Akash Sriram

MA Conflict, Development and Security 2019

Why did you pick the University of Leeds?

I had read papers and books written by academics at the School of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) much before I was in the process of applying to universities in the UK. Once I started applying, I knew Leeds was the best place for me, because the academics at POLIS whose research I read with admiration, possessed skills and the expertise that matched what I wanted to study and learn.

Tell us about your degree at the University of Leeds

My degree at the University of Leeds was wonderful and really wish the experience only lasted longer. The classes were very engaging and thought-provoking with lots of room to debate, discuss, and share ideas. We had few contact hours with teachers and lots of learning came from reading (loads of it), but what that meant for me was that learning was flexible, I could learn, read, and write when and how I wanted and wasn't forced to follow a system that I may not have been happy with.

All my assessments were essays and a final dissertation. Again, this suited me very well because, for me, this is the best manner in which, one's depth of understanding of complex concepts can be tested. Writing a 3,000-word essay would take me weeks and most of my time would be spent reading for the essay and in most cases, we could choose the topic we wanted to write on, which again meant, we weren't hemmed in by a rigid structure and I could learn what I wanted to learn.

Thankfully, fewer contact hours didn't mean professors and lecturers were distant and unapproachable, it was rather the opposite. A lot of my learning came from interactions with professors during one-on-one meetings with them. They pay special attention to you and your work, engagement during lectures and seminars and will provide clear, succinct, and constructive feedback and appreciation where it is due. If I ever wanted some mentoring, all I had to do was drop an email or knock on their door.

How was studying in Leeds different to your previous academic experiences?

Leeds gave me a lot of freedom, independence, and flexibility, which is what I was yearning for in my undergraduate degree. The diverse set of friends I made and the people I met were very focussed and knowledgeable and engaged with the intent to share, listen, and learn. When you are surrounded by such people, it pushes you to do better and gives you an open mind.

What were the greatest challenges and rewards throughout your degree?

The greatest challenge for me was adjusting to the immense amount of reading, and how essays are written. I had to read as much in two weeks of postgraduate degree as I did during my entire 3-year undergraduate degree. Since I was not used to the amount of academic reading, I found it very difficult to cope in the first few weeks, but soon, with the help of professors, the library, and some friends, I learnt some methods that I could use to read quickly but effectively. Reading since then has been very enjoyable.

The essays I had to write were expected to be very high quality with a great depth of understanding, a wide range of reading and highly analytical. This is something I understood after receiving feedback for the first essay I wrote. I sat down my tutor and discussed how my essay could have been better and more suited to the British education system. The feedback session was very helpful and along with workshops organised by the library, I was able to cope with it, fairly easily.

How did staff help you throughout your time and did you use any support services at university?

At university, you as a person may know what you want to do and achieve, but may not know how to get to it, I was in a similar situation and staff have helped me achieve my goals by merely signposting and pointing me towards resources which are in abundance at the university.

I found the staff at the library especially helpful. They helped me access resources and workshops organised by the library make use of these resources especially whilst researching for and writing my dissertation.

The International Student Office was also very helpful with their guides and checklists. They were very helpful in helping me prepare to study at Leeds and settle down at the university.

What support did you access at University to help with your career goals? 

The careers centre helped me understand the nature of the jobs market in the UK, how the work visa system works. Workshops on how to manage your LinkedIn profile, write your resume and cover letter. An event that my department and the careers centre held on careers paths taken by alumni of the school was very helpful too. That helped me narrow in on one career path that I wanted to pursue and gave me a 10-year goal to focus on. 

How was the student-life at Leeds?

Being in a vibrant, young, student city like Leeds is nothing but a boon. The city is very student-friendly, fun, and energetic yet has a relaxing vibe to it compared to the cities I have lived in, in the past. The people are very friendly and being a very inexpensive city, it has the best of both worlds, the facilities of a large city like London or Manchester whilst only costing half as much.

Living in university accommodation, I couldn't have asked for more. The accommodation was very comfortable, private, and also only a 30-second walk to the edge of the campus. My classes were no more than a 5-minute walk away and the city centre was just 10-15 minutes away by walk.

A single-unit campus gave me a sense of community and belonging and everything on campus was not more than 15 minutes away, which is practical because sometimes, transitioning from the library or the Union to class was seamless and easy.

What advice would you offer to anyone thinking about applying to the University of Leeds?

I would advise prospective students to go through teaching staff listings, read their work, get to know them before you apply, this way, you would know where you want to study with greater conviction. Leeds has a great variety of academics and you are more likely than not to find a good match. Finding a professor before starting a degree would you hit the ground running in what is a short master's degree with a mentor to work with.

I couldn't be happier to recommend studying at Leeds, simply because the support system is great, you have space and freedom to learn and grow in a truly wonderful and friendly city. What more could a student ask for?