What makes the Cambridge Geography course so special?

In recent years, the Department of Geography at Cambridge has consistently been at or near the top of the list of best places to study Geography in the UK according to the Guardian University Guide. In the 2019 Guide it was once again ranked as the best Geography degree in the UK. Geography at Cambridge is wide-ranging and allows increasing specialisation over three years. The degree is constructed to allow choice and flexibility but also to provide an introduction to all aspects of the subject. You will be taught by many leading geographers in their field, in lectures, supervisions, laboratories and in the field.

Why choose Newnham for Geography?

Newnham admits a large enough number of Geographers to be a dynamic community.  It has an excellent reputation for Geography and Newnham students achieve very good results. The subject is well supported in the College: there are several funds reserved for Geography fieldwork, and a good collection of Geography books in the College library. Newnham has three ‘Fellows’ in Geography (of whom more below), more than most Colleges, so students can generally find someone with whom they can discuss their ideas and interests. There is also a student-run Geography society (the Lucy Adrian Geography Society) which organises talks and social events for the Newnham Geography community.

How many students take Geography at Newnham and what options can they choose?

Newnham takes four to eight Geography students a year.

In the first year, all students take the same two major courses in Human Geography and Physical Geography, and a general course in Geographical Skills and Methods.

In the second year, greater choice is possible, in combination with a Core Course ‘Living with Global Change’ that examines issues that are central to Geographical analysis and study. All students take this course. Students then choose three options from a choice of six human and physical geography papers. Currently the second year options include papers on Austerity and Affluence; Biogeography; Citizenship, Cities and Civil Society; Development Theories, Policies and Practices; Glacial Processes; Quaternary Climates and Environments.

In the final year there is a completely free choice, taking four papers from a list of twelve physical and human geography papers. To give you an idea of the variety of courses in this year, the papers run in 2017-18 were: Biogeography; Biosedimentary Coastal Systems; Changing Cultures of Risk; Geographies of Discipline and Social Regulation; Geographies of Global Urbanism; The Glacial and Quaternary Record; Glaciology; Historical Demography; Knowledge, Policy and Expertise; Political Ecology in the Global South; Volcanology.

There is a certain amount of assessed course work that the student must carry out during the three years. In the second year, students carry out a project based on a one-week field visit overseas. In the last few years, Mallorca, Berlin, Morocco, Ireland and Portugal have been the destinations of these field trips. In the summer between the second and third year, all students carry out research (in the UK or abroad) which forms the basis of a dissertation that contributes to the final exam results at the end of the third year.

How will I be taught at Newnham?

All students attend lectures in the Department of Geography. Field classes and practical classes are also organised through the Department. Supervisions are organised by the College. Supervisions normally consist of two or more undergraduates meeting with a lecturer for discussion on topics arising from lecture courses, and students will usually complete an essay for the supervision. Geographers generally have two or three supervisions a fortnight. In the first year at Newnham most supervisions will be with other Newnham students, but thereafter undergraduates of different colleges are often supervised together according to their interests.

Can you tell me more about the Newnham Geography Fellows?

Newnham is fortunate in having three senior members in College:

  • Dr Elizabeth Watson is Director of Studies and specialises on development processes in Africa, and teaches students about Human Geography and development issues;
  • Dr Emma Mawdsley works and teaches on India, environmental politics and the rising powers as development actors;
  • Professor Susan Owens specialises on environmental policy, science and risk, and teaches students about environmental issues;

In addition, Dr Lucy Adrian is an Emeritus Fellow, and is a Historical Geographer who teaches Historical Geography and the history of Geographical ideas.

Newnham also has a number of ‘Special Supervisors’ in Geography specialising in different fields: Dr Gemma Burgess whose research interests lie in Gender equality, Equalities legislation, Affordable housing and Housing and the ageing population; Dr Charlotte Lemanski is a Special Supervisor in Urban Geography whose research has focused on urban issues in contemporary South Africa (and to a lesser extent, India); Dr Alex Jeffrey specialises in geopolitics and legal geographies; Dr Iris Moeller specialises in and teaches physical geography (specifically on coastal issues); and Dr Fran Moore, whose specialism is in historical and social geography.

What jobs do Newnham Geography students go on to do?

Geographers have excellent job prospects and enter into a wide variety of occupations. Prospective employers welcome Geographers as people with a range of critical skills and analytical abilities trained to be both numerate and literate over a wide field. Newnham Geographers can be found in environmental organisations, development organisations, banking, information technology, chartered surveying, law, landscape architecture, the Civil Service, accountancy, management and teaching, as well as in further research and lecturing. Some take specialist professional courses after their BA, including accountancy and law, while others go on to graduate study as Master’s or PhD students.

Are there any A-level subjects that are particularly useful?

Students have usually studied Geography at A-level (or equivalent), although this is not essential. Other suitable supporting subjects are varied but include Economics, English, Geology, History, Politics, Mathematics, Modern Languages, Science (Biological or Physical) and Sociology. An interest in contemporary issues gained from newspapers and journals (e.g. Geographical Magazine, New Scientist, The Economist) is also a good background for studying Geography.

Can I take a gap year?

The College is sympathetic to applicants who wish to take ‘a year out’, before starting university but also understands that others may prefer to go straight into University.

How should I prepare for interview at Newnham?

All applicants are required to take the pre-interview written assessment for Geography at an authorised centre local to them (for a lot of applicants, this will be their school/college). There are then usually two separate interviews at Newnham, each lasting 20-25 minutes. These do not involve written tests, although applicants may be asked to comment on material (text, a map or photographs for example) made available during or just before the interview.

Where can I find out more?

It is usual for the course in Geography to change slightly from year to year. The information above is correct at time of writing. For more details and up-to-date information, explore the Department of Geography website.

The Geography Subject Overview on the ‘My HE+’ website also provides information and resources for exploring your subject.

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