How to Build a Degree in Geography- Prospective Students - Geography - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

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Here you'll find out how to build a degree in geography at the University of Canterbury, and how a geography degree prepares you for a wide range of possible career opportunities.Geography Today

Geography today

Geography is a distinctive discipline and one with a special place in the university. This is because it encourages students to take a holistic view of the world and their place in it: it's about putting knowledge together, rather than taking it apart. It focuses on the relationships between people, their places and their environments, and the ways in which these can be made more sustainable for the future.

Have a look at the course descriptions and the staff profiles on this website and you'll get a good idea of how we interpret this brief at Canterbury.

Our three first year courses take some of the 'big' themes in geography and explore them in some depth. GEOG 106: Global Environmental Change examines the connections between physical and human processes at the global scale, such as population change and environment degradation, and the enhanced greenhouse effect. It examines how these are linked to change at regional and local scales.

GEOG 109: Physical Geography: Earth, Ocean, Atmosphere covers environmental process theory as well as the technical skills needed to monitor and model environmental change. Students examine the forces that control Earth systems, with case studies of three main sub-systems: the atmosphere and climate, the oceans and their coastal fringes, and high-energy terrestrial landscapes such as mountains. The course will deepen understanding of these subsystems as a framework for building science-informed environmental approaches.

Places are always restless and changing. The dynamism of place is obvious in cities such as Auckland, Sydney and Los Angeles, but it is also important in smaller communities. GEOG 110: Human Geography: People, Process, Place draws on the insights of human geography to deepen our understanding of how places are made and inhabited. Students examine the economic, social and cultural aspects of contemporary places and also consider their resilience and sustainability. Through practical work, we introduce some of the key methods and techniques available to explore changing places.

Having got a good grounding at first year level, you can develop your geographical training in the second and third years in this integrated approach, or by specialising in physical or human geography, or by mixing these with regional courses, and research/methods learning in areas such as GIS.

Building a degree

Geography at Canterbury is classes as both a Science and an Arts subject: In other words you can ‘major’ in Geography for either a BSc or BA.  It is also a popular subject for students doing LLB, BCom, MusB and BEd degrees, as well as being suitable for some courses of study towards the BE (Hons) and BForSc.

Those majoring in Geography must have 30 points of 100 level Geography (i.e. At least two of GEOG 106, 109 and 110), 30 points at 200 level and at least 60 points at 300 level.  For postgraduate study, the 300 level requirement is 90 points from Geography 300-level courses, including Geog 309.

All Geography courses are semesterised and it is possible, with the right prerequisites, to take 200-level courses in the second semester of one’s first year at university, or to be studying some 300-level courses in your second year.

Other subjects to take

Think carefully about the other courses you take. Consider whether you may want to specialise in a particular branch of Geography or whether you want to be an all-round geographer, and think about courses which would support that line of study. If you are uncertain about what to take, then the following points may help. You're certainly not required to take up any of them, but if you are really interested in a particular branch of Geography you should consider them. If you would like any further guidance on courses to take to enhance your Geography degree, come and talk to us.

  • If you are not already computer literate, consider taking the non-advancing introductory Computer Science paper, COSC110.
  • Statistics is useful for all geographers, and we suggest that you seriously consider taking a Stats course at some stage.
  • Some branches of Geography use mathematics, and if you have interest/ability in this area you should develop it.
  • Courses in other field sciences and an understanding of physics and chemistry laws are useful if you’re going to specialise in physical geography. Statistics and mathematics would be useful. You must be prepared for some heavy lab and field commitments.
  • Likewise, an understanding of fundamental physical and chemical laws will be helpful, especially for those interested in atmospheric or land surface processes.
  • Many fields of human geography are usefully supported by courses in such subjects as history, political science, economics, statistics, psychology and sociology.
  • Knowledge of the history or language of a region is useful in studies of regional geography. The subjects listed for human geography (above) would also be useful.
  • In environmental geography other field sciences would be useful, eg. ecology and environmental law, as well as GIS and COSC110.
  • If research/GIS is your interest, then you should consider courses like COSC110 or other statistics or mathematics papers.

That being said, the most important feature of your degree is that you should enjoy it. So don’t enrol for courses in subjects that you hate. One of the attractive features of Geography is that almost any combination of subjects can be made to work. If you want to improve your written expression and ability to develop an argument, consider taking a free Learning Skills Centre course.

Using a Geography degree

The ability to think in holistic and integrated ways is sought after in the workplace. Our graduates often tell us how they have benefited from being able to synthesise apparently disparate bodies of information that nonetheless all come to bear on specific problems. This is characteristic of what Geography graduates can do, and is becoming even more valued as knowledge shifts and jobs are no longer jobs for life. When you need a training that prepares you for the flexibility required in the contemporary workplace, Geography is it!

Being adaptable is reinforced by the emphasis that a training in Geography at Canterbury places on 'transferable skills', such as oral and written communication and self-driven learning. At the same time, you will acquire the important 'disciplinary skills', like a scientific approach to analysis of environmental variables, the ability to bring these together, and means of appreciating the crucial human element in the relations between people, place and environment.

Geographers at work

Geographers work in a wide variety of contexts, and you can obtain information from level 5 of the department or from the Careers in Geography website, that lists many examples of successful graduates in particular work roles. Resource management is a major avenue of employment, in local and regional councils, as well as in private sector consultancy firms. Many geography graduates are employed in other fields in local and central government, in policy development and analysis, in planning jobs, in agencies as diverse as Treasury, the State Services Commission, ACC, Social Welfare and Education. Many also work in the private sector, for instance using their Geographic Information Systems training. Teaching in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors remains popular, but is only one career option amongst many these days.

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