Geography graduate profile: Thor Enge

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

I studied BSc (Hons) Geography with Ocean Science and achieved a 1st class. I was also awarded the school prize for best overall performance. During my studies, I focused on paleoclimates, pedology and quaternary science. I spent one year abroad at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where I focused on paleolimnology, paleopedology and sedimentary analytical techniques (e.g. XRD and XRF). For my efforts, I was awarded the Distinguished Undergraduate Research Scholar award. My dissertation used a true multi-proxy approach to identify a buried floodplain-soil horizon on the Cape Fear river in North Carolina, USA associated with the early settlement history.

Why did you choose to study geography?

It was one of my strongest subjects in school and I had a general interest in the subject; besides that I was torn between all the different disciplines that I was interested in and that I was able to study… the choice was almost overwhelming. Interestingly enough, I made my decision to study geography in Plymouth when I came to the open day and I was received in such a welcoming manner that I decided on the spot to join the University.

What were the highlights of your degree?  

I have fond memories of my time and the degree in Plymouth. A couple of things that come to mind are the overall very high quality of the content that was taught as well as the way that it was taught. For example Neil Roberts brought quaternary science to life by using his expressionist style of lecturing. Regional field trips to Bath and the Somerset Levels showed me that it is not necessary to travel far to find interesting history and features. I also remember very fondly the ever-lasting enthusiasm and dedication of my academic mentors who encouraged me to excel and constantly keep trying new things; in the end, the roots that were laid back then are what made me a scientist today.

What have you done since you graduated?  

Since finishing my degree in 2014, I casually jetted across half the globe to the Southern Hemisphere, to complete a PhD and start a new life in Australia.

What job are you in now?

At the time of writing this, I am about to complete my PhD, and I have done a 180 degree turn, completely reorienting myself. The project I am working on is a mixture of biogeochemistry and medical research, where I am using geochemical techniques, i.e. measurements of transition metal concentrations and isotope ratios, to explore biomedical questions. My PhD has in particular focused on the application of copper isotope ratio analysis to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) (also known as motor neuron disease).

I very much enjoy this field of research, as I get to experience the birth of a new discipline, Medical Isotope Metallomics. Its implications are potentially vast reaching, ranging from the understanding of metabolisms and ageing all the way to neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.

How has your geography degree helped you and how useful has it been in your career so far?

For one, my degree has given me my basic academic training. This is where I learnt the basics of the scientific principles, hypothesis testing and critical thinking. On the other side this particular degree has enabled me to experience a wide variety of topics as it includes a wide spread of material, from both human and physical geography, and oceanography.

I would say that my training as a physical geographer and ocean scientist has come in handy during my career, in particular with respect to communicating across scientific boundaries. Novel disciplines like mine do not have their own departments, making interdisciplinary communication very important.

Did you expect or plan to be doing what you are doing now?

Well, I had a decent idea of what I was planning to do after finishing my degree. Throughout my degree I have been pointed towards an academic career and when it came to finishing, I did apply for several PhDs. That I would end up working in innovative medical research is not something that ever crossed my mind.

Would you recommend others to study geography for a degree?

I think a geography degree has the flexibility to provide almost anyone with a solid base education to enable further training. A degree in geography provides a deeper understanding of the physical and cultural world; this, in my opinion, is one of the best things that one can take away from a degree. It enables one to be a global world citizen; this is what the world now needs, people who have the ability to think critically and form their own opinions.