Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Graduate: Joanna


Name: Joanna

Age: 21

Where and what did you study?
Royal Holloway, University of London - BSc(Hons) Physical Geography.

Why did you decide to go to university?
University was always something I had wanted to experience from quite a young age. I am not from a university family and so my first thoughts about it were that I wanted to challenge myself to be able to get in. As I went through school though I was introduced to alternatives, apprenticeships etc, but these didn’t appeal to me. I have always been better at academic subjects than more vocational ones, and I have always felt that a career in business, accounting etc definitely were not for me! I was excited to meet new people, learn from experts in the areas I was interested in and of course, I was (and still am) hopeful that a degree would help me find a career I enjoyed. My A Levels were hard but I have always loved learning so going to university wasn’t something I doubted as the right path for me at 18. 

Why did you choose to study Geography?
Geography is a unique subject about the world we live in and encompasses everything from science to the arts and philosophy, which, whilst I definitely didn’t appreciate the spectrum quite so much when it came to choosing my degree, it is something that makes me feel lucky to have chosen the subject now. I swayed between English and Geography before deciding what I wanted to apply for. I liked both subjects a lot in school, I seemed to be quite good at them and as I didn’t know what I wanted to do ‘when I grew up’, a subject that could lead to a whole variety of potential careers was appealing. It was a field trip to Iceland in Year 12 that cemented my choice. If you ever get a chance to visit, the country is one of the most beautiful I have visited and it left me knowing that I wanted to spend university learning about the planet we live on, the issues it is facing and what we can do to try and protect it. I applied initially for BSc Geography, because whilst I have always preferred the ‘physical’ side because of the science I wanted the option of seeing what human geography could offer me at university. It turns out I found myself loving the physical options even more and so I changed my degree course at the start of my third year to reflect my module options. 

You graduated this summer. What are you doing now? 
I am staying on at RHUL to study for my MSc in Quaternary Science in the Geography department. I am not ready to leave education just yet and my degree has only opened up more areas I want the opportunity to learn more about, so for now continuing my education is the right choice for me.

What influences have been important in your decision to continue studying?
Taking part in volunteering, extra-curricular and work experience has really helped me decide what I want to do, and is helping me get there. I have done a lot of volunteering through my undergraduate degree, from being on the university’s Community Action Team and setting up projects, an Ambassador at the RGS and, most recently. a Learning Volunteer at the Natural History Museum. The experiences perhaps haven’t helped in terms of me staying on for my masters but they have allowed me to grow in confidence and helped me think about what I might want to do as a career path because of the things I have enjoyed. I have learnt that I like to be outside so an office job perhaps isn’t for me long term, and I love talking to people about the things I am passionate about. I have visited schools to talk about geography which are always great fun but I don’t think teaching would be for me. Having come to university with no idea what I wanted to do at all, my experiences have really helped me get one step closer to figuring out what that ‘dream job’ might just be, whilst helping me to network with people who might be able to help me get there. I am now seriously considering pursuing a career in research looking at how past climatic change can help us understand and manage the impact of present and future change; alternatively I think I would really enjoy working in some form of Outreach Learning/Education. 

What advice would you give to someone interested in postgraduate study? 
It’s a big investment so you need to be sure that you want to study more; what it is you want to study, and think about it how it might help your next step. I think it can be an easy option for new graduates to choose a masters because the idea of the ‘real world’ is a bit frightening. If you’re considering a masters just for this reason perhaps embracing the ‘real world’ first is a good option: there’s a lot of money and work involved in postgrad study after all.  For me, my biggest worry is finances. The new government loan is helpful but it doesn’t cover all my costs, especially living near London. Plus, tuition fees at postgraduate level can vary A LOT, and they aren’t taken care of by student finance with money you never see like being an undergraduate. It’s slightly scary to think about how much money I will be spending on next year, so you need to forward plan before applying and work out whether you can afford it. Realistically you cannot live on £7 a week, so where could you get a bit of extra money? That said, don’t let that be the reason to stop you going for it! There’s plenty options as a postgraduate: it is common for people to take a year or two out to earn money, to study part time so you can work and learn, to continue weekend jobs alongside your studies (like me!), plus there is often a lot more available in terms of scholarships and alumni discounts if you stay at your first university. 

What does the future hold?
I’m really excited to start my masters – it’s going to be an intense but enjoyable year! The summer break was well needed after finishing my degree but I am itching to get back to the library and into the swing of things again. I think it has really confirmed to me that continuing with my education is the right next step now. After that? I’m considering doing a PhD, but I’m likely to take some time out before pursuing that. I would love to do some travelling (money permitting!) and get some work experience in science education. I’m really keen to use some of the knowledge of my degree in whatever career I end up pursuing but I’m not too worried about the future at the moment. I have an idea where I would like to go and for now I just want to carry on learning!

Joanna, the geography graduate.
Postgraduate student.

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