Postgraduate queries: I am interested in doing a Masters in sociology with emphasis on social geography. Do any universities offer this course?

Steve McCormack

Q: I am interested in doing a Masters in sociology with emphasis on social geography. Do any universities offer this course?

A: The phrase used most commonly to describe the course I think you have in mind is "human geography". It's the study of how people affect the places they inhabit, or how geography affects people.

Many places offer these Masters, but each course has a flavour of its own, reflecting historic strengths and specialisms within specific universities. Sometimes these are reflected in course titles. The University of Utrecht, for example, has a Masters in human geography and planning, while the University of Glasgow has a research Masters in human geography: space, politics and power.

Since you're approaching this from a sociological angle, this suggests a course principally concerned with human behaviour, but you'll recognise which course is for you only when you dig a little deeper into the course programme and, perhaps, also talking to tutors, to find out what they consider is the DNA of each course.

Q: Four years ago I got a BSc in construction management and am now working as a civil engineer. Is there a way I can add to or upgrade my degree by distance learning, so that I have a BEng in civil engineering?

A: There's no easy way that a construction management degree can be topped up to a BEng in civil engineering, since the two degrees are very different. What's more, there are no accredited distance learning BEng courses, though there are some part-time ones.

However, it is possible to do a general civil engineering MSc by distance learning – Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh and the University of Surrey have suitable courses. Acceptance on to one of these would depend on an assessment of your first degree and your practical experience in the civil engineering world.

It's also possible to qualify as a professional engineer via what's known as the technical report route, under the auspices of the Institution of Civil Engineers ( whose education team will be able to tell you more.

Q: Where can I do a PhD relating to the security industry? I got an MSc in international business 11 years ago, and have set up a successful private security firm.

A: Your inquiry is timely. Only a fortnight ago, a University of York academic drew attention to what he described as an "interesting funding opportunity" for a PhD looking at "regulatory reform and the private security industry".

It's hosted within York's politics department and linked to a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Even though it's a niche area, there are several institutions where the private security landscape is studied. At the University of Bristol, for example, a student in the department of sociology, politics and international studies is currently working towards a doctorate on the link between gender and race and the private security industry, while the University of Leicester's department of criminology has also hosted research in this area.

There's plenty of scope within that broad title. From nightclub bouncers, to stewards at football matches and pop concerts, and bodyguards accompanying politicians and the super-rich in countless locations around the world, private security is a fact of modern life that society needs to understand and regulate. And that can't be done without reliably researched facts.

Send your queries to Steve McCormack at