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Interview with Julia Paci


This week, SPA Undergraduate News caught up with Ms Julia Paci, Employability and Outreach Manager for the College of Social Sciences and International Studies.

Hi Julia! Good to meet you. Could you first give us a lowdown of your role in the university?

I’m the Employability and Outreach Manager for the College of Social Sciences and International studies. What that means is that I look after the interests of the College’s departments when it comes to delivering the activities we need to provide the best opportunities we can to students to help support their career development and employability skills. This varies a lot from supporting work placement modules and helping develop placement opportunities to bringing in alumni and employers from sectors that are not otherwise represented at careers fairs to create information events and networking sessions.

What are some of the most common questions students ask you when they deliberate on career and employability issues?

There seems to be a sense of “information overload” and actually I find myself constantly sending students links to websites and pointing out where information can be found. Typically, this is on internship opportunities but also on where to look to get advice on writing a CV and cover letter. It’s all fairly basic stuff.  What I have tried to do with my ELE page, My Brilliant Career, is to bring together those most requested links and I carry out research and post up useful websites there. It’s quite a long page but it’s got a lot of good stuff on it!

What do you make of the current job market for SPA undergrads?

This is a really interesting question. The job market is the same for SPA students as anyone else. However, I think students, especially in Sociology and Anthropology, need to be more aware of what they have to offer the employer. A few years ago we ran an event on Management Consultancy specifically for SPA students. It was a real challenge getting students to go but the feedback afterwards was amazing. It helped that the employer was willing to work with us and pitch the event in the right way. The overwhelming response was that this was a careers path which was perfect for a sociologist but that without having gone and tested it out, the students would have never known. It goes to show that it’s good to be open-minded!

Over the years, how has the job market changed in terms of recruitment? What are employers looking out for right now?

One of the biggest changes and pressures for students now is the fact that employers see a good 2:1 degree “as a given” and it’s what else that is on your CV that interests them more. This presents a challenge to the students who get a lower degree classification and also to those struggling to make themselves “stand out” from the crowd. My advice to those who are having a wobbly time right now is not to bury your head in the sand and to try and get any job, especially office-based work with manageable, regular hours that you can comfortably fit in with your studies. Most employers feel much more confident about employing someone with experience and a basic understanding of “office etiquette” (reliability, punctuality, good teamwork skills) than someone who hasn’t got that experience. It doesn’t matter where you get the experience – there are some great SCP internships that are offered at the university. This is exactly the sort of thing that employers are looking for on your CV and will make up for any other gaps.

What do you think are the biggest job market challenges facing SPA undergrads now? What’s your advice to them in overcoming these challenges?

I suppose the biggest challenge in the job market is about the perception of these degrees. There is to some extent a natural progression from say sociology in to social work and charity work, but it’s not a clearly vocational degree. In some respects, this is great because the range of careers you can do with any of these subjects. I am constantly amazed at the variety of different professions students with Philosophy degrees go in to. There are no hard and fast rules! However, there are challenges and learning how you can demonstrate to an employer just how career-orientated your degree is, can make all the difference. I would recommend all students at some point in their degree take time to reflect on the career skills you get from your degree. Helpfully, SPA produced a handbook for this which is on the SPA ELE page and more general information is on My Brilliant Career. It will really help when answering application form questions or at interview.

What are the common career pathways that SPA undergrads take upon graduation?

There isn’t a common career pathway! Having said that, I see a lot of SPA students who want to go on to postgraduate study and I think that some students find a vocation during their three-year degree which then involves some kind of re-training. An obvious example is teaching which is popular, but also social work, nursing or law conversions. Other popular career choices are marketing and public-relations. These are careers where you almost always have to start at the bottom and work up. You have to have realistic expectations and set yourselves clear goals of what you want to achieve and by when. We recently piloted an event called “Careers that make society work” which brought together people working in jobs which help others such as charity work, or in areas such as probation and child protection. These areas are also popular with SPA students and I hope to make this event a regular feature of our career events programme for SPA students to attend.

What are the distinguishing qualities that SPA undergrads bring to the workforce?

I can answer this question with two examples but there will be many more. Firstly, SPA students bring to the workplace a number of skills, especially the all-important people skills and an understanding of human nature and what makes people behave in certain ways. This is incredibly valuable in any workforce. Employers are always looking for a balance of new recruits to work together and will identify those who demonstrate these qualities as potential employees. With the new BSc degree in Sociology and Criminology there are additional distinguishing qualities which students can offer with their data analysis skills. Students with these strong credentials bring to the workforce qualities and skills which are much in demand by employers, and on top of that they bring an enquiring mind that can be nurtured and developed by the employer.

And finally, what’s the most satisfying takeaway you get from your job?

I get job satisfaction when an event goes well and I like to think that I organise high quality events with a range of interesting speakers. I like the freedom I have to try different things. Most recently, I have been developing more skills session with employers but with different twists to them, making them more interactive and less reliant on passive listening. I also get an enormous amount of personal satisfaction when I see students that I have helped do well. Sometimes it doesn’t always happen straight away but I keep up to date with their progress on LinkedIn. I get some lovely thank you emails too, which I keep and look at if I am having a stressful day – they always cheer me up!I get job satisfaction when an event goes well and I like to think that I organise high quality events with a range of interesting speakers. I like the freedom I have to try different things. Most recently, I have been developing more skills session with employers but with different twists to them, making them more interactive and less reliant on passive listening. I also get an enormous amount of personal satisfaction when I see students that I have helped do well. Sometimes it doesn’t always happen straight away but I keep up to date with their progress on LinkedIn. I get some lovely thank you emails too, which I keep and look at if I am having a stressful day – they always cheer me up!

Interested to discover more career opportunities the department provides? Then head on down to the Facebook page that Julia runs:

Jason Chang

Interview with sociologist Dr Matthias Varul


This week SPA Undergraduate News interviews Dr Matthias Varul, a sociologist in the department specializing in cultural sociology and social theory. In this interview we asked Matthias about his research interests and his views on students’ experiences.

On his background

That was unexpected! I’m a sociologist first of all. I studied sociology with Islamic studies and philosophy as by-subjects. I did a study in industrial sociology, organizational sociology, Taylorism, post-Fordism, expropriation of subjectivities – basically how enterprises try to get hold of employees’ subjectivities and identities as a resource. For my PhD, I’ve written a study on health consumerism that promotes various hypotheses, the central being that of health consumerism as a translation of money into morality.  I came here in 2004 and have since then done various things on studying consumerism society, ethical consumption and engaging more broadly in cultural sociology and in social theory. I’m very much interested in capitalism, its moral implications and its moral underpinnings.

On his current research interests

I’ve developed an interest in the role of religion and capitalist development especially on the interrelation between Islam and capitalism with particular attention to Turkey, the late 90s, what they call the “Anatolian Tigers” and the interrelations between economic development and a specific Turkish variety of Islam, sort of a neo-Sufi Islam. All this in relation to the emergence of an Islamic consumer culture, which is interesting because of its political and cultural implications.

On his book project

I am working on a book project “Ghosts and Spirits of Capitalism: Past, Present and Future or yet to come” in which I try to weave all the above into a narrative from into capitalism, through capitalism and out of capitalism; so I’ve got some ideas of how consumerism is suggestive of a socialist future. I’ve written a socialist defence of consumer culture which doubles as a consumerist critique of capitalism. So I’m trying to break the link between consumerism and capitalism.

On inspiration for his book

I haven’t got a book contract yet but I have been contacted by a representative of a publisher who has read my blog and suggested “don’t you want to write a book proposal?” I looked at my miscellaneous writings and the underlying theoretical claims and I thought “actually, there is a story in there.” For example, there is a story in the role of accumulation of ideology. Just like there was an original accumulation of productive resources at the beginning of capitalism there also was an original accumulation of ideologies, disciplines, theologies which sort of made it possible for capitalism to emerge in a specific historical situation. Then there’s the idea that these religious bases of capitalism are destroyed by the capitalist process itself. There are new quasi-religious and moral ideas emerging out of everyday capitalist practices. They reproduce mentalities and ideas of the past that then haunt capitalism: that’s this idea of the ghosts and the machine.

On consumerism

Consumer societies are commodity societies and that means that everything is exchangeable to everything else, or translatable. So you can basically translate your t-shirt into my jacket if you know what the prices are and you think about what it says about how much you’re worth, how much I’m worth. It says something about your position in society, and it also communicates back to you how much valued you are in society, so it’s also a question of recognition.

It is also about collective and individual identity, which is bound together in the logic of fashion. So what you do is, you reproduce an existing style as your own. You can’t just copy. So if you were to get into say, to quote one more prominent style on campus, you can’t just be a Jack Wills person by looking at another Jack Wills person and recreate that item by item. They would basically say that you’re fake.

On student life and its ties to consumerism

You are still in a formative life stage, your identity as a student is less fixed because more of your life is left.  You have more chances to change and you are less compelled to justify your past life. You are still more, kind of, “your future”. And also you’ve got a cut from your past, you move into a different context, you have an opportunity to reinvent yourself without having to explain to your mates all the time. University is a space where you can experiment. That’s how a university should be which is why it’s very important to have available space at this stage where you can try out ideas, try out futures where you can dream and that is also reflected in the way you dress which is also an aspect of consumerism. That being embedded in a consumer culture plays into each other because you style yourself aesthetically as that person that you want to become. From the other side, as most people of my age will tell you, it’s very likely that not all of your dreams will come true. But you can still represent some of those dreams, too, by stylistic references.

On seeing the diversity of students every year

There are sort of regularities, but especially with what I am doing, when doing the Imaging Social Worlds class, there we’ve got very small groups where you have more direct interaction. It’s a constant reminder of individuality. If you step back, there are certain student fashions and styles, they might look very uniform in some ways. But then you realise that they all have got their own aspirations, dreams, insecurities and hopes.

For more information on Matthias’ work, visit his blog at

Jason Chang


Desert Island Books with Anthony King

Tony King

This week for our “Desert Island” column, we interview Professor Anthony King. Professor King is a sociologist with his main research interests in social theory, sport and the military. He publishes widely, with a distinct intellectual interest in the formation and interaction of different social groups.

I have had the privilege in being taught under him, and he has brought to lectures a stimulating and rigorous array of topics such as his exploration of crowd dynamics, the mechanisms behind the functioning of organisations and the maintenance of the class hierarchy in our society.

His most recent publication, The Combat Soldier, explores how combat soldiers generate and sustain group cohesion even when they are under enemy fire.

In this interview, we ask Professor King what 5 books he would bring for his desert island retreat.

So Professor King, which 5 books would you bring to a desert island, and why?

Tony: Lists of this kind are fun but they are also tricky; to select what I think are genuinely the 5 best books I have ever read is almost impossible for me. Five is too few. It also rather depends on what kind of book and what kind of context. But here are five that impressed me deeply and still do.

1. Joseph Heller – Catch-22

Based on Heller’s experiences in the US Air Force in WWII, this novel is a profoundly funny yet also moving satire on modern rationality, capitalism and its individualist ethos.

2. Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina

Tolstoy situates the personal tragedy of a woman in a rich historical and social context, all within a pragmatic existential philosophy. The best novel ever written? Possibly.

3. Philip Larkin – The Whitsun Weddings

It is not particularly easy always to like Larkin either personally or politically. But this highly technical collection of poems situates personal experiences within an astute depiction of late twentieth century British society. It is easy to read them as pessimistic and scornful. In fact, I think there is a strong romanticism underpinning his work.

4. TS Eliot – The Waste Land and other Poems

The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land are widely considered to introduced modernism to English poetry thereby revolutionizing it. I agree. Two extraordinary pieces which draw on numerous literary traditions to analyse contemporary society and its ills. Not bad for a bank manager.

5. William Shakespeare – Hamlet

The greatest of his plays. No more needs to be said.

For more information about Professor Anthony King, check out his staff profile here.

Jason Chang

Interview with SocAntSoc President Issy Hoole

So hello Issy! I hope you’re doing alright with everything uni! Let’s get the ball rolling. Could you give us a brief intro about yourself?

Hey! I’m Issy, as you said and I am in my third and final year of my BA Sociology degree! I am from East Sussex, but was born in Wiltshire, so my West Country blood drew me back to Exeter for my undergraduate studies. Despite how pretentious this sounds, I wanted to study Sociology to do my bit to change the world for the better… It would appear that is a little bit more difficult than my naïve pre-degree self had thought.

Well it’s great that there’s a certain drive behind you studying sociology! Being President of the Sociology and Anthropology society, could you tell us more about the society?

Yeah sure! Essentially we are a lovely bunch, who get together for socials of all shapes and sizes, organise careers events and support the department in various ways. Whilst predominantly our members are those who study either Sociology or Anthropology (or a combination), some members are total outsiders interested in what we do!

Why should students join the society then, and how would they benefit from being a part of it?

The society was a great help for me in my first year when I was struggling to settle in. It was a great way to meet new people who study my subject, particularly as it is hard to make friends in a lecture setting. Therefore, having a group of people who know what you’re going through is great. As well as that, by being a member you get discounted rates on Stash and Socials. Often the talks we put on are relevant to careers which we feel social scientists would want to go into, which the Career Zone do not tend to focus on as heavily.

What are the benefits from being a part of the committee then from your own experience?

I think it has taught me a lot about working with other people. We all work really well as a team, but due to the pressure of student life, sometimes people can’t always fulfil their role to their full potential, and therefore someone else has to step up to the plate. Therefore, the experience has taught me how to organise a team. I was Vice President last year, but the President role is a lot more heavily involved with the Guild. I am now a lot more aware of what the Students Guild does for societies and the processes involved. Of course, being a final year, I have learnt (well perhaps am still learning) the art of time management. It is a really rewarding job as well, when you see that all your plans come together, and people are at a social enjoying themselves. That’s what I do it for really!

In what ways do the committee collaborate with the Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology department?

In various ways. Often the department may call on us to help them out at Open Days or Offer Holder Events. As well as this, SocAntSoc in conjunction with SPA piloted a study buddy scheme, which was to help the first year students settle into life at Exeter. The feedback from this pilot scheme is going on to develop something more established for 2015/16. As well as this the lecturers help us advertise our events in lectures sometimes too. Also, they help us to sort out events and talks e.g. Ann Kelly pointed us in the direction of the event with ‘George Marcus’ last term. We also speak in the introduction week talks, so that the first years meet us alongside the department. We most definitely work as a team!

So you mentioned that the society organizes regular socials and events. What sort of socials are these? What was your last social about?

We have a range of socials, pub quizzes, cocktail evenings, nights out, picnics and more! We try to ensure there are a nice mix of events throughout the year. Our last social was a fancy dress night out, where you had to dress up as something which started with the same initial as your last name. I was an iPod, and the Social Sec Lily was a lion!

What can we look forward to from future SocAnt events?

Well, I am very sad to say that my time in SocAntSoc is coming to an end as I will be graduating this summer and moving away from Exeter. However I hope to go out with a bang! We have got some really exciting plans for a Murder Mystery Night at the end of term. This will be the official hand over event for the new committee, and we are hoping it will be a great night. Watch this space for more information! We should have a couple more events in the meantime though! For more information on our events, like us on Facebook.

How can students join the committee?

On the week commencing 9th of March, we will be holding our Annual General Meeting. This is when the new committee get elected. You put forward a manifesto, which then goes up online, and members then vote on our website on the Guild page for their new committee. The positions up for grabs this year are: President, Vice President, Treasurer, Social Sec(s), Publicity Sec and Academic and Careers Rep. We also elect a Fresher’s rep in the beginning of Term 1 of each year. If you would like to find out more you can e-mail me ( or come along to our ‘Meet the Committee’ event on the 4th March to find out what it is like to be a member of the SocAntSoc team.

And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island, what are the three books that you would bring along to keep you company?

Half the Sky – How to change the world. (Kristof and WuDunn). It is an incredible book about various women who are oppressed in various different ways escape their terrible situation, and find new ways of life, where they are then successful. This book was the reason I chose to study Sociology. Chavs- The demonization of the working class (Owen Jones). It is my bible and always will be. I love everything about Owen Jones. The Progressive Patriot (Billy Bragg). I am a huge fan of Billy Bragg and his politics, and this is a very well written book, which discusses being proud to be British, whilst wanting to avoid the radical politics of groups such as the BNP.

For anyone interested in joining the committee, you will be able to put forward your manifesto and vote (for members only) at this link when it goes live: In the meantime, “Like” the Sociology and Anthropology Society at their Facebook page: or follow them on Twitter @socantsoc

Jason Chang

Image credit: Rachel Reed