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Geography at Cambridge: Student profiles

Geography at Cambridge: Student profiles

Antoinette Cooper

Antionette

The first thing that attracted me to studying geography at Cambridge was the breadth of topics covered within the Tripos. The thought of researching glacial processes and a week later the financial crisis while being encouraged to read beyond the reading list really excited me. Another key aspect of the course that drew me in was the opportunity to have supervisions in small groups with academics in an understanding space where I could explore the many questions which arose.

So far, my favourite topic has been "Environmental Change during the Quaternary" because I had no prior knowledge in this module. Hence, all progress made has felt like an accomplishment in a really interesting field. This module has allowed me to explore my love for natural landforms (yes, I have a rock collection) and delve into their formation in depth. I have also particularly enjoyed "The Cryosphere" because of the way lectures themselves are structured giving enough time to write down valuable information and reiterating key points meaning students are not left disorientated, especially followed by a supervision to raise any concerns. While supervisions seem daunting at first, a detailed reading list is provided, and it is a great place to start. Getting to know fellow academics and becoming comfortable over time through a shared interest for a topic during supervisions has also been lovely and an experience I look forward to next year when I begin to specialise.

In addition to this, the students and staff are extremely willing to help with any and all concerns. Students mainly provide aid through group chats and staff reply to emails fairly quickly and provide very useful guidance which is extremely pleasant. The environment is exceptionally supportive, and students have access to a vast range of resources which definitely removes an aspect of stress.

An initial concern of mine was being able to find a work-life balance, as well as personal organisation. After finding a routine in terms of societies, lectures, dinners, essays and waking hours, everything really comes together into an inclusive and welcoming place which was an extremely nice feeling to experience.

Speaking of the work life balance, a few societies that I have been involved in and highly recommend are Anime Society, Steers Society for geographers specifically, CUGS (The Cambridge University Geographical Society) and Mixed Martial Arts. I have been accompanied by fellow geographers a number of times and has always absolutely fantastic. The amount of contact hours and flexible nature of a geographical timetable enable a significant amount of control over how time is spent. As a result, while occasionally stressful, the Geographical Tripos has been extremely rewarding so far, I have enjoyed it immensely and I would recommend to anyone thinking of applying.

Antoinette Cooper
Second Year Undergraduate

Harriet Brien

Harriet

Finishing school with A Levels in Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Geography and a very broad range of interests meant choosing a course to study at degree level was tricky. After much research and deliberation, and a gap year taking part in the Year in Industry scheme and travelling in South East Asia, I concluded that it was geography that offered the unique combination of the sciences and humanities which I was looking for. Having finished my first year as a geography student at Cambridge, I am confident that I made the right decision.

One of my initial concerns when applying for the course was the fact that it has a lot fewer contact hours than something like the Natural Sciences Tripos. Before university I was also not the most avid of readers and was a bit worried that I would find myself with hours on end trying to read piles of books. Fortunately, I have found the work-life balance of a Cambridge geographer to be very manageable. Reading lists for supervision essays and lectures make it easy to select and find texts to read which are both fascinating and useful. The essay turnaround of about one a week each on a different topic also helps to structure your time and terms. Reading widely helps to explore the interlinking concepts throughout both human and physical geography as well as discovering what really interests you most about the subject. I have valued the equal mix of human and physical modules in the first year, which has opened my eyes to fields I didn't even know existed, and I aim to maintain this balance in my second year of study.

Alongside my studies I have also enjoyed making the most of some of the many opportunities Cambridge has to offer, in particular rowing for my college and organising the College winter ball. There are also a range of grants available from college to university level to support students with additional travel abroad. This summer a college grant enabled me and two fellow geographers to travel to Iceland and see the natural wonders the country has to offer. A fantastic experience! I am also looking forward to future travel opportunities as part of the Geographical Tripos, including the second year field trip to Tenerife and a dissertation research trip next summer.

Harriet Brien
Second Year Undergraduate

Jessica Dobson

Jessica

Even after finishing A-level geography I was unsure of whether I was a human or physical geographer and had always enjoyed both aspects of the subject. Consequently, I was reluctant to choose a degree which might force me to pick between them. I was attracted to the Cambridge geography course because of the diversity of human and physical modules offered. However, it was not until I started my first year that I really appreciated the enormous breadth of topics encompassed by the subject of geography! My first year has provided an introduction to a very broad range of topics: covering areas from the geography of subprime mortgages and the financial crisis, to sustainability and biogeography. I am now planning on continuing to study a mixture of both human and physical papers in my second year.

I have found the geography department, both staff and other students, to be a welcoming and friendly place. When I arrived in Cambridge I was nervous and daunted by the grand buildings, traditions and other students who I thought must all know more than me. However, I soon found that my Director of Studies and other supervisors were always willing to help me and they have all guided me through my first year, providing the support I needed to find my feet.

Supervisions provide an amazing opportunity to engage with academics and this contact time is one of the features which sets studying at Cambridge apart from many other institutions. In my first year I have typically had one supervision a week, usually in small groups of no more than three. Initially I worried that supervisions may be a scary experience where the supervisor would ask impossible questions and expect me to have all the answers. However it isn't actually like that at all. Supervisions are a chance to discuss and debate the material you have been studying and also to improve your understanding of things you may have struggled with. I have found that supervisors are always happy to answer my questions – no matter how obvious the answers!

During my first year I have also enjoyed being able to get involved in a wide range of activities beyond my studies. This has included events run by CUGS (The Cambridge University Geographical Society) and also college rowing and other university societies. In my opinion geographers are some of the most active and sociable people in the university. The relatively flexible nature of our timetables means geography students can manage their studies around an incredible range of other activities and societies.

I have found that the fantastic teaching, contact time with academics and the friendly and sociable atmosphere make the Cambridge geography department a great place to study.

Harriet Brien,
Second year undergraduate

Ollie Baines

Ollie

I've always felt that the breadth of Geography is one of its greatest assets – the ability to study numerous different topics and how they interact with one other is something unique to Geography. This is one of the things that particularly drew me towards reading Geography at Cambridge – the course is mixed, meaning you're not forced to choose to study just one of Human or Physical. First year is split evenly between both disciplines, whilst you can then specialise (or choose to retain breadth) in 2nd and then 3rd year. As a result, I've been able to explore how Human and Physical Geography relate to, and often overlap with, one another. Geography at Cambridge - more than just a continuation of A Level - has actively encouraged me to explore. Units are diverse and include topics I hadn't previously even considered to be part of geography, encompassing everything from Remote Sensing and Biogeography, to Development and Political Ecology. Whilst lectures provide a framework, learning is primarily through exploring associated literature (though fieldwork is also important, with fieldtrips each year), with the supervision format encouraging you to formulate your own opinions and ideas about articles or books you may have read and to discuss these.

This notion of exploring Geography is exemplified by the dissertation, where you're given the opportunity to conduct your own research about a Geographical issue (that can encompass almost everything in reality). Funding is readily available from across Colleges, the Department and the University as a whole, providing you with the opportunity to pursue any topic that interests you. I opted to stay in the UK, travelling to North York Moors for 3 weeks, but other friends studying Geography secured funding to go to abroad to locations as varied as Spain, Norway, the USA and Argentina. My dissertation has provided an amazing opportunity to see a part of the UK I hadn't visited before and to utilise the skills from the first two years of my degree to conduct my own, independent research about a topical issue in a huge amount of depth.

You're expected to work hard at Cambridge (which can seem daunting), but reading Geography (aptly named) leaves you with ample opportunity to explore everything else Cambridge has to offer too, with an emphasis upon literature affording great flexibility in structuring your day. During my time at here, I've attended numerous events run by CUGS (the Cambridge University Geographical Society) and other university wide societies, been heavily involved in (and now am running) my college's Music Society, and recently have even been able to take up rowing (something that I'd never even considered before starting at Cambridge).

Studying Geography at Cambridge has given me an opportunity to study a huge array of different issues from across the globe, and has allowed me to develop an enormous repertoire of skills as a result. I'd recommend anyone with a curious mind, interested in tackling real-world issues to consider studying Geography – my only regret after two years is that I only have one year left!

Ollie Baines,
Third year undergraduate

Andrew Williamson

Coming from a State Comprehensive School and Sixth Form College and having parents who had not attended University, studying at University did, at first, seem a little daunting. Fortunately, I took part in the Sutton Trust Summer School, which provided me with a valuable taster of Higher Education. Learning alongside other avid Geography students, discovering the Department's extensive library (which I came to love as an undergraduate) and outstanding Physical Geography Laboratories, and being taught and inspired by world experts in their field, I was in no doubt that I wanted to study Geography at the University of Cambridge.

Andrew

I was especially attracted to the Cambridge course because it permits study of Physical and Human Geography in equal measure, with the Department recognising the interlinkage often existing between these two areas. This ability to study both Physical and Human Geography is so valuable because I, like many others, had been unsure prior to my degree which area I preferred – especially since GCSE and A-Level Geography are so different from that at University. However, I quickly realised during the broad first-year course that Physical Geography was my preference. I therefore selected second-year papers covering Glacial Processes, Biogeography, and Environmental Hazards. I also continued with Human Geography, choosing a paper on the Historical Geography of Cities. Studying modules on Statistics and Geographical Information Systems (GIS), which may have seemed tedious at the time, provided me with incredibly valuable (and employable) skills, particularly when my dissertation involved substantial GIS. In third year, there is opportunity for complete specialisation, though many of my peers did maintain breadth. Thanks to the range of papers offered, reflecting the Department's wide research agenda, I selected a diversity of Physical Geography topics: Ice Sheet Processes, Quaternary Environments, Biosedimentary Coastal Systems, and Volcanology. I came to appreciate the extent to which Geography is marvelously interlinked by the end of third year, with knowledge I had acquired throughout my time in Cambridge becoming valuable.

Students in the Geography Department are actively encouraged to travel abroad to conduct dissertation research. Funding comes from a plethora of travel grants available to Cambridge students, meaning expenses of over £1,000 can be readily covered. I thus travelled to Arctic Sweden to conduct research on the subglacial drainage system of Storglaciären, working as part of a research team. This left me in no doubt that I wanted to pursue an academic career. With this in mind, I shall remain at Cambridge University to study for an MPhil in Polar Studies at the Scott Polar Research Institute, which is a sub-Department of the Geography Department.

At Cambridge, I have learnt the importance of the 'play hard, work hard' ethic. I have been extensively involved with the University Hillwalking Club of which I was President; I took part in over 30 of the Club's trips. Another benefit of the Collegiate system is that there is never a shortage of societies: I also played for my College Badminton Team and was Co-President of the College's Geographical Society.

The supervision system provides students with the opportunity to discuss Geography topics with world experts in their field on (typically) a two- or three-to-one basis, in a wholly supportive environment. It is therefore unsurprising that Cambridge graduates are some of the best prepared for employment or for continuing with postgraduate study. I am in no doubt that the Cambridge Geography course is world-class and I would thoroughly recommend anyone thinking of applying to do so.

Andrew Williamson
3rd year undergraduate

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