The possibilities in a career in Geography and Sustainable Communities’ are endless. There is no ‘one size fits all’ scenario when you study a Degree with our School. Below some of our Alumni demonstrate the extensive career journeys a Graduate possesses when studying Human Geography and Sustainable Communities.
- Business Adviser or Developer
- Climate Change Analyst or Climatologist
- Community Resource Specialist
- Environmental Affairs Officer or Consultant
- Environmental & Community Policy Adviser
- Environmental Division Manager
- Foreign Services Officer
- Geological or Geodetic Surveyor
- Heritage Policy Officer, Analyst or Consultant
- International Development Specialist
- Land Use Planner or Consultant
- Mapping Technician
- Mapping Technician
- Public Diplomacy Officer
- Social Planning and Policy Adviser
- Social Policy Researcher
- Sustainability Officer or Manager
- Transport Analyst or Modeller
- Urban & Rural Planner
Undergraduate student Alumni
Loretta Jessop admits that the Bachelor of Science (Human Geography) program at UOW wasn’t her first choice, but she soon realised it was what she really wanted to do.
When she enrolled at UOW, Loretta knew she wanted to study place, and the environment. So she started an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science.
One of her classes in her first year was in human geography. It was a subject she wasn’t familiar with. It turned out that she liked it so much that she changed her degree to Human Geography. She went on to complete her honours in the subject too.
“A human geographer contributes to the creation of sustainable places, vibrant economies and liveable communities – what could be more exciting?”
Loretta says that you really get to ‘do’ human geography research during your degree at UOW. “Field trips were a rewarding and enjoyable experience, where you can explore the interaction of global concepts in human geography at the local level,” she says.
As a student, you are also very well supported during your degree. “You get to know the Human Geography staff personally, and they are happy to make time to support you one-on-one, which is something I’ve come to appreciate even more since being in the full-time workforce,” Loretta says.
After completing her degree, Loretta entered a graduate program with the Federal Government’s Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
“During my four years at the department, I worked in various policy, stakeholder engagement and research roles to support closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage. I also worked in the areas of problem gambling, housing and disability,” she says.
Loretta then left her Canberra-based role to take on contract work. This has included stints with Non-government Organisations (NGOs) in Australia and in the Philippines, as well as with the Federal Government (based in Sydney), and with State Government too.
She says that she chose to be a contractor because she values variety in her work, and is able to select the roles that she finds most meaningful.
“Most of my contracts have been for a year in length, but contract extension is a common option, which adds to career choice and flexibility.”
Human geographers are held in high regard by both NGOs and governments, she says. And, because human geographers can be employed in a wide range of positions, there are always plenty of interesting job opportunities to choose from.
“Be proactive in exploring the different types of roles that are out there. Chances are, there’s work that you’ll love that you’ve never considered before,” she says.
“And, if you have the chance to undertake an internship, a skills seminar, an exchange or mentorship – grab it willingly.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Social Science (Human Geography), Brittany took a well-deserved break. This gave her the opportunity to think carefully about the next stage in her life.
“I took six months off study while I figured out exactly how I was going to apply human geography to the working world,” she explains. “I knew I wanted to be in an innovative industry, one which involved people and places.”
Brittany looked into many different government roles, in areas such as health, social welfare, and environmental management. She also looked at generalist positions. She eventually chose urban and regional planning.
To help her on her way she completed a Masters degree in Urban and Regional Planning. It helped her secure a full-time position as an Assistant Development Assessment Planner within local government.
She is now working in residential, commercial and agricultural development, and she enjoys the systemic application of the law and regulatory instruments to the process of development, and being able to play a part in shaping a locality.
Studying human geography at UOW allowed her to examine a range of topics applicable to real world current issues, such as climate change, globalisation, urbanisation, industrialisation, and the subsequent impacts these processes have on our society and environment.
“The best thing about my undergraduate degree was the practical experiences that built upon the theoretical knowledge I was being taught. Field trips and research projects allowed me to apply the knowledge I had gained in a practical and real world manner.”
Brittany explains that her degree at UOW fitted in nicely with her choice of career, because it explored how humans shape, and are shaped by, the environment around them.
“My Human Geography undergraduate degree was held in high esteem at all levels of the job application process,” she says. “Urban and regional planning is about facilitating place-making processes across multiple geographic and time scales,” she continues. “While human geography makes you aware of the cultural, political and historical factors at play within a society or community. I believe this gives me a more holistic understanding of the world.”
Brittany says she has also applied the general research skills, critical thinking, and ethical practices she learnt during her university days to her everyday work life. “These skills are invaluable for any employment, particularly within government and within roles which are client-based,” she points out.
Majoring in Human Geography opens up a wide range of opportunities, she continues. “It does not in any sense limit your career choices. I would argue it almost gives you too much to choose from. The interrelation with other fields of study makes geography the perfect launching pad for diverse, interesting and innovative career paths.”
According to Alison Mellor, the Bachelor of Science (Human Geography) program at UOW equipped her with the critical thinking skills needed to explore the social and environmental problems that we face today.
“Through research projects, I gained confidence in how to look at things from many perspectives, and ask the questions that give you a better understanding of the big picture,” she explains. “In my work in local government, and education for sustainability, these skills have proved invaluable.
” Since graduating from UOW, Alison has worked in local government, initially as a Social Planner, and then as an Environment Officer. “Working in the Environment teams at two different local government organisations over the past nine years, I have been lucky enough to focus on coordinating sustainability programs for residents,” she says.
Alison really enjoys working in the area of education for sustainability, and has been involved in project managing some “fantastic” initiatives over the years, such as Sustainable Illawarra, Building Backyard Biodiversity, and Sustainable Shellharbour.
On a personal level, she has been inspired to live more sustainably, and has opened up her home as part of National Sustainable House Day. As a result, many groups have visited her house on sustainable gardening tours.
“One aspect I really enjoyed about studying Human Geography at UOW was the ‘real world’ focus – the local field trips, and studying the everyday places, spaces and practices around us,” Alison says. She also appreciated the way she was taught to consider social and environmental issues in a holistic way.
Alison praised the teaching staff on the Human Geography program too. “I really valued the contagious enthusiasm and passion the human geography teachers had for their areas of interest, and the way they keenly shared their learnings with students and encouraged us on our own learning journeys,” she says.
“I went into this degree thirsty to know more about the environmental and the social challenges we face, and how to create a more positive future. I feel I walked away with skills and ways of thinking that would allow me to do just that, in my own small, yet meaningful way.”
Honours student Alumni
For Lucy Farrier, the Bachelor of Science (Land and Heritage Management) program at UOW allowed her to pin point something that would give meaning to her life.
“I had my heart set on a career based around conserving and protecting the natural environment,” she says. “It was through the study of human geography that I discovered I could work at the interface between people and the environment, and it’s here that I found my passion.”
After completing her honours in Land and Heritage Management, Lucy went on to do a range of things that satisfied her interests. These included being a ranger with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, based in Sydney’s Royal National Park. She was also a Green Army Supervisor, working on field-based projects outlined in Wollongong City Council’s Dune Management Strategy.
While travelling around Australia she participated in various conservation projects, including a seven-week internship with a Native Title Representative Body in Perth. As part of this, she was involved in an archaeological and ethnographic Aboriginal heritage survey at a mine in the Pilbara, Western Australia.
She also volunteered with the Southern Highland’s Koala Conservation Project, and a non-profit organisation called Hidden Harvest, which raises awareness about food waste.
These days, Lucy works as an Environment Officer at Shellharbour City Council. She is part of a team that delivers environmental management and education programs. She also assists in monitoring threatened species, including the Grey-headed Flying Fox, and an orchid called the Illawarra Greenhood.
What she learnt in her degree has helped her a lot in the workplace, she says. “Human geography forced me to think differently – outside the square, to think about issues from different points of view, not just my own.”
Her honours thesis involved fieldwork on Lord Howe Island, off the coast of NSW, where she investigated the tensions between environmental management and the cultural heritage values of local people. “It was challenging to recruit interviewees, as islanders were suspicious of visiting researchers because they felt that their home was over-researched. I had to negotiate these complex issues and familiarise myself with various cultural protocols to effectively liaise with them, and establish trusting relationships.”
Community engagement has been a large part of all her jobs, she continues, and her honours project equipped her with the ability to build rapport with people, recognise their different points of view, and work out strategies for consultation.
“I feel really lucky to have studied human geography and I have been mentored by some very passionate and interesting academics,” she says. “They were always open to new ideas, so you were able to choose interesting and relevant topics that mattered to you.”
For Erin Lake, persistence and committing to volunteer work were essential in transitioning from her studies to a career about which she is truly passionate.
“Volunteering in local on-ground initiatives is crucial for networking, developing teamwork and leadership skills and proving you are passionate about your industry and willing to get in there,” she explains. “In applying for a job you usually need to address a range of selection criteria, so having a variety of different situations to speak to presents you as a better package.”
Erin volunteered for local Landcare groups during and after her studies, building the experience and connections to gain a bush regeneration team leader role with a local council – an ideal pathway to the public sector career she aspired to. Her sights set on the Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy’s highly competitive graduate program, she applied three times before her persistence paid off.
Starting out with three work rotations and executive mentoring, Erin then worked on implementing the National Wildlife Corridors Plan and contributed to the design and implementation of the 20 Million Trees Program. Landing the coveted role of adviser to Australia’s first Threatened Species Commissioner, she helped develop the Threatened Species Strategy and implement its targets to protect and recover threatened species. She now works with the Department of Primary Industries protecting Threatened Species for NSW Fisheries – a role she relishes.
Erin graduated from UOW in 2010 with a dual degree in Science and Arts, with honours in Science. She dedicated her thesis to investigating the land management practices of rural landholders. Her focus was an analysis of their ecological restoration work using methods from both science and social science. This included botanical surveys of weed management sites in conjunction with interviews with landholders.
“Combining an Arts and Science degree helped me gain both technical knowledge and report writing skills, as well as analytical and reasoning skills,” she says.
Erin recommends a geography degree – particularly with the addition of the honours program – to anyone interested in a rewarding and challenging career working for positive natural resource management outcomes.
“I made some great connections through my honours project that enabled me to gain more experience in land management, and I actually got to implement some of the recommendations of my research, carrying out restoration activities on private landholdings in the region,” she recalls.
“My honours year also provided me with good experience in project design and delivery, and managing a discrete project is a skill that will be valued in most jobs.”
Tom, who completed a Bachelor of Science (Land and Heritage Management), followed by honours in the same subject, believes that work integrated learning subjects, alongside core subjects is the key to opening career pathways.
While studying, he had a casual job with the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service, and made use of a Directed Studies component of his degree to further strengthen his ties with the organisation by working in the field with some of its employees too.
“Needing to undertake field research into their Discovery Tour program gave me the opportunity to gain valuable work experience and contacts. The result was a stronger CV and a really good head start for an honour’s thesis,” he explains.
During his honours year, Tom was encouraged to continue broadening his contacts and experiences with the NPWS, by selecting a project that required close collaboration with the organisation.
“Taking this approach achieved similar results to the Directed Studies, by increasing my professional contacts, and gaining richer work and volunteer experiences. I was grateful that my supervisors encouraged me to nurture the relationship and assisted me to balance this task with my academic requirements.”
Tom says that his undergraduate studies in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences offered a mixture of physical and human geographies. This gave him an understanding of the potential careers available.
“In my case, I was inspired by human geographers, as their work always seemed to be more embedded in real world issues, and they would often champion an inter-disciplinary approach to understanding. This appealed to what I thought about conservation and protected area management.”
Since graduating, Tom has found it relatively easy to find work in a variety of fields related to geography. He has worked as a Team Leader for the National Green Jobs Corps, and as a volunteer project officer on mangrove rehabilitation and sustainable tourism development in West Java, Indonesia. Tom has also worked as a Training and Development Coordinator, as part of the Kimberley Ranger Program, in Broome, Western Australia.
“It is undeniable that the work experience and contacts I generated throughout my studies have added value to my First Class Honours degree,” he says. “I don’t think enough emphasis can be placed on balancing academic results with extra circular studies, collaborative research and work experience through volunteering.”
All his jobs have required the ability to communicate effectively with people and within organisations, he explains. “My experiences gained through Directed Studies and honours research gave me a head start to achieving this. More importantly, all my roles have taken me to incredible places, and allowed me to work at the intersection of social, cultural and environmental geography, which is pretty exciting and inspiring.”
Postgraduate student Alumni
Susannah Clement completed a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Human Geography, followed by a PhD in Human Geography. When she finished studying she scored a job in the public service as part of the NSW Government Graduate Program. This involved three, six-month rotations across government departments, including stints in the Office of Environment and Heritage, and the Department of Education.
“I’ve worked in the areas of heritage policy, sustainability for government agencies, net zero emissions and funding for early childhood education,” she says.
“I now work for the Biodiversity Conservation Trust, which is part of the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. My team works with private landholders to protect the biodiversity of NSW.”
Susannah feels that the things she learnt in geography are applicable to both global and everyday issues, from climate change, plastic pollution, food security, population growth and urbanisation, to everyday things like how people travel to work or use energy in the household.
Some of the practical skills that she developed at the University of Wollongong (UOW), including critical thinking, persuasive writing and working collaboratively, have also been useful in the workplace.
As for her time at university, the geography fieldtrips stand out among the highlights. “It was pretty cool getting to spend class time off campus, learning more about where I live, and the places I visit everyday.”
Susannah recommends joining a student society or club while you are at university. “The UOW Human Geography Society does some really cool events,” she says.
She also suggests that you do some volunteering. Susannah volunteered with the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME), which connects university students with disadvantaged Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander high school students.
“Not only does volunteering look good on your CV, but if you can afford an hour or two a week it’s nice to give back to the community.”
Taking time out to exercise and relax is essential, she says.
“If you are studying at the Wollongong campus, there’s a swimming pool at the gym, bushwalking tracks up Mt Keira, and the beach isn’t too far away either.”
Thinking about life after university before you graduate is also a good thing to do, she says.
“When it comes time to look for a job the process becomes slightly less daunting if you have some idea about what you are looking for.”
She suggests thinking about what kind of work you like doing, and what issues motivate you. Do you like working at a desk? Do you like fieldwork or talking to people? Do you care about conservation, recycling, or food security, for example?
“Once you have an idea of these things, start thinking about what kinds of businesses or organisations operate in this field. Do you know someone who has a cool job related to this area? You could ask to meet up over coffee to talk about their work.”
Approaching organisations that offer volunteering opportunities, or doing internships during university breaks, might help you secure a job.
So, what final advice would Susie give someone who is thinking about taking a Geography degree at UOW?
“Do it!” she says, enthusiastically.
Victoria completed her Doctor of Philosophy degree at UOW in 2016. She studied within the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities.
Her thesis is entitled: A phenomenological study of gardening practices and invasive plant management in the Sydney Basin.
“I am glad I was introduced to human geography at UOW … because the collegiality and support of academics and other research students made my study less overwhelming than it otherwise could have been,” she says. “The aspect I enjoyed most was definitely the people … and the support they openly offered.”
After finishing her PhD degree, Victoria continued to work at UOW for a few months as a tutor and research assistant.
“Then in June 2017, I got a job as an Assistant Policy Analyst with the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) at the NSW Department of Education. I worked in this role for about six months, before getting a higher-level position as a Policy Analyst, which is my current role.”
She admits that it can be hard to foresee, or plan, how a particular field of study might be useful in future employment. But she says that studying human geography definitely helped bring out, and nurture, the research skills that she now uses in her job every day.
“That particular field of study also developed my ability to always look at, and look for, the contextual elements to any research project. This is especially important in education research, where I often deal with making comparisons between student or school groups of differing Aboriginality, socio-economic status, immigration status, and so on.”
Victoria recommends that students seek some sort of employment, not just for the extra income, but also for the additional skills that they offer.
Alongside the research and communication skills of conducting a PhD, Victoria seized the employment opportunities offered in the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities.
“During my candidature, I also worked as a research assistant, tutor, and mentor to other research students. These casual jobs helped me hone skills like project management, stakeholder collaboration, problem solving, adaptive thinking, and presentation, all of which are necessary aspects of my job at CESE.”
For students currently at university, Victoria also suggests that you keep an eye out for, and take up, opportunities that are not necessarily related to your field of study, but which could help you develop skills and knowledge that are frequently called upon in the workplace.
“The key is for students to absorb as much knowledge and experience, discipline-based or otherwise … so that they are well-equipped for whatever their future employment needs turn out to be.”
After completing a Master of Science – Research, Kate Roggeveen stayed on at the University of Wollongong (UOW). She became a research assistant and then an Associate Research Fellow. Her tasks included several interdisciplinary projects involving energy use and thermal comfort.
More recently, Kate has worked in the ACT Public Service on both energy policy and climate change policy. She now works on matters related to parliamentary procedure, and supports a committee at the Australian Parliament.
Thinking back on her time as a student at UOW Kate says she relished exploring the academic literature around food geographies, and appreciated being able to delve into a topic in detail from several angles. She also liked attending seminars, workshops and postgraduate retreats, and applying a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods.
Her academic supervisor for her thesis provided a lot of support and encouragement, while other staff members were encouraging and approachable.
She enjoyed working with other human geographers too, and with academics from other disciplines, including engineering. “It sounds like a cliché, but studying and working in human geography exposed me to different perspectives,” she says.
“I came to human geography after working for a number of years in several policy and analytical roles. I certainly learnt and refined various skills through my studies, but looking back now I also think that a substantial benefit comes from the act of exploring different ways of thinking and approaching an issue.
“The discipline of human geography helps us critically explore, analyse and articulate the sometimes complex realities of daily life as they relate to a particular problem or topic, such as resource use. In general terms, studying human geography has helped me delve deeper into issues that are sometimes presented in simplistic ways.”
A higher research degree can also help you get a job, she says. It can prove that you can work independently, that you are self-motivated, and (often) that you can contribute effectively to a team of people that may have quite a diverse range of skillsets and experience.
Kate suggests keeping a record of any skills or experiences that might be useful for your CV. These could include oral and written communication skills, experience working under pressure, and dealing with unexpected and/or difficult situations.
“If you’re generally curious about how people interact with the world they live in, human geography is a great option,” she says.
“I consider a geography degree a sound choice, given the variety of sub-disciplines you can explore, topics you can investigate, and overall collection of skills that you gather and can then apply to your post-degree endeavours.
Alex Tindale completed a Bachelor of Science Advanced (Honours) and a Doctor of Philosophy, both at UOW. After finishing his PhD he took a position at the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment as an Analyst in the Economics, Population and Land-use Analytics Branch. He worked as part of a small team that was responsible for analysing and reporting on housing supply data. This data enables policy makers to determine whether housing supply is keeping up with population growth.
After working in that position for almost a year, Alex began his current role as a Social Research Officer in the Institute for Public Policy and Governance, part of the University of Technology Sydney. His team provides consulting services across many areas of social research, from urban planning to program evaluation.
Alex says he enjoyed studying Human Geography at UOW because he learnt things that challenged how he viewed the world. “I was taught how to think critically and was encouraged to see the world from different perspectives,” he says. “One of the first things we learnt was about how there are a multitude of ways people understand the concept of nature, and the real world implications of this for how we manage the environment”.
His favourite subject was Population Geography. “I was fascinated by how populations change over time and across space, and I loved learning how to make population maps using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software.”
Within days of started his first government job, Alex began using the knowledge and skills he’d developed in his degree. His GIS skills were particularly relevant because he was able to analyse data which answered important questions about Sydney’s housing supply. He was also able to develop maps to use in reports.
“In my current role at UTS, the ability to think critically about a wide range of social research topics - which I’d learnt at UOW - has been crucial in enabling me to effectively conduct my research work,” he says.
While you are studying at UOW, Alex recommends that you do something to serve others in your community. This might involve volunteering with a local charity, a group within the university, or some other community-based organisation. “I think it’s a really valuable way of growing in your understanding of the world and developing skills that will be as valuable as any other form of education.”
He also recommends that you keep track of the skills and knowledge that you pick up as you go through your degree, so that when it comes time to apply for jobs you’re able to put together a strong resume.
Alex definitely recommends doing a geography degree. “If you are passionate about finding solutions to social problems, a degree in geography will equip you with the knowledge and skills to launch into a career where you can do exactly that.”