Top Ten Blog Posts of 2014

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As we enter 2015 we look back at the top 10 most viewed blog posts of 2015. These include posts by current and past undergraduate and postgraduate students and staff and give a good idea of some of the things that we do here in Geography at University of Liverpool. We look forward to more posts in 2015 and wish you all a happy new year.

 

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10. In Tenth place, a post from February 2014 by PhD student Madeleine Gustavsson on her first publication: First publication – ‘Procedural and distributive justice in a community-based Marine Protected Area in Zanzibar, Tanzania’

 

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9. In Ninth place, a post from June 2014 by James Wilford who graduated with a BA (Hons) Geography in July this year on the Singapore Field Class 2014

 

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8. In Eighth place, a post from June 2014 by Dr. Paul Williamson on the winners of the Edinburgh Field Class 2014 Photo Competition

 

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7. In Seventh place, a post from May 2014 by Samantha Brannan who graduated with a BSc (Hons) Geography in July this year on Geographers on Tour: Santa Cruz Field Class 2014

 

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6. In sixth place, a post from January 2014 about Lisa Reilly who graduated in July this year about her success as National Student Award Winner

 

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5. In Fifth place, a post from December 2014 by Dr Bethan Evans on a Disability, Arts and Wellbeing Workshop with DaDaFest

 

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4. In Fourth place, a post from October 2014 by Sean Dunn who graduated with a BSc (Hons) Geography in July this year and is now studying for an MSc. His post is about the final year Santa Cruz field class on California Field Class and Travel

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3. In Third place, a post from August 2014 by Alexandra Guy, currently a second year BA Geography student on A Year in the Life of an Undergraduate Geography Student

 

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2. In Second Place, a post from August 2014 by PhD student Natalie Robinson on her research with homeless people in Chicago ‘This is My Story: A Photographic Exploration of Chicago’ – Notes from the field.

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1. And in First place, our most viewed blog of 2014 is a post from February 2014 by Jonny Clark who graduated in July with a BSc (Hons) Geography on How a work-based dissertation re-affirmed my confidence in my subject, my own ability and my future

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How a work-based dissertation re-affirmed my confidence in my subject, my own ability and my future

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Post by Jonathon Clark, 3rd Year BSc Geography

The second semester of my second year saw the onset of what all geography undergraduates regard with terror, mystique and possibly a touch of (occasionally) misguided optimism: the Dissertation.

Initially, I felt secure – buoyant amongst a cohort of geography students in the same sea of chaos. The BA-inclined were all scrambling to draw up questionnaires for unsuspecting members of the public. The eager physical scientists in the making immersed in geological maps, ready to snap the perfect Facebook profile picture of them standing triumphantly over a patch of ground they had cored, blasted with an XRF spectrometer and talked about in what could be their first pitch to the scientific community. However, I soon found myself falling behind in the race to have my proposal accepted. The deadline for the proposal loomed, drawing ever closer. My page was still blank. With a sense of impending castastrophe for not only my grades but also my pride, I questioned myself thoroughly. Have I suddenly fallen behind? Am I not as intelligent? Does my brain work differently? Is this the sign that maybe this whole thing isn’t for me? It got that dire.

My logic led me to think about what particular aspects of geography appeal most to me. I have never identified myself as purely a physical or human geographer. Rather, from the first geography lesson I sat in my A Level class, I recognised that geography holds a unique selling point over any other subject taught in academia. No, not its so often bragged about breadth and depth, or its great fieldtrips, but its ability as a discipline to be studied not only for the sole purpose of expanding knowledge of socio-economic trends or physical phenomena but also integrating this knowledge to provide solutions to problems which can affect hundreds of thousands of people, every single day. Great! But how can I translate this interest and passion into a feasible project to carry out in the field? I recognised there were several options open to me. Why not see how different rungs of society in Liverpool feel about climate change? Why not see if austerity is impacting wildlife preservation in the Sefton coast? How has political instability in the Middle East affected the renewable energy industry in Britain? It’s strange; looking back, all of these ideas were actually quite possible. Yet, at the time, in the stress of the moment, I felt like there was an overwhelming amount of scale and work involved in pursuing any of these avenues. It seemed I’d taken one step forwards and two steps back…

Hands up if you’re guilty of sometimes clicking delete loads of times to get through a large backlog of e-mails! I know I’ve done it. This particular day, however, I was lucky to not do this as I received an e-mail from Andy Plater regarding work placements available over summer, which could convert into work-based dissertations. I had heard about work-based dissertations in a lecture earlier in the year and dismissed it as a complicated, paperwork-laden option for completing my dissertation. This dismissal was reinforced by the naive belief I held at the time which led me to falsely trust I could come up with a piece of original research on the spot. One of the placements Andy talked about in the e-mail was at a social enterprise recycling company based in Huyton, called Elixir. I read on to learn about what would eventually become a significant part of my life.

Close up gran pick beltElixir was founded by Ben Donnelly as a company which employed ex-offenders, addicts and those who have been out of work for prolonged periods. At their plant, they recycle waste PVCu plastic from the construction industry. Through shredding and granulating it and then shipping it on to manufacturers, the PVCu is completely recycled with zero waste to landfill. The story of the company’s creation really struck a chord with me, and the nature of their environmental and social work appealed to me. Ben had contacted Andy as well as the Centre for Global Eco Innovation (CGE) – a venture run by the universities of Lancaster and Liverpool as well as the commercialisation firm Inventya. Based on the first floor of the Roxby, they normally deal with small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who have an environmental focus to their work. The universities provide enable the companies to host dedicated graduate researchers and to gain access to research and development facilities to allow the companies to develop new economically sustainable or beneficial products. In the case of Elixir, no postgraduate student had been found at the time to quite suit the nature of the work they were undertaking; Elixir sought to expand from recycling just PVCu to also recycling other types of plastic waste, as well as potentially recycling electronic waste and looking into setting up a renewable energy project.

After a short but intense series of discussions regarding what work I would be undertaking during my internship and how it would produce an academic piece that would constitute a dissertation, the interested parties came to an agreement that I would assist Elixir in setting up a facility at their plant which could process waste LCD televisions and computer monitors. On the academic front, I would employ knowledge of ecosystems and environmental planning to produce an environmental impact assessment and life-cycle analysis of the waste screens.

Shred in magIt was a great relief to have other experienced people steer me in what I would write such a lengthy piece of work about. Through the assistance of Matt Fulton, the CGE project manager, the paperwork involved was minimal. Aside from the regular dissertation proposal I only needed complete some insurance documents and a learning agreement. I also quickly realised that I was gaining valuable experience in an industry closely related to my degree subject. Such experience is highly valued by graduate employers and gave me an edge over my peers who may have edged me out in the game of raw marks, chasing that elusive first class honours degree. It was reassuring.

1798458_3973871241712_1373085539_nThe work itself was a combination of office duties, finance and business report tasks akin to an assistant managerial level and also some hands on work in the plant using machinery and working with the lads on the factory floor. It was insightful, educational, useful and, best of all, fun. Working in such a company let me network with key authoritative figures in UK recycling, energy and environmental bodies and companies. It also let me meet some amazing people who have come from the most horrendous backgrounds possible in this country and overcome challenges that cause you to reflect on how lucky you are to have family, friends, health, food and shelter. After 4 weeks of work over the summer, which culminated in a boardroom presentation to managing directors and investors, I was relieved to see my research and designs given approval and investment (after some minor adjustments – I can’t say I’m ashamed about not knowing what the difference between revenue and profit was, having never touched business studies in my life!). This paved the way for me to take a break from Elixir and use my rapidly approaching first semester of third year to focus on completing the academic element of my dissertation. The summary report and skills diary which compose one third of the work-based dissertation module were completed on the job – another huge benefit if you’re someone who is less academically inclined and more oriented towards reports and action plans as well as practical learning.

Gran bag stand with mattyWith the dissertation progressing smoothly, I was delighted to receive a call from Ben offering me part-time work for the remainder of my degree at the company. Spending a few hours a week at Elixir now allows me to manage the operation I tended to from its design stage right up to its present stage of operation. I can now call myself the proud Waste Electronic Development Manager of a company which is processing several tons of electronic waste per week, which would have otherwise contaminated landfill sites and ecosystems with the harmful mercury and lead contaminants such waste electronic goods contain. The added financial bonus to this work is also helping me pay for my final year fieldtrip to California. It’s truly a win-win situation.

Vib 2Hopefully, this post has cast some light on how a work-based dissertation can be so advantageous to an undergraduate student. It’s no exaggeration to say that it shapes you personally as well as academically. Even if the added fun of this doesn’t interest you and you are dead set on logging pollen in samples from the hills of North Wales or the dissertation seems so far off, perhaps this has given you some insight into the highs and lows and mental battles that you can encounter as you enter the twilight of your degree. I hope to add to this post in the not-too-distant future, where I feel the experiences I have detailed here will help me take a leap into the world of work and benefit me even further.

Dream big and work hard.
Jonny

By the way – I got a first (provisionally)!!

Studying Gender and Mobility in India

3rd Year BA Student Becy Ainsworth is the latest student to write about her dissertation research for the LivUniGeog blog.

“This summer I spent two months in Jodhpur in northern India volunteering for a local NGO whilst conducting my dissertation research. I was able to combine my desire to volunteer and travel with my academic work, each of which benefited the other. Having the basic knowledge of India’s politics, economy and society from various modules allowed my research to delve deeper into issues, which at the start of my trip I would probably have overlooked or misunderstood. Coming from the ‘western’ world, it was extremely challenging for me as an outsider to grasp the complex and diverse values in India that were so alien to me. As someone who loves travelling and understanding local culture, I found that combining that with my research abroad changed my entire understanding of the country.

The City of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

The City of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

My research was a response to the horrific gang-rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi in December 2012. Shocked that such an act could occur on public transport, I decided to investigate wider practices of mobility – which is do, how and why people move around on a day-to-day basis. I particularly focussed on how women used public and private space and public transport systems – as a country that is strongly patriachal, Indian women often have many challenges in their daily travels around urban areas like Jodhpur. I conducted interviews and focus groups, and kept a detailed research diary noting my conversations and interactions with local people and my own experiences of mobility in the city. The language barrier was only an issue for the focus group (everyone else spoke perfect English) and I needed a translators during and after the group (when transcribing the recording) – both translators had quite different interpretations so that was my greatest challenge during the research process. The women were so open, enthusiastic and willing to share their experiences and opinions with me, which made my research a really insightful process.

Teaching some of the Women at the Sambhali Trust

Teaching some of the women at the Sambhali Trust

My role in Sambhali Trust was teaching English and maths to low-caste women and children, and to run workshops that would help with the empowerment of women. I was fully absorbed into Indian culture, which meant my daily interactions with the men, women and children of Jodhpur were valuable for my research and more general understanding of Rajasthani society. I was fortunate in that my everyday conversations revealed mobility to be a prevalent issue in women’s lives, as it was important to me that my area of research was relevant and addressed serious problems.

A notice for a women's helpline on a bus in Jodhpur

A notice for a women’s helpline on a bus in Jodhpur

Working with and researching in another country with a completely different culture to my own was a challenge and a very steep learning curve. In India, things tend happen very ‘last minute’, which was stressful for my western mind-set at times. For example, Sambhali Trust organised a conference on child sexual abuse, which is an incredibly taboo subject throughout India. We invited 60 local professionals and dignitaries related to the field, but only began doing so five days before the event (which we had spent six weeks planning). This was obviously very nerve-wracking for the European volunteers used to planning events far in advance, however most people invited to the conference attended and it was a real success, with Sambhali Trust establishing a new project two days later. Another example is how I tried to interview someone that I was living with; we set a time and place every day for my final two weeks but only on the morning before I left did we both find the time for the interview to actually happen. I definitely learned the art of patience!

I kept a blog during my time at Sambhali Trust explaining about the charity’s projects, campaigns and workshops if anyone has an interest in women’s empowerment or development work.I would really recommend students to consider researching abroad. The endless possibilities of the research subject, the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of another culture, and the skills you develop from the daily challenges of the research have made it an incredible experience that I would love to do again (minus the dissertation write up bit!).”

Welshcakes in Westminster: Student Dissertation Research

Continuing our series of posts on current student dissertation projects, here, Nia Bevan, a 3rd Year BA Geography student, reflects on doing research with political elites in Wales & Westminster.

“This summer doing my dissertation research presented me with an exciting opportunity to better understand the intricacies of the UK’s constitutional system of divided competence. Welsh devolution has long been of interest to me as debates regarding independence and autonomy are certainly a hot topic within the Bevan household. Devolution in Wales presents a truly unique chance for political geography to be involved in helping shape and understand a political legacy through research into legislation, jurisdictions and constitutional reform. My dissertation research led me to interview Welsh Members of Parliament and Assembly Members in order to ascertain whether Wales is correctly represented within Westminster today.

Wales has always had a prominent place in Westminster. The presence of the statue of (Welsh) former prime minister David Lloyd George in the Members Lobby that is touched by MPs for luck each time they enter the House of Commons exemplifies this. It seems that we Welsh are a nation of high achievers within parliamentary history – as proved by the only MP to have served in the four great offices of state, James Callaghan. Decentralisation however has signified a questionable era for Welsh elected representatives. Contentions have been made by various (mostly English) MPs about the constitutional imbalance between the traditional nations which make up the UK. The current home rule system has long produced complex and contentious arguments about the fairness of the administrative system. From an academic point of view, these changes and disputes present an interesting case study to understand electoral politics and geopolitical dynamics within the United Kingdom.

Lloyd George and Churchill's statues in the Member's lobby of Parliament in Barack Obama's recent visit to the UK (Catherine Bebbington/Parliamentary copyright).

Lloyd George and Churchill’s statues in the Member’s lobby of Parliament in Barack Obama’s recent visit to the UK (Catherine Bebbington/Parliamentary copyright).

In order to obtain qualitative data on this topic I decided to interview various parliamentary figures within Welsh politics. Finding interviewees was a long and sometimes crushing experience. Rejection after rejection meant that at one point my ‘summer doing research’ looked like it was about to turn into a summer of trying to think of another research idea. Fortunately for me (and my grades), the months of emailing paid off and I managed to secure 10 interviews with Welsh MPs and 6 with AMs in Ty Hŷwel, a Welsh Assembly Building in Cardiff.

Over the course of the research work, interviewing certainly became a lot easier. Looking back at my first interview with the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Owen Smith, I cringe at the thought of the awkward and dense questions I asked. Interviewing incumbent members that have extensively contributed to the current parliamentary domain can be extremely nerve-wracking. Trying to madly work out political terms such as ‘asymmetrical devolution’ or ‘Barnett consequentials’ whilst also trying not to cry is definitely harder than it looks. However after a panicky few days of reading my sister’s law books, exhausting the use of www.thefreedictionary.com and asking my dad politics questions every two minutes, the interviews gradually become easier each time. The last interview (with Member of Parliament for Caerphilly, Wayne David) went far more smoothly. It highlighted how much I had learnt from the process both in understanding the constitutional organisation and processes of Westminster as well as helping me work out where Wales sat within national and international politics. Of course I have learnt a lot more than simply academic material; I have also learnt life-long skills that I’m sure will assist me in my future endeavours. Most notably, this summer has taught me how to dress. This may seem odd as outfit picking and Welsh devolution have little correlation to each other. Nevertheless, sitting in the waiting room of Portcullis House in jeans, T-shirt and scruffy boots whilst everyone around you looks like candidates for ‘The Apprentice’ definitely gives you the motivation to buy some tidy trousers.

1st attempt at an interview outfit...

1st attempt at an interview outfit…

On reflection, the overall experience of data collecting was great. It was an excellent opportunity to see first hand what our elective representatives do on a day-to-day level. Additionally my summer with various Welsh elected representatives reinforced my political views with regards to devolution and independence as well as general politics. Furthermore the data collection process led to some interesting work experience this summer. Having interviewed a range of MPs and AMs, I was fortunate to secure a few weeks of work experience with Leanne Wood (Leader of Plaid Cymru), and with the Welsh Conservative Party in Cardiff Bay, as well as a research opportunity with a local MP.

This summer has been a great summer of firsts for me having completed my first ever solo research collection project, bought my first ever ‘work outfit’, eaten my first ever welshcake in Westminster, met the First Minister of Wales and now completed my first ever blog. I can now sit and watch Welsh Questions, First Minister’s Questions or relevant political interview shows on TV and can say ‘I’ve met him / her’. But more than anything, this summer has finally given me a (vague) idea of what I can do after my student life comes to an end.

Many can relate to the horror that third year students associate with the word ‘dissertation’ but in my experience the dread and fear is definitely overrated. If anything it turned out to be a piece of (welsh)cake.”

Welshcakes

Welshcakes

A Northern Girl in the Deep South: Dissertation research in Mississippi

Welcome to Mississippi

Welcome to Mississippi

Post by Lydia Michie – 3rd year BA Geography student

After studying Population and Societies in my second year, alongside some sociology modules, I developed an interest in the changing trends in relationships and in particular the changes surrounding the sexual relationships of today’s younger generations. After watching a documentary on The Silver Ring Thing (a religiously based youth organisation that advocates abstinence amongst teens) in a sociology lecture, I began to wonder about the various ways in which society (and religion) are reacting to these changes in sexual attitudes. A simple google search about abstinence and teen sex brought up masses of media talking about the problems in Mississippi. As a travel addict, I decided that this would be an interesting way of combining my love of my degree with my love of travel and set about planning my final year dissertation research abroad and in June this year I headed out for a three month trip across the USA, stopping in Mississippi for a month mid-way.

Skeet shooting like a true American

Skeet shooting like a true American

Telling people on the East coast of the US that I was travelling down to Mississippi to do research into Abstinence and Sex Education was usually met with either one of three reactions; a wince of pity, a polite warning that I’ll “hate it down there” or simply a snort of laughter. Suffice to say, after a month of this I had become pretty wary of what to expect when I finally got there.

View on my journey through the South

View on my journey through the South

After a mammoth 34 hour hellish train journey from Washington D.C to Mississippi I was too tired to even think about what the following month was about to bring me. The following morning, when I woke up in my little closet that had been converted into a temporary bedroom (perhaps they thought all English people lived like Harry Potter), it soon became clear that this place was going to surprise me. Much in contrast to the ‘hillbilly’, ‘redneck’, ‘uneducated’ stereotype that had clouded my judgement of the South whilst on the East coast, I found myself surrounded by books on feminism and sociology, a sort of miniature Human Geographer’s library. Proudly hanging on the porch above the front door was the Gay Pride rainbow flag (a sight I had not imagined I would see in such a conservative and right wing state) and I was both relieved and admittedly a little shocked to find my new home to be filled with “a bunch of liberals”; a male feminist, a gay black man and an artist. Straight away I knew I had found myself somewhere unlike any other place I’ve experienced.

My Mississippi family: my housemates on the porch

My Mississippi family: my housemates on the porch

Despite being a big city, it didn’t take long for word to spread that there was an English girl in town and people were intrigued as to why a Brit would want to be there. The minute I mentioned my research project, I was bombarded with opinions and offers to be interviewed. The ball was in motion and I knew straight away that I wasn’t going to get the results I had anticipated.

Rural Mississippi

Rural Mississippi

Mississippi has the strictest abstinence policies in its high schools meaning that Mississippi teens are being taught next to nothing about sexual health and relationships other than to wait until they are “ready” or married. Sexual health services are sparse to say the least, or at least much more hidden than would be the case in other states and the stigma surrounding such services is often so negative that it may unfortunately put people off going. Despite the push for abstinence-based education and the flaws in the state’s offering of sexual health, Mississippi has some of the highest teen pregnancy and STI transmission rates in the USA, making it one of the worst in the Developed World. When looking at the economic and religious background of the state the trends would seem to show an obvious reasoning for the local Government’s sexual education choices but I wanted to explore this further and to see if there were any other factors aside from or running parallel to “The Bible Belt factor” that caused people to be in support of such policies.

A 'typical' Southern Home

A ‘typical’ Southern Home

Although finding interviewees proved quite easy, finding a means to interview them proved slightly more difficult. With no public transport, taxis or driving licence, I was reliant upon the generosity of the locals to ferry me about the city (an experience that certainly proved that Mississippi’s reputation as ‘The Hospitality State’ was nothing short of the truth). With each interview came new questions, new answers, new surprises and new perspectives. I found myself becoming more and more passionate about the subject and it was refreshing to find that, once they got going, my interviewees shared that passion. Although I think a lot of people are aware of the debate and have strong opinions, it doesn’t seem to be a regular topic of discussion and people jumped at the chance to vent some of their frustrations or to argue their point of view. One interviewee even said it was “like a therapy session”.

Leaving Mississippi

Leaving Mississippi

Although I’ll save the results for the actual dissertation, it’s safe to say my 7 hours’ worth of interviews, although having left me exhausted,  have also opened my mind to many factors that I could never have understood without actually travelling there and experiencing that Southern lifestyle. Although it can be expensive and stressful, I couldn’t be happier to have chosen to do my research abroad and I would recommend anyone who is debating giving it a go to just do it! If you take yourself out of your comfort zone you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much it can teach you. But be prepared to never want to leave! I got some interesting results and along the way saw some beautiful places and made some beautiful friends. Mississippi and what I saw of the rest of the South is such a hard place to describe. It is one huge, humid, beautiful but messed-up contradiction of a state but that’s all part of its charm. It’s everything you might expect from the South but at the same time, it’s nothing like you’d imagine!

Postgrad’s First Publication

Matt Wallace – a postgraduate here at Liverpool – writes:

I have (just this week) published my first research paper (co-authored by Dr Hill Kulu) in Population, Space and Place – the leading journal of spatial population analysis. The paper is based on my MA dissertation and investigates the health status (measured by self-assessed limiting long-term illness) of those who move from England to Scotland and vice versa against the non-migrant populations in the two countries. The paper tests two theories, the “Healthy Migrant Effect” (the idea that individuals positively select for health before migration) and “Salmon Bias” (negative selection by health upon remigration to the origin country). Evidence for good health among migrants was found at working ages for both English and Scottish movers; no evidence was found to support a “Salmon Bias”. The paper is titled Migration and Health in England and Scotland: a Study of Migrant Selectivity and Salmon Bias and can be found by following the link below.  The project was funded by the Population Investigation Committee (PIC).

The GPG Experience

Hi.  We’re Elle and Jess.  We’re in our third year of the Geology and Physical Geography (F6F8)BSc degree – affectionately known as ‘GPG’.  Over the summer, the two of us spent three weeks in Cornwall working on our Honours projects.  Elle’s project focuses on the record of Quaternary climate and sea-level change preserved in the cliff sections of Godrevy.  Jess’ project is a study of the Holocene evolution of the coastal lowlands near Gwithian.  We were out in all weathers recording the cliff exposures, coring through the sands, clays and peats of the Red River floodplain, and noting the characteristics of the contemporary beach sediments.  It was a real challenge – both mentally and physically – to get the work completed, but it was really worth it.  We both feel that we’ve achieved a huge amount as a result of our independent fieldwork and follow-up analysis.  It is perhaps the first time where we feel we’ve been a part of the geosciences research community.

That’s us – Elle and Jess – doing what we do best: fieldwork!

Following the field, laboratory and library research, we’ve just completed our Honours project presentations where we give a 15 minute summary of our research findings and how they address our stated project aims.  It was a traumatic experience presenting our results and being quizzed by our fellow students and staff – but it has been really useful in bringing together our ideas on our respective projects.

There is no doubt that the GPG degree is a fantastic opportunity to specialize in geomorphology, sedimentology and the ‘softer’ and applied areas of geology.  We’ve had a great time in learning new material, and in having direct experience of this in the field.  Fieldwork has been probably the best part of the programme – and we’re really looking forward to the 2-week Almeria fieldtrip at Easter in 2013.

The GPG degree has a long history at Liverpool – and it is great that it is a coherent programme accredited by the Geological Society.  This offers us a real advantage, when it comes to jobs, over similar people who have studied either joint or combined degree programmes at other Institutions.  Famous graduates from the GPG programme include, amongst many others, David Hodgson (Reader in Applied Sedimentology at Leeds), Tom Bradwell (Quaternary Geologist at the BGS), Tom Hill (Museum Scientist at the Natural History Museum) and Ian Selby (Head of Minerals and Infrastructure at the Crown Estate).