Geography, Earth and environment at Brighton

From Brighton to Arctic Sweden

The Environmental Sciences BSc(Hons) course at Brighton attracted me because of its modular flexibility and scope. When I applied in 2014, I did not feel a strong pull in the direction of a particular field within the geosciences, but I wanted an overview understanding of the environment and how it is being influenced by humans. BSc Env Sci promised exactly that.

In my first year I took optional modules that introduced me to ecology, spatial analysis and remote sensing. Encouraged by passionate lecturers I developed a fascination for data from Earth observing satellites and for the software tools used to make sense of those data in space and time. That early inspiration stayed with me throughout my degree and led to a successful dissertation project that used satellite radar to image an ancient river system in the Sahara Desert.

This focus on geospatial data did not stop me from exploring the breadth of content offered on the Environmental Sciences program. One of my favourite assignments was for Professor Rebecca Elmhurst’s Political Ecology module, in which I explored the cultural, economic and ecological significance of traditional ethnic minority textile manufacture in the mountains of Southeast Asia. It seems a world away from pushing radar data through a computer program, and it is, but all things are connected, and the brilliance of the Environmental Sciences course is the ease of weaving together these threads.

Although I hadn’t started on the sandwich course, by the end of second year I felt like a placement would be a great way to maximise my learning. With help from the university placements service I arranged a 9-month research placement at an agroforestry centre in Kunming, in southwest China. I reasoned that the time away would give me some space to think about the focus of my dissertation while also advancing my GIS skills. I had plenty of opportunity to direct my own learning during the placement, and I gained skills and perspectives that have been incredibly useful.

It was not all smooth and easy. At the end of our first year a close friend from my class died in a tragic accident, and a series of further bereavements left me feeling lost and completely unprepared for the important dissertation project. I failed to complete the dissertation and four of my other modules, and I very nearly abandoned the course.

One year later, as I write this post, I have the letter from my course leader confirming I have been awarded First Class Honours. That turnaround is entirely down to the incredibly kind and practical support from my course leader, Dr Raymond Ward, dissertation tutor, Prof David Nash, and many other staff who reassured me and helped me through applying for mitigating circumstances. If you study Environmental Sciences at the University of Brighton you will have access to great resources and opportunities; you will learn from researchers who are leaders in their fields, but also, you will have the kindest and most generous people you can imagine all willing you to succeed, and ready to back you up in hard times.

These photos are taken in Arctic Sweden where I am now working as Field Assistant at the Tarfala Research Station.

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Tom Kirkpatrick • July 23, 2019

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