Dr Harriet Allen
Director of Studies, Tutor
There is a distinct flavour to Geography at Girton. Here you will find a large and thriving community of undergraduates, postgraduates, postdoctoral researchers and Fellows working together to create a lively, supportive learning environment. We realise that students acquire knowledge in many different ways and believe strongly that knowledge gained in lectures and libraries is enhanced by opportunities for ‘group learning’, both formally, such as supervisions, and informally. Our group activities include informal reading groups, older students mentoring younger students and many group sessions throughout the year where all Girton’s geographers get together. We are slightly further out of town than many colleges, which creates a close and supportive community. Both socially and academically, Girton Geographers have a tremendous sense of identity and belonging.
The student-run Geographical Society is extremely active and hosts a series of events each year. The Society organises seminars, external speakers, social events, and a biennial dinner with alumni and friends. Plus, you can be in the height of fashion with our very own Girton Geography hoodie!
Geography has a long and illustrious academic history at Girton. We have experts in human, physical and environmental geography at Girton to inspire you and help you develop your critical thinking skills. It does not matter what your geographical interests are, you will find a home at Girton. While the College’s geographers have their specialist interests, you will also be supervised by researchers in the Department and from other colleges and therefore your interests will be very well catered for throughout your degree.
At Girton, you will work closely with the Directors of Studies in Geography who will guide your studies, as well as other Geography Fellows.
Cambridge is one of the best universities in the country to study Geography. Geography is an interdisciplinary subject that prepares you for a wide range of careers, and gives you skills in numeracy, communication and critical analysis. You will have the opportunity to delve into the physical sciences, and be given tools with which to analyse the intersections between science and society, as well as training in the social sciences and humanities. Geography is an ideal degree with which to meet the complex challenges of the modern world. Full details of the structure of the course can be found at https://www.geog.cam.ac.uk/.
Success as a Geographer is not just about passing exams; it is about understanding the world. It also involves developing mathematical and communication skills (both written and spoken) to a high level. Girton’s vibrant teaching team works hard to bring Geography to life and are passionate about their teaching. There is a creative approach to study, including reading groups, student-led presentations, dissertation seminars and exam preparation sessions. All this, combined with a lively programme of study located in the Geography Department, makes for an exciting undergraduate degree.
First year supervisions are organised by your Director of Studies and you will get to know, very well, your supervisors for human and physical geography. Most of these supervisions will be given by geographers at Girton. However you will also be supervised by geographers from other colleges. Supervisions for second and third year students are organised by staff in the Department working with Directors of Studies. Your supervisors therefore will be experts from Girton, other colleges and the Department.
As geographers, we know that fieldwork brings the subject alive and overseas fieldwork is part of the agenda in the second year of the degree. While costs are heavily subsidised by the University, Girton can also provide grants for those who have difficulties paying their contribution. Destinations have included the Algarve, Denmark, southern France, Morocco, Spain (Mallorca and Tenerife), Switzerland and Germany (Berlin).
Girton students also have a strong tradition of excellence in their dissertations, with data collection usually completed during the summer between the second and third years. Students devise their own dissertation ideas, and are helped in this by support from geographers in the College and the Department. Recent topics studied by Girton students include: urban biogeography; discourse analysis of diseases; perceptions of pollution; community responses to flooding; sub-glacial hydrology; tree-ring research; restoration of wetland habitats; the relationship between land use and water quality; cultural geography of public spaces; analyses and perceptions of poverty. Some students choose to collect data for their dissertations in their home country while others opt to do so abroad; College travel awards may be available to support this. In planning dissertations, we do encourage students to think of the ecological and carbon footprints of their proposed work and to weigh these against the potential outcomes of the study.
In addition to having access to Cambridge University’s impressive learning resources, the splendid College Library has an excellent geography section together with knowledgeable, responsive staff.
Girton has a thriving community of postgraduate students, including geographers. Most years we have students who are studying either for a PhD or for one of the Geography Department’s MPhil programmes. Supervisors for PhD students are appointed by the Department and there is no need for the supervisor of a Girton PhD student to be associated with the College.
Girton’s geography PhD students pursue a wide range of research topics. MPhil courses offered by the Department include Conservation Leadership; Geographical Research; Holocene Climates; Anthropocene Studies; and, Polar Studies. The Girton postgraduate geographers are members of the college’s Geographical Society and join in with many of their social and academic activities.
Details of how to apply for postgraduate courses are explained here: https://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/postgraduate-application-process. Applications are processed by the University, but you can indicate Girton as your preference college on the application form.
An impressive number of undergraduates go on to Masters and PhD-level study; and many graduates find secure employment in a very wide range of fields, for example finance, teaching, publishing, the civil service, and working in NGOs.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Girton... The College provided a friendly and supportive environment, with Fellows who, I felt, actually cared whether I was happy or understood what I was studying, while maintaining the academic rigour expected of a Cambridge degree. I believe that I owe my career as a City solicitor, and my success in it, to my time at Girton. I have left the College a legacy because I want to help put it on a firm financial footing so that others, in years to come, can benefit, as I did, from what Girton can offer.