MSc alumni careers panel

The MSc alumni careers panel (pictured above, from left to right): Natalya Lozovaya (ECM 2013-14, now Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Consultant at Corporate Citizenship), David Forbes (NSEG 2007-08, now at BEIS), Johanna Koehler (WSPM 2012-13, recent DPhil graduate and now researcher with the Smith School’s water programme) and Florianne de Boer (ECM 2012-13, now a consultant with Ricardo Energy and Environment. BCM alumnus Hendrikus van Hensbergen, who set up his own charity “Action for Conservation”, was sadly not able to join due to illness.

Our alumni are a fantastic source of professional insights and advice, and we were delighted to welcome 15 of them back to the School in Hilary term to speak to our current students at various careers events.

What is a day in the life of a Civil Servant like? Do you have to work long hours at KPMG? Which skills qualify an Oxford Geographer to set up their own charity? Our students had the chance to find out first-hand at our annual SoGE Careers Event on 21 January, and experienced an enthusiastic bunch of speakers, encouraging them to explore the world of work out there and find the right place for their interests and talents. The format of short talks by alumni as well as current SoGE staff kept the audience on their toes, and a networking fair in the Herbertson Room afterwards gave plenty of opportunity to quiz the speakers further about their everyday working lives.

Many thanks to the alumni who came back to share their insights and advice:

John Addison (BA Geog 2003, now at KPMG), Louie Davis (MSc NSEP 2014-15, now at Thomas Cook), Olly Belcher (née Donnelly, BA Geog 1999, now CEO of her own charity Shivia), Jamie Grant (BA Geog 2008 and MSc NSEP 2012-13, now at BEIS) as well as current SoGE DPhil student Liam Saddington (BA Geog 2013 and MSc NSEG 2016-17) and TSU Research Lecturer Dr Debbie Hopkins.

MSc careers

“What’s next?” is a question many of our MSc students start asking themselves as early as Hilary term, and so we invited four alumni to give possible answers at a careers session specifically tailored to our graduate cohort on 8 February.

Chaired by ECM student Daniel Holod, the panel of four reflected on their career pathways in the environmental sector, which ranged from academia, to government, to consultancy. The speakers discussed the non-linearity of their career paths and how they have been able to use the hard and soft skills they learned during their time at SoGE in their professional lives so far.

A couple of weeks later, the ECM class could also enjoy a lunchtime visit from alumna Ying Zhang (ECM 2011-12), who is now Programme Management Officer in the Economics and Trade branch at UN Environment in Switzerland.

DPhil careers outside of academia

On 19 February we were very pleased to host three of our DPhil alumni to give current doctoral students an insight into careers outside academia.

Lucy Mahoney (2009) works as a city planner for Transport for London, but maintains some links with academia through her collaborations with colleagues at the Transport Studies Unit. Helen Pearce (2005) has seen academia from the ‘other side’ having worked in research councils since completing her DPhil. Currently a Senior Strategy Advisor for UK Research and Innovation, she recalled the slightly strange experience of reviewing a grant application from her former supervisor! James Keay-Bright (2000) shared some sound advice drawn from his own wide-ranging experiences of the world of work, which have seen him move from a Law degree into work with refugees abroad, then a detour to SoGE to take a Masters and DPhil, before embarking on a career in the Civil Service, where he is now a senior legal adviser at the Foreign Office.

SoGE’s Equality and Diversity Officer Claire Hann, who organised the event, but is a BA alumna of the School herself and later on did a PhD at Leicester University, contributed her own experience in ‘three lessons’ she learnt:

  1. If you don’t manage to forge a career in academia, there are many other rewarding areas of work where you can use the skills acquired through your DPhil.
  2. If you take a career break (e.g. for family or health reasons) you can pick your career back up again. If you are talented and determined (as all DPhil students here are – and all alumni!) you can make it work.
  3. You can switch between different careers during your life, and this can be an enriching (if sometimes challenging) experience.

We look forward to more careers events in Hilary Term 2020. Would you like to get involved as a speaker? Please contact Claire Hann at