10 January 2017

Postgraduate prize winners praise the flexible courses, research opportunities and career support offered when studying environmental masters at Lancaster University.

Alex Smith, who won the prize for best overall performance in the Lancaster Environment Centre, found his MSc Environmental and Biochemical Toxicology “interesting, diverse and thought provoking” and loved the “tremendous atmosphere” on the Lancaster University campus.

“The wide selection of optional modules allowed me to tailor the course to what I was ultimately interested in career-wise,” Alex explains.

But while the course provided him with excellent toxicology skills, Alex believes it was completing the careers focussed Lancaster Award that enabled him to present himself effectively to employers, and helped him land a coveted job as a synthetic organic chemist for chemical manufacturer, Manchester Organics.

“The careers workshops, classes and drop-in sessions were incredibly useful. I was able to vastly improve my CV and my covering letter, understand how to properly answer competency-based questions and my interview technique became markedly better. I genuinely owe my success at getting this job to the Lancaster Award.”

Fellow prize winner Clare Brewster, who won the best dissertation prize, “grew up at a time when science was portrayed as a male dominated profession” and hadn’t done much science at school.  Clare developed an interest in plant science after working on sustainability and climate change issues, and started studying a foundation degree course in Horticulture.

Then a chance meeting with Lancaster plant scientist Dr Carly Stevens at a conference led to some volunteer research work at Lancaster. With Carly’s encouragement, she applied to do a masters, and got a place on Lancaster’s MSc in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security.

“I wanted a plant science-based masters which would provide some insights into the challenges facing global agriculture in the face of climate change, and to learn what the latest research was on possible solutions,” Clare said.

“I had a gut feeling that the Lancaster Environment Centre was an exciting place to be and to study. I was right and I am very glad I took the decision to come to Lancaster.”

Clare succeeded in getting to grips with scientific concepts and methods, going on to scoop the prize for her dissertation looking at the combined impact of two major global air pollutants - ozone and nitrogen - on a wheat cultivar and its wild ancestors.

“Whilst both nitrogen and ozone are known to be detrimental to many wild plant communities more research is needed on how these pollutants interact when in combination.

“Wheat is known to be one of the most ozone sensitive crops, with substantial global wheat crop losses due to ozone.  So understanding how wheat’s wild relatives respond to both ozone, and nitrogen and ozone in combination, is useful information for plant breeders looking for genetic traits to improve wheat crops, for example ozone tolerance.

“It was hard work but in many ways I loved every minute. I’m writing up a paper, based on my experiment, with the help of my supervisors, which I’m hoping to submit for publication.

“I no longer feel science is something someone else does. I’m now applying for plant science PhDs! Having said all year I wouldn’t do a PhD, I found I loved the research so much I realised it’s what I want to do, for the foreseeable future anyway.”

Jessica Moult, who studied for an MSc in Energy and the Environment, won the prize for the best industry based project, taking advantage of Lancaster University’s award winning partnerships with environmental businesses.

For her dissertation, on the carbon footprint of different food waste management practices, she worked with Small World Consulting, a sustainability focussed consultancy based at the Lancaster Environment Centre, gaining access to their expertise and data.

“The UK wastes an estimated 15 million tonnes of food per year,” said Jessica. “My results showed that organic waste should ideally be diverted from landfill and incineration: in particular meat and cheese should be the focus for prevention and donations as any other disposal method has a high carbon footprint.”

Jessica also completed the Lancaster Award, which helped her “learn to discuss my transferable skills in a way that would easily relate to an employer.”  She liked the flexibility offered by her course, the excellent teaching by “approachable” lecturers who are “world class scientists”, and the “brilliant support services”.

Jessica is now looking for a career in environmental consultancy, and is considering whether to do a PhD.

The fourth prize winner was MSc Sustainable Water Management student Rob Brooks, who won the Beven Hydrology Dissertation Prize.

Find out more about studying at our Graduate School for the Environment.