Maisha Islam: BA (Hons) Sociology 2014-2017; Student Engagement Research and Projects Officer, University of Winchester

16 Jun 21

“Make sure the degree you study is the one you’re passionate about. I nearly went into a Primary Education degree but studying Sociology was the best decision of my life because it set into motion everything that has happened since.”

Maisha Islam is a 2017 graduate and a Student Engagement Research and Projects Officer at the University of Winchester. Having gained a first-class honours degree in Sociology, Maisha started to take part in extracurricular opportunities during her studies and now oversees the ‘Get Involved’ site – a University of Winchester resource encouraging our students to take part in the wide-range of activities the University and Winchester Student Union have to offer.

“My responsibilities are a mixed bag and I wear lots of different hats. However, I love working with staff and students across the University and Winchester Student Union.  I also work on raising student awareness of the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR), ensuring that students are verifying and having their extracurricular activities formally recognised – a real gem when wanting to impress potential employers!”

“My role is really diverse which allows me to work on lots of difference projects. I love that no one week is the same but core things such as the research aspect of my role is the part that I really enjoy.”

“This year my work has been getting more recognition in the Higher Education sector - I’ve had 16 different occasions to speak about my work this year, either at national conferences, panels or at other universities (both in the UK and internationally!). My work is focused on the university experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic students, including Muslim students. I was really pleased to have three journal articles published this year and release my first report that investigated the experiences of our Asian students. It’s been hard work but I feel like it’s paying off.”

Maisha built her experiences in student engagement by taking part in opportunities herself while studying, eventually applying for a graduate internship and working her way up in the University.  

“In my second year I felt like I hadn’t done anything so I became a Student Academic Representative and a Student Listener. These were the first engagement activities I took part in as a student and it showed me how much I was missing out on!”.

“One engagement opportunity can always lead to others. For example, I was given more opportunities to represent my Sociology course as a Student Academic Representative by taking part in interview panels and Open Days. This gave me the confidence to look further into things like volunteering where I supported a Rural Refugee Network event at the university. I also secured a place on Winchester Hub's Social Impact Internship Scheme, where I worked with a local church in Southampton for eight weeks as a Social Research Intern in the summer of my final year.”

“I did all of these things because I realised a degree is not enough. I had struggled in interviews which showed me how employers are more concerned about what you’re going to bring to the table rather than solely your studies because without tangible experience you can’t show what you’ve done. You really need to do the extracurriculars outside of your degree, so you can supplement your formal qualification.”

Maisha credits her degree for her success since graduating. She adds that the course builds your skills over time until you are confident enough to apply them to working life.

“The Sociology degree at Winchester gives you a strong basis for academic skills development such as learning how to write critically or how to present findings, both independently and part of a group. I felt my Sociology assignments spoke to a variety of learning styles and you benefit from diverse assessment modes such as debating, reports, essays and reflections.”

“The course is developmental and you’re eased into learning these skills. I started off doing group presentations and in my second year I did my first individual presentation. By my final year, I felt more confident in my abilities, especially writing essays and presenting publicly (somewhat overcoming what was/is my worst fear!).”

“Social research skills are the foundation of what I’m doing now, and Sociology provided me with this knowledge and skillset. It is so underestimated and definitely an underdog of degrees, in my opinion!”

“I learned a lot about inequalities and this helps regarding my work focused on Muslim students and students of colour. For example, learning why inequality exists and persists has made me want to be a part of the change in dismantling it.”

“The lecturers on the course are so supportive. For example, this year I wanted to gain lecturing experience and my old lecturers were great, facilitating me to conduct two one-hour seminars teaching on the Gender and Religion module.”

Maisha commends Winchester and the supportive community at the University. She says a lot of this support is easier to get when going to a smaller sized university. However, she did have some difficulties settling into the university when joining in 2014.

“I commuted as I live in Southampton. Winchester is close to home and has great travel links via train to get to the University.”

“I felt out of the University bubble in my first year. Being outwardly Muslim I felt I didn’t fit in but it gets easier. By third year I felt there was a nice community at Winchester. You don’t just feel like a name or a number; you feel like someone.

“I’m glad there are now more representational networks and societies since I’ve graduated, including the Winchester Student Union’s Islamic Student Network and Asian Student Network which I’ve supported students to set up.”

“It also takes a lot to speak out to 200 students in a lecture hall, but being in a smaller, less intimidating setting helps build confidence. I’m not sure how much my confidence could have grown at a larger university.”

“I would like to see more people of colour from neighbouring cities coming to and being welcomed at the university, especially as we are considering race equality a lot more now. I feel I’ve gained so much from Winchester and so I want more people who look like me to feel they can speak out, make that difference and change a mind.”

Maisha has many good memories from university but having her academic achievements recognised by her friends and peers at graduation is a moment she’ll always be proud to reflect on.

“My best memory is my graduation. I got a first-class honours degree and a faculty award; my uncle bought the graduation DVD which I watched back, and it was music to my ears hearing my name being announced. Prior to university, I never felt academically gifted; my teachers didn’t see much in me so if you had told me I could get a first-class honours degree and that I would be doing a doctorate I wouldn’t have believed it. Higher Education really does help you tap into your potential and coming to university made me realise that.”

Maisha is happy in her current role at the University and is currently working towards her Doctorate in Education which she started in 2019. She will also be continuing her term as a Student Panel Member at the Office for Students (the regulator of English Higher Education).

“I plan on completing my Doctorate in the next few years. I also plan on making more of a national name for myself in the UK Higher Education sector, while knowing what I do is benefitting others that look like me. I feel I’ve been able to do this with my role at the Office for Students.”

Having been a graduate for over three years now and working at the University, Maisha has some savvy advice for current and prospective students about why it’s important to choose the right course and some advice post-graduation.

“Make sure the degree you study is the one you’re passionate about. I nearly went into a Primary Education degree but studying Sociology was the best decision of my life because it set into motion everything that has happened since.”

“The harsh truth is that it is competitive out there and, as scary as it is, do think about the future as early as possible! University goes too quickly so create opportunities if you feel they’re not there and don’t be afraid to speak out – you never know what impact you could have being a pioneer.“

“I’ve had really supportive line management to gain my current role. I’ve taken on more responsibility and my growth has been facilitated for me but I’m rising to that challenge. It’s important that you make your job work for you and your passions – communicate what you want to get out of a role as you can really succeed in a job that you’re passionate about.”








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