Fiona Powell, graduate in BA Social Policy and Sociology at the University of Leeds.

Fiona Powell

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a mature student and live in East Leeds. The area I live in is classified as a socially deprived area, with low progression. My background in adult nursing meant I worked in a number of acute settings, which is where I developed an interest in how health was affected by inequalities and also in addiction.

I studied with the Open University and Leeds Addiction Unit, doing work related modules in Dementia Care, Counselling as well as Addiction Studies. Prior to returning to nursing in 2002 I was unemployed for many years. I always wanted to study full time at university and it was whilst my daughter was going through the UCAS application process that I told her I envied her going to university. She uttered the phrase “Well, put your money where your mouth is, stop talking about it and apply.” I did so, with no expectation of getting an offer, let alone the unconditional one that I received! I am passionate about trying to tackle inequalities, having experienced welfare myself I know how it feels. 

What motivated you to apply for your course at Leeds?

I previously studied for 18 months with University of Leeds on an Advanced Diploma in Nursing (Mental Health) and did a module in the sociology of mental health. I’ve always had an interest in inequalities which is what interested me in sociology and social policy.

I’ve also done previous study with the Open University and Leeds Addiction Unit (ratified by the University of Leeds). I loved studying at Leeds the first time round in 2008 but had to leave as I’m a single parent and my children were still quite young. I always planned to return.

What do you think of your course?

There have been so many but being taught by the people whose research I am reading is a definite highlight. I have really enjoyed Dr Sharon Elley’s modules, Professor Shildrick lecturing on class and leading my seminars, as well as any lecture given by Dr Tom Campbell, not to forget Dr Formby who has taught me on several modules, helped me at innumerable open doors, and is now supervising my dissertation. 

How would you describe the guidance you've received? 

I’ve found that staff are happy to give support, guidance and advice at their open door sessions and outside of those times too, with many encouraging me to email to arrange times to chat.  Our Student Support Service and the office staff are unfailingly helpful, whether it's changing a module or having a crisis, they are always there to help.

What do you think of the facilities?

To describe the facilities in one word would be ‘brilliant’. We have with four libraries (five counting St James), computer clusters accessible all over campus and the Skills@Library sessions. We are very fortunate to have generous alumni that contribute.

Have you been granted any scholarships or won any awards?

I hold a Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship, which is a 2-year scholarship doing live research. In the summer of 2016 I worked on Dr Ana Manzano’s CRIMSON project examining how patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis encountered decision-making with disease-modifying therapies. Over the summer of 2017 I worked on Professor Nick Taylor from School of Law’s research into how student’s on two modules in the School of Law engage with Lecture Capture.

Have you been involved in any extra-curricular activities?

Over the summer of 2017, prior to working on my scholarship project, I undertook a Q-Step internship. This is an initiative to encourage social science students to engage with quantitative data. It comprises a five-day intensive data analysis course in using R, a quantitative analysis program, followed by a four week workplace internship. My placement was at the Department of Health, working on Long Term Adult Social Care Planning.  My role was examining Housing Wealth changes over time in over 65’s.

As part of this I produced a presentation which I delivered to senior statisticians and economists in Leeds and London (via video-conferencing). I was informed that my research and presentation would be taken to the Cabinet Office. Partly as a result of the guidance I received on placement I applied for Civil Service FastStream and (subject to Final Selection Board) I will graduate with a job working for the Government Social Research Unit. I plan to negotiate combining this with postgraduate study (hopefully here at the University of Leeds).

Are there any other comments you'd like to make?

I have thoroughly enjoyed my degree at Leeds. Sociology and Social Policy is not only a fascinating degree with the ability to tailor it to your own interests, it has the potential to open so many doors for you.