History graduate now researching experiences of female MPs

Since completing her BA (Hons) History at Bournemouth University, Katy Tanner has gone to complete a Master’s degree at University of Oxford and is now undertaking a PhD with the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Here she talks about her experiences of studying at BU and how it prepared her for what came next.

What was your main reason for undertaking a degree?

I wanted to learn skills that would improve my employability. I left school and worked for 10 years before starting my degree, and I knew that higher education would broaden my career options within the industries that interested me.

Why did you choose Bournemouth University and your course?

I wanted to learn more about society and how we got to where we are today – hence why I chose history. When I was choosing which university to apply to, the option to study modern history was not available at many institutions. I really liked the sound of the course at Bournemouth University as it covered many aspects of modern history, and it included the option for a placement year. There was also the opportunity to complete a graduate project in the final year, where students can work with local companies to produce an output that encourages members of the public to interact with local history. The focus on employability beyond studying the subject really appealed to me, and ensures students are prepared to enter the workplace once they graduate.

What were the best things about your course and the overall academic experience?

The best thing about my course was the variety of topics it covered. I gained so much knowledge and understanding about the modern world, along with the research and analytical skills required to study history at a postgraduate level. In the second and third year of the course there is the opportunity to select optional units, which is a great way to focus on an area of history that interests you most.

Did you go on a work placement? If so, what did you learn from the experience?

I opted to complete the mini placement at the end of my second year, as a teaching assistant in both a school and a college. I found this incredibly useful, as I was unsure as to whether teaching was a path I wanted to follow. I got to experience teaching Year 9 students as well as A-Level students. I even had the opportunity to teach an entire lesson, which I was allowed to prepare myself. The placements provided a great insight into the day-to-day profession of teaching and helped me to decide which path to take after university.

What were your favourite things about living and studying in Bournemouth?

Bournemouth is a great place to be a student – there is always something going on! Everywhere is easy to get to, either by walking, cycling or bus. In my opinion BU is very special, you feel part of a community. Everyone says it, but the local beaches are amazing and it is brilliant to be able to make the most of them as a student. To be able to go for long scenic walks or spend time at the beach with a group of friends is a great way to take a break from your studies. I also enjoy live music, and there are lots of places that offer this in the local area.

What were your career aspirations before coming to BU? How did they evolve?

Before coming to BU I wanted to become a barrister, and I planned on completing a law conversion course once I graduated. However, studying history made me realise just how transferrable the skills are, and I like how there are so many different career paths you can take. Right now, I am in the process of completing a PhD in modern history, and there are many different careers I am exploring!

Why did you pursue a PhD? How did you develop the concept?

I liked the idea of building upon the dissertations I did at both undergraduate and Master’s level, which explored areas of women’s history in the 1970s and 1980s. I came across a funded PhD with the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which wanted a student to research the experiences of female MPs from 1970-2010. It was a perfect fit, and I was fortunate enough to be selected.

What achievements are you most proud of since graduation?

I went on to study for my Master’s at the University of Oxford once I graduated. I was one of only eight students selected to study the strand of Modern British History, which is a testament to the incredibly high standard of teaching and skills training that I received at BU.

What skills or knowledge gained from your degree are you using now?

It goes without saying that I am using all of the skills and knowledge gained from my degree in my PhD research, particularly within areas such as oral history and women’s history. I am confident in knowing how to manage my time and produce work that is argued well using a wide variety of sources.

I am also currently working as a part-time archive assistant for a documentary production company. This requires me to research stories and source appropriate archive footage. As a history student at BU, we were encouraged to use a variety of source material in our work – from Hansard transcripts to radio programmes such as Woman’s Hour. This experience helped me to secure my first role in television, and I hope to produce my own documentaries in the future.

In what other ways has BU prepared you for your current path?

The careers service at BU was extremely helpful and is available for a further three years after you graduate. I used this during my second and third year as a student, as I needed advice on how to narrow down the many paths I wanted to follow. In the end I decided on postgraduate study, and using this service really helped me to make this decision. We also received training on how to write CVs in our final year, which taught me how to highlight my academic skills and achievements to prospective employers.

Have you any advice you can pass on to current/prospective students or other graduates?

I would say make the most of every opportunity and follow the path that makes you happy as you never know where it could lead. Embrace your time as a student and explore what interests you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!