Science can help us to understand why this is, and develop policies, interventions and actions that can work with people to change to get better outcomes for individuals and for society.

Indeed, if there is a ‘point’ to the social sciences, that is it. It is about improving our social and economic well-being. It is popular with students because it looks at the issues that they feel are important to their lives and to their future. It asks the hard questions and expect them to develop coherent answers based on research, evidence and argument. It requires them to listens to viewpoints that they may not have heard and may not like. It asks them to think and discuss in a clear and coherent way. It challenges to them to develop answers, ideas and solutions that can build bridges and solve problems. Social science provides an education that is fit for the challenges that we face today and social science graduates have plenty to offer as employees, as citizens and as entrepreneurs.

British Academy (2017) The Right Skills: Celebrating Skills in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS)

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Professor John Craig

Professor John Craig joined Leeds Beckett University as Head of School of Social, Psychological and Communication Sciences in August 2015. He is a political scientist, with a strong research and applied interest in teaching and learning.

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