Three years of exploration and discovery - and a job at the end!

Jon Brooks, Geography graduate 2015

Former soldier Jon Brooks graduated with first-class Honours from the BSc (Hons) Geography degree in 2015. During his final exams, he was offered the position of Compliance Officer with the Local Planning Authority.  

"I chose to study Geography for a number of reasons. Firstly (and arguably most importantly), it’s a subject that I enjoy very much and I take great interest in the changing landscapes around me. Secondly, the variety of skills developed through the course allows one to be able to confidently apply themselves in almost any field of industry. Thirdly, the degree offers the opportunity for travel.

I initially enrolled to USW with the intention of becoming a geography teacher at secondary school level. However, the course quickly opened lots of career pathways to pursue.  I found that town planning and development management perfectly fitted my interests in both human and physical geography and this was the vocation for me.

Why Geography

In its simplest form, the geography degree is a three-year problem solving exercise. Reconstructing long-term climate change and unpacking complex rural/urban social dynamics involves lots of individual research to develop a sound knowledge base in order to create informed ideas. It continually questions the links between people and place and requires students to actively engage in the landscape around them.  It is this exploration and fascinating discovery which I loved most about the degree.

Best moments

The high point for me was the field trip to Newquay, Cornwall. It took place in December of year one, so we had only known each other for a few months and friendships were still being formed.  The last night of the trip, the entire group made the most of Newquay’s festive nightlife and had an absolute blast. After that night, if felt as though I had been best friends with everyone for a lifetime, which for me really signalled the start of my Uni studies.

The project that stands out was the third year Urban Geography assignment where we were required to create an audio walk. The theme was ‘looking anew at a familiar urban location’.  I chose Pontypridd as I’ve spent most of my life living in the area. I discovered more than I ever thought possible, not in the way of dry facts and figures, but of how the everyday townscape behaves, the dynamic interaction between people, buildings, streets and nature.  It proved a most enjoyable experience - even if the sound of my voice on tape made me really cringe!

Gaining experience

For the Work Based Learning module, I spent six weeks at Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council Town Planning Division as a GIS student placement.  I experienced first-hand how Local Planning Authorities operate and assisted with the implementation of the Welsh Assembly Government’s Employability Land Survey. I provided GIS support to planning officers, producing spreadsheet and cartographic representations of data collected from on-site surveys of industrial estates, enterprise zones and innovation parks within the region.

The placement equipped me crucial demonstrable experience of working within a corporate environment and the opportunity to put into practise the skills developed throughout my studies.  This not only bolstered my CV but developed my GIS skills to a level that produced industry grade products that were used within a national study; ultimately improving my work standards for final year GIS projects.

I can say with total confidence that I would not have been offered a job with the Local Planning Authority had I not gained this relevant, industry-based experience."

Thinking of studying Geography? Here are my tips

  • Engage fully with the course from day one
  • Always aim for the highest pass mark achievable and never for the minimum, just to pass 
  • Getting the basics right in your first year - such as use of the LRC, effective researching of online journal resources and correct referencing technique - you will make your studies infinitely easier in years two and three
  • Each year builds on the previous and each subject is linked in some form, so don’t throw out your notes from past modules; I can promise you that you’ll need them!  
  • Approach studies as full-time employment. If you’ve not got a lecture, don’t simply go home and play Xbox or go shopping, just spend an hour in the LRC going over notes or reading an article in a journal that supports what has been covered during the last session. Before you know it, you’ll have a good bank of credible references that will half the time you will need to spend on essays and research projects!  
  • I cannot stress enough the importance of gaining relevant work experience and totally engaging with the Work Based Learning module (if you take it)
  • Conclusion: you only get out of your Uni studies exactly what you put in.  Given the price of degree studies these days, do you really want to spend tens of thousands of pounds on cruising through and graduating disappointed?