MPhil in Environmental Policy – University of Cambridge

by Audrey Plyler

  • Course: MPhil in Environmental Policy
  • Level: Postgraduate, Master of Philosophy
  • University: University of Cambridge
  • Length: 10 months (full-time)
  • Location: Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Course Summary

‘Successful environmental policy depends on the ability of its makers to bring together scientific information, analytical thinking and an awareness of the economic, legal, social and political realities of environmental regulation.’ This MPhil provides the knowledge and training necessary to those who want to gain expertise working with environmental policy. 

This is a taught course – the first two terms of which are assessed with essays and exams, and the third term is focused mainly on writing the dissertation requirement. The research topic is chosen at the very start of the course, with the research and data collection expected to occur on the same timeline as the taught modules. 

The mandatory modules cover research methods and design, environmental economics, and environmental law. 

For the three optional modules, students can pick from a variety of offerings from the Department of:

  • Land Economy, including Environmental Values
  • Energy and Climate Change
  • Rural Environment
  • Economic Development and Land-use Policies
  • Climate Change Policy


  1. What did you like most about the course?

My favorite part of the course was learning something new every day. The calibre of the lecturers is truly impressive and having a front row seat to their research makes you feel as though you’re really up to speed with the cutting edge policy of today and tomorrow. As you might expect, the connections you make, whether between your lecturers and supervisors or with your peers, are also a very valuable part of the whole experience.  

  1. What did you do before this course? Are there any specific requirements to being able to apply to and take this course?

There were no prerequisites for this course, other than to have achieved a UK High II.i Honours Degree or an international equivalent (undergraduate degree with top marks). Before this course I had graduated from the University of South Carolina with a dual degree in Economics and International Business, interned for a short time at the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and spent a year doing conservation fieldwork.  

  1. What sort of work are you doing (e.g. more group work/more individual work; more project-based work/more essay writing etc.)?

Most of the assessed work for this course is individual, however the supervisions often included some type of group-work element, which isn’t graded. A few of the modules required projects as a final assessment, but the majority employed essays and/or exams.

  1. Is there anything you would change about the course?

The general pastoral help for this course was well-intentioned but somewhat disorganised. For this reason, it’s helpful to have a connection with other people in your cohort, because we acted as a support network for each other throughout the course. I also think having more time for the research and writing of the dissertation element would have been preferable. It’s challenging to pick a research topic when you haven’t studied the material yet, and the short timeline of the course limits the quality and quantity of data that you’re able to obtain and analyse.

  1. Why did you choose this course over other courses you may have been considering?

I just searched Environmental Policy courses at Cambridge and applied on a whim. As you can probably guess, a lot of people set their sights on Oxbridge because of the name you get to put on your CV, and I can’t say that I was any different when choosing this course.

  1. What is life at this university like?

The University is divided into colleges, which gives students a chance to interact with a smaller group of peers from varied academic backgrounds; this makes it much easier to get settled and make lasting friendships. While you should also spend time getting to know your course colleagues, it’s difficult for this course in particular, because the topic of conversation often circles back to the impending doom of climate change, and it can be quite exhausting. The town itself is beautiful and small, but makes you feel very tall, looking down from the shoulders you stand on when you study here.

  1. What are you planning on doing after you’ve graduated/what are you currently doing if you have graduated? What are typical jobs graduates do after completing the course?

I currently work in project management at a conservation NGO in Cambridge, a job which I’m planning on doing until my existential dread compels me to go live in the woods somewhere. Maybe someone will pay me to be a park ranger if I hang around a national park long enough. My fellow graduates have gone on to do a variety of things, which includes working for other environmental NGOs, doing policy work for the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and environmental consulting with PwC.

Audrey is a recent graduate from the MPhil in Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge (2018 – 2019) where she completed a dissertation on environmental impact mitigation in encampments of displaced people and the influence of international environmental norms on humanitarian aid. Before her time at Cambridge, she obtained a BSc in Economics and International Business from the University of South Carolina, interned with the US Commercial Service and the US Environmental Protection Agency, and spent a year in the field, restoring riparian habitat with the Washington Conservation Corps. She now works as a Project Administration Officer at TRAFFIC International, an NGO headquartered in Cambridge and working around the world to halt illegal wildlife trafficking. 

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