25 October 2016 16:38

A unique graduate school bringing together three of the UK’s top centres for environmental and agricultural research formally opens at Lancaster University

Representatives of embassies, businesses and government agencies joined staff and students to celebrate the opening of the new Graduate School for the Environment, focused on tackling the big environmental challenges of the day.

The School brings together the Lancaster Environment Centre, one of the UK’s most highly ranked university departments for environmental research; Rothamsted Research; the world’s oldest agricultural research station; and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), a world-leading institute focusing on land and freshwater ecosystems and their interaction with the atmosphere.

Graduate students - encompassing those studying for Masters, PhD and Professional qualifications - will benefit from a huge range of world leading expertise, facilities and international networks offering excellent career prospects and contacts with a pool of prospective employers.

Speakers at the launch all focused on how the School can contribute to finding solutions to major global problems as well as benefiting the students personally.

“We have the opportunity to build a strong graduate community by sharing people, ideas, labs, facilities, data, platforms and international opportunities,” said Professor Kevin Jones, from the Lancaster Environment Centre, who led on the formation of the new School. “Together we have a huge global network: our size and scale can make a real difference.”

“If we want to tackle the big problems the world is facing we have to be fast at getting things out in real world,” said Professor Achim Dobermann, Director of Rothamsted Research.
“We need to have an innovative, entrepreneurial culture which is flexible and fun, particularly for the students. As well as having individual projects, they should work together as a team on a larger problem to foster more cross disciplinary thinking.”

“We represent a very broad church of research capabilities,” said Professor Mark Bailey, Director of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, which already has one of its four government laboratories based at Lancaster University. “What’s important is bringing our skills to bear whether it’s on producing better soils and water or understanding modelling: these skills are of little use unless they can help conserve the land on which we live, the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe,” he added.

“The best way of stimulating new ideas and understanding of the environment is through human contact, said Sir Martin Holdgate, former Chief Scientist at the Department of the Environment and Research Director of the Nature Conservancy Council, who cut a cake in the shape of the globe to formerly open the new School. “You are bringing all the disciplines together, from anthropology to zoology, to prepare and guide postgraduate students who will spread out all over the world and contribute to solving the great worries of the day,” he said.

Between them the three institutions have more than 200 PhD students, including ten students who started this October, who are being co-supervised by at least two of the three institutions.

Aimee Brett, who is being jointly supervised by researchers at Lancaster and Rothamsted, said:
“I’ll be working with people who are doing cutting edge research, not just academics but also at the industry interface. Rothamsted has an experimental plot in North Devon which I may get involved in. Having experts in all the disciplines allows PhDs to be really multi-disciplinary.”

Her fellow PhD students Merryn Hunt, who is being supervised by researchers from all three institutions, said: “It’s great to get exposure to how different institutions work, to help work out exactly what you want to do, and to build connections, opportunities and experiences. It will make me more rounded as an academic and a researcher.”

Masters students will also gain a wider range of opportunities, both for research or dissertation projects and through easier access to internationally renowned experts and cutting-edge equipment in all three centres.

The School’s flexible taught courses include a wide choice of modules from a range of disciplines in the natural and social sciences.

The Graduate School for the Environment is also building on professional training courses run with industry partners for people already in work, including a PG Certificate developed with Waitrose exploring food security and environmental sustainability, and accredited courses in flood and coastal risk management for water and environmental industry practitioners.

Dr Alan Blackburn, Director of the School, said: “Our aim is to be flexible in the way people can study so they can build up their learning while continuing with their career. For example they could start by doing just one module and build up to a PG Cert, a Masters and eventually a PhD.”

Find out more about the new Graduate School for the Environment here.