Frequently asked questions for the School of Geographical Sciences

We asked the School of Geographical Sciences some questions about what it's like to study with them. Here's what they said.

We are adapting our teaching methods and spaces in accordance with the latest COVID guidelines and therefore the information below may be subject to change.

What makes this department at the University of Bristol unique?

Geographical Sciences welcomes students who enjoy being challenged and who want a geography degree that requires them to be independent and creative. If you want in-depth training in a range of geographical thinking, methods and practices and opportunities to apply these, then this is the course for you!

Over the course of three years we put emphasis on developing key numerical, analytical and writing skills so that when students graduate they are ready to enter the world of work or go on to further research. To do so we devote much of the first two years to training – initially in both physical and human geography, then in year two with the opportunity to combine or specialise. This means that it is not necessary to decide now if you want to focus on human or physical geography but try both subjects at undergraduate level and then explore what fascinates you the most in years two and three. We also require all students to undertake quantitative methods training and computing. This is designed to help you develop skills in logical reasoning and become inquisitive about the data that society regularly uses but doesn't always have the facilities to question. It doesn't mean that you'll be doing mathematics but learning how to use information to map, analyse and visualise complex social problems. In the final year students undertake a large independent research project – the dissertation – which is currently worth 25% of the degree mark. This project is an opportunity to bring together methods, techniques and ideas you have learned in years one and two and use them to develop work that focuses on a topic of particular interest. Of course, a member of the academic staff works to support this research but it is led by the student.

How does the research at the school benefit the experience of the students at the school?

Geographical Sciences at Bristol is a rich and diverse integrative discipline that brings together the physical and human dimensions of the world in which we live. Our research is characterised by the global significance of the questions we ask and our teaching is research-informed. In practice, that means you'll be working with some of the key people at the leading edge of world research. For instance, in years two and three, courses are delivered by people who have contributed to and lead on sections of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change. Elsewhere you might be taught by people who have developed the methods you're using – and which are used throughout geography research. Many of the units you take, the literature used and the concepts developed are drawn from the most recent publications. And it is not just a one way relationship. By the time you undertake the dissertation, you will be contributing to the research literature. For instance, last year our students undertook dissertations which measured the incidence of micro plastics in our local rivers for the first time revealing new evidence about the scale of the micro plastic problem.

What does the school do to welcome students when they first start at Bristol?

Bristol Geography was one of the first departments to instigate a pre-sessional field trip for new arrivals. Because this trip has such good social, developmental and practical aspects, we moved it into week one of the teaching program to ensure all students can attend. It forms the basis of teaching for the first month across physical and human geography. Going out into the field also provides a great opportunity for new students to get to know each other and the staff, meaning that they know many more people on their course. Within Geography, there is a very active Geog Soc (Geographical Society) who host a quiz on the field trip and organise events throughout the year. They even arrange 'parenting' activities where incoming students are introduced to more senior students who can provide them with guidance whilst studying at Bristol.

What is the first year timetable like for this course?

The first-year time table is highly varied and very few weeks look alike. For instance, typically, three days of week one are spent in the field, currently in Tewkesbury. Subsequent weeks have a variety of practical classes for quantitative geography, small-group tutorials for pastoral tutoring (usually around 8 people), lectures introducing human geography, physical geography and key concepts in geography. There are also medium-size groups to introduce skills and training for reading academic work, writing essays and producing high quality visualizations of geographical data.

Where can I find out more about the detailed structure and content of the degree programmes?

During the first year all students on all courses take the same core courses. In year two, students can choose from a range of physical or human units. The combination of these units directs you into either physical geography methods training or human geography methods training. Where you go on the field trip is also dictated by your unit choices: in the past we have provided four trips, which are tailored to your training needs. We are pleased to note as the trips are designed to link with training all costs are included in the program and we do not run trips on a pay as you can basis. Find out more about the course details.

What support does the school offer to new students?

Our main support is provided through three distinct settings. Firstly, all students are assigned a pastoral tutor within the department. This is a member of academic staff and our aim is for a student to have the same member of staff all through their university career. The pastoral tutor is not only someone who is there as a point of contact in the department but also a source of information for assignments, personal concerns and issues, one of the people who will write references and support the transition firstly from school to university but then on from university to further study or employment. As with all University of Bristol departments, we also have a team of Wellbeing officer Advisers within the department Faculty who work with our School Education team. Secondly, the week one field trip can provide an opportunity for students to get to know their cohort and develop life-long friendships. Having a space in which it is possible to meet people all in the same situation and embarking on their university career has, we have found, been a really effective way of building a strong cohort of students who look out for each other. The Geography Society (GeoSoc) works to further the cohort development with activities and social events as well as trips and quizzes.

How will the course set me up for my future career?

We believe that our program provides key transferable skills. These include being independent, creative and understanding critical thought reading, high level writing and communication skills, quantitative and qualitative data analysis, interdisciplinary individual and group work, and project design and execution. These are all skills that employers need and want. Being able to display these and know how and when to use them means our graduates are highly sought after in the market place.

Are there any employers or other initiatives that the school works with for industry placements?

At present we do not include industry placements in the Geography courses. However, the Research Methods in Physical Geography (year 2) which all Physical Geography students must complete typically includes a substantial component of project work carried out with outside partners across the Bristol region. This puts students in direct contact with businesses and third sector providers for whom they are working as consultants. As a long standing feature of the course, this proves to be a very rewarding and valuable experience for both students and the organisations. The Q-Step program (which is involved in the Geography with Quantitative Methods (BSc)) runs an internship program which offers opportunities for students enrolled on the course to put their skills to use.

What do graduates go on to do after studying this course at Bristol?

You can read more about geography graduate destinations. The range of careers that people go on to enjoy is very diverse and includes occupational areas such as Lawyer, Energy Analyst, Science Communicator, Medicine, Filmmaker, Risk Analyst, Policy Analyst, Environmental Auditor, Benefits Assistant, Marketing Trainee, Assurance Associate... the list is endless! In addition, many of our graduates decide to stay on in academia and do further study on master's programmes.

What opportunities are there to study abroad as part of this course?

We run two courses with overseas study: the Geography with Study Abroad (BSc) and Geography with Study Abroad in a Modern Language (BSc). Students on these courses do the same first- and second-year modules as the Geography (BSc) In their third year they go overseas to study and on return, they complete their final year in Bristol doing modules alongside the current year 3 students.

What are the facilities like on campus that students will use to study this course?

Many of the practical labs are housed in the Geographical Sciences building – where a bespoke IT suite and study space is set up. In addition, many of the tutorials happen within the building making Geographical Sciences the physical home of geography on the campus. We are lucky to be able to draw on a wide range of library resources – our own collection is housed in the impressive Wills Memorial Building library just a couple of minutes walk from the main department. There are more general collections in the Arts and Social Sciences library as well.

How many hours (on average) are required outside of lectures for additional work and study?

Based on a typical academic year, we would expect a full-time student to complete 40 hours per week. That includes all contact time plus time spent doing the required reading, and preparing for or writing assessments. Each unit should consist of 200 hours of study, including contact time and time preparing for and doing the assessment. Within the University the minimum contact time is 10 hours per week and our students sometimes receive more. A typical week in year one might include seven to nine hours of lectures, two hours of tutorials, and two to four hours of practicals.

How do assessments work for the department?

As you'd expect there's a wide range of assessment undertaken. Units are assessed using coursework and examinations throughout the year as well as at the end of year examination period. Typically courses have a mixture of practical assignments based on reporting lab results, or field exercises; essays are used where the students are required to engage with extensive literature and debates; year two includes a mini research dissertation in preparation for year three, work which is completed in groups to enable key collaboration skills to be developed. Indeed, year one and year two have multiple assignments involving a group element often in conjunction with presentations to inspire confidence in public speaking.

What would you say are the main differences between studying at school and study at university?

University study is far more self-directed than school. You have timetabled classes to go to, but outside of these, it is up to you to do the required reading, to plan your time effectively to complete assessments on time, and to manage your studies alongside your social life. Many of our students balance their studies against a part-time job. The University provides Study Skills sessions to help you get used to studying at University, and your pastoral tutor will get in touch to make sure things are okay, and check on your academic progress generally, but ultimately it’s up to you to motivate yourself to complete your degree studies. Unlike school you’re not here because you have to be; you should be at University because you want to be.

What are examples of final year projects/dissertations that students have worked on when they study this course?

Our dissertations are incredibly diverse in topic. As well as the dissertations on micro plastics mentioned above we also have recently seen dissertations predicting the impact of 100 year storms on cities such as New York and predicting the amount of flooding that would result. This contrasts with a Human Geography dissertation which had the title "Expanding the empirical repertoire of non-representational theory: a methodological reflection on creating a documentary film"! Whilst the range might be diverse, the quality is always good and we are proud that our student's win national research prizes for their dissertations almost every year.

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