Alumni Sam Tetlow (’14)
On debating and the Debating Society
Why did you choose to come to Northumbria?
I ended up at Northumbria in 2011 through clearing and to be honest at first I was apprehensive about coming to Northumbria as I hadn’t visited the uni or the department. But in a matter of weeks all my worries had disappeared as I realised that Northumbria was the right choice for me and completely suited my academic needs.
What issues or areas of politics were you interested in specifically and how has this changed (if at all)?
When I first started university I was mostly interested in domestic UK politics and political philosophy but it’s fair to say my interests have now become a lot broader since I initially started my degree. My focus is now mostly around international relations and feminism. Thanks to some really good lectures I quickly realised that it was politics in the international sphere that excited me most. In my second and third year I took options that focused on international relations and as result I feel I’m pretty geared up for further study in this area.
What has interested you most in your degree?
As a whole I found all aspects of my degree really interesting but the areas that interested me most were the international relations elements. While in an initial sense most people associate IR with war and power politics it was the softer elements of international relations that interested me the most. One of the most interesting modules of my degree was the Global Justice module in my third year. This moved away from my initial conceptualisation of IR and helped me begin to think about why states should care and have an obligation to act on global issues. This in turn helped me massively with my dissertation where cosmopolitanism was a key theme.
You have been very active in the Debating Society. What was your role?
I started going to debating society in my first year because at the end of the day I was a really opinionated person and where else was better for me? After attending the society for a year I took up a position in the committee as events coordinator, all this meant was sorting going to competitions and the socials. In a way it was a high reward and low effort role but it was fun. In my final year I went on to be training officer. This was a role that had more responsibility but I felt it was the role that best suited me as I was one of the most active members on the competitive debating circuit. So it’s fair to say that I have progressed from simply enjoying the society in my first year to taking a far more active role in my third year, they were both as rewarding as each other.
What were some highlights in your debating activities?
There were quite a few parts of debating that were a highlight but they were all important for different reasons. One of my favourite parts of debating at university was competing at the European debate competition in Manchester last year. I spent a week in Manchester not only debating but meeting loads of new people from across Europe, spending time with my friends, going out at night, watching some incredible people speak and generally having a good time. It showed me that while debating may not instinctively seem like the coolest thing, you can still have an amazing time and meet some really nice people along the way. Another highlight of my time debating was setting up the debating societies state schools program. What we essentially did was set up a free program where we offered debating in schools that would never have usually been offered it. As well as being rewarding in itself we also ended up winning NUS society of the year 2013 which was a massive achievement. The final main highlight of debating was eventually showing progression and starting to do well. I became more confident in my speaking and starting to do well at national competitions. This was a win-win as not only did I get to travel the country visiting new places, making new friends and having a good time I also started be able genuinely compete in competitive debates.
Is participation in the Debating Society particularly useful to Politics students?
I initially started debating because I thought it would be a fun thing to do but I quickly realised that it had a huge benefit to my degree. The main thing it did was help me develop the skills to quickly and effectively critique arguments and statements, something that obviously has a massive benefit in any social science degree. It’s debating’s focus on tearing apart arguments that translates so well into the world in politics because essentially you should never see anything at face value. To be a good politics student you have try and pick apart sources and theory to the near point of exhaustion. The nature of debating forces you to present arguments in a clear and structured way. I found that the debating helped create structure and focus in my arguments which in turn helped me achieve the higher grades on the course. At the core of any debate there needs to be analyse, structure and focus. The focus of essays is exactly the same.
Did your debating activities have an influence on your degree or vice versa?
A politics degree and debating go hand in hand. The nature of politics degree means that you’re pretty geared up for getting involved in debating as you already have a lot of the knowledge you need to be good in a debate. All your lectures, your seminar reading and general interest in politics mean that you’re already pretty geared up to do well in debating. When I was at national competitions I’d frequently use the stuff I’d read for the seminar that week which really meant I was killing two birds with one stone. I also think that the debating gave me the confidence to speak in seminars and engage properly in the discussion in class. Because at the end of the day if I could give a 5 minute speech with little preparation speaking up in a seminar with my pre prepared reading and points didn’t seem daunting. I also think that debating helped gain interest in politics that wasn’t necessarily taught on the course in depth. Debating covers a huge range of topics and my interests in feminism, green politics and African politics really initially stemmed from debating not my degree. But what I looked at in debating translated into my degree and it meant finding relevant and original case studies for my assignments became dramatically less difficult.
Have you undertaken any other activities in which your Politics degree and/or the Debating society were useful?
I think that politics is always relevant as it affects day-to-day life. Having a politics degree means that you can look at the news and the media and understand it in a greater depth, something that has intrinsic value. I feel that my politics degree has helped me understand the world around me in a way that I certainly didn’t when I started my degree at the age of 18. As for the debating the ability to clearly structure and argument or a statement benefits my everyday life. I think the area that debating has helped most was when I began applying for jobs when I graduated. Appearing confident is half way to getting a job and my time debating meant that I had a competitive edge in a job market that isn’t currently being kind to graduates.
What are your plans for the future?
I am currently taking a year out of education and have headed back to Manchester for a year to work and save money. I have just started a sales analysis role for a Manchester based company and while entering the world of work is daunting the change from academia is very refreshing. However, my long-term plan is to do a masters or a PhD. I’ll be starting applications for masters and studentships in 2015 over the coming academic year. The long-term aim would be to do a PhD in IR and feminism and eventually end up working for a think tank or an international body such as the EU or the UN.