“I’m a huge advocate for studying sociology,” says Jayne Holgate, a University of Birmingham sociology alumnus who is now Head of Marketing Communications at Oddfellows. “I think it should be offered more widely at GCSE. Studying sociological theories gives you an understanding why things are the way they are and why people may act the way they act. ” Jayne thinks sociology can give you an edge in the fields of marketing and communications.
Sundeep Kaur Bhogal, also a University of Birmingham sociology alumnus who is the Policy and Public Affairs Lead (England) at the UK's largest children's charity, Barnardo's, agrees on the importance of hiring social sciences graduates. “These degrees encourage critical thinking,” she says. “When recruiting, I think this is absolutely essential for organisations committed to social progress. Providing honesty with care and differing perspectives is vital for innovation, and we learn so much from diversity of thought.”
What do sociology-related jobs and careers entail?
Day-to-day work life can be different from studying for a degree.
Sundeep’s day as Policy and Public Affairs Lead for Barnardo’s starts around 6AM, when she is woken up by her children. Then it’s time to do the school run. “Once I'm back, I start work from home,” she says. “I’m scanning the news for key political developments related to children's policy, checking in with my colleagues on Teams, and responding to emails before diving into scheduled meetings and project work.”
Working in the political world means that her role is fast-paced, and as the day progresses, time-sensitive work can come in. “I have to plan effectively to balance the reactive side of my work with the proactive planning side,” she says. “The reactive side can range from needing to provide briefings for MPs, Peers and senior internal colleagues due to legislative business changing with limited notice, to instant monitoring on key government consultations. I also deal with letters to new Ministers ,should a reshuffle be announced. The planning side of my role involves managing Parliamentary stakeholder engagement, identifying influencing opportunities, and leading multiple functions to deliver high profile policy events in Westminster.”
Jayne walks to work at Oddfellows, an organisation that runs social groups and support services for its members, most of which are 60+. There, she heads up the Marketing Communications team. She starts at 8am. “The morning is when my mind is at its best, so I try and do my more complex work here,” she explains. “That might be setting budgets, writing reports, reviewing information I’ve been sent by colleagues – essentially the things I need to be most switched on for!”
Afterwards, Jayne juggles lunch with team meetings, attending project meetings to give a marketing perspective, and responding to emails. She does a lot of problem-solving.
“I’m supposed to leave at 4:30pm, but I may occasionally do the odd extra half hour or so if I’ve lost lots of time in meetings throughout the day,” she adds.
From study space to workspace
After graduating from the University of Birmingham, Sundeep and Jayne both moved through several roles to get to their current positions.
“I chose to study Sociology at university as I loved it at A level. I hoped that throughout my studies, I’d work out what I wanted to do,” says Jayne. Though she continued to study with an MSc in Contemporary Identities, the part-time roles she took on while at university led her to the field of marketing. “I worked as a marketing assistant for a small digital marketing agency, and then a paid marketing internship with an accessible cycling charity.” Eventually, she applied for a marketing internship at Age UK. “I realised that I’m motivated by working for organisations that are trying to do good, so this was a good fit for me.”
Jayne worked her way through roles in higher education and the NHS, and eventually undertook a level 6 marketing qualification with the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). “This course helped me learn more about strategic marketing and planning in the context of the real-world.” She’s now two modules into a postgraduate CIM Marketing Leadership Programme. She relocated to Manchester especially for the role at Oddfellows. “When I read the job description and person specification, it fitted me perfectly, which is rare to find.”
Sundeep studied Sociology at the University of Birmingham and then International Development at the University of Oxford, before working for Parliament and in policy roles for international development charities. She also worked for an MP in Birmingham and gained a breadth of experience in advocacy, campaigning, research and stakeholder engagement. That led to a role at the University of Birmingham, running policy commissions on maternal health and decarbonisation, and working closely with the former Director General of MI5. “I've successfully led high profile policy campaigns on women's rights, mental health, maternal health, food security, preventing violence against women and girls, and energy justice,” says Sundeep. Now she relishes her role at Barnardo’s. “I’m in a job I aspired to after graduating. I feel very lucky to be doing work I care about.”
Tips, tricks, and finding a job that sticks
There are a lot of things that Sundeep and Jayne wish they had known sooner.
“I’m glad I prioritised studying sociology, which I loved,” says Jayne. “That said, I wish I’d been more proactive or had more support to understand the types of careers were available to me. If I could go back in time, I’d access the careers service more and look at the types of role other graduates progressed to. I’d reach out to people in fields I was interested in and ask them questions about their role and industry. If I’d had this figured out, I would have potentially undertaken a more subject-specific Masters course!”
Sundeep wishes more placement opportunities had been available. “I’d have liked the chance to undertake a sandwich course, and wish I’d sought out work experience placements during my undergraduate degree,” she says. “I always knew I wanted to work in the world of Policy and Public Affairs. Humanities degrees and social science degrees should offer more avenues into the world of work. This is especially true now at a time when their value is being questioned.” She is incredibly proud of what she has achieved since graduating from UoB. “I undertook an MSc at Oxford. Considering I went to a comprehensive in special measures in Birmingham, this was a pretty big deal, both for me and my family!” Her advice to students right now? “Be kind to yourself.”
The true value of a Sociology degree
Sundeep uses her sociology degree every day. “When I first started working for an MP, I saw first-hand the real world consequences of political and ideological decisions, and the power of policy on the ground, in communities and in society,” she reflects.
My undergraduate degree hugely shaped the decisions I have made in my career to date.Sundeep Kaur Bhogal
Jayne feels that social sciences graduates bring specific, high value skills to the table. “They have the ability to critically analyse situations and respond in a methodical way,” she says, “with an open and curious mindset, and an appetite to learn.”