Geography graduate Phil Ridley

Where were you born and brought up?

I was born in Kingston – upon – Thames in South West London and have always been a Londoner at heart.

What exactly did you study for your degree and what grade did you get?

I studied BSc (Hons) Geography and managed to get a 2:1. For my degree I chose modules that were mainly based on coastal systems and climate change as these subjects have interested me from a young age, as well as being important topics often featuring in the news. During my second year I took the GIS (Geographical Information Systems)module, which (if I'm honest) I only signed up for because I heard that it was a good module to take to get a job. Little did I realise at the time that it was going to be the base and starting point of my career.

For my dissertation I studied changes in beach morphology on a heavily nourished beach using Hayling Island as a case study. The exact topic was influenced by my supervisor as I basically wrote on the form for dissertation ideas “something to do with beaches”! During my dissertation I was shown how to use LiDAR data to create a difference model of the beach showing how the morphology had changed over time. Seeing the results of the difference model was what confirmed for me that I wanted to pursue a career in GIS as I realised its potential and how rewarding the outcomes of GIS-based projects can be.

Why did you choose to study Geography?

Initially I chose to study Geography because it was a subject I enjoyed at school and had good career prospects. I have to admit that when I applied to university I didn’t appreciate just how many different 'strands' of Geography there were to be studied. Going to university introduced me to many aspects of Geography I didn’t realise even existed, as well as giving me the opportunity to specialise in subjects I always found exciting in my school studies.

What were the highlights of your degree? What did you particularly enjoy about studying Geography?

I loved going on fieldtrips! It was really amazing to go out into the field and see what you had studied in the classroom happening in the real world. I’ve developed a passion for studying and working in my area of interest and I’m pushing to try and get out into the field in my job. For the past three years I’ve returned to events at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) to talk about my fieldwork experiences at university as I think it is something that makes studying Geography at university even more exciting.

What have you done since you graduated? 

During my last few months at Plymouth the real world was looming and I realised that I would soon have to make some rather big decisions about what I wanted to do in life. I was in two minds about what field I wanted to move into – I had loved both climate change, coasts and GIS during my studies and so was rather torn. I applied for an MSc in GIS at the University of Nottingham so I could expand my GIS skills and an MRes at Exeter University to try and move into an academic career. Part of me hoped that I would be rejected from one of the courses to help make the decision for me, however both courses said yes!

After some careful consideration I went for the MSc in GIS at Nottingham and have been really pleased with my decision. I have learnt so much about the discipline and crossed into other areas into which I never thought I would venture such as engineering and computer science. Whilst I was at Nottingham I enjoyed the academic life – being surrounded by brand new research and discussions about how far we can push the boundaries of the discipline. I was extremely tempted by a life in academia, and it is something that I might be tempted to return to after some time in industry. I started applying for jobs in April and managed to get my current job at SmartWater Technology before I had even started writing up my dissertation!

What job are you in now?

My job at SmartWater covers two main roles, one as an administrator and the other as a researcher. The administrator part of my job does what it says on the tin – basically keeping the company’s London office running. We get a lot of important visitors visiting the London office and it is my job to make sure that all visits run smoothly as well as ordering supplies etc.

The research side of my job is the more exciting part. As well as selling the forensic traceable liquid, SmartWater Technology is unique as we have our own analyst department. In the analyst department we look at where theft incidents are occurring and try to notice any patterns that are emerging to catch the criminals. As a researcher I’m responsible for reporting when incidents occur either from our clients or using open source data. I get to use my GIS skills by using web mapping to spot any emerging patterns, as well as finding new ways we can use desktop GIS and web mapping to reduce crime in the UK. I am also heavily involved with starting up research in the new American office of the company.

My job is interesting as it has got both a practical and academic aspect. The practical aspect is working with the police and analysts to help reduce criminal activity, and pushing the boundaries with how we can use GIS to do this more effectively (the academic aspect).

How has your geography degree helped you to get (and do) the job you do now?

My geography degree has helped me in my job by teaching me the skills to work out what is going on when presented with a scene. Although I was often doing this on physical geography fieldtrips looking at coastlines etc. the same skills can be applied to a crime scene or a map showing where thefts have occurred.

Would you recommend others to study geography for a degree?

I would certainly recommend others to study geography. You learn a lot about the world as well as developing many transferable skills. I know that sounds very cliché but it’s true! There are a lot of fascinating things to find out about how the world works and geography is the key to them – it’s not just learning the capital cities of the world and how to colour in!