Physics student: So what do you study at university?
Me: I study Geography
Physics student: Oh, isn’t that like colouring in and looking at maps?
(Fresher’s Conversation 2019)
If I had a pound for every time someone asked me that question, I would be a millionaire. Maybe even a billionaire?! Yes, I am aware it is all in jest. Admittedly, I am not innocent of joining in with the joviality aimed towards us geography students. It is usually in attempts to beat people to the punchline, just before they can gain some smug gratitude of cracking the world’s funniest joke.
Although, as of late, I have noticed an increase in the number of individuals who have admired the degree which I have worked so hard for. This got me thinking…
Just a few weeks ago I successfully graduated from the University of Bristol. Naturally, now that I have left university with a BSc Geography degree, I have been pondering what to do with myself. With time on my hands, I stopped to think, what is the point of it all?.
This specific degree may not have induced the ability to crunch numbers in preparation for an accountancy job, nor has it taught me how to successfully diagnose a patient’s whooping cough. Instead, Geography has given me a broad range of skills, suited to the person that I am. In fact, I enjoyed the subject so much that I have decided to write this blog explaining how geography is not a laughing matter.
Back to school
Ok, let’s start at the beginning; so what actually is geography, you may ask? If you can remember correctly, GCSE geography taught us how to label parts of a volcano (lava flow/chamber/side vent) and how to describe the short and long term effects of natural disasters such as Fukishima, Japan. If you chose A-Level Geography, you may have learnt how long shore drift occurs across beaches or how Thomas Malthus described population with his positive and negative checks. Most exams involved learning and cramming as many facts as possible into your answer, during a relatively long paper in comparison to others.
Oh, how I adored the feeling of being able to draw (in pencil!) and explain the four separate stages of the formation of ox-bow lakes. Or even successfully comparing the short and long term responses of several tsunamis within LEDCs?! Although, explaining the different types of erosion along a riverbed was my personal favourite I could go on. But if youre not experiencing a huge waft of nostalgia from this, then you perhaps didn’t study geography. Or maybe you were asleep. In that case, that is a real shame.
According to the Royal Geographical Society, the subject prides itself upon the understanding of our world, contributing crucial knowledge towards ever changing environmental and social changes facing the globe. Whether this be in regard to climate change or geopolitical conflicts within the Middle East, geography focuses upon the changing shape of society and the relationship with the natural environment. Such interaction can be analysed through spatial characteristics, whether it be cultural, economic or physical. It is one of the most wide-ranging degree subjects, mixing social and physical sciences. Geographers take a phenomenon and apply various methods to find out how it affects the societal or natural systems. Studying this gives us a wider view of the world around us.
It can inspire us to think about our own place within the world, our values and our rights and responsibilities to other people and the environment.
This is important.
Why did I become a Geoggo?
One of the reasons I chose Geography at university, and perhaps one of the reasons it is sometimes disregarded, is that it is broad. Really broad. In first year, university geography teaches you both physical and human elements of geography, whereby human focuses on cultural aspects and how they relate to space and place. Throughout the next two years, I chose to focus on human geography. Ranging from philosophical geography, all the way to studying the geopolitics within the Middle East, the sheer range of topics was truly fascinating. Rather than focus on specific and niche areas which would never bare any relevance to my life, they were in fact extremely current.
Whilst geography is normally brandished as “not a real science” by the majority of scientists, for me this highlights the strength of the subject. This means the different topics and sections evolving around the subject cannot be categorised and confined into one narrow box. Instead, Geography can create important bridges between pure science and human relations. The meaning of this?? There is a 95% estimate (according to me) that there will be at least one topic that interests you.
Don’t like glaciers? Instead you can study philosophical thinkers such as Delueze and Foucault. Find population boring? Why don’t you learn about the construction sites that surround you on a daily basis through the process of gentrification. For me, this was summed up whilst we were choosing our dissertation titles. You can literally find anything you’re interested in and link it to Geography. I had friends focus their dissertation titles around the impact of music on the body, upon the impacts on the changing nightlife of London and even the cultural examination of artefacts from the Regatta collection. Being able to study such a varying range of topics helped me to grow as a student and as a person. On top of that, everything is relevant. Everything is happening around me.
Do we all become Geography Teachers?
This leads to my next point regarding employability. Who would have known that according to the UKs Higher Education Statistics Agency, over 90% of geography students have found work or proceeded into further education. They are in fact the most UNlikely to be UNemployed. Actually, one study found 62% of last years UK geography graduates were employed on leaving university in comparison to 56% of maths students, bet you didn’t know that?! OK, this could be subjective as many students go into further education and wouldn’t be acknowledged within the figures, but this is still a huge proportion.
The reason for this?
Geography gives you vital skills that are applicable within the workplace. Not a specific workplace, but the majority of workplaces. The degree helps develop a range of employability skills such as numeracy, teamwork and technical savviness by learning about numerous specialist IT applications. Critical thinking and analytical elements are hugely useful across a multitude of career paths. It’s not about the difficulty of the course content, but it’s the transferable skills you learn and how to present an argument in a clear and concise way. How to think objectively. How to communicate. Of course this is evident with other subjects such as History, which is also commonly scrutinised.
Unlike other subjects, geography doesn’t have one set career path, thus you are more likely to accept a more varied role as there is no specific pathway. Yes, there are 100s of lists describing; “What you can do with geography”, but there’s more to it than that. It’s what makes you tick. It’s about what you’re interested in. It’s about finding a subject that you are enthusiastic about. If you can convey this enthusiasm, you’ll not just attract others but also employers. Instead of being viewed as a vague colouring in degree, I believe instead that geography is a viable route into the job market.
Personally, I chose the subject to broaden my career opportunities, not narrow it. It’s perfect for someone like me who never “excelled” with numbers and mathematical theorems, who could never naturally pick up a language or failed to nail the periodic table. If you want to become a doctor study medicine; if you dreamed of becoming a lawyer, study law. But what studying geography has given me is a range of skills, how to adapt and how to apply them in various, current situations.
When thinking about choosing which career path to take, it’s never black or white. It’s shades of grey (and all other colours!).