My Experience as a Geology and Physical Geography Student
There is a lot of different fields within Geoscience, perhaps the two biggest are Geography and Geology. Before coming to Uni, it was difficult to pick between the two, as I found both very interesting, but then I realised there was another option, with the best of both worlds.
I chose to study Geology and Physical Geography (GPG for short), and I am currently in my 5th year of an integrated masters. As I’m coming to the end of my studies, I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and everything I have learned. But what exactly makes this particular degree so different?
As the name might suggest, the degree programme mainly consists of geology modules, with the added benefits of geography courses. The course is very small compared to some other degrees, there was only around 20 of us, which meant we got to know each other really well. We have personal tutors based in the geography department, they also organise meetings for GPG students and come on the field trips.
In first year, there was not much difference within the Earth Science degree programmes (Geology, Environmental Geoscience), as many had chosen to do courses outside of the school. In addition to the core courses, students can take up to two modules from around the university, I chose Earth Modelling and Prediction 1&2, about applying maths to geoscience. At the end of the year, there was a residential field trip to the Lake District, with students taking Introduction to the Geological Record. This was a nice chance to really get to know other students, and learn the basics about the geological record, and producing a geological map of the area.
In second year, in addition to the geology courses like geomaterials, and global tectonics and the rock cycle, GPG students did geomorphology, where we learned about how earth processes such as the flow of rivers and glaciers can change the shape of the earths surface. Geomaterials focused on the chemistry of minerals, and Global Tectonics and the Rock Cycle focused on the settings where sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks can be found, and how they interact in the rock cycle, as well as the movements of plates. I found that the core concepts taught in geomorphology really helped with my understanding of rock processes, and there was some overlap in teachings that helped solidify this knowledge and understand these processes from different perspectives. Geomorphology was also a nice change in pace in my opinion. There is still the option to do courses outside the school, but I chose two meteorology modules which were very interesting.
In the May at the end of second year was our two-week field trip to Inchnadamph in the North West Highlands. This was part of our Field Skills in GPG module. This was the first time the geology and GPG students were separated. In our first week there, we learned about the geology of the area, and produced a geological map. In our second week, we got to learned about how geography has influenced the area, from the Bone Caves, to the glacial deposits. We worked in groups for the majority of the trip, it was nice to socialise with the GPG folks in the field, and also the geologists at the end of the day. There was also some time off where we got the chance to chat, go for a walk (or recover from a hangover!).
In third and fourth year, there is set options you can take. You can choose from specific courses in either geology or geography that take up 40 out of your 120 credits. I chose to do Petroleum Systems as my geology course and Volcanoes, Environment and People as my geography pick. I was the only one from GPG to pick petroleum systems, and there was another residential course to the North East Highlands in September before the start of 3rd year. This taught us about all how oil and gas form, exploration, a little bit about carbon capture and storage, and how to interpret seismic data (which was useful later!). We also got the opportunity to learn how to code this year in Research Methods in Physical Geography, as well as propose our own research project that we work on in 4th year. I took volcanoes environment and people in the second semester, which was interesting as I like volcanoes, but it was fun learning about the effects of volcanic ash and the impacts on humanity and in some cases global climate.
We went on a fieldtrip to Spain at the end of the year, just GPG students this time. Here we learned about the geology, and mapped the geology and how it changes in river channels. It was really nice to spend 10 days in Spain with the others on my course, mapping with different people, having a dip in the pool after being in the field, and spending our last day exploring Alicante. Not to mention the fact we bonded over the “surprising” food at the hotel…
In fourth year, it’s the same situation, if you didn’t get one module you wanted there is the opportunity to take it this year. In my 4th year I took 40 credits of geography modules. My favourite of the geography modules was actually introduced during my 4th year: The Blue Humanities. This was about studying the sea, and the way we as humans interact with it through time and traditions. It was such a thought-provoking course and focused on philosophies as opposed to the scientific methods I was used to, so it was a nice change in my fourth year. In addition to these, we also had to write our independent research project (our dissertation). This differs a lot from what the geologists were doing, as they had to map and study a specific area for 6 weeks whereas we did 7 days of fieldwork, and had the choice to choose a topic based In geology, geography, or both. Depending on the topic, there might also be lab work associated with the project. My dissertation involved doing specific work on my rock samples: total organic carbon analysis, x-ray diffraction and fluorescence. I feel like this helped me to further understand research processes a lot better, I felt it was super proud handing it in.
My 5th year was different, mostly due to the pandemic, all my lectures were online (convenient for rolling out of bed). Most courses this year helped us to build from what we already know, and gave us information on how to write proposals, what to consider when writing an academic paper. It also included talks from other earth scientists about how their careers went after university, and how this helped them with their research. We also had the option to pick a postgraduate level module, I chose a Carbon Storage and Monitoring course associated with the GeoEnergy Masters. We also have to do another independent project, I was able to do mine remotely after a desktop was set up for me to use specific software. This is similar to our 4th year dissertation, but in the form of an academic paper. Normally we would have a field trip at this time of year, but this year we are attending the EGU conference. We have to attend a series of talks from award winning geoscientists and early career scientists, this was very different, but it was interesting listening to breakthroughs in the field of earth science.
To summarise, GPG has given me the opportunity to pick and choose areas I like in both geology and geography, the degree conveners are lovely, and we have the opportunity to design our own project which I really liked. The small class size meant all the faces were familiar and we all learned to get on with each other.