Field Research on Green Politics

When all the coursework toward the taught MSc is finished at the end of March, we move into the dissertation phase of the programme.  The dissertation is intended to be an original research project allowing students to demonstrate their ability to apply the skills learnt on a long-term project.  Writing is a great pleasure in life for me, and I very much looked forward to this part of the programme.  My own project is a study of Green party politicians whose parties sit in opposition to the government (or administration) in their respective national, regional, and local polities.


Me in the Folketing

Me in the Danish Folketing chamber, Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen


So far, I have interviewed politicians from Iceland, Denmark, Ireland, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, and (of course!) Scotland.  My travels to conduct my research have taken me to Reykjavík, Dublin, and Copenhagen, with some interviews conducted over Skype.  I have had many opportunities to speak to those who serve others through politics and learn from them about what they do and why they do it.  Not only this, but I have also had the chance to visit parts of Europe that I might not otherwise have had the chance to visit.  Touring has been a very welcome bonus.  The research I have conducted so far has been rewarding, and I am eager to share my eventual results with everyone.

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MSc Walking Writing Workship in Dunkeld

The MSc in Environment, Culture and Society course took a field trip on 1st May to Dunkeld and Birnam in Perthshire to experience a fantastic writing workshop conducted by Scottish writer Linda Cracknell in advance of our commencing work on our dissertations.  She put our cohort through a series of exercises where we learned how to enrich our writing through giving a voice to the subjects of our work, whether human or not.  We learned to ‘see’ nature through hearing it, smelling it, and feeling it.  After a delicious lunch at the Birnam Arts Centre, we put our newly-acquired writing arts to work, and each shared what inspired us with the rest of the rest of the group.

Not only did we get a fantastic workshop from Ms. Cracknell, but the trip afforded us an opportunity to experience the wondrous nature of Perthershire, not to mention a very enjoyable scenic train ride up from Edinburgh and back.  On a personal note, travel by train is a great way to experience Scotland’s unparalleled beauty.  It could only add to a writing workshop that was fantastic in its own right.

Many thanks to Prof. Emily Brady for organising this field trip, one that all of us thoroughly enjoyed.


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Great Places to See: Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh is an important part of the city. It played a key role in its history and contributes so much to the local economy. The students call the city their home where they spend most of their leisure time. In this blog post I plan to share my favorite places that are well worth a visit and bring a person closer to Edinburgh.

The Scott Monument

The Scott Monument is a beautiful piece of architecture dedicated to the world famous poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott. The spire has a museum inside dedicated to literature and to the history of the monument. The monument is partially hollow so a spiral staircase leads to the top providing beautiful views of Edinburgh.


Views from the top of the Scott Monument

Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat

The park and the hill provide a great playground to a geologist. Arthur’s Seat use to be a cone of an ancient tropical volcano while the Salisbury Crags were formed by an old volcanic dyke being exposed by glacial erosion. On the side of the hill volcanic intrusions are visible with a chance to find fossil fish or fossilized wood.


Holyrood Park

The Park provides a great place for walking and jogging. Due to its elevated height the entire park offers great views all around. Arthur’s Seat is easy to climb and it is very rewarding. The top makes you feel like the king of Edinburgh. The Scottish Parliament is attached to the park. It is well worth a visit to see its modern architecture and get a peak of the place where laws are made.


The Scottish Parliament

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is the crown jewel of the city. Since its construction it played centre role in city politics and witnessed great historic change. Enemy sieged it many times and Kings ruled Scotland from behind its walls. It is home to the Scottish Crown Jewels. The Scottish Crown jewels were hidden at the castle until Sir Walter Scott found them in a hidden room in 1818. From that year, till today the jewels are displayed at the castle in a vault. The Castle is a great tourist destination with a military museum and a chapel. Every day (except on Sunday) at 1.00 pm an old military gun is fired which can be spectated from the Castle.


The Edinburgh Castle

The National Museum of Scotland

Scotland’s biggest museum is dedicated to human knowledge and Scottish history. It hosts many great exhibitions ranging from the industrial revolution to micro-biology. My favorite part is the geological exhibition and the T-Rex on display. The museum allows you to stare strait at the jaw of the T-Rex. It gives an idea how massive the beast was. The geological exhibition hosts many rock samples and holographic projections providing plenty of information. The museum has a great gift shop with books that serve as memorable souvenirs.


A human sized amethyst geode

The Royal Mile


The Royal Mile at night

The place is the most vibrant part of Edinburgh. The ancient cobble streets are lined with street stalls and entertainers who bring joy to anybody’s heart. There is always somebody in a kilt who plays the bagpipes giving the place a unique atmosphere. The place is home to the Hearth of The Midlothian where in the past public executions took place. It is easy to book a foot tour there which takes you around the city connecting graveyards and pubs. The somber and the merry.

The National Gallery of Scotland

The place is a proud home to art starting from the 12th century till today. The paintings contain classics from artists like Raphael, Tintoretto, Titian, Poussin, Vermeer, Claude Lorraine, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Van Gogh, Gainsborough, Chardin, Gauguin, Antonio Canova and Turner. Everything is there from medieval classics to iconic Scottish paintings of the 19th century. The gallery is home to many great marble sculptures depicting people like Sir Walter Scott. The place is a great free afternoon out.


Sir Walter Scott with Highland Stag

Princes Street

Coincidentally The National Gallery of Scotland is on Princess Street. Princess Street is the shopping capital of Scotland. World famous brands populate the street bringing the fashion of Paris and New York to Scotland. It is a great place to shop, especially with the views of the old castle and the views of the old railway station. At Christmas time a German market with a Ferris Wheel rises from the park. When the Fringe festival is on, the local parks play host to workshops and performers. When the sun is out the place is the best place in the city for sunbathing.


Princes Street

Two Skyes Scotland – Gem Shop

At last, but not at least my favourite shop in Edinburgh. The little shop is located just opposite to the World’s End pub. It primarily sells jewellery, but it has an amazing selection of fossils and crystals. The shop sells amethyst fragments, tourmaline strands in quartz, faceted garnet crystals and fossils of all kinds ranging from trilobites to ancient fish. The rocks and minerals are sourced from all over the world from Argentina to Siberia. Stones from the Scottish Highlands are plentiful. The staff is very nice and very helpful.


The Gem Shop

Edinburgh is a great city to visit with great museums and lovely parks. I hope after reading my blog and seeing my pictures you will gain a great interest in the city and go off exploring.

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A Shift from Brains to Environment

When I first started my four year journey of undergrad, I thought about majoring in environmental studies since I was passionate about nature and wanted to help with issues such as climate change. Unfortunately for me, however, I was discouraged by a few bad grades and then deemed myself not suitable for environmental studies. I then took a course in psychology and eventually moved on to neuroscience, and thus received a bachelors degree in neuroscience from Bates College.

What I wish to convey in this post is that a few bad grades should not discourage someone from pursuing a dream, a passion, or an interest. Initially, I was worried when I was accepted into the carbon management program at the University of Edinburgh, for fear that I was going to suffer the same fate that I faced in undergrad. This was not the case, however, and I made friends, spoke to Professors, and found the support that I needed to succeed.

Don’t get me wrong, it was not a mistake to switch majors, for I learned some very cool facts about the brain and met some wonderful professors along the way, but I should not have tricked myself into thinking that I was no good at something. Never be afraid to try something new, and always know that a little support can go a long way 🙂

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Business Bootcamp

Launch.Ed are hosting a Commercialisation Bootcamp for University staff. The two-day business bootcamp, taking place on Tuesday 16 May and Monday 22 May, will show participants how to transform research into something with commercial potential.


Staff news article:

Direct booking link:


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Exams will be over in ten days! Just the right time to look back on the semester

Before I came to Edinburgh to study, I had worked for a while. That meant that the exams last December were the first exams I had had in nearly three years and that, honestly, was quite scary! What if I had forgotten how to prepare for an exam? What if university was harder than I had thought? Luckily, my exams weren’t half as bad as I had expected and it was all over quite quickly.
If there is anybody here reading this who spent some time after high school doing something else and is having doubts about whether they can adapt to studying again, worry not! Things are going to be okay, and it is not that bad being a little bit older than most of the freshers 🙂


Field trip to see the impacts of a beaver reintroduction

I really liked my courses this semester. My Spanish improved quite a bit, thanks to my classes and my tandem partner whom I’ve met this semester. This is a great system if you are learning a new language and want to get speaking, I can only recommend it! So I already survived the scariest thing this exam period which was my Spanish speaking exam (Although I used the words muy bien to describe literally everything). Hip hip hurray!!!

Biology, Ecology and Environment was the only compulsory course this semester (my degree is Ecological and Environmental Sciences). It was our first introduction to Ecology, and it has been a really interesting course and I am still very happy to be doing my degree. We also got the chance to go to an estate in Perthshire where beavers had been reintroduced and analyse the water quality around the dams.

As my third course, I took Oceanography, which definitely was not easy, but worth it! It was fascinating to see how physics, biology, chemistry and geology all connected and how it is important to understand a bit of all those sciences to get the whole picture.

Apart from that, I had some friends over, tried the sweetest cheesecake in all of Scotland (I swear!), visited St Andrews, went up the Salisbury Crags about 20 times, had a concert with my wonderful choir, learned how to make a perfect Cappuccino at work, and found a room for next year (YES it is possible). So quite a positive outcome, I’d say!

And I’ll go into my exams a lot more relaxed this time 🙂

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Shall I wear my thinking cap or my sunhat?

Shona imageBy Shona Irvine

It’s that time of year again. Exams are looming. Head down, noses in books and fingers racing across keyboards. Luckily, being a geoscience student, I can escape the giant building of essay-writing and diagram- learning (aka Central Library) to the more peaceful realms of King’s Buildings. In this sunny weather it’s great to get out for a break and wander to Blackford Hill or Hermitage of Braids. Wow, I could never study in a busy city! The views accross to Craigmillar castle and Braids golf course remind us that there is a world out there. Amd much of what we study is helping us understand it, helping us protect it.  Earth day has just passed. But that doesn’t mean we can go back to the old ways; there’s still so much to learn and so much we can do to help. Turning off lights, re-using paper, recycling tins…they’re all obvious these days…but as they say: every little helps!
Yesterday’s subject of revision for me was soils. It’s amazing how the ground below our feet supports us.
Today I had trip out to visit family. Beautiful views from the train.
Anyway enough of this procrastination: I better get my head down.

Shona is a 2nd year Ecological and Environmental Sciences student. 

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Study Tour in Imlil, Morocco!

Kids helping the soils group do an infiltration test.

The MSc in Environmental Protection & Management has been quite the ride from modules were we explored the importance of carbon sinks such as peat bogs to practical courses that challenged us to work as a group on the implementation of food hubs in North Edinburgh. One of the compulsory modules we took as part of this course is “Analysing the Environment”.  It was divided into a class that covered qualitative and quantitative methods in semester one, and a practical study trip at the end of the second semester. This week we got back from the study trip which took place in Imlil, a small, mainly-tourist town (nature-related tourism), two hours away from Marrakech, Morocco. Our programme and the Soils & Sustainability programme, both co-tught with SRUC (Scottish Rural Agricultural College), spent 7 days studying social and physical sciences there.


Plantation crops on terraces along hill slopes.

The trip was a great way of combining what we had learned in class with the physical environment, applying new analysis tools, and immersing ourselves into a new culture in the beautiful valley surrounded by the Atlas Mountains. Mount Toubkal is the second highest peak in Africa at over 4,160 meters above sea level. The snow covered peaks and the lush vegetation along the sides of streams juxtaposed with the dry desertlike landscape that stood out in the valley’s terrain.

At this time of year, snow is melting and the rivers and streams are in full flow with mostly pristine water quality as indicated by the pH, copper, hardness, and nitrate content strips we used to test the samples. We worked in groups of 5 to 10 people, each day on a different topics including: social sciences, forests, soils, air quality, land use, rivers (biodiversity, morphology, and modelling), and AgRE Cal (tool used to estimate or measure the carbon footprint and other greenhouse gases from different agricultural land uses).  Even though we rotated activities each day, we stayed in one group to analyse the data collected and present our final findings. On the last day of the study tour, our group presented our findings on the soils and land use of Imlil. The main form of agriculture in this geographically sensitive area is through substance farming in terraces along the hill slopes. We extracted soil samples from walnut, cherry, apple, and grazing areas and found some similarities in soil type, structure, pH, infiltration and conductivity in most of these areas-except for the very dry grazing areas. Erosion is also a major issue, due to wind, water, and weather pressures, yet vegetated areas serve to minimise the impact.

IMG_5238.JPGThis trip exposed us to new experiences and united the MSc group more than ever. Apart from the work days, we also had a free day to visit the vibrant palaces and markets of Marrakech, held a debate and a pub quiz night, and had the most delightful mint tea and views from the Kasbah du Toubkal (highly recommended if you happen to go to Imlil!).  Overall this experience made us apply the knowledge we acquired throughout the year to try and answer a complex question (i.e. the impact of current land use practices on  the soil in Imlil), challenged us to work together under a tight schedule (and very limited access to internet), whilst providing us with an enriching and eye-opening journey abroad.

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My University Courses Part 3: Politics in a changing World: An Introduction for non-specialists


In first year I took this politics course as my outside subject. It taught me why I shouldn’t take any outside subjects. Don’t get me wrong the course itself was educational. It informed me of important world issues. However it had no relevance to my degree whatsoever. I realized that when I take a third course I should chose the ones that cover the same or similar topics as my mandatory courses. Geology is geology, I shouldn’t get too creative. So lesson learnt there.
The course was broken down into 4 parts:
• The lectures with reading
• 1 hour discussions
• Evening seminars
• Essay writing
International politics discussed a range of issues from BRIC nations to women’s rights around the globe. The course introduced new challenges the future world might face. The course did put an effort into introducing base science when it came to economics and climate change but the information I got out of Earth Dynamics was way more useful. The subject tackled ethical questions when it came to global economic and military order. It mapped out different political ideas and how they shaped the modern world.


The lectures:

The lectures were 2 hours long where we got a different expert every week. In the first part we discussed the readings from the recommended books and papers. In the second part the expert gave us a taste of his field, be it in international law, global finance or parliamentary politics. In some cases we watched a documentary that the expert made such as one about war in Central Africa. The style of each lecture changed due to us having a different lecturer each week. In some cases the lectures were presented in a traditional manner, while in others it was a room wide conversation.

The Discussions:

Every two weeks we had a 12 group discussion with a tutor for an hour. The discussions reflected the lectures and the essays. In some cases the discussions were interesting where many different points of views were shared.

Evening Seminars:

It was the best part of the course. In the evening experts and authors were invited to talk to us about their books and work. The events were very similar to the talks given by RSGS. The expert spent an hour presenting the topic than we had a Q & A session. After the event wine and cheese was provided allowing us to informally discuss topics.

My Essay:

As part of the course I had to write an essay about my chosen topic. My topic was the House of Lords and unelected chambers around the world. I argued that a group of unelected experts advising the government is a good idea. They provide knowledge and information that wouldn’t depend on the opinion of the voter. They would be free to speak their mind and tell hard truths without fear of losing their seats to a populist.
Writing the essay and researching for it helped to develop many skills. I had to focus on single streams of thought and develop coherent arguments that were backed up with evidence. I had to learn how to structure a university essay to be full of good arguments but stay below the expected word limit.

Overall the course was informational but it was not for science students. They went deep for the philosophical questions but seemed to care little for the empirical science. They were more interested in asking: “Is it ethical?” instead of “Is it logical?”.

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Civics Education in Secondary Schools

A couple of months ago I entered into a competition to write about politics. I wrote an article about the importance of civics education and how it could be brought back in Scotland. I am aware that this blog is about geology and the life of a geostudent but it would be a waste of an article for it not to be published. I hope this post can spark a debate about civics education in Scotland.

The Original Article:

Civics Education in Secondary Schools

The government does a lot of good work trying to increase democratic participation. MPs and House of Lords members give regular lectures and speeches to the public and universities. The BBC produces regular programming and has a dedicated channel, BBC Parliament to cover Parliament and debate political issues. The British government pours mountains of money, effort and people to make us vote and care.

Yet… outside of the main issues democratic participation is all time low and falling (and when it comes to the big issues like the EU Referendum, people vote on emotion without thinking about the long reaching consequences). People don’t know the democracy they are living in. Few people know their MPs and almost none know their MEPs.

This sounds very paradoxical as despite the funds and effort, people are not very much interested in voting and know very little about British Democracy. So what could be the cause of this?

In my opinion there is no problem with the method of the British Government. The problem lies with where and when is the political education applied. The government should concentrate on secondary schools and start political education there. A civics class should be mandatory part of the standard curriculum. This would normalize the concept of democracy early on. It would introduce young minds to it, making the concept of voting as natural, the rule of law a second nature.

When I went to secondary school I got no education in politics. In Social Education we touched on many issues like racism, war, drugs, social problems etc., but we completely skirted the subject of politics and government. All the knowledge I have, I gathered from books, newspapers, TV shows and YouTube videos. The only reason I got interested in politics was due to my English teachers and the English department. My English teachers encouraged me to read newspapers like the Times and the Telegraph. The English department started a newspaper for the school and a debate club. I took part in both of them at lunchtimes and in the afternoons. These activities introduced me to concepts like Parliamentary Democracy, the First Past the Post System, Political Parties and Proportional Representation. They allowed me to think about my ideas and organize them by writing articles. These clubs provided me with a fairly good political education. The problem is this was not mandated by the school or by the government. These clubs were created by teachers who used up their own time to facilitate the newspaper and drive the debate club to evening competitions. I was lucky that I had the teachers who cared. Because of them I became politically aware with knowledge and respect towards democracy. Being knowledgeable about you own democracy shouldn’t happen by chance, it should be part of the basic education of every child. A mandatory civics class should be necessary in every public secondary school.

This section of the article will be more of the discussion phase of my idea where I am outlining what I think should be in the curriculum. (I am not an educator just a concerned citizen, who sees his fellow men being woefully undereducated about our government, democracy and political parties. So please do not expect some great insight, these are just my ideas on how to get young people to understand democracy and government. I do hope that my ideas get into the hands of more knowledgeable people who can develop it into a full subject that is presentable to secondary school children.)

The outlines of my ideas for the curriculum or at least the main parts:

  • Poster Creation:
    • UK Political Parties. The classroom would be split into 6 teams. The task: each of them would create a poster about a pre-assigned political party and present it to the classroom.
    • The Two Chambers of Westminster. The class would be split into two teams. Each would prepare a presentation about the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
    • Democracy around the World. The class would be split into 6 teams, they would create posters about 6 democratic countries: USA, UK, Australia, France, South Africa and Germany)
    • The Governments of Different Countries. 6 teams. 6 posters about how the government functions in 6 radically different countries: USA, Argentina, UK, Saudi Arabia, China and South Korea)
    • The History of Democracy. 6 groups, each of them would create a poster about the history of democracy around the world.
  • Colouring:

Colouring sheets of important democratic elements, political figures and political parties. This could be very useful for S1 and S2 classes.

  • Movie Hour:

Films could be played about important figures and their lives. Political documentaries or biographies of important people and important political institutions.

  • A standard day:

First 10 minutes would be lecturing than 30 minutes discussion about the subject. Last 10 minutes each student would write down a quick opinion of the subject.

  • School wide events:

These would be special events when all civic classes come into one school wide event:

  • The Trading Game. The students would be broken down into teams representing different countries around the world. Each team would be given paper and scissors. The paper would represent raw materials while scissors would represent economic development or manufacturing capability. For instance Nigeria would have lots of paper but no or a single scissor, while the UK would have lots of scissors but very little paper. The countries would be making shapes (representing tradable products) and would trade with each other. After an 1 hour or so the country with the most cut shapes wins.
  • Model United Nations. It would be something similar that takes place at university model United Nations.
  • Mock British Election. The teachers would turn into the voters, while students would split into political parties. They would have a day to come up with a manifesto, a slogan, a campaign plan and a speech. They would present it to the teachers. The teachers would vote for the party that did the best job.
  • Mock US Election. See above but with Republicans and Democrats.
  • Mock German Election. See above but within the German system.
  • Lunch Time Initiative:
    • Debate Club. Same thing as a standard debate club.

In a nutshell these are my ideas to instil the British value of democracy into our society. The education of our young would be the key. The SNP showed with their 2015 General Election victory that you can connect to young people and bring them into political life. After all our democracy cannot function if the people don’t participate in it or make bad choices due to lack of knowledge. These problems can only be traced back to a lack of healthy civics education. I hope that this idea I laid out above will spark a conversation about the importance of education about our political system.


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