Reasons to be Cheerful: Environment and Geography


To be honest, at the start of this course the idea of frequent field trips was daunting to me. I hadn’t done a geography GCSE or A-level, so I had little experience of trekking up hills in the pouring rain. I didn’t believe I had the desire (or the stamina) to do so. But my expectations couldn’t have been further from reality. Finding Jurassic fossils in Pickering Quarry, sketching the cliffs of Scarborough and gazing out across the North Yorkshire Moors, have been some of the highlights of the course.

In first year, we went on a couple of day-long excursions and one 3-day residential trip. During each of these, I managed to keep a smile on my face despite the wild weather (and always being the person puffing at the back of the group!). Let’s face it: who doesn’t get excited by coach travel, packed lunches and bunkbeds!?

This year, I will be taking two trips with the department. The first is a 1-night stay in the Lake District; part of the Earth Processes and Landforms module where we will study the evidence left behind after the last glaciation. The second is the famous week-long Tenerife field course. This will involve trips to waste and water management works, the national park and (of course) taking full advantage of the all-inclusive ice-cream. So, get your rucksacks, waterproofs and hiking boots at the ready!

Lab work

I knew there would be frequent lab work involved which was an aspect of the course I was unsure about. I didn’t think I would understand what was going on, what to do or how to use the fancy equipment. Often, I would imagine being left alone for five minutes and contaminating the whole building, but, luckily, that hasn’t happened (yet!). The lecturers and lab technicians are very clear and kind and never expect you to know how to do something you have never done before. We always receive step-by-step instructions or demonstrations and help if we are designing our own method. First-year allowed me to undertake some really cool projects where I could use the fancy equipment I was once scared of. Such as measuring water quality variables in River Ouse samples and determining the levels of NO2 in student accommodation.

So far in second year we have measured the growth of bacteria, separated suspended solids from lake water samples and analysed the effects of nitrogen and phosphorous on plant growth. Now, putting on my lab coat is one of my favourite things to do!

Departmental seminars

Hosted by the Department, different speakers from various organisations talk weekly about the work or research they are involved with. The presentations are open for anyone from any course or year group to attend. You can chill out, eat your lunch and just listen to what they have to say, (for once) there is no need to take notes!

In first year, I went to the majority of these seminars, be they about rainforest ecology, climate change chemistry or oceanography. I found most of them interesting in one way or another. I recommend going to as many as possible as they open your eyes to some real-world applications of your degree. You can learn about topics that your course doesn’t cover or hear about careers or companies you never knew existed. Atkins gave one of my favourite departmental seminar presentations; they are an environmental consultancy firm who came to advertise their graduate program. After learning about the jobs they provide to a handful of graduates across the country, my mind was opened to the exciting places this degree could take me in the future!

Report writing

I’m not sure how popular this opinion will be… but I really love writing reports! At first, I felt that being given some aims and objectives, collecting lab or field data and being sent on my way to write a 1500 word document was a big ask but I’ve found that the more I am given, the easier it becomes.

A basic scientific report is made up of 6 sections: an abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion and conclusion. Each has specific criteria to fill. Although starting any piece of work is always the hardest part, and gathering sources can sometimes be a challenge. I find that once I get my teeth into it, writing and completing each of the sections is very satisfying. I prefer writing reports to essays. Essays are based predominantly off your own project and results, rather than solely talking about other people’s findings. A once blank page quickly becomes a very precious piece of research. Every person works their socks off to submit something they are proud of. So please, get stuck into the reports and see if you agree with me!

The lecturers

Finally, as cliché as it sounds, it is true that the best thing about the time you spend at university is the people you spend it with. You will make so many friends here at York: with your housemates, course mates and through sport and societies. Although I have found that the lecturers also have a big influence.

The staff that work in the Environment and Geography Department are some of the most interesting people I have ever met. The variety of expertise is so wide. One of my lecturers, Dean Waters, works in bat conservation and another, Claire Hughes, studies ozone-depletion. There’s also Professor Callum Roberts, who was involved in making the documentary Blue Planet II. Most lecturers bring their own research experience into the module they teach, and you will read the papers they have written and see the photos they have taken. Photos of jungles, selfies at coral reefs and videos of penguins in Antarctica. They are also very giving people, who always have time to talk to you whether it be course-related or not. So don’t be nervous; everyone in the department is a friend!

Of course there are many other exciting aspects to studying in the Environment and Geography department. Perhaps you are most looking forward to having lectures and seminars. Or working in a brand new state-of-the-art building, or spending your days with like-minded people. Everything about coming to York is wonderful, so what I will say is: look forward to it all!

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Hello! My name is Hazel and here are my 3 (+2!) things to look forward to about the Environment and Geography Department. As a second-year student, I can guarantee that from day one, you will love this university and the amazing city that surrounds it.