Silver Sustainability Studies

Geraldine Boylan (left) and Caroline Brown

Strathclyde’s pioneering MSc in Sustainability & Environmental studies welcomed its 25th cohort of postgraduate students this year. As part of the celebrations, we’ve been speaking to alumni from the programme to find out how it has helped shape to their careers.

The MSc was launched in 1992 at Strathclyde as the Masters in Environmental Studies (MEnvS), under the leadership of the late Jean Forbes, amid growing concern over global environmental issues in the wake of that year’s Earth Summit in Rio.

The programme made Strathclyde a UK pioneer in offering environmental studies at postgraduate level. Over the last 25 years, the course has attracted well over 500 students from all over the world. 

Its success derives from its multi-disciplinary nature, its strong networks with industry and government bodies, its continued relevance over time to local, national and global issues; and its built-in flexibility that has enabled it to accept students from any degree background - from law, to sciences, to arts. It has also had a high graduate employability rate, both home and overseas, with graduates entering professions including environmental consultants, policy analysts, academics and environmental protection officers.

The programme has catered for both full and part-time studies. The Flexible Study/CPD route has also enabled students to complete the degree programme on a modular basis, while working full-time. Over the past 25 years, the MSc has evolved as new issues have emerged, reflected by the change of title to MSc in Sustainability & Environmental studies.

Two of the programme’s alumni, Geraldine Boylan and Caroline Brown, are now working together at environmental engineering consultancy Mabbett Ltd, having graduated in different decades:

Geraldine Boylan, MEnvS graduate 1998 - Director of Environment, Quality & Training, Mabbett Ltd 

“To me, one of the huge things which you don’t appreciate until years later is the friends and networks you make on the course. I’m still in contact with colleagues from the course all over the world who are doing amazing things in the sector.  There was a large quantity of international students when I did the course, this brought together a diverse mix of backgrounds and knowledge, and I learned so much from having those international contacts.”

Geraldine took the MEnvS at Strathclyde at a time when environment and sustainability was an emerging subject. Having moved to Scotland in 1997, and been held on an interview waiting list for a meteorologist position, she decided that if the interview did not work out, she would apply to study for a Masters degree.

She was doing voluntary work when a job centre brought to her attention a list of courses funded by the Glasgow Development Agency - now part of Scottish Enterprise - through their Training Through Work scheme.

Geraldine was passionate about working in the environmental sector but had found it extremely challenging to enter the field, as there were very few positions around. Supported by GDA, she took the Masters in Environmental Studies programme; with a background in physics, she immersed herself in the course and aimed to gain a broad knowledge base for working in the environmental sector, enabling her to grasp new and diverse concepts quickly and discuss them with clients. .

During Geraldine’s Masters programme, the Graduate School of Environmental Studies was approached by US-based environmental consultancy Mabbett, which was seeking a graduate for an initial six-week contract. The company was impressed by Geraldine as a high quality graduate, and was specifically looking for a candidate with both industrial and ecological knowledge and experience.

Having studied a wide range of subjects, from water and waste management to biodiversity and international and environmental policy, Geraldine believes the interdisciplinary nature of the course gave her a competitive edge to secure the job. She has now been working with Mabbett for 18 years.

Caroline Brown, MSc Environmental Studies Graduate, 2009 - Environmental Consultant, Mabbett Ltd

“I found studying at the University of Strathclyde such an engaging and applied place - I would definitely recommend it. I was given support when I needed it, but was also able to question the lecturers and share knowledge with colleagues.”

Caroline took her undergraduate degree in Geography, and, having enjoyed subjects such as conservation biology and ecology, she decided to progress to a Masters degree in Environmental Studies, with the intention of following a career path as an environmental consultant.

She chose the MSc at Strathclyde and included in her curriculum a selection of diverse modules, such as Environmental Law and Business Strategy, which she believed would be helpful in her pursuit of her chosen career. It was only later in her working life that Caroline discovered how relevant these topics were to her job - for example, in the case of a Pollution Prevention and Control permit for a power station, which had been covered in the Environmental Law module.

After graduating from the programme, and following a period of travel overseas, Caroline gained a role as a Graduate Environmental Consultant with Mabbett in Glasgow. She feels that what she learned on the MSc has been of great help to her in her job, which involves project management responsibilities.  Her main areas of responsibility include the development and implementation of environmental management systems or energy and quality systems, environmental and legal compliance and resource efficiency.

 In an ever-evolving sector, Caroline is keen to keep abreast of new topics. She recently returned to the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Strathclyde to undertake a CPD module on the Circular Economy, a current hot topic.  She had  a different experience from her first time round, by having to balance her study and assignments around a full-time job at peak periods, but she felt  confident at this point in her career, and found the module brought  many interesting viewpoints and examples  of activity by Scottish businesses . She also had the opportunity to update her network of contacts.

Geraldine, who is Caroline’s Training Manager at Mabbett,  always looks favourably on employees who decide to undertake CPD studies and was delighted that Caroline successfully completed the circular economy course  while still meeting business targets, despite the challenge of balancing between study and work at a busy time of year for the company.

MSc in Sustainability & Environmental Studies – Q & A:

What are the main strengths of the programme?

The programme accepts students from all disciplinary backgrounds. They do not need to have studied sciences or engineering at UG level – we accept students from any degree background, including arts, business, law, social sciences; in fact some of our most successful students have had non-environmental backgrounds.

Feedback from our students and graduates indicates that they chose the course for its strong focus on developing vocational skills, as well as engagement with industry professionals. The ability to customise their degree through the range of specialist classes helps to prepare them well for a career in environment.

What is the programme’s employability rate?

The programme has a strong employability rate, with 88.2% of responding graduates available for employment in the five years to 2015-16 either securing employment or further study.

Can students take the programme part-time?

Yes. Part-time study can be taken over three years, enabling students to fit it around work or family commitments. The MSc dissertation topic can also be tailored to workplace needs.

Is the course updated as new issues emerge?

Yes. One current example is that, from session 2017-18, a new class on the circular economy is compulsory for students who register for this MSc.

See further information on the course.