Environmental science: 'Many will be attracted to working in unusual places - often abroad'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

What are the entry requirements for this course?

A wide variety of A-level subjects are suitable, but for honours courses at least one science subject is usually required, and the more evidence of interest and proficiency in science the better. Biology, physics, chemistry, economics, geography, geology, environmental science and mathematics are all considered good qualifying subjects. Grade requirements are university dependent and may vary between CCC and AAA/AAB, the latter being required for competitive courses incorporating a year abroad.

Who applies?

Environmental science students often have broad interests and are willing to try different areas of study. Many will be attracted to working outdoors and in unusual places - most degree courses offer good opportunities for fieldwork, often abroad or in remote parts of Britain. And, of course, the students are always environmentally conscientious.

What does the course involve?

The range is enormous and the degree is likely to be what you make of it. Environmental science can lead in many different directions: towards the natural sciences (oceans and atmosphere, climate, geosciences, and ecology) or to the interactions of society with the environment (countryside and waste management, energy and economics). Besides the straight environmental science degrees - some of which offer units in all these areas - there are many more specialised degrees such as environmental earth science, meteorology and geophysical science. A year at an overseas university or in industry is a popular option as part of a four-year programme.

How would I be assessed?

Seminars and laboratory work form the basis of assessment in this very practical subject. Both exams and coursework will generally form important parts of the assessment. However, individual components of the degree may be entirely one or the other. In field classes, oral communication assessment is common, as is the designing of posters, which are often used in science to communicate information and research findings.

How long does it last?

The standard degree course lasts three years, but there are opportunities to extend the study in various ways. The University of East Anglia, for example, offers four-year course options incorporating a year abroad - in Australasia, North America or Europe - or in industry. This fourth year may or may not count towards degree classification, depending on the university.

Are there opportunities available for further study?

A wide variety of Masters degrees can follow from a degree in environmental science, ranging from the highly applied subjects that lead to particular careers (waste management, environmental protection and risk assessment, for example) to further study in the more academic parts of the subject. The field of environmental science - particularly global climate change - is also one which involves a great deal of fundamental science and has many PhD opportunities for students who obtain good honours degrees.

What are the career options once the course is completed?

It is very common for students to take up any of the following in roles directly relevant to their degree: environmental protection agencies; environmental consultants and engineers (there are many large and small company examples); national and local government departments; and organisations wishing to address issues of corporate responsibility. There are also research jobs (many based in universities) that are available to those with first degrees in the subject.

Dr Steve Dorling and Professor Andrew Watson, the school of environmental sciences at The University of East Anglia, www.uea.ac.uk

Richard Gill, 20, is in his third year studying environmental science at the University of East Anglia

"I studied chemistry, environmental science and English literature at A-level. I'm on my year in industry in Australia, working for a research centre in south Queensland, which is giving me a great insight into the possibilities of a career in environmental science.

On the course, we're given a selection of units that are each allocated a number of credits; we then select the units most suitable to fill our allotted quota. The units are all assessed at the end of the year with an exam period that usually lasts three weeks. Coursework accounts for a proportion of the overall unit."

Katie Louise Halls, 22, is a consultant at the Building Research Establishment in Watford

"I have always had an interest in the environment, mainly to do with having an outdoors upbringing! It is also a subject that is becoming more and more relevant, both socially and politically. As part of my degree at the University of East Anglia I had the opportunity to spend a year in industry. I applied for many positions and finally chose to work as a placement student at the Building Research Establishment (BRE), where I work now. Doing a year in industry was one of the most useful things I have ever done: it has opened a lot of doors for me and experience is so important."

WEB WATCH

Quality Assurance Agency

What to expect from degree programmes in earth sciences, environmental science and environmental studies

www.qaa.ac.uk/academicinfrastructure/benchmark/statements/earthsciences.asp

New Scientist

Discussion of current issues relating to the environment

www.newscientist.com

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Find out the current Government position on issues relating to the environment

www.defra.gov.uk

Comments