University Courses Q&A Event

Below are the notes from the Undergraduate University Courses Q&A by ClimaTalk that occurred on 21st October at 6:00 PM BST

Date: 21/09/21 

Time: 18:00 BST

Speakers: Gianna, Kenisha, Alex, Hannah, Emma, Vincent

Question 1: Why did you choose Cambridge or the UK over a course in the state?

The US system is very broad – Gianna knew where she was going to study and was able to enter into exactly what she wanted to do. In America you spend the first few years taking a more general course. She liked the education system and liked focusing on exactly what she wanted to do. 

Question 2:  Where is a good place to get work experience for environmental law.

Client Earth – This is an amazing law firm focusing on global environmental issues.

Question 3: What opportunities after a degree are available in terms of the humanitarian sides?

Your location will effect the answer. In the UN they’re often looking for interns starting at Master’s level. One panel member completed his studies in Australia, where it was fairly easy to find work experience as there was less competition. You need to know what you are interested in and where you are located – start by sending out emails to organisations your interested in. If you don’t get a reply carry on.

Question 4: Which Russell group universities offer a sustainability course?

Take a look at to ClimaTalk’s university courses map! Undergraduate courses are not as broad as a Master’s course, so they tend to be just environmental science i.e there is less chance for specialisation. At most Russell group universities they will have some sustainable courses.  LSE in particular specialises more on environmental work so has more options. Some examples:

  • Birmingham – BSc Environmental Sciences (with option of professional placement) 
  • Cardiff – Environmental geography, Environmental geoscience, Environmental sustainability science, 
  • Durham – Climate science, Environmental geoscience
  • Edinburgh – Ecological and Environmental Sciences (with Management)
  • Exeter – Environmental science, Business and environment
  • Glasgow – Environmental geoscience
  • Leeds – Environment and business, Sustainability and environmental management, Ecology and conservation biology, Environmental science (lots here)
  • Liverpool – Environmental science
  • LSE – Environment and development, Environmental Policy with Economics
  • Manchester – Environmental science
  • Newcastle – Environmental science

Gianna – Even if a course feels broad there will be options to specialise within that. 

Question 5:  Clarify the differences between natural sciences and environmental sciences and what you can do with them?

Natural sciences: This is more of a pure science degree. You learn about a range of scientific topics at the start without any particular direction. You can do many combinations and it is very broad. One panel member did a range of different sciences in the first year and second year, then specialized a more in third year. We recommend looking at the structure of courses as each course and each university is different. In natural sciences, there is a lot you can do because of how broad it is. You can go into research, industry. You get a range of transferable skills. 

Environmental science: Taking the natural sciences and applying them specifically to environmental problems, as part of a 4 year degree. The first year is very broad, after which you can specialise to a much greater degree. There are options after to go into academia, work as an environmental analyst or specialise in ecological work.

Question 6:  What type of work would you do with NGOs and what would that open?

This depends on the NGO – there are many NGOs with many different positions.  There are also various departments within each NGO e.g. each is likely to have a legal department. These are very varied – there are communication, media, and political teams (NGOs often have a lot to do with lobbying and being involved in political issues). 

Given NGOs often work with limited funds, being able to volunteer with them is already a step up and will help launch your career upwards. This could be as easy as helping with social media (and then you’ll get to know people). NGOs don’t always have funds so volunteers are usually highly recommended. 

Question 7: How did you find studying in universities in Europe where English is not the first language? Would you need to be fluent in the native language to study there?

For the UK, when you apply you need to complete an English test to ensure you have the level which is necessary. The better your level of English, the easier it will be. Don’t be discouraged – you do get used to the language quite quickly!

Emma is studying her Master’s in France, where currently all her courses are in English. It is typical to have English speaking Master’s in different countries. Don’t let the language barrier hold you back, but having a good level of communication does help. 

Part time jobs can be difficult to find if you don’t speak the country’s native language.

In the Netherlands English is typically spoken. Tuition fees vary dependent on country.

Question 8: Which is more beneficial – doing a university course with a ‘study’ year abroad or doing a university course with a placement year in the environmental/sustainability sector?

A placement year is more valuable. Universities give incentives to NGOs or companies to employ you and it is very beneficial.
Depending on what it is that you want, being able to have a bit more work experience whilst your doing your degree helps to put your degree into context.
The environmental field is very competitive.

Question 9: Is it possible to do a science related degree without a science A level?

For environmental sciences, this is fine. For example, Hannah did 3 A levels: Geography, English, TPE, and none of them were science related, but bio-geography units were fine for her.

Question 10: I’m currently in year 11. I am currently debating on whether I should go for childcare or being an environmental researcher. If I was to choose environmental research, what courses do you suggest I do and how do I get there from where I am now?

In year 11 you’ll be focusing on picking your A levels Pick ones which you enjoy and did well in at GCSE level.  All of your A levels can link, you just need to find their links. It’s still very early days for you! Your plans might change – Hannah’s have, she wanted to be a Geography teacher and now she does not! But focus on what you enjoy. Follow any groups you are interested in.  Take each year as it comes and you’ll be perfectly fine.

Question 11: What work experience is there for animal conservation?/

This largely depends what you are interested in relating to animal conservation, because it is very broad. There’s the research side- looking into genetics – lab work would be good for this. Another good thing would be just to shadow a volunteer who does animal conversation work. Tailor it to your work.  

Question 12: Are there any specific books that you found particularly useful and interesting in terms of a personal statement and wider reading to do with the environment?

  • Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall – Provides a good introduction into borders and geo-politics.
  • All We Can Save by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine Wilkinson – An anthology of essays and poems of women at the forefront of the climate movement. It’s very new and would be a good addition to the personal statement. 
  • This changes Everything by Max Harris – Breaks down environmental concepts and makes it very easy and clearer.
  • Kind Earth – would be great if you want to go into environmental law.
  • Generally keeping up with current affairs (documentaries are great too). “Seeing it is believing it’

Question 13: What courses in university would be good to study to pursue a career related to the  environment?

  • Birmingham – College of Life and Environmental Sciences
  • Cardiff – College of Physical Sciences and Engineering includes Earth and Environmental Sciences Academic school
  • Exeter – College of Life and Environmental Sciences
  • Imperial – Centre for Environmental Policy within Faculty of Natural Sciences
  • Leeds – Faculty of Enironment
  • Liverpool – School of Environmental Sciences
  • LSE – Department of Geography and Environment
  • Manchester – Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, within the school of natural sciences.
  • Newcastle – School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

These are just some examples, but the most important thing is that you like the course!

It’s really important to do what you are interested in. These environmental organisations need a variety of different professionals, so if you do what you enjoy then you will be able to contribute the best. 

Question 14: Due to COVID-19 many NGOs are not offering in person work experience? Do you know of anywhere which offers work experience and do you?

  • Unpaid – there are a lot of opportunities, including at ClimaTalk. 
  • Youth programs
  • NGOs in your area
  • Larger NGOs
  • Internships
  • Springpod
  • Voiz – offer sustainability intern analyst internships 

Question 15: I’m about to apply to the same school as Emma, and am debating international energy or environmental policy. What brought you to decide which Master’s to do and where to study?

The environmental policy Master’s is very practically orientated, compared to a Bachelor’s in the UK which are very content and academic based. In Paris it’s very hands-on. You’re not just writing essays and then having an exam at the end of the year. The best Master’s for you will depend on your interests and on what you want to go into. You do have a lot of options.

Question 16: Do you have any suggestions which are specific to starting a masters?

For the masters personal statement you can tailor it to a specific university, you can really show them why you want to study that course and what experience you have relating to that university. Why do you want to come to that university/ location? 

Question 17: Can anyone give an example of what they added to their personal statement which showed interest in environmentalism, other than books?

  • Musician – performing in nursing homes.
  • Work experience that relates to what you want to do.
  • If A levels relate to your course, you have the necessary experience (essays you wrote, group work, field trips). 
  • Any volunteering experience (e.g. Wildlife trust)
  • Essay competitions – Compass magazine (Cambridge Geographies magazine. Even if you don’t win, it can show your willingness to engage with your course outside of the classroom, on a deeper level)
  • Weekend trips to universities to experience university life.
  • Here is a free course you can do if you still have time to apply (year 11/12) about nature-based solutions if that’s something relevant to you which would also show interest.:

Question 18: What are universities looking for in a Geography student?

2 key characteristics:

1) Loving learning: The Geography course involves learning a lot, especially if you’re doing one that involves human and physical geography. That breadth and depth is what Hannah loves. If you can show enthusiasm from incriminating knowledge- the enthusiasm to have a go. You’re not going to be the best at everything but have a go!

2) Empathy: Some of the topics you can touch can be quite upsetting- inequality, homelessness, the consequences of the climate crisis. Show that you’re not going to just regurgitate what you have learnt, but you’re rather going to apply it in your wider life e.g. by volunteering.

Question 19: Does the media influence how the climate crisis is perceived?

  • The current media coverage is not sufficient but there are hubs of knowledge online e.g. How to Save a Planet podcast.
  • The media does not give credit to the climate crisis (e.g. many refugees have to leave their homes partially due to the climate crisis). It is a problem. 

Question 20: Are there any careers which are not science related in the environment?

There are so many! Policy, Law school – ESG law, Communications. Nearly anything you want to do can be environmental.  You can go into any field and be the person who’s interested in the environment, you can bring the change.

Question 21: Are there any courses which focus on prioritising the environment through architecture ?

  • There are quite a few opportunities, look at the ClimaTalk University Courses map.
  • Any of the major architecture schools are promoting their own sustainable architecture programs. 
  • You can find an angel to make it yours, be it environmental or science related. 

Question 22: If you want to go into animal conversation to positively impact animal lives, which subject or field should someone do at university?

  1. If you have an idea of what you want to do, then go into research – drug testing/drug development degrees. 
  2. If it’s more general, then natural sciences is quite a good bet.
  3. Undergraduate courses are not as specialised.

Question 23: Is an environmental business a sustainable full time job? 

  • The answer is definitely yes, it’s such a big sector. 
  • Environmental consultants in consulting firms.
  • Businesses are being restructured to be more environmentally aware.

Question 24: What work experience programs would you suggest?

Much of this will be location based, and could involve experience in universities.

  • ClimaTalk , which has 11 sub teams. 
  • Voiz
  • Lab work/volunteering 
  • Get involved with societies 
  • GC Europe – Sustainable development, circular economy, etc.
  • NGO experience
  • Vienna Environmental Department 

Question 25: How long do courses take and how long will you be studying in university?

  • Standard 3-4 years. Most other countries (apart from the UK) have a 3 year program – you might be able to add on a placement year.
  • It might have a time limit, so always take a look at that.

Question 26: What is the best thing we as individuals can do to help combat climate change?

Be conscious of the changes you can make. The more you learn about it, the more you can realise that it is something you’re interested in. There is not a wrong way to approach it – wherever you think your skills are, you can help the most.

The planetary boundaries framework talks a lot about tipping points, and what boundaries we can cross and come back from.

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