Where can Geography take you?

I often get asked by parents, students and well, anybody that knows me what the point is of studying geography.  Where can it take you?  What are the job prospects?  Is there any point in taking this course at GCSE, A Level or through to degree level and beyond?    As someone who would describe themselves as a ‘professional geographer’ for about 31 years or so – I am pleased to let you know that many of my students have actually gone on to fantastic careers in geography and few of them end up doing the same thing.  I have former students who have ended up as geography teachers, estate agents,  GIS analysts, financial advisers,  computer programmers,  PhD students and higher level researchers,  paramedics, epidemiologists and a variety of jobs in the civil service including water management, flood management, NISRA and TourismNI (and that’s just the ones I know about!)

I always feel guilty over-selling the appeal of going on to study Geography at university as with the expense that university now brings – this can be a difficult decision for a student (and their family) to take.  They need to be sure that this is the route they really want to take.  I don’t want them having regrets (or even for blaming me) for choosing the right course.   Also – university geography is really different from what is studied at both GCSE and A Level and I don’t want them to feel that I am steering them wrong.

That said, my daughter is currently coming to the end of here undergraduate degree and it is looking like my son will also follow a geographical path.   I don’t worry about it.  I know there are loads of really good job opportunities for someone who gains a geography degree.   It’s just as well as my 2 kids are really different people and will likely end up doing different things once they have completed university.

Today I was reading the August copy of Geographical magazine and came across the following graphic



The number of students who were doing A Level Geography has increased from 2016 (which is great news) but I thought it was interesting that so many (82%) ended up going to university.   The reality is that only 18% of these students end up in a directly geographical discipline but that geography A Level is also a really useful entrance course for people who go on to sciences (including medicine, dentistry, biological sciences,  agriculture and the physical sciences), but also Technology and Engineering courses and even more (31%) end up in Arts, Humanities and Social Science subjects (like law, business, languages, History, Art and Education).

It has often been argued that Geography is the subject that sits at the epicentre of choice for students in that it can be used as both a science and an art subject.  This is the same today as it was when I applied for my degree over 30 years ago.

However, within the academic discipline in schools – we need to realise that they still is a massive gap between what our students study for GCSE and A Level and what they will experience at university.  We need to keep freshening up our approach, and modifying the curriculum and specifications so that we are clearly picking up the best of geographical study and not just continuing to wheel out the same old greatest hits as we always have.


Its the end of the [global] world as we know it

I always loved that old  (1987) REM song – “it’s the end of the world as we know it”.  I once bought the CD version of their greatest hits and was gutted to realise that this song was not it.   It’s a song for the age of globalisation because the message might be that it is the end of the world as we know it but everything is ok because I feel fine!  I won’t bore you with all the globalisation imagery peppered through the song but when you listen to it with the news about the war in Ukraine on in the background, it all feel just a little bit eerie.


Certainly, the geopolitical map of the world is being changed by force yet again.   It can be hard to keep up with the skirmishes around the world and the impact that they will have.  Who would have thought 3 years ago that we would spend 2 years in a global pandemic where over 6 million people (and counting) would die.   The WHO estimate that there have been nearly 475 million cases of COVID (with 1.6 million still classed as new cases in the last 24 hours).   The WHO have a nice GIS Dashboard here which is worth a look.  Then, just as we saw the light at the end of the tunnel – Mr Putin decided to create a modern day version of the Spanish Armada and invaded Ukraine.   The impact on western lifestyles has been swift.   There are consequences for helping to stick up for the weaker country.   Our fuel bills, food bills and inflation have hit heights that many of us have never experienced in our life times.

Callum Jones in ‘The Times’ today wrote up a really interesting interview with Daniel Fink – the head of BlackRock – one of the largest investment companies on the planet.

The really interesting thing that he noted was his idea that globalisation was now dead.  The article notes

“The fallout from the Ukrainian conflict “has put an end to the globalisation we have experienced over the last three decades”, Fink, 69, said. “We had already seen connectivity between nations, companies and even people strained by two years of the pandemic. It has left many communities and people feeling isolated and looking inward. I believe this has exacerbated the polarisation and extremist behaviour we are seeing across society today.”

Link to article in The Time (24/03/2022)

Globalisation is dead.  I wonder, then what is going to replace it?  The interconnectivity between countries was something that came to signify this modern age.  We could (and did) order goods from all over the world and had them dispatched everywhere we needed the goods.   But the COVID pandemic and now war in Europe has caused a catastrophic shift of global priorities.   Can we trust supply chains again?  Do we need to rethink where we get our fuel, food, clothes and electronic goods?  Are we experiencing a xenophobic realisation that we cannot actually trust people from other lands?   This will led to a massive re-orientation of how we do life.   Will we still be able to maintain our affluent consumeristic lifestyles?   Are we returning to the days of the second world war (with rationing)?

Check out this video on Youtube 


Check out this book review in The Economist 

Michael O’Sullivan, author of ‘The Levelling’ notes the following in The Economist (28 June 2019)

“Globalisation is already behind us. We should say goodbye to it and set our minds on the emerging multipolar world. This will be dominated by at least three large regions: America, the European Union and a China-centric Asia. They will increasingly take very different approaches to economic policy, liberty, warfare, technology and society. Mid-sized countries like Russia, Britain, Australia and Japan will struggle to find their place in the world, while new coalitions will emerge, such as a “Hanseatic League 2.0” of small, advanced states like those of Scandinavia and the Baltics. Institutions of the 20th century—the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation—will appear increasingly defunct.” 

That said, NATO, the defensive security organisation looked to be on its last legs in the Trump era but today, the focus on a common enemy means that President Biden today announced that ‘NATO has never been more united’.  So maybe – the trade aspect of globalisation is about to go but the security aspect is going to stick around to make sure that Russia does not venture any further East inside Europe.

Screenshot 2022-03-24 at 22.43.20

Fink goes on to talk about the impact that the reorientation of supply chains is having.  (As someone who lives in NI – BREXIT is another factor as I cannot get simple deliveries anymore from British firms to my house in NI – the supply chains have gone due to undue and unwanted red tape).

Maybe,  what we are seeing is a return to the days of hyper-inflation where prices will rice exponentially and wages will be left behind.  The one thing we can probably all agree on is that what usually happens when the economy comes under any sort of pressure –  the poorer will continue to get poorer and the richer will continue to get richer.  This is always the way of things.  War makes some men rich and others struggle for the very essentials of life.  And let’s face it – its not as if many people living in the UK were not already having to rely on charities and Food Banks before all this began  . . .

There is bound to be a better way.



The new role for ‘Geography’

I’ve just finished reading through Danny Dorling and Carl Lee’s book, ‘Geography’.


I’ve been on a bit of a Geography tip lately – which is odd for me as I usually prefer to stay clear of academic-type stuff when I am trying to get into holiday-mode.   I had read through Prisoners of Geography and it seemed the logical next step to return to this book.

I had bought and started the book a few years ago but I drifted away from it and it has sat on my ‘things I need to read’ shelf for a couple of years and I kept picking up the books to the left and right of it instead.   Having completed my geography degree over 25 years ago and then proceeding to teach it since then – I wasn’t sure that I actually needed to be told what Geography is.

My reading of Tim Marshall’s book and now this has actually made me realise that I do indeed need to realign my understanding of what geography is all about.

Dorling and Lee divide their chapters up into five themes – Tradition, Globalisation, Equality, Sustainability and Mapping the Future.   At first I was a little perplexed by the winding narrative through each chapter.   I like order.  I like sub-headings.  I like things to be broken down for me into bite sized chunks. When you’ve been teaching for 25 years and this is what you do day and daily – it sometimes smarts a bit when you have to do the thinking and make the connections for yourself.

They described the pursuit for geography as where,  “Geographical questions are never stand-alone ones. All the questions we ask lead to other questions. Geography is about joining up the dots that help make up the big picture. Connections are everywhere.”

Though, that definition is refined and supplemented through the discussion of each topic.   At the end of each chapter the reader is immersed in an attempt to consolidate the linkages that have been discussed and the definition of how geography fits in with this is further stretched.


Towards the end of the book – in a sort of conclusion they note the following,

“Geography is the big picture.   It is the subject that studies the accumulation of the deep fertile soils that feed billions.  It is about the philosophies we apply to try and understand the world we live in and the people we share it with.  It is the inquisitiveness we have in common about our world that matters to all of us.

In a world of dense connectedness – of which we may know an increasing amount – geography enables us to better grasp the complexities and place them within the fundamental framework of our planet – the biosphere that is our ultimate enabler.  Geography makes the complex comprehensible, and it provides a context.  Geography forces us to look forwards, down the road and into the future.  But it looks forward while also realising that so much that is geographical cannot be understood without looking back.”

The book ends,

“Geography is, literally, the study of the world. Geo is ‘earth’ and graphy is ‘writing:  geography is ‘earth-writing’.  The word is old as the Greek language, and its modern use is as new as the ink on these pages or the pixels that make up the letters you are reading from the screen.  Most subjects start with a definition.  geography ends with one: to write about the earth is to write about almost everything we know, everywhere we live and all that we cherish most.”

For too long I think I have held a particularly linear view of what geography is.  I’ve always favoured the more ‘human’ aspects of geography and within that I have always described myself as being a ‘historical geographer’.  (Not a hysterical geographer, I should add).  But, I still have been constricted with a too-shallow and not broad enough interpretation of what geography is all about.   I have been exploring the geo-political aspect of geography a lot more recently.  Neither Tim Marshall or Danny Dorling would have imagined the crisis that COVID-19 has brought to our planet and how the basic reaction to this is to close down links between countries, between counties and between communities.  We have lost a sense of connection (and control).  We are fearful of what happens next and how we can, if ever, get back to a sense of normality.   Normal is a long way off.   We have put everything on hold.   Climate Change is maybe not the crisis it once was.   Brexit is not the crisis it once was.   Geopolitical relations are not what they once were.  The global financial system is not what it once was.   Priorities have shifted and it is up to the geographers to start redrawing the lines to see how we map out a new, more conciliatory future.

Prisoners of Geography

Tim Marshall’s book Prisoners of Geography: ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics has sat on my bookshelf for a number of years.   Originally written in 2015 (though the version I read had been updated since), it deals with issues relating to one of my favourite topics  – Geopolitics.


The wikipedia entry on the book describes the book in one sentence.

Prisoners of Geography describes the impact geography can have on international affairs, offering an explanation for such geopolitical events as Russia’s annexation of Crimea based on Russia’s need to retain access to warm-water ports and China’s actions in Tibet to enforce its border with India.[3]

Firstly, a confession.  Although I am a Geographer and a geography teacher by profession, and have written 10 geography text books/ revision guides.   I have recently found it difficult to read books about geography.   I have read every other genre of book – novels, history, religious books but every time that I go to read a book related to geography I just could not get into it.   Through the COVID lockdown I found it really difficult to read (or concentrate on) anything.   However, I managed to force my way through one of my favourite books by Stephen Ambrose on D-Day and this helped get me back into a habit for reading.

I quite enjoyed a review that a fellow geographer had left on the amazon.co.uk site

As a geographer in education, I was intrigued by the title of this book. It seemed to suggest some form of geographical determinism on political events. Indeed in some ways the author indicates that in many ways the policies of those in power in various governments are, if not determined, at least circumscribed by geography. By geography the author means physical features, geology, climate, and the general disposition of land and sea. Although he recognises the role that technological development plays in humans’ attempt to overcome the limitations imposed by geography, he is ambivalent as to how far this is successful.
Much of the book, however, is a description and interpretation of world political events, especially in the post World-War II period, providing a useful reminder of events which may have slipped from our memory. This description in my view, shows the importance of political ideology and nationalism, rather than geography in influencing these events.

I had bought Marshall’s book a few years ago and I had tried starting it a couple of times before but I kept getting about 15 pages in and then giving up.   The title bothered me.   Ten maps that tell you everything you need to know  . . .  My issue was that he spent little time actually talking about the maps.  He just used the maps as a means to an end – to be able to devote a chapter for each geographical world region and then talk about the geopolitical linkages that either worked historically or politically to create conflict or peace among the nations.

Prisoners of geography?  Maybe.

Is it the physical geography that determines how geopolitics works in an area?  Sometime this is true.   I have often struggled to teach some 12 year old students in geography why Europe came to dominate so much of the world. In the future I am sure that the current wave of revisionist geography and history will edit the impact of colonisation in such a way that is racially explosive and devastating to the growth of less advanced areas.  Which it was.   Marshall argues that the advantages of geography played their part.   Or maybe it was just that these were the first people to harness fossil fuels for industry.

Prisoners of geography?  Maybe not.

The story told in Marshall’s book is one of connections.   The book is about how one country works with or does not work with other countries (and sometimes about the divisions that exist within the country) and how they have been able to come to terms with these divisons.   How then can people (and nations) be prisoners, constrained by their geography, if they are looking to connect for trade, or to conquer other areas?  I think the reality is that sometimes nations slip these shackles easily in the search for what they might see as ‘the greater good’.

I maybe expected more about projections, areas and well mapping.  I felt this is what was suggested by the title and it took me a while to swallow hard and get over this.

But I am glad that I did.   Finally, I started again and tried to look at the book differently – as the commentary on globally politick that it was.   I also found that some of my A Level geography students were also trying to read through it too – so it was good to be able to try and help them see some of the big picture stuff that will form part of their A Level course when we return to school in September.

I like the way that Marshall writes.   It is concise, yet informative.   It is informed yet not overly academic.  It can be balanced, witty and there is odd sentence where you are left in no doubt about the personal inclinations of the author.   I enjoyed the book and look forward to reading more of Marshall’s work (these are sitting on my bookcase already – though maybe I wont wait as long next time  . . . .

I suppose in some ways I was hoping for a few 2 page -spread that I could use with my A Level geography students – but that’s not really what I got.  Instead – I see a book that I will likely dip in and out of consistently as I try to explain the basics of conflict around the world.   However, I liked the reminder that often the boundaries that we see on globes and atlases are only temporal. They are often drawn on the whim of a map maker – a straight line drawn with a ruler but ignoring both the physical, human and cultural dimensions that might have bent those lines just a bit.

The Geographical mind


A few days ago my daughter was surprised to get the news that she had been accepted to study Geography at my old alma mater – Queen’s University, Belfast.   Its a good 5 weeks until her final A Level results are released but the university have already guaranteed her place – but then, everything is a bit crazy in these COVID times!

This got me thinking about how I might have influenced my 2 kids over the last 18 years.   Parenting is a fairly odd process – you never really know or can measure the depth of the influence that you have on your kids until the damage is well and truly done.   Both my kids have always been naturally gifted at Geography.  Its not like we sit around of an evening and discuss urban theories or having drawing practice to see who can draw the best annotated diagram of a waterfall eroding.   Its just one of those things that they must have picked up over the years.

Equally, I have always been fascinated when one of my students continues on with Geography at university and beyond.   I always remember that in my previous school there was one class that Mike Bennett and I taught where all 9 of the students in the class went on to do a geography degree (and of those – 2 have attained PhDs in Geography and 2 are Geography teachers).   I should also add there was one young lad in this class who did leave school to do a History degree but found it did not suit him and he started on a course in geography the year after.   I can’t work it out for sure but I know of at least 10 former students who now teach Geography and have actually taught alongside two of them!

Equally, some of my friends who are also very talented geography teachers have kids who have not gone into the field of geography.   So – what is it that stimulates someone to take on their ‘geographical mind’ and to pursue that as a course at university and into the world of work?    What is it that makes some people engage with the study of geography and others well  . . .  not?

I came across an article online by Prof Doreen Massey called  ‘The geographical mind’  which got me thinking about this.  However, the article was not necessarily what I was thinking it might be.   Massey argues that a ‘lot of our geography is in the mind’ and she argues that ‘we carry around with us mental images, of the world. of the country in which we live, of the street next door.’

I’m not quite sure that she goes far enough.

A proper sense of geography is a way of thinking.   It’s a deep sense of questioning.  It’s seeing a landform and trying to work out where it came from.  It’s looking out a window and trying to imagine what it might look like with all the vegetation and soil stripped away.   It’s looking at what could be.  It’s looking at what has been in the past.  It’s looking for the crack, the changes, the things that seem to be out of place.   It’s looking for connections.   It’s looking for answers to things that don’t make sense.  It’s looking at how people live in a non-judgmental manner and trying to understand the processes that led them to be like that.   It’s looking for the complicated answers – beyond the simple, beyond the stereotypical.   It’s about discovery.  It’s about wide-eyed wonder – but from getting a sense of fulfilment as much from a strange smooth rock on a beach as from solving a complex challenge.  It’s about interactions.  It’s about people.

It’s a process.  It’s about always looking down, and round and up.  It’s about a fascination with our world and trying to make sense of it.

What are the amazing things about Geography for you?   What are the things that make you a ‘natural’ geographer?   What do you do to try and get people to engage with geography . . . what are your geographical secrets?

New Geo Pod

So with the turn of the new year – I have decided to update a few things in relation to my digital presence.  I have had a web site called THINK Geography for many years and have given it a little bit of a refresh over the Christmas break.

But, as well as starting up my blogging space again, I have decided to add to my podcasting by trying to set up an occasional series where I discuss some of the geography stories in the news and go a little deeper at some of the detail behind the stories.   This is called Geo Pod and it will hopefully be available on itunes in the near future.  I kick off with some discussion about the eruption of Anak Krakatau and the supposed Sudden Stratospheric Warming event due to hit us over the next few weeks.