February is now upon us and for applicants this often involves a second visit to your prospective department for a post-offer applicant day. With this in mind, I’ll aim to give an in-depth answer to some of the most frequently asked questions at these events.
What is involved in an average week for a Geography/Environment student?
Teaching in the Environment department is mainly done through lectures and seminars (or lab practicals if you are on a BSc programme). Generally there is one seminar to every 2 to 3 lectures in a module. Lectures are more formal and in larger classes, they might be with all the students in your year group (as is the case with several first year modules) or, quite often, just the students on your particular degree programme – I find this particularly beneficial as it keeps lecture classes smaller and so allows you to ask questions. Seminars are more informal classes with around 15 students (but may be smaller depending on the size of your module); they are often discussion activities based on contents from the associated lectures or, more commonly, set readings. The amount of reading required for seminars will increase as you move through your years here. Seminars are a great opportunity to consolidate your knowledge and seek extra help, particularly when working on a piece of coursework!
The amount of contact hours you have per week will vary but, in my experience, it tended to be around 12-15 in first year and then a slightly reduced 10-12 hours in second year. Third year will have significantly less since your research project will take up two modules worth of credits. The autumn and spring terms are the most contact hour intense with the summer term having a significantly reduced amount per week to allow you to finish your assignments and revise for exams (oh, and go on a field trip). Your contact hours take place primarily in the lecture and seminar rooms in the brand new Environment building but may also be next door, in the Biology building which has also recently undergone an extension.
How am I assessed and how often will this be?
Overall I would say that Environment degree streams are more coursework based than exam based but this will depend on your choice of modules. As a Human Geography student I did four exams in first year and have three exams in second year. Compared to other courses this is relatively low (which most people like!) but it does mean that there is plenty of work – especially essay writing – to be done throughout the term. Essays may be conventional responses to a set question or a report about some practical or research work you did, for example following your field trips. Coursework may also be in the form of group projects and group/pairs presentations (normally to your seminar group).
With regards the extent to which you are of assessed, assessments (be it exams, essays, reports or presentations) tend to each have a 10 credit weighting. Each year has 120 credits and so you will have around 12 pieces of work to complete in each of your first and second years.
What support networks are in place for me?
The lecturers! With the Environment department being relatively small and each programme having no more than 50 students you will find that the academics that teach you are very willing to help when you are stuck. All teaching staff have their own offices within the Environment department and designated office hours where you can drop by to seek help with any of their modules – I have always found them to be very responsive by email too if you don’t fancy a one-on-one! You will also be assigned a supervisor in first year who will support you throughout the duration of your studies, especially with issues like module choices. They are also there to write your references so keep them happy!
Besides teaching staff you may also seek help from the likes of the University’s ‘Maths Skills Centre’ if you have any statistical based work that is causing you a problem. The Department also has their own Careers representative who regularly puts on talks giving advice on CV writing, gaining work experience and other employment related issues. They are very happy to help you on a one-on-one basis with your CV or help you find summer or year internships for when you have completed your second year.
Aside from these more general concerns, a lot of students also have very specific questions about the content and nature of their particular programme and modules. I would seriously recommend coming up for a second visit and asking these questions directly. Module conveners are also happy to take questions over email. Equally, feel free to leave a comment for me, especially if you have applied for the Human Geography course.