What do geographers do after their degrees?
The Geographical Tripos is an excellent foundation for whichever career you choose. The skills developed through the Geography Tripos are greatly sought after by top employers in many fields.
Below are profiles of from some of our recent graduates.
Dr Jo Casebourne
Programme Director, Institute for Government
I did my PhD in the department from 1998-2001 comparing the impact of Clinton welfare reforms and Labour's New Deal programmes on the employment and poverty of lone parents. As I was finishing up I went straight into a job at the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (now the Learning and Work Institute), an independent not-for-profit research organisation, where my role as a Researcher and then a Project Manager was to evaluate the Labour government's employment policies. This involved responding to 'Invitation's to Tender' from government, winning the work and then conducting independent qualitative evaluations. After 18 months there I moved on to the Institute for Employment Studies for four years as a Researcher and then a Senior Researcher, primarily to improve my quantitative skills, as my PhD had been largely qualitative. I was then asked to return to Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion as their Director of Research, and built up the research team there from three people to 15.
In 2011, after 10 years post-PhD of conducting research into employment issues, I decided I wanted to broaden my interests to public services in general, and so moved to become Director of Public and Social Innovation at Nesta, the UK's innovation foundation, where I was for three and a half years. There I led a team of nine doing research that supported Nesta's funding programmes as well as 'think tank' style work on public services more generally. In 2015 I moved to my current role at the Institute for Government to lead the Institute's work on public services.
I have used and built on the skills I developed doing a PhD in the Geography Department at Cambridge in every job I've had since. It was a very policy-focused PhD, so it was an easy transition to make to work outside of academia in the research and policy world around government. I have also frequently employed other Geographers in my various jobs, as the skill-set you need to do policy and research work for government or in think tanks is very close to those that Geographers develop - an inter-disciplinary approach to a problem is always very useful.
Social Scientist, at vizzuality.com
Four years after graduating, I am still doing geography every day. I work for a data design studio called Vizzuality: we visualise data around environmental protection, human development and transparent governance to tell stories that matter. As their Social Scientist, it's my job to understand how people understand and interact with the world around them, so the things we build lead to positive impacts for people and the planet.
In an average week I'll be interviewing people, running analyses of web statistics, keeping up with the latest literature and blogging about the things I find out. I don't read as much Foucault as I used to but I'm still using theories around social engagement with nature, the politics of representation and international development - and my trusty crayolas, of course.
I wouldn't have got this job if it weren't for my internship, and then job, with UNEP-WCMC, the specialist biodiversity assessment arm of the United Nations Environment Programme based in Cambridge. I worked in the policy team there, on a huge range of new topics and met some amazing people from all over the world who taught me so much about crafting a career, managing projects and life in an office.
I'm based in Cambridge and always happy to chat if you're looking for advice: just e-mail me.
Dominic O'Connor Robinson
Lead Planning Manager, Forest Commission England
It is only now, looking back 10 years later, that I see how profound an impact the Geography Department has had on the development of my career and life post-Cambridge. I vividly remember a series of lectures on UK woodland history in our first year given by Professor Tim Bayliss-Smith (now retired) and his scribbles on the overhead projector explaining coppice cycles and canopy layers. He suggested we read Oliver Rackham's 'Woodlands' and I was hooked; so my journey into all things woodlands and forestry began. I was captivated by what an incredible and under-utilised woodland resource we have in the UK and by the dynamic interaction between people, landscape and wildlife that woods and forests host in so many communities across the globe. Today I work for the Forestry Commission in England and I am responsible for forest planning on the 250,000ha public forest estate.
After graduating I continued my studies at Imperial College London taking the long-established MSc in Environmental Technology. Here I specialised in Ecological Resource Management, i.e. forestry, farming and fisheries. I then applied for the Forestry Commission's Graduate Development Programme and spent the following three years on placements that took me from far flung corners of Wales to the highlands of Scotland, working in every aspect of forestry from operations to research and policy. I then moved to Kent to manage Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest, before taking on my current role, based in the East Midlands. I am now responsible for forest sustainability (ensuring we maintain standards for the Forest Stewardship Council and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification), timber production forecasting (producing 1.3million m3 per annum) and climate change adaptation. The knowledge I developed and skills I learnt from modules in GIS, climate change and biogeography in particular (and of course woodland management) have proved invaluable in my journey to where I am today.
Senior Advocacy Adviser, ActionAid
Completing three years of academic study called for some much needed rest, so I spent my first summer as a graduate travelling around Africa, experiencing first-hand some of the countries and cultures that I studied during my time at Cambridge. A few months later, after swapping African summers for British winters, I sought to put my degree to good use.
Fortuitously, geography opens up plentiful and varied employment opportunities. I decided to pursue a career in politics, and used my knowledge of development to secure an internship working for the Shadow Development Secretary. This subsequently took me into an advisory and research role with the Shadow Culture Secretary, during which time I contributed to policy development ahead of the 2010 General Election.
Moving on from Parliament I took a job working for a public affairs consultancy, advising clients on lobbying and government relations strategies. I supported a range of diverse organisations - from small charities to blue chip multinationals - and latterly specialised in the energy and climate change policy area (once again being able to draw on my geography degree).
Wishing to return to academic study, I decided to embark on a Master's Degree in Development Studies at the University of London. Birkbeck College allows you to study exclusively during evenings and weekends, affording students the opportunity to continue in full-time employment.
After graduating I decided to move on from private consultancy, and took an advocacy role with ActionAid, a South Africa-headquartered international development charity. The focus of the role is communicating ActionAid's policy positions to stakeholders across government and the corporate world. But it also requires a close involvement in the policy development process, for which my academic background in geography has proved particularly valuable. An ability to call upon a theoretical understanding of development and geopolitics allows me to ground my empirical work in theoretical context, and to make informed challenges to perceived realities and truths. Recently, I have found myself looking back over notes and papers from my time at Cambridge: ten years on, and my degree continues to prove its value!