Alumni spotlight: MA International Social Policy graduate Pebbles Buckley

'SSPSSR have some of the best Social Research academic staff in the country, and that really shines through in the way that they teach. Look up the modules ahead of time to get an idea of whether they are for you or not, and make use of your academic mentor!'

Pebbles Buckley is a graduate of two SSPSSR degree programmes; she completed a BA degree in Criminology and Social Policy in 2018 and stayed at Kent to study an MA in International Social Policy, graduating in 2019.

Can you tell us briefly about your experience of studying a BA in Criminology and Social Policy at Kent? 

I really enjoyed studying for my Bachelor’s degree at Kent – particularly having gone down the joint honours path, which allowed me to study a wide range of topics – from the sociological theory surrounding prisons, to mental health and psychology, and female reproductive health and the way in which that has emerged over the years. All the staff at SSPSSR were friendly and extremely helpful when it came to academic issues, as well as personal. The Canterbury campus itself is great – it is a very green campus, with plenty of amenities and study spaces. There was always somewhere to go when I needed to read, write an essay, have lunch or just take a one-hour break from the library. Overall, I really enjoyed my time at Kent – the facilities on campus, and the friendliness of staff, both attributed to that.

You chose to stay at Kent to study an MA in International Social Policy – what was your motivation for staying at Kent and choosing this MA subject? 

Firstly, I wanted to continue and study a Master’s degree because I really enjoyed the Social Policy element of my first degree. I wanted the chance to study that on a deeper and more advanced level. I looked carefully at a number of degrees and spoke to a number of SSPSSR staff members. Ultimately, I decided International Social Policy would be the right fit for me, enabling me to delve deeper into policy academia, whilst still allowing me some autonomy to choose other modules which interested me. Staying at Kent meant that I got some reduction in my fees from the University for being an alumni, and for previous academic excellence. Additionally, I was also lucky enough to be granted a generous SSPSSR Alumni Scholarship of £3,000 which helped me to be able to afford to do the MA because it essentially cut my fees in half all together. But, ultimately I wanted to stay because I loved the city and knew that the SSPSSR department had a wealth of knowledge that was unbeaten by most other universities.

Can you describe your time as an MA student at Kent – which aspects of your degree did you enjoy the most, and why?  

I would definitely say my MA year at Kent was my favourite year academically – it was challenging, but enjoyable. I loved having the choice to choose modules which were interesting to me, and being in a smaller academic environment to bounce ideas off each other and learn new perspectives – usually being in lectures/seminars of about ten people. I think as you make that transition into postgraduate study, your relationship with lecturers also develops and becomes less daunting – myself and fellow students would often find ourselves having coffee or a pint with our lecturers over lunch, just as a normal social interaction. However, one of the most useful resources available during MA study was the Postgraduate Study Hub, a study area just for MA/PhD students with 24hr access – this was paramount to getting most of my essays in on time!

Did your MA course live up to your expectations? 

Yes, absolutely. I was able to further develop my social research skills (and then implement them into a dissertation at the end of the year), study social policy in a more advanced environment, all whilst being able to choose some other interesting modules alongside that. I felt that the workload and expectations were fair, and lecturers were always available to chat during office hours about any concerns, or assignments. I also experienced my first two academic conferences during my Master’s year, thanks to some excellent lecturers who were able to get free access for a number of students. Also, having access to the weekly staff seminars (with academics coming from all over the country to discuss their specialist topic) was great for developing knowledge in a less pressured environment. It was an extremely enjoyable year. And I still use and discuss the academia learned then in my life today.

What impressed you most about our academic staff?  

I think – particularly when you get to postgraduate level – just how friendly and helpful they are. The academic staff really do become more like peers during postgraduate study, and it is easy to sit with them in the communal kitchen and just socialise in the normal course of the day outside of the classroom. Additionally, I think it is evident that the academic staff do care about their students, and do want them to do well. Every week we would be reminded of office hours, and if that wasn’t doable then we were always able to email and book in a mutually viable time. Even 18 months after finishing my degree, I am able to email my lecturers for help with a subject/a query and they are more than happy to give their time to me.

What did you think of the facilities at Kent? 

The facilities have definitely improved over the years that I studied there! When I first started the library was a bit of a building site – however, by my final few years it was beautifully done up, with so much seating and a wealth of knowledge can be found via the school’s librarian. I particularly enjoyed SSPSSR’s Postgraduate Study Hub – having that dedicated space made my final year at Kent a lot easier. In terms of non-academic facilities, there are bars, cafes, shops (I actually worked for three years for the students’ union shop). Kent Union (the students’ union) is always putting on events which help promote better mental health. I think the great thing about the Canterbury campus, is that everything is all together on one campus – meaning you could spend all day on campus and wouldn’t need to leave to get anything. This is particularly useful during stressful study periods (eg when dissertation hand-in is looming).

What are you doing now? 

I currently work for a large City Council as a Local Government Officer in their Finance Department. I think a lot of people struggle to see the link between my degree and this job, however everything I do in my day-to-day life stems from the skills I learned in my statistical social research modules. I am currently placed in the Resources and Housing team, primarily focusing on the housing element. I assist in managing budgets in excess of £30m and help in relation to work concerning homelessness, refugees, legal, democratic and the mechanical and electrical resources across the city. I am currently really enjoying this placement because I get to do such a wide variety of jobs, working under two great line managers.

Can you describe a typical day? 

Since COVID-19 my typical day has changed because I no longer commute, or work in the office and haven’t done so for more than a year. However, my typical working day is usually 08:00-16:00 – flexible working means that I am able to choose my own hours and during lockdown this has been a great asset to me. I don’t really have a typical day as such, but I have my tasks which need to be done monthly and quarterly, and then the rest of the time I will just be doing jobs which need doing. During COVID-19, I have found that there can be quite spontaneous tasks to be done for central government, which have a short timeframe to be done – so it can be a bit fast paced at times. The tasks I enjoy the most are when I get to interact with the service project managers, because often they are quite characteristic and especially during these odd times, it’s just nice to chat to people and actively contribute towards council projects.

Which skills/knowledge from your course/modules do you use most now in your career?  

I was actually quite surprised at the amount of transferable skills I have used in my current role. In terms of anything numerical that I have to do, modules such as Social Research Methods, definitely provided me with skills in statistics to do that. Additionally, the knowledge I picked up from social policy modules – and more politically based knowledge modules – set me in good standing for a job in the government. I already know about a vast number of policies which my line manager will discuss with me, and I had a good knowledge of the structure of the government prior to starting my job. Knowing the structure helps in acknowledging how important every small task is, because it all feeds into a wider picture. I’m now hoping to take my academic knowledge, and the professional skills I have acquired to develop professionally into a role which suits me a bit more – I do love the job I am in, but I feel like it might be one step too far ‘back office’ for me and I’m hoping my new role will allow me to get more involved with the policy.

You’ve been accepted onto the Civil Service Fast Stream – congratulations! How do you see your career progressing? 

Yes I have! I have recently been offered a role on the Government Social Research Service Fast Stream Scheme starting in September. I couldn’t have done it without the help of a few lecturers sharing some resources with me whilst I was preparing for the selection boards, and a previous Kent student who is already on the stream gave me a great insight into the day-to-day life on the Social Research stream. I’m hoping that I can develop to become a Senior Government Social Researcher, or maybe even go on and become a Senior Policy Maker. I’m really excited, and currently awaiting news of my department allocation.

Any advice for students considering a career in the Civil Service? 

I think if it is what you want, then you can definitely get it! This was my second time applying for the Fast Stream. I also applied during my MA year and got rejected – however, I went away and got some professional experience and found the application a bit smoother the second time around. It is well worth reading up on their ‘success profiles’ and catering each application to the competencies which they are looking for (usually posted in the job advertisement). Finally, the Civil Service loves it when you demonstrate past experiences of the competencies they are looking for – whether professional, personal or academic – so always remember to use the STAR method when answering any questions they may have.

What is your favourite memory of Kent?   

There’s so many to choose from! I met my current boyfriend during my first year at Kent, got my first ‘supervisor’ role during my part-time work at Kent, ate great local food and often danced until the early hours of the morning with my peers. However, I think a hilarious highlight for me was when my Criminology study group booked out a room in the library to cram for exams, but ended up watching the Royal Wedding on the big screen TV instead and got absolutely no work done! It was so funny that day, because walking around the library you would just see every single person with the Royal Wedding on their laptop or phone, and we had people standing outside our study room looking through the glass at the big screen. I don’t think anybody got any studying done that day thanks to Meghan and Harry!

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of coming to Kent?  

I think if big-city living isn’t really for you, then Kent is the best option! It has a great community, with all of its amenities on a lovely green campus. SSPSSR have some of the best Social Research academic staff in the country, and that really shines through in the way that they teach. Look up the modules ahead of time to get an idea of whether they are for you or not, and make use of your academic mentor! I didn’t use mine until my third year, and I really could have made better use during those earlier years. And most importantly, if you do decide to go to Kent then just enjoy yourself and make the most of the local area. I haven’t lived in Kent for 18 months now and still often think about the great food on offer there, and all of the wonderful places I was able to visit.

How would you describe your time at Kent in three words?  

Fun, friendship and knowledge!

Study a BA (Hons) in Criminology and Social Policy and Social Change at Kent: Why do people commit crime? What causes crime rates to rise or fall? How do societies promote the welfare of individuals and families? Our joint honours programme Criminology and Social Policy and Social Change provides a comprehensive approach to these pressing questions. Explore the full range of undergraduate social sciences courses you can study at Kent.

Study an MA in International Social Policy: The study of welfare arrangements is a fundamental part of what we do. Welfare states, and other institutions seeking to meet human need, everywhere face enormous challenges from population ageing, changes in family life and work-patterns, migration and the economic crisis. In a globalised and interdependent world, these issues can only be understood from an international perspective which accounts for these common pressures and processes, but which also recognises and engages with the diversity of national traditions and institutions for delivering welfare. Explore the full range of postgraduate social sciences courses you can study at Kent.

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