School of Social and Political Science

MSc African Studies


Marianne Holbrook

Marianne graduated in 2020, and was awarded the prize for Best Overall Performance in African Studies for 2020. Since graduating, Marianne has gone on to work as a Foreign Law Clerk at the South African Constitutional Court. Here, she shares her highlights of the programme, her favourite courses - Gender and Development; Digital Activism; and Policing and Punishment - and how she enjoyed studying in a small, international cohort.

MSc African Studies

Studying at the School of Social and Political Science

What made you choose to study at the University of Edinburgh?

I chose to study at Edinburgh University because of its renowned Centre for African Studies.

I’ve always wanted to dive deeper into my interests in Africa and following an undergraduate in law, coming to Edinburgh was a wonderful opportunity for me to embrace that.

The Centre for African Studies houses some of the most incredible minds and offers a wide variety of courses so I really could tailor my degree.

How have you enjoyed your programme?

The programme was wonderful! There is so much to be said for studying for a masters on a relatively small-sized programme which has an international dimension.

You gain so much from the classes as they are small, and because everyone at masters level is so passionate, the discussions are mostly student-driven and so you get such a lot out of them.

The people certainly made the course. In a quite a different way from undergraduate, my lecturers and tutors became close friends! And, being surrounded by people from across the world, not only was the environment in which I studied so rich, but I found myself constantly being challenged to think in new and unfamiliar ways about the issues that we grappled with.

I have left Edinburgh with friends for life, now scattered across the world.

What has been your favourite course?

How to choose a favourite course!? All of them. I enjoyed that all of my courses centred on contemporary issues, so gave me the language and critical thinking to talk in depth about the issues that surround us today.

I particularly enjoyed studying Gender and Development, and Digital Activism in which we looked at how the internet and technology is changing the landscape of protest and activism.

Another favourite course was Policing and Punishment, which gave me the opportunity to explore these issues across the world. It’s too hard to choose!

Aims for after University?

I have always wanted to combine my interest and background in law with my passion and interest in Africa. I wish to pursue a career in human rights law and having spent the last several years completing numerous internships in South Africa for human rights NGOs, I am now working as a Foreign Law Clerk at the South African Constitutional Court.

Working at the Court is a wonderful opportunity for me to continue learning and developing my skills, and being exposed to a wide range of issues keeps me on my toes! Being surrounded by some of the sharpest legal minds in a South African context, is a dream come true for me and would not have been possible without my Master’s.

What does a typical weekday look like for you as a student at SPS?

I was fortunate to live close to George Square, so would enjoy the short walk to lectures. I loved my classes and the rigour of the discussions we had in tutorials, but I usually worked better alone so didn’t find myself in the library too often - mostly, actually, only in Welcome Week when I was lost!

I found it so important to balance work with social life though, so most days would try to fit in a coffee or a walk with a friend. Edinburgh offers so much, and everything within walking distance, that you really need to make the most of it!

What are your highlights from your time at the School of Social and Political Science?

The common thread across all of the highlights of my time at the University of Edinburgh, are the people. Take the time to get to know your fellow students and develop relationships with your lecturers and tutors.

I don’t think I’ll ever again be in such a wonderfully rich, diverse, and intellectually stimulating environment again, and you just can’t really get much out of your course if you plan to do it alone.

Knowing what you do now, what would you say to your past self before starting the course?

It will be too short, over before you know it. And it will be one of the best years of your life.


University life

Are you involved in any student societies?

No. I was part of many student societies and sports during my undergraduate, and personally felt that I wanted to focus on my studies and meeting people on my course.

A masters is pretty full-on so it really is about finding what works for you and your timetable.

Where have you lived while studying at Edinburgh?

I lived in shared flat on Castle Terrace with three best friends. It was not far from campus, and not far from the city centre and I loved the fact that I never needed to take a bus or even cycle. Edinburgh is such a walk-able city.

What has your University experience been like, in just three words?

Community. Inspiring. Memories.

If you recommend ONE thing to do in the first semester what would it be?

Walk. Get to know the city inside out and you can only do it by walking.


The City of Edinburgh

What are your favourite things to do in Edinburgh at the weekend?

I love exploring Edinburgh’s small independent shops and there are always new cafes popping up, so find your favourite brunch spot. For me, weekends were quite relaxed. I

would try to get my work finished during the week, if possible, so that I could enjoy Saturdays cooking with friends, going for walks and watching movies.

I worked part time on Sundays to help finance my studies, which was actually a nice change of scenery from the student bubble.

City of Edinburgh top tip or hidden gem?

The lighthouse book store -it’s a university of its own!

Have you had a part-time job while you've been in Edinburgh?

Yes, I worked part time whilst studying and really enjoyed it! However, it does mean you need to be very focussed and able to balance your work. It’s also important to remember why you’re at Uni, and as tempting as it might be to pick up that extra shift to buy that new house-plant you’ve always wanted, be aware that it can compromise your studies.

Masters degrees are full-on and very intense. You also get out of them what you put in, so it will come down to good time-management and being able to prioritise.