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Physical Geography

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Physical Geography

BSc
  • UCAS code F840
  • Option 3 years full time
  • Year of entry 2021

The course

Physical geographers explore and are inspired by all aspects of our physical environment – from the atmosphere that protects us to the terrain beneath our feet and the living ecosystems that surround us.

Study Physical Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London and you’ll develop a deep understanding of the atmosphere, geosphere and biosphere and their interactions with one another, as well as the physical processes that shape and affect our world.

You’ll benefit from world-class, research-led teaching in a Department ranked 2nd in the UK for research by the Research Excellence Framework 2014. Fieldwork is a key part of the experience of doing Geography at Royal Holloway. As well as being excellent research training, our extensive programme of fieldwork helps bring the department together as a real community. The department offers a substantial and exciting range of field trips in the UK and overseas. Current locations include Cyprus, Spain, Malawi, Sicily, London and New York. The cost of the Year 1 fieldtrip to Spain is included in the student fee.

This flexible course gives you the chance to tailor your studies with a range of optional modules in years 2 and 3, to suit your interests and career ambitions. You’ll gain a range of skills and knowledge to take into your future career, making you a highly employable candidate in a number of sectors.

Our flexible degree programmes enable you to apply to take a Placement Year, which can be spent studying abroad, working or carrying out voluntary work. You can even do all three if you want to (minimum of three months each)! To recognise the importance of this additional skills development and university experience, your Placement Year will be formally recognised on your degree certificate and will contribute to your overall result. Please note conditions may apply if your degree already includes an integrated year out, please contact the Careers & Employability Service for more information. Find out more

Core Modules

Year 1
  • In this module you will develop and understanding of the factors that control the physical, biological and chemical forces which shape the Earth’s surface. You will look at oceanic and atmospheric processes, plate tectonics, hydrology and coastal processes, glaciation, and arid environments.

  • In this module you will develop an understanding the complexity of the relationship between people and environment. You will examine how and why ecosystems vary spatially and the impact of human activity, such as deforestation and agriculture, on the physical environment. You will also consider the nature of environmental change, including climatology.

  • In this module you will engage with key issues in human geography. You will consider human geography as a distinctive way to approach the world, examining key questions about globalisation, inequality, identity and the nature of place. You will look at approaches to economic, cultural and historical geography, and the development of the discipline, celebrating geographers’ active involvement in the challenges facing humanity.

  • This module will introduce you to human geographical perspectives on political processes, societies, development and the environment. You will develop an appreciation of the importance of scale, networks and spatial patterns, and how geographers have approached the challenges of inequality at local, national and global scales.

  • This module will provide you with an introduction to the methods for collecting, interpreting and presenting physical and human geographical information, in both the field and in the laboratory. You will conduct physical and human geography fieldwork in the local area, with activities including surveying and mapping, vegetation sampling and identification, soil and water analysis, interpreting past history, exploratory and inferential data analysis, questionnaire design, interviewing, and visual and textual interpretation.

  • This module will provide you with an introduction to the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in physical and human geographical research, giving you practical experience in the use of ArcMap (an industry-leading GIS software package). You will look at the use of satellite remote sensing for geomorphological mapping, census classifications and boundaries, and volunteered geographic information.

  • In this module you will develop your practical research skills on a week-long field-trip to Andalusia in Southern Spain. You will spend four days, guided by staff, looking at specific local examples of physical, environmental, social, economic and cultural processes. You will then spend two days, working in small groups, conducting a short piece of original research on a topic of your choice.

Year 2
  • In this module you will develop your skills in research design, data collection and analysis. You will learn how to handle and process advanced human or physical geography data sets, and further your ability to apply geographical information systems (GIS) techniques. You will also start to plan your dissertation, thinking about proposal design, and risk and research ethics assessments.

  • In this module you will have the opportunity to conduct field research in Cyprus, Malawi, New York, Sicily or London, with each destination focussing on a different area of Geography. You will develop your ability to analyse and problem-solve in the field, collecting, interpreting and combining different types of geographical evidence.

You will take two from the following:
  • Environmental Systems: Processes and Sustainability
  • Earth Surface Processes and Hazards
  • Environmental Change
  • Biogeography
Year 3. You will take of the following:
  • The dissertation gives you an opportunity to undertake an individual piece of geographical research, on a topic of your choice, around 10,000 words in length. You will be allocated a member of staff as a dissertation adviser who will provide advice on research design, data collection and analysis.

  • Independent Placement-Linked Dissertation
You will take four from the following:
  • Coast and Estuarine Management
  • Global Warming
  • Wetland Environments: Process and Policy
  • Managing River Environments
  • Glacial Environments
  • Digital Landscapes
  • Arid Africa
  • Mammals in a Changing World
  • Volcanoes

Optional Modules

There are a number of optional course modules available during your degree studies. The following is a selection of optional course modules that are likely to be available. Please note that although the College will keep changes to a minimum, new modules may be offered or existing modules may be withdrawn, for example, in response to a change in staff. Applicants will be informed if any significant changes need to be made.

Year 1
  • All modules are core
Year 2
  • Political Geography
  • Cities: Economies and Ecologies
  • Cultural Geographies of the Modern World
  • Perspectives on Development
Year 3
  • Regeneration and Urban Policy
  • Geography of Commodities
  • Post-Capitalist Cities
  • Geopolitics of Media and Communications
  • Exploration, Science and Making of Geography
  • Geography, Museums and Collections
  • Creative Geographies
  • Gender & Development
  • Cities and Development in the Global South
  • Mobilities
  • Challenging Development? Disasters, Conflict and Human (in)Security
  • Critical GIS
  • Atmosphere: Art, Science, Politics
  • Remote Control: Geographies of Contemporary Warfare

The course has a modular structure, whereby students take four course units per year. Some course units are compulsory while others are options thereby offering flexibility and choice. Assessment is by a mixture of coursework and end-of-year examination in varying proportions, depending on the course units you choose to take. In the final year, you will write a 10,000 word dissertation on a topic of your choice which you will research and write with individual guidance from your tutor. The first year is foundational and marks do not count towards your final degree. The second year and final year marks do count, with more importance being given to the final year marks in order to reward progress and achievement.

You will be taught through a combination of lectures and small seminar groups, tutorials and practical workshops. The department has a substantial and varied programme of field training and laboratory work, giving you the opportunity  to apply your skills and knowledge in a practical setting. Private study and preparation are essential parts of every course, and you will have access to many online resources including the University’s comprehensive e-learning facility, Moodle, which provides a wide range of supporting materials.

We use a range of assessment models to suit different learning styles, from fieldwork exercises and reports, individual and group presentations to coursework essays and examinations.  In your final year you will have the opportunity to write a research-led dissertation.

2nd in the UK for research quality

Source: Complete University Guide, 2020

100% of research is 4* or 3*

Source: REF, 2014

96% overall student satisfaction

Source: NSS, 2019

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