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Department of Geography


Spotlight on alumni

Spotlight on alumni

Profiles of Geography alumni featured in our e-newsletter.

Rebecca Roberts (St Catherine's, 2009)

Rebecca Roberts

I have always loved Geography and the natural world, but it was reading the book Six Degrees by Mark Lynas that inspired me to do Geography as a degree. The book summarises scientific research on what the world would be like with one to six degrees of global warming. Now more than ever, I am so grateful to that book and the decision I made.

What did I gain from studying Geography at Cambridge?

First, inspired by fantastic lecturers and free access to hundreds of books and articles, I found my passion for political ecology. I learned how nature, society and power dance together (and often bump fists with each other). Every time I read an article or have a conversation about society and environment, I always ask myself questions such as 'Who are the winners and losers in this context – whose voices and values are involved?'

Second, I found my love for research. Thanks to grants or contacts from Cambridge, I was able to do undergraduate fieldwork in southern Madagascar and go on to research in rural India as part of an MA in Agriculture and Rural Development at the University of East Anglia. On these trips, I learned the importance of creative, participatory methods in sharing key, but often underrepresented, knowledge. For example, locals created land use maps using a dried riverbed as 'paper' and sticks and stones as markers, and female farmers used universal logos on coloured paper to indicate crop and rainfall trends.

Third, Cambridge taught me the power of networking, and life has taught me the power of going with the flow. A combination of these led me to travel on and off for several years throughout Europe and Asia doing research, journalism and grassroots workshops on sustainability. For example, a coffee with a Cambridge connection led to me spending a year researching into entomophagy (eating insects) and hosting insect lunches for crying children (they weren't crying in the end, in fact they loved the bee larvae, I promise). Reflecting on the importance of participatory methods, I also set up a service called EnviroVisuals which uses art to improve access to and knowledge sharing of environmental and social topics. My photo shows EnviroVisuals in action at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, live recording a talk by Vivien Sansour, founder of the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library.

Ten years on from matriculating at Cambridge, I am settled back in the UK and working at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. My day involves working with fundraisers, scientists, corporate partners and philanthropists; all provide essential input into Kew's global work on climate change, plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development. Outside of work (as it is very important to have an 'outside of work' identity!), I continue with EnviroVisuals and try my best to inspire climate action from the individual to national level.

My advice to anyone who is thinking of studying Geography at Cambridge? Whether it's awe at finding sea fossils at the top of mountains, or a determination to understand the root causes of crime hotspots, if you have passion then Cambridge offers you everything you need to explore this further. There will be the inevitable stressful times, but these will teach you to notice when perfectionism or self-sabotage are trying to take the reins. I try and remind myself daily that perfectionism is the antithesis to passion and curiosity, and as Geographers, these should be our lifeblood.

Gordon Ibbotson (1962)Gordon Ibbotson

I have often been asked, sometimes with a little scepticism; "How did a geographer become an expert in corporate finance, banking and treasury?" My answer is; "A good education".

I read Geography at Cambridge 1962-1965, whilst an Exhibitioner at Downing. However, I spent most of my subsequent career as a financial lecturer, trainer, modeller and consultant. I worked for universities, corporate and investment banks, large corporates and quasi-government bodies. So, I travelled a long way academically from my graduate studies, but I remain a geographer at heart.

At school Geomorphology was my particular passion (Holmes, Steers, Sparks et al), but my sixth-form studies also included History and Economics. At Cambridge in the early sixties we were fortunate to be in on the "Haggettry" revolution, as Dick Grove called it. Our mentors also included Chorley and Stoddart as well as Farmer, Pahl and Grove: the latter my Tutor at Downing (I will never forget Ahaggar, Tisili, Tibesti, Darfur!). The shift from a mainly descriptive geography, which I still love, to a discipline more analytical, quantitative and statistical was so exciting. This "quants" focus, together with my economic and historical geography specialisms, massively influenced my subsequent but totally unplanned career. Also important was the intellectual stimulus from my fellow students: I was prompted to read Karl Popper on empirical methodology in the social sciences – Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend were to come later during my doctoral studies.

On graduation I had no wish to become a professional geographer in popular areas such as research, teaching or planning. As a Sheffield boy I was steeped in the culture of cutlery, steel and refractories manufacturing, so I opted for a business management traineeship at Tube Investments. I didn't actually manage anything, but I did learn all about tube-making and acquired practical workshop skills. Inside a year, good fortune: selected for a company-sponsored place on the Business Administration Diploma course at the recently-established Manchester Business School. A Research Fellowship and the opportunity to study for a Doctorate ("Capital Investment and the Corporate Environment") soon followed. In both my Diploma and Doctoral studies my grounding in social scientific methodology, as well as locational analysis and economics, helped make up for my profound ignorance in all other areas of management studies.

Alongside my research I started teaching corporate finance and credit, taught myself coding and developed financial analysis spread-sheets, which I successfully sold to quite a few banks. As Director of Studies in the International Banking Centre at MBS I became heavily involved in its global development in the '70s – so I finally began to see a lot more of the world I had studied geographically. Whether in the Urals, Zimbabwe, Singapore or Texas I always possessed an invaluable geographical compass; the natural resources, economy, topography and climate.

From our involvement in finance and banking the newly-formed Association of Corporate Treasurers sought our help in developing their professional examinations. I served as a Chief Examiner for 33 years and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship for my services.

As an "accidental academic", I always preferred teaching and consultancy to research and publication. In 1986 I helped raise private capital to establish a financial training company where I served as Finance Director and trainer/consultant until my retirement. Along the way I also served as Non-Executive Director and Audit Chair to a number of private firms and housing associations. As at January 2019 I am doing the legal work to complete our company's life cycle.

So, apart from the academic career opportunities, I think a Geography degree is a great preparation for a great variety of careers, with both qualitative and quantitative dimensions. It also enables career flexibility and serendipity, since the intellectual framework makes it easy to acquire new knowledge and skills. Certainly, with degree courses now so expensive, students have to give more serious thought to their likely future careers than I ever did, but that should not put you off reading Geography, especially at Cambridge.

Reg Taylor (1950) Reg Taylor

When I graduated in 1953 my tutor said that having got a good 2.1 there was a grant at McGill University, Canada, just waiting to be collected. I could not afford much more than the sea crossing so I emigrated. On the rickety boat I shared a communal type of steerage berth with a very seasick man who I tried to help. Later I found out that he was H.C. Darby (future Professor and Head of Cambridge Geography 1966-76 and author of Domesday England) who was a visiting lecturer at the McGill Summer School. We became friends. I completed the summer school programme and on the strength of it was offered a research associate post at McGill. This took me to the subarctic in spirit and later in practice. I and a small team produced the first and only map of the Canadian subarctic using RCAF Trimetragon photographs. It showed a simple topographical and vegetational display but it later formed the basis of other work leading to the creation of the Distant Early Warning System DEW line project.

My second job was in Canadian Industries Ltd, which I found through networking at Cambridge Geogrpahy and a suggestion by a Canadian postgrad geographer. This was something of a multi-disciplined think tank. It included Chemical engineers, mathematicians, physicists and, with me, one geographer. We made lots of proposals for the main Board but very few got into commercial production. One of mine only materialised many years after I left. The concept was to cheaply ship raw phosphate rock from central America, land it in a deep port and then transport it by rail to a processing plant to create an agricultural fertilizer plan for NE Canada. Similar thinking lay behind the creation of the Port Talbot iron and steel industry.

I had to leave Canada in my thirties due to the serious ill health of one of my sons. We returned to the UK and I had to start all over again. I got a market research job in ICI which led to a range of managerial posts in advertising, publicity and eventually international marketing. This was ideal for a budding geographer who had delayed entrance to Cambridge in 1948 for a chance to get abroad in the National Services! This last management job took me and the Dulux Paint brand to most of the old Commonwealth countries and as well as the USA and Mexico.

To sum up, whilst some may regard the geography degree as not a 'pure' subject, in that it subsumes others, it gives the advantage of breadth of vision. My advice for today's Geographers would be to network at Cambridge, meet people from as many other disciplines as you can. Take some risks and when some luck comes along, go for it! But be prepared to change tack and move on. The Cambridge Tripos and its one-to-one tutorial provides a proven and rare training for life. Enjoy it.

Barbara Harris-White (Newnham, 1965) Landscape Drawing by Geoffrey E Hutchings

Never knowing my grandfathers, in the early 1960s I adopted Geoffrey Hutchings, who was Warden of Juniper Hall Field Studies Centre and who himself had adopted the new grammar school where I was a pupil. Not only was he a fine landscape artist (I might have been the teenager on the right), he was also an inspiring teacher of the relationships between physical and human landscapes. So, much to my Headmistress' disappointment, it was Geography. It was Cambridge because my grandmother had claimed she had 'been there' (an early example of post-truth) and Mr Hutchings had told me loudly in front of my year group that once I got to university I would never leave, which did great things for my unpopularity.

I was raised in the outer suburbs of London, was already struck by how boring they were, and so I wanted to be a Town Planner afterwards. Halfway through the Geography degree I tried to move to architecture but my parents could not afford the fourth year that I would have needed. Thanks to Lucy Adrian and Benny Farmer, I enjoyed my final year enormously. My need to escape and the opportunities of CUMC had kick-started mountaineering and Jean Grove had encouraged me to spend 1967 in archives in the Alps uncovering their climatic and economic histories. The Historical Geography options then landed me a job at Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology (now Anglia Ruskin University) teaching alongside Tom Sharpe's hero, Wilt. This kind of trajectory could not possibly happen now.

In between the Geography degree and the first job, with Benny Farmer's encouragement and help from two scholarships, I had read Agricultural Science and Economics, written a thesis on the Green Revolution in India and driven from Cambridge to New Delhi from where we organised a Himalayan mountaineering expedition. After my spell teaching Geography at CCAT, I returned to Cambridge's Centre of South Asian Studies, joined Benny Farmer's big comparative green Revolution Project in South India and Sri Lanka as the Agricultural Economist and, when not in the field, worked above the Mill Pool for 6 further years. Since then I have held down various academic jobs (including 7 years in a medical school) but have been fortunate enough to continue to carry out field research and teach about Indian rural development, India's informal capitalist economy and its many dimensions of deprivation ever since. I've repeatedly returned to regions I started to study in the 70s and 80s.

While I have (co) published 36 books and over 250 papers and chapters, supervised 40 doctoral students and examined 49, advised 7 UN and British and French government agencies, become a Professor and a governor/trustee of various aid and academic institutions, directed Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University, co-founded Oxford's M Phil in Development Studies and founded its Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme, my greatest achievements are my two daughters.

Reading Geography gave me a curiosity about other disciplines and about trans-disciplinary (science/social science) research. It grounded the way I practised Economics. It committed me to the in-depth study of a region (South Asia) through field-work and to repeated visits so that the first rounds of research have become history and my hoarded notes are now archives.

Advice to today's Geography students: – the ecological crisis will be the most important set of processes in your lives. Geography should give you better tools to respond to it than any other discipline.

Gordon Redding

I graduated in Geography in 1958, specializing in Economic Geography, Gordon Reddingand have a strong sense that I never left the subject and it never left me. I have been inspired to look at societies and their progress, but to do respecting other disciplines, staying grounded in reality, and looking for long-term shifts. With comparison as a habit, I am now writing a piece of 'big theory' on how societies succeed or fail. I have published fifteen books, including two recent Oxford Handbooks, essentially on the comparison of societal systems, with a bias towards Asia and especially China.

This curiosity is a logical consequence of experience. I grew up in the dockside streets of Liverpool, immersed as a child in the world of trading, warehouses, ships, industry. At the local grammar school I was lucky to have an inspiring Geography teacher in whose debt I remain. I also had a headmaster determined to push boys as hard as they could handle. From my school, in 1955, six of us were at Cambridge. There I was lucky to meet the Fitzwilliam Censor WS Thatcher, a great economic geographer who became my supervisor and mentor.

After national service I joined a Liverpool department store company with fifteen stores and 6000 employees, and stayed for 10 years: PA in the boardroom, central buyer, store manager and usually immersed in some form of trading, often international. But the bug that bit me was the new idea of management itself. I bought Peter Drucker's The Practice of Management and it added a new perspective to my life.

I wanted both to know more, and to have control over my career, so I joined the doctoral programme at Manchester Business School. It was another mind-expanding experience, and my mentor was Richard Whitely, later one of the main driving forces behind the theory of comparative business systems. From there I went to the University of Hong Kong and stayed for 24 years, on the edge of a rapidly changing China and a key hub in a fast-evolving region. There was then little literature on what was going on, so I did the kind of research I had been taught, using the management knowledge I had acquired, and wrote The Spirit of Chinese Capitalism. This took me into factories and offices all over the region, a habit I maintain. I wanted to know why Liverpool was in decline and Hong Kong was booming.

I also applied the management knowledge I had cultivated as founding Director of the HKU Business School. After the 1997 handover I moved to France and became Director of the ISNEAD Euro-Asia Centre, teaching comparative management. In 2010 I was asked by an Indonesian business leader to establish a think-tank in Singapore aimed at fostering higher education in the region. I did that for four years and remain a Fellow of the HEAD Foundation. In 2014 my wife, who is Vietnamese, and I returned to Europe and have settled in London, near our son, another Cambridge graduate. Here I happily have a choice of libraries. As I write currently I am still doing economic geography. I also feel I have always practised it while working globally. I still remember trying to convince my economist supervisor Mr Harris about seeing the Amazon basin as a holistic system, the magic of Gus Caesar's lectures, the depth of Hartshorne's Nature of Geography, the riveting geomorphology of Bruce Sparks, and the massive regional geographies of Dudley Stamp. I am still repaying the debt for the mental enrichment and frameworks.

Roy Brooke (Wolfson, 1993)

  1. What led you to study for a geography degree initially? What was your ambition Roy Brookebefore coming to University?

I have always been interested in environmental issues and enjoy initiating, leading for pushing for change. For example, in the 1990s before starting my MPhil, I had a summer job selling car stereos. I spent my lunch hours and coffee breaks researching long lists of things the firm needed to do to improve their environmental performance. What attracted me to the MPhil in Geography specifically- quite apart from the change to attend Cambridge- was the opportunity to focus specifically on the intersection between environment and development and find useful ways to contribute in this field.

  1. What was your first job after graduation?

After completing my MPhil, I returned to Canada at the start of the 1993 federal election campaign. I volunteered for a local political candidate with a strong environmental background; he won and was appointed to Cabinet. I joined his political staff, moved to Ottawa and had the opportunity to stay with him in several portfolios: National Revenue, Transport Canada and later, Fisheries and Oceans and then Environment Canada. My time in the latter two portfolios presented the opportunity to work on some of the most challenging issues of the day: rapid salmon stock decline, debate over Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, and the development of species at risk legislation. It was also when people like Amory Lovins, Paul Hawkens and Carl Safina were becoming well known. We had the opportunity to meet many of them and integrate their ideas into our work.

Despite cynicism around politics, I believe that it is still very much a realm where it is possible for people to achieve an enormous amount of good.

  1. Describe your career path since leaving Cambridge Geography. What have been your greatest achievements?

After working in Ottawa for about 9 years, I moved to Europe with my wife. We settled in Switzerland and both worked for United Nations organisations. I was at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, focusing on issues related to environmental emergencies. This work took me to fascinating places such as Iran, Yemen, Ivory Coast and Pemba Island off the coast of Tanzania. In 2008-2009 we moved to Kigali, Rwanda, where I was the United Nations Environment Programme Coordinator. This was a direct and fascinating application of a Master in Environment and Development! Once our son was born, we returned to Canada and I worked as Director of Sustainability for the City of Victoria, BC, my home town. I love work at the urban scale because it is at once concrete, local and connected to the planet's largest challenges.

Now, I work as Executive Director of the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative (MNAI). Through MNAI, we help Canadian local governments to deliver core services such as storm water management by applying traditional asset management and financial tools to natural assets such as forests and wetlands. This results in health, well-managed natural assets delivering core services instead of defaulting to building more engineered infrastructure. This approach is so compelling because it can result in: capital and operating cost savings, healthier ecosystems, and communities that are more resilient to climate change. So, everyone wins. I see huge international applicability for this approach.

  1. What skills do you think studying geography gave you to allow you to succeed in your current profession?

I took an inter-disciplinary approach to my work at Cambridge and this has been essential to everything that I have done since. Developing and honing my research, writing and analytical skills was also very valuable, as was contact with so many motivated and dynamic people.

  1. What would be your advice for today's geographers?

The complex social, environmental and economic challenges of our time cannot be tackled through the application of technical excellence alone, nor through work solely within disciplinary silos. It requires the ability to work across disciplinary and institutional boundaries, the integration of numerous functional skills, and effective communication to diverse audiences. My advice therefore is for geographers to bring this holistic and entrepreneurial approach to whatever issues or challenges they are most motivated to address.

Leigh Turner (Downing, 1976-79)

Leigh TurnerGrowing up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester I was, like many kids with peripatetic parents, intoxicated by the world and its diversity. Geography made sense. So did the Foreign Office, where I pictured myself working in Africa or South America and maybe making a difference.

My first jobs after Cambridge were in the Department of the Environment and the Treasury. I worked on transport policy, the private rented sector and the supply side – fascinating, rewarding jobs with terrific colleagues – but the view from the window rarely changed. When I transferred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), I found the work was surprisingly similar and the colleagues still great. But the windows looked out on all kinds of scenes. I enjoyed the variety; learning new languages (I speak reasonable French, German, Russian and Turkish and some Spanish and Ukrainian); and, yes, making a difference.

I have found my career rewarding. In the Foreign Office, my dreams of Africa and South America turned into postings in Vienna (as second secretary press and political); Moscow (first secretary economic); Berlin (counsellor EU and economic); Kyiv (ambassador); Istanbul (consul general); and Vienna again, since 2016, as bilateral ambassador and UK permanent representative to the UN and other international organisations. In between, I had jobs in London dealing with Hong Kong, Central America, the Overseas Territories, the EU Budget and counter-terrorism. The broad range of spatial and analytical skills you acquire with geography is well suited to the FCO. It obviously helps if you like travelling, and meeting people.

Some of the best advice I ever had was on an FCO development programme at the London Business School where a wise speaker pointed out that in no organisation did every middle manager reach the top. As well as pursuing our careers we should focus on the rest of our lives and ensure we had something else to enjoy, and feel valued for, besides our work. That advice encouraged me to develop hobbies – writing and walking – and to take a career break in Berlin 2002-6 as prime carer for the children – possibly the best four years of my life. During that time I became a free-lancer for the FT and a novelist. I continue to write in my spare time under the name Robert Pimm, under which I write a blog and recently published my first novel, a thriller called Blood Summit.

Geographers: relish your time at Cambridge, and never take a moment of it for granted. Perhaps fortunately, I found myself consistently astonished to be in such a stimulating setting for three years, both at the University and in the Geography Department. Looking back, the degree of freedom we all enjoyed was remarkable. Think critically about the subject, and what you are taught; focus on the fascinating; apply that imaginatively to the world of work; and remember to enjoy the rest of your life, too.

Alison Marshall

Alison Marshall

1) What led you to study for a geography degree initially?

I chose geography because I wanted to work in international development and because I found travelling to other parts of the world fascinating. I was always more drawn to the human, social, economic, political, and cultural aspects and this interest continues today.

2) What was your first job after graduation?

Part-time Geography teacher while I studied for a Masters in Rural Development at the University of Sussex.

3) Describe your career path since leaving Cambridge Geography. What have been your greatest achievements?

After leaving Cambridge I spent the summer with three fellow graduates in Indonesia. We undertook research into provision for Street Children and afterwards explored some of the outer-lying islands.

I worked as a geography teacher for a couple of years, then was able to get on the ladder of international development NGOs through an internship with SOS Sahel. I remember using telex and fax to communicate with colleagues in Sudan: this was before the internet! From there I moved to FARM-Africa, then became a campaigner for Britain's National Parks.

After travelling in South America, I joined Global Justice Now, campaigning for 'Drop the Debt' and trade justice. I became Head of Campaigns at CAFOD, working on debt, aid, environmental protection, Fairtrade and trade justice, corporate power and workers' rights, and was privileged to be part of the co-ordinating committee for 'Make Poverty History'.

I then joined BOND, the umbrella coalition for UK international development NGOs, leading policy and advocacy towards the UK Government. At UNICEF UK, I focused on children's rights, campaigning on climate change, HIV/AIDs and UK child poverty, and reporting to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva.

I became Director of Advocacy, Accountability and Campaigns at the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which works in 172 countries on sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender equality. I travelled all over the world and led our work with BRICS countries.

Now I am Director of Sense International working with / for people with deafblindness (

Along the way I studied for an LLM in Human Rights and an MSc in NGO Management. These degrees, as well as experience gained as a Trustee of Practical Action, of the Fairtrade Foundation, and as Chair of Children's Rights Alliance for England, helped me understand the principles and mechanisms for defence of human rights, as well as the strategic aspects of charity management and leadership.

4) What skills do you think studying geography gave you to allow you to succeed in your current profession?

  • Appreciation of why people do things differently in different places, and how different people see the world in different ways.
  • An idea of how power is constructed and used.
  • A grounding in research and statistics.

5) What would be your advice for today's geographers?

  • Remember that Geography is an extremely useful area of expertise in today's fast changing world: it is insufficiently appreciated, yet it is a fantastic platform for so many careers.
  • Keep in touch with your Geographer friends: a good network is helpful when looking for opportunities and advice.
  • Don't forget the feminist angle to Geography: it helps you see below the surface.
  • Be prepared to study for a further degree, work as an intern and try to get as much practical experience as possible to help standout at job interviews.
  • Sign up as an on-line campaigner and support charities working in your field of interest: a great way to boost your awareness of key issues and current challenges.

Frances Butcher

Frances Butcher

1) What led you to study for a geography degree initially? What was your ambition before coming to University?

I grew up in the Lake District, in a landscape shaped by glaciation. It was the perfect natural classroom for a budding young geographer. The dark skies of the Lake District also encouraged a fascination in astronomy, and I decided to combine both passions and study the geography of planets and moons in the Solar System. First, however, I needed to understand the processes which shape our own planet. A geography degree provided the perfect springboard to the Solar System.

2) How did your Cambridge geography degree lead to your current PhD research?

I was fortunate to have clear ambitions throughout my degree. I took papers in glaciology, volcanology, atmospheric dynamics, and remote sensing, and I decided to apply these topics to the planet Mars for my dissertation. I decided to test whether 3.5 billion year-old ridges close to the south pole of the planet are 'eskers': ridges of sediment deposited within meltwater tunnels carved through glacial ice.

In a timely coincidence, I spotted a seminar on ice on Mars at the Scott Polar Research Institute. I arranged a meeting with the speaker to discuss my proposed research, and she generously offered to host me for two months with the Planetary Environments Research Group at the Open University's campus in Milton Keynes. There, I discovered a vibrant, supportive community of planetary scientists, learned new techniques for processing and analysing data returned by satellites orbiting Mars, and honed the practical research skills I'd learned in Cambridge. This allowed me to show that the south polar ridges on Mars are indeed eskers, and hence that an ancient south polar ice sheet on Mars underwent extensive basal melting 3.5 billion years ago.

Mars had me hooked, and I applied for a full-time PhD at the Open University to continue researching glaciation on the Red Planet. During the first year of my PhD, I published my undergraduate dissertation research in the planetary science journal Icarus. I found myself feeling extremely grateful for the unrelenting encouragement I received back in Cambridge as I casually passed an Apollo astronaut in the corridor on the way to present my dissertation at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston.

3) Describe your postgraduate research since leaving Cambridge Geography. What have been your greatest achievements?

I am now in the third year of my PhD. My research, which is co-supervised by Dr Neil Arnold at SPRI, is focussed on existing debris-covered water ice glaciers in Mars' middle latitudes. My greatest achievement so far is in finding evidence that an existing glacier on Mars produced meltwater just ~110 million years ago (which is very recent for Mars), despite extremely cold, dry climates of this most recent geological period.

Debris-covered water-ice glaciers flowing down the rim of Greg crater in Mars' southern mid-latitudes Exploring the Utah desert with the MURFI rover on the UK Space Agency Mars rover field simulation mission
Debris-covered water-ice glaciers flowing down the rim of Greg crater in Mars' southern mid-latitudes. The leftmost glacier is ~4 km long. CTX image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Elevation data: HRSC. Oblique view: F. Butcher. Exploring the Utah desert with the MURFI rover on the UK Space Agency Mars rover field simulation mission. Photo credit: MURFI 2016 field team

4) What would be your advice for today's geographers?

Use your dissertation wisely, and don't be afraid of trying something new! It is a perfect opportunity to explore a topic, develop skills, and make connections. If you see a seminar of interest, don't be afraid to approach the speaker to ask for advice. You never know where that conversation might led me to Mars!

Sandy McCleery

Alexander McCleery

1) What led you to study for a geography degree initially? What was your ambition before coming to University?

Geography was always my favourite subject at school meaning it seemed the obvious choice to study at University, even if subsequently degree-level Geography turned out to be much wider in scope than I could have possibly imagined. This enjoyment of the subject was thanks to both the encouragement of inspirational school teachers and the idea that studying Geography offered a way of exploring and understanding the world around us. Before arriving, I suppose my ambitions were to pursue an education in a holistic sense by making the most of everything undergraduate life has to offer - Cambridge is full of opportunities, many of which are unique to the University.

2) What was your first job after graduation?

Following graduation, my first stop was the Alison Richard building on Sidgwick site to study for an MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies at the University's Centre of South Asian Studies. I had long had a personal and academic interest in Sri Lanka, and so was encouraged to pursue further study by Dr Alex Jeffrey, Dr Philip Howell and Dr Emma Mawdsley, all of whom had been influential figures during my undergraduate years. Aided by funding from Emmanuel College, I was able to undertake ethnographic research into the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in the UK, examining ideas of memory and postmemory in second and third generation political activists. Upon completion of the MPhil, my first job was a short-term role working with the Tata Group in Delhi, India, consulting on a project concerning the accessibility of age and language-appropriate reading material for children. As of October 2017, I have just started a new job working for the Department for International Development (DfID), in the African Regional Team in Whitehall.

3) Describe your career path since leaving Cambridge Geography. What have been your greatest achievements?

The decision to pursue graduate study gave the additional advantage of offering a little more time to think about a future career path. Initially I considered carrying on to a PhD, but decided that I would benefit from some time away from the academic sphere. I was delighted to be offered a post with DfID as it combines a career in international development with a career in the public sector, which is something I feel strongly about. It is a shame, but the reality, that Cambridge too often functions as a production line for careers into either investment banking or management consultancy. Discussing Princeton, Kushanava Choudhury finds the same thing and writes that, 'no one told us these things at orientation. It was in the ether and we breathed it in'. Unfortunately, neither of these options, in my eyes, speak to combatting many of the global and local social injustices learnt about in undergraduate human Geography, but rather can often contribute to them, unwittingly or not.

4) What skills do you think studying geography gave you to allow you to succeed in your current profession?

The great advantage of studying for a Cambridge Geography degree is not necessarily about the specific knowledge that is learnt - although this helps as well! - but rather the range of transferable skills it offers. First and foremost, the ability to quickly and comprehensively analyse source material is a huge advantage in the workplace. This means not just the ability quickly to understand a piece of writing, diagram or graph, but the ability to critique it, to ask more meaningful questions of it, and therefore, ultimately, use it to help move things forward in whatever context it is being applied to. However, skills are not just developed in the lecture theatre: my Presidency of the Cambridge University Geographical Society was hugely formative in developing teamwork and leadership. In a careers landscape dominated by competencies, Cambridge Geography is fertile ground for developing many of the skills and attributes employers are looking for.

5) What would be your advice for today's geographers?

My advice for today's geographers would be to make the most of, and learn from, everything Cambridge throws at you. Sometimes it is hard to stay positive when you are struggling to get to grips with an essay due in twenty-four hours, you have a rugby match in the afternoon, your friends want you to go out with them that evening, you need to phone home, your bike has a flat tyre, and it is raining outside, but you wouldn't be at the University if the academics who interviewed you did not believe you had the ability and tenacity to thrive under such pressure. Besides, no matter how great the problem, there are always people you can turn to for help and advice. In terms of the Geographical side of things, read widely, and follow-up themes and topics you find yourself particularly interested in. My own particular niches were Sri Lanka, Urban Political Ecology, and more-than-human approaches to Geographical study. Finding these gets easier by third year as you begin to specialise, but you are very unlikely to be penalised in part one if you stray from the official reading list to find relevant material that concerns something of personal interest.