MSc in Climate Change – University College London

by Jarmo Kikstra 

Course: MSc in Climate Change
Level: Postgraduate, Master of Science
University: University College London
Length: 1 year (full-time)
Location: London, United Kingdom
Language: English

Course Summary

Climate change is not an issue that can be sufficiently covered by just one single perspective. While just a physical phenomenon in its strictest definition, it is driven by human activity, and its impacts are felt across ecosystems and societies. This course aims to provide you with an overview of the different scientific fields that go into different aspects of what is one of the defining issues of our time. It covers different fields, timescales and methods, in an attempt to provide a sense of understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of climate change.

The one-year MSc Climate Change at University College London (UCL) offers students a solid basis in the physics of climate change and introduces strategies to adapt to and mitigate against its impacts and consequences. The course consists of four core modules in the first term to provide a fundamental basis in climate science. In term two, four advanced courses can be chosen from a range of options. The third term is for writing the Master thesis.

Term one modules (compulsory):

  • Climate Dynamics
  • Models in Environmental Science
  • Past Climates
  • Mitigation and Adaptation to Environmental Change

Term two modules (free choice – depending on availability):

  • Biological Indicators of Environmental Change
  • Cities and Climate Change
  • Climate Modelling
  • Climate Change Impacts to Hydro-ecological systems
  • Climate Proxies
  • Environmental GIS
  • Ocean Circulation and Climate Change
  • Politics of Climate Change
  • Surface Water Modelling
  • Terrestrial Carbon: Modelling and Monitoring


  1. What did you like most about the course?

What’s great about this course is how it is very much multidisciplinary, while master’s programmes normally are quite focussed on one specific academic discipline. For me, it recognises that any useful understanding of, or solution to, challenges regarding climate change is necessarily interdisciplinary. While at an advanced stage in your education, what you are provided with is actually an introduction. In this course, you get a basis that is solid enough to build upon in your further work or research, which can range widely due to its broad approach. 

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

The prerequisites for this course are not very specific, though it will be helpful to have a background in environmental science or geography. When in doubt, I would recommend simply emailing the University College London (UCL) geography department to enquire about whether you would need to do anything to prepare for the course. 

In my case, I studied BSc Technology, Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. During this course I became familiarised with a very broad set of disciplines, ranging from physics to psychology, and from environmental policy to numerical methods. I had not taken any courses in physical geography or climate change before starting. While this meant I lacked some of the correct terminology at the beginning of the course, it definitely was not a major obstacle. 

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

The work in this course is for the most part individual essay writing. This essay writing is seen as preparation for research work and is generally also approached as such. There are some minor parts of the course that are group work, but this is often not assessed. For some of the chosen modules, you might have an exam at the end of the module instead of an essay.

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

I would highly encourage the programme to include more (graded) project-based group work and writing. This would, in my eyes, stimulate peer-learning as well as active thinking about connecting the different perspectives from various courses. In addition, a stronger focus on more feedback regarding student work could enable more learning for students, when compared to the current relative focus on grading matrices without much feedback.

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

I also considered the Climate Change master’s degrees at the University of Copenhagen and King’s College London. I chose UCL over King’s College because it seemed to allow for more freedom in choosing modules across both physical and human geography domains. Compared to Copenhagen, I preferred London for the expected increased opportunities for creating a professional/academic network. I really enjoyed the opportunity to interact with scholars across London and would highly recommend that students in London not only attend their respective courses, but also join, for instance, the open seminars at the London School of Economics as well as the Grantham Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet Lectures at Imperial College.

  1. What is life at this university like?

As a master’s programme, it is relatively individual, but also generally quite small-scale. In our MSc course, we often would have classes with 20-30 students (though some had more, as it would be paired with students from other courses). In our case, we had a lot of interaction and shared classes with students from another physical geography MSc degree, Environmental Modelling. The main square next to the Geography department is quite beautiful and the steps of the Portico lend themselves perfectly to a nice lunch. London itself is unfortunately very expensive because of high rents, so going to the student pub around the corner for discounted beers comes highly recommended (and some of the lecturers might even join every now and then after a prolonged journal club)! 

  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’m currently working as a research assistant at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria at the Energy, Climate and Environment programme. I combine this with a PhD in Integrated Assessment Modelling of climate change and development at Imperial College London. Other classmates have found themselves also pursuing a PhD, and a fair share found a job in an environmental consultancy firm after their graduation. 

Jarmo Kikstra is a research assistant at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and PhD candidate at Imperial College London. Before joining IIASA, Jarmo finished the MSc course (2019) in Climate Change at University College London and a BSc degree (2018) in Technology, Liberal Arts, and Sciences from the University of Twente. He has worked on the cost-benefit analysis of climate change and the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the energy transition for a world that meets the Paris Agreement targets. Currently, he is involved in the Decent Living Energy project which focuses on gaining insight into the current state and future developments of poverty and its energy implications. In addition, he is a contributing author of the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC

Twitter: @jkikstra

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