Monday, 24 October 2011

Postgraduate Courses: Engineering Geology

Over the coming months we will be trying to review a range of postgraduate 'MSc' courses that offer interesting options for geologists interested in applying their skills to development situations. The first looks at 'Engineering Geology' with a particular focus on the course offered at the University of Leeds (due to the author's experience). Similar courses can be found at Portsmouth University, Imperial College and Newcastle University. 

After studying a lot about the thermodynamics of metamorphism, whether the mantle convects in one or two layers and how water is recycled at subduction zones - I decided I wanted to pursue a more practical focused geoscience Masters course. After doing some research I decided to study for the MSc Engineering Geology course at the University of Leeds in their School of the Earth and Environment.

The Course
The course was very wide ranging (one of its great appeals), covering many aspects of geoscience, with modules in soil mechanics, rock mechanics, engineering geology and site investigation, hydrogeology and contaminated land, and advanced engineering geology (inc. analysis of geohazards). I therefore got a wide range of subject matter – from groundwater to design of foundations, tunnelling to landslides, earthquake engineering to ground investigation. The course has since developed, with the advanced engineering geology module now called ‘hazards, resilience and sustainable engineering’. This offers an exciting opportunity for students to grapple with some of the issues facing geologists tasked with building resilience and promoting sustainablity. 

The course was well taught and structured – with contributions from those with an engineering background, as well as a geoscience background. Site visits, laboratory exercises, fieldwork and seminars from those in industry contributed to a wide range of teaching environments. Each student is expected to complete a dissertation project, which accounts for around a third of their overall mark. The project gives you an opportunity to focus in on a particular area of interest, or potentially work with a company/consultant that interests you. The department has some excellent industrial links, and has had a number of very creative dissertation projects in the past. From roads in Ethiopia, to seismic hazard at a dam site in Albania to artificial ground in Glasgow (the latter being the less glamorous project I had to endure).
Prospects for those interested in a career within development

Although there wasn’t a lot of mention of its applications to international development, and the majority of people on this course will go on to work in UK-based roles, a lot of the skills developed can be applied and used in development situations. A number of large consultancies use engineering geologists for major projects they are doing in developing countries. The basics of hydrogeology taught within the course are possibly sufficient to transition into a career within ‘water and sanitation’ – although further reading into a number of aspects of community development and appropriate technologies would need to be undertaken. A career in geohazard assessment is also an option (having covered many aspects of slope stability, mass movements and earthquake engineering). The academic rigour of the course established you well for further postgraduate study – with the potential to undertake a PhD in a range of subjects.

Strengths: Broad and relevant subject knowledge; highly regarded course; good opportunities; opportunity to focus within your dissertation; opportunity to engage with issues of risk, resilience and sustainable engineering; well resourced department, library and university.
Weaknesses: Currently no overseas fieldwork unless you’re lucky enough to get your dissertation overseas (this may be changing soon); little funding support (NERC have recently withdrawn their sponsorship; not enough opportunities to get experience with relevant IT software (only limited use of ArcGIS)

Overall: An interesting and informative course that gives you a great skill set. For those interested in a career working within developing countries (for some or all of the year) this course can lead to a number of opportunities.
Please do get in contact with any questions you have about how I found studying this course – for more information and more formal questions you can visit the Leeds University Departmental webpages.