Ariadne's Thread

Environmental Studies at the University of Essex

Month: October, 2012

Jobs: Things to think about, stuff to click on.

by ariadnesthread101

I started by writing about what it ‘means’ to work in Sustainability. The magic of having deeply personal motivations for your work, the challenge of ‘living alone in a world full of wounds’. Yawn. Unsurprisingly, no post was posted yesterday. Set realistic goals and all that… We all know that it means a lot to most people who work in the field (or you wouldn’t be here). And that’s enough information to go on.

Anyway so. Here are a couple of small things to take notice of, early on, so that you can hopefully get your hands on a Job+: Work with a sense of purpose, actively chosen and which makes you insanely fulfilled. Please don’t listen to anyone who scoffs at this idea. It exists. It’s worth chasing.

If you do choose to work within the Sustainability ‘sector’, where do you begin? There’s no single correct place. In this post, there are just some super-basic things about the job-market that you need to look at, think about and keep on your radar.

These things occurred to me as I looked at general job listings in ‘Environment and Sustainability’ on the page below, so I’ll use a screenshot of the page to point them out:

Click on the image to make it larger. The full page is here.

# 1. The things ‘Environmentalists’ tackle. This list spans (or should span) every area of human activity in the Biosphere.

It includes big-picture ‘problems’ and broad areas. It’s up to you to think about:

  • What particular sustainability challenges excite you
  • Whether you’d like something ‘technical’ or ‘people-centric’
  • Whether you’d like to tackle ‘broad’ things (policies, strategies, research and development) or focus on specific issues (energy management within a particular company, saving a particular kind of lizard from extinction, supplying x number of people with y number of taps for clean drinking water.)

#2. Functions:

If you know roughly what kind of sustainability challenge (#1, above) you’d like to work on, you can do pretty much anything to help humankind understand, plan for, prevent or solve these challenges. You can do so by contributing whatever skills you can bring to the table. You already bring these skills with you. You know what they are. Use them, so that you develop them further and so that other people really know you have them. Volunteer! It’s good for you. Here’s a place to start.

#3. Dive into the wild and wonderful internet:

Sign up to alerts, newsletters and RSS feeds for jobs. Obviously, the specific ones will be tailored to your specific interests. But good general ones are listed here. And don’t just focus on job alerts. Get involved in the subject! Sign up to the Facebook and Twitter pages of organisations you’re interested in, working in areas you’re generally interested in. Join the discussion if you see an interesting conversation on Twitter. Look at their posts on Facebook.

On a related note, I don’t need to add that the internet is full of advice: here’s a list of stuff graduates say you should do now to get a job later.

#4. Don’t look at numbers of jobs in job listings.  

Environmentalists work with any sustainability challenge, at any scale, in any field, using any skill(s) they can bring. DON’T look at the relatively tiny number of jobs typically listed under general listings. That’s often the first thing people look at. Then you can feel awful, like the sector is ‘limited’, because ‘Marketing and PR’ for example, have upwards of 1000. Ignore that. Seriously. This is how big the potential for environmental work is:

And speaking of that, I’ve talked almost exclusively in this post about responding to the job market. It’s also important to say that you’re not a slave to the job market (though of course you have to find a way to live your life). Jobs are not only applied for. They can also be created. More on that soon.

Hope everyone is having a productive week!

– Zareen


by ariadnesthread101

… said nobody, ever. 

So why do we BUY so much? And if we agree that we need to consume less, how do we go about changing our behaviour (and that of others, if we are feeling God-like today)?

Here’s a report by Tim Jackson of the University of Surrey on motivating sustainable consumption. This focuses on the psychological drivers and dynamics of consumption and how we can motivate more sustainable behavior. But it also recognizes that individuals don’t live in a psychological bubble:

” Changing behaviours – and in particular motivating more sustainable behaviours – is far from straightforward. Individual behaviours are deeply embedded in social and institutional contexts. We are guided as much by what others around us say and do, and by the ‘rules of the game’ as we are by personal choice. We often find ourselves ‘locked in’ to unsustainable behaviours in spite of our own best intentions.” 

In the UK, the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester explores the drivers and dynamics of consumption at the scale of the individual and beyond. Their website has a number of publications and updates on their work, and if this is a topic that interests you, you should keep your eye on them.

An open question, and a really important one, is how consumption patterns are developing in the ’emerging economies’ (India, China, Brazil and the so-called ‘CIVETS‘). How does this affect local, regional and global resources and resource management? Are the psychological and social dynamics the same across the world or are there important differences? (In short, is the study of ‘Sustainable Consumption’ currently too ‘Northcentric’? Is this is a problem considering that the emerging economies are really where consumer lifestyles are growing fast?)

To link this back and forward within the MEG: Can you see how this field relates to: (For example): World systems theory and Ecological Modernisation?

[Image: Eric Lewis]

How to: Feed the City

by ariadnesthread101

A big sustainability challenge over the next few decades is going to be about feeding people in cities. Soon, more people will live in cities than outside them. For the first time in our history, we’ll be an Urban species. Cities are traditionally considered to be quite resource-hungry, and we will need to figure out how to make them sustainable. Feeding cities sustainably is a challenge. But it can be done. People are figuring it out. Here’s a video describing one way to do this.

This talk woke me right up. By the way, if you’re awake – like really awake – when you watch this (or rewatch it 😉 ), you can literally list important MEG-related concepts, theories and principles from within this video.

“Take these seeds… and the people around you are going to be nourished by the splendor of the garden that you grow”

Happy Monday!

ps: Since the MEG is meeting Agriculture for the first time this week, here’s a paper (full-text for free) you might be interested in. It’s easy and interesting to read, and gives you an overview of the key questions that are important to the future of agriculture.

(Image: Tumblr)

Does owning an iPod make you happy?

by ariadnesthread101

Does owning an iPod make you happy?.

Here’s a blog post about a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour.

The author of the blog post reports & analyses the key findings of the study and the implications for further research. You can read the post on two levels (that I know of)

1. To inform our encounters with the subject of Consumption in BS704.

2. To have an example of the kinds of things you can pick up on when analysing a study and writing about it.

Alternatively, I’ve just ‘primed’ you to switch off and go listen to music!

Unfortunately I can’t link to the study itself because the publishers’ website is having the weekend off.

And so should I 🙂

Happy Saturdaying!

– Zareen


Ariadne’s Thread: Week 4 Summary

by ariadnesthread101

Wow. Is it Week 4 already?! We’ve been here a month!

Today’s study session was our giggliest yet – lots of laughing! Here’s a summary of the points which we covered.  I’ll soon post the others from previous weeks. Starting today I’m also going to use categories on the blog. I’ll categorize the weekly summaries quite distinctly so you can, hopefully, flick through them all easily at the end of term if you want.

This post is the first one I am writing with help from Sabrina, who has volunteered to help out! Hi Sabrina 🙂 I hope you don’t mind me giving you a big internet wave of thanks 🙂 Sabrina and I will be working together on what we hope is a fun, interesting and useful set of posts each week. We hope this helps you connect the dots between the courses and helps you if you find yourself lost in any sort of maze 😛

On that note: In this week’s study session, we reviewed key points from the following modules:

This week, we divided into three groups to present stakeholder perspectives on whether to fly during an angry-volcano-spewing-ash situation. The three stakeholder groups were: The government, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Airlines. (Review notes for making presentations are uploaded in a previous post). Groups worked out what their stakeholder position would be and presented to a ‘jury’. When we reviewed this exercise, we discussed the influence of having pre-determined stakeholder groups. Who picks stakeholders? We discussed, for example, whether members of the public or pilots should have been groups. The range and term of the debate would then have been widened. It is possible to imagine that if you control the process of grouping stakeholders, you can also have some control over the outcome.

In Ecology and Natural Resources, the class encountered a bunch of new terms and concepts giving a background to the science of ecology and its applications to natural resource management. Two which we particularly discussed were habitats (the physical environment in which species live) and niches (the distinct conditions exploited by particular species). The distinction is important for resource management. If you were making conservation plans for a single species, for example, you would do well to start with a good understanding of its niche. This brought us to the cross-cutting idea of scale. Habitats are ‘one level up’ from niches.

 Which scale you choose to focus on depends on what your management goals are. 

And finally, in Politics and Society, though we were meant to touch on Consumption this week, the class discussion was still very much focused on previous material, including issues of ecological modernisation, Ecological Marxism, the contradictions of capitalism and World-Systems theory. We talked about why it is important to learn about this piece of theory within a masters in Environmental Governance. How does it contribute to our field of interest? Our answer lay in the insight that human activities, like economic flows in a globalised world, influence the environment, and we need to understand these processes in order to manage global environmental change or the local effects of global processes. Which relates back to the issue of scale and scale effects – another important, cross-cutting idea:

Events or phenomena at one scale can be caused by social, economic or ecological events at other scales. That is why it is important to understand multiple scales (global / regional / local) and identify how one scale influences the others above and below it. 

During the rest of the session we spent time in pairs looking at an example of a good Politics and Society essay. The key points we covered here are in the next post.

Good work this week everyone! I hope this overview was useful!

And now, TGIF, & goodnight!

World Systems theory

by ariadnesthread101


Here’s the start of a series of short posts on the key concepts we’re picking up on the ‘social side’ of the Masters. Especially in BS704, Politics and Society. These posts are designed to  point you towards introductions towards each concept so that you have at least a background before you encounter the recommended reading.  

Here is a super quick overview of World Systems theory, in 5 pages.  

And here is another.  


Getting to know the grading criteria & how to meet the top ones

by ariadnesthread101

It’s never too early to have this information 🙂

In this post is a set of assessment criteria which will be used to grade your essays if you are doing any of the environmental studies programmes at Essex. We’ll discuss this in greater depth in the study session tomorrow. If you click on the link, you’ll get the cover sheet in full: Cover Sheet for Essays

In this post and the next are my notes on the table (‘Assessment Criteria’). In these notes I’ll go through:

  • What each of the four categories mean
  • What the top-end (80%!) looks like
  • How to aim for this end of the grading scale 🙂

In this post, I’ll address the first and the last categories: Quality of writing, and Reading, research and referencing.

Before I begin, I should add a little disclaimer. Am I doing these posts in order to help you get a good grade? YES! Do I think grades are everything? No. Are they the ultimate goal in education? No. But they are important, and when assessment is done well, they are a useful way of finding out how much you know and how well you can think about it. And that’s important. Disclaimer over!

Quality of writing:

What it means and what the top end looks like: Some of this is pretty simple! It simply asks you to turn in a polished ‘product’ by paying attention to things like spelling, grammar and punctuation. Use the right words in the correct way. Don’t use a big word because it sounds cool. That is never cool. Don’t use 20 words if 1 will do. Write what you mean to say, in a way that makes it crystal clear to the reader. Flow and structure are equally important. Good structure follows a logical sequence. The reader should understand why you are telling her x after y, and how this relates to what is going to come afterwards.

How to get there: This is one place where it is relatively ‘easy’ to score at the higher rather than the lower end, even if English is not your first language. You just need practice and planning. Practice will come with time (believe me!). Planning means that you should schedule time for:

  1. Knowing what you want to say (which means reading; see below)
  2. Making an outline. Do not, ever, just try to write the whole essay without knowing what the outline is. The outline can change, but have one.
  3. Writing what you want to say under each point, and re-writing until it sounds clear and each point follows the other well.
  4. Revising
  5. Proofreading, and getting someone to proofread for you (even if you were born speaking English, people make mistakes)
  6. Revise again.

Here’s a page full of further advice and forward links, and a list of points to keep in mind. 

Reading, research and referencing: 

What it means and what the top end looks like: The bit about referencing is like the bit about spelling in the point above. You should lose NO marks, EVER, for incorrect referencing, because there is tonnes of information available on how to do it well.

The more challenging bit is: “Full, critical coverage of literature. Accurately cited and referenced.”

Full coverage: You should read widely. Know your topic:

  • Key definitions, concepts and theories
  • Key authors and what they say
  • Key criticisms of their perspectives

In addition to simply knowing what everyone has said about something, you also need to demonstrate critical analysis.  The word critical appears twice in the 80% band because it is super important. Simply put, it means going beyond describing, to thinking about the key (‘critical’) point and showing that you understand (‘analysis’) whether it is a valid idea. This is an important skill to develop.

How to get there:

The P-word is important here too. Plan time for:

  1. Finding references
  2. Knowing what they say (Summarise them, underline key points, highlight!)
  3. Analysing how they relate to your question
  4. Describing and evaluating their contribution to your answer.

Here’s a bunch of resources on how to develop and practice your ability to think critically and show your examiner that you can think critically. Especially important is this sheet, which describes, in clear and simple points, what critical analysis is.

Okay! This was a long post! Hope it was useful! Next time around, I’ll tackle ‘Quality and relevance of information’ and ‘Understanding’.

– Zareen


Free, Full-text and Fabulous

by ariadnesthread101

If you spend 5 minutes in Academia you’ll understand how important it is to be able to access peer-reviewed articles in full. You’ll also learn that you can’t always have this. This hurts. After 5 years in Academia, the words ‘Free, Full-text’ are enough to make me want to jump up and down with joy.

Happily, there’s a movement afoot to provide more open access to peer-reviewed journal content (whether it’s moving fast and far enough is open to debate). One such initiative within this movement is Open Access Week, which started today. As part of this initiative, the Royal Society’s publishing arm is offering all its journal content, in full and for free, until 29th November 2012 (which, hurraaay! is more than a week!), providing you with access to:

  • high-quality
  • research, reviews and commentary
  • in top-ranking journals
  • which will specifically provide you with papers on ecology, natural resource management, social-ecological systems, etc (i.e. material that is especially relevant to BS702, if you’re at Essex).

If you are interested:

You could do a blind search, trusting fate to direct you to the article which will enlighten you or start you on the path to a Nobel.

Or you could:

  1. Go through the list of your forthcoming lectures for all your modules (compulsory + optional; this term + next term) and keep an eye out for the topics that you are especially keen to explore, which are relevant to the kinds of themes I listed above;
  2. Go here;
  3. Use the Search box on the top-right to search by topic or keyword;
  4. Download pdfs
  5. Enjoy 🙂

As a start, here’s an article that will be very relevant for my lecture on BS702 on the 8th of November. 

Remember that even if you do not need certain content today, you might need it later, and then it might not be freely available if the pdf is not already online or if your library doesn’t subscribe to the journal it’s in.

Happy reading!

– Zareen

(Image from tumblr)

Corporations / No Logo

by ariadnesthread101

Last week, we touched on several aspects related to the values, actions and effects of corporate activity.

Very briefly, we pulled together issues of:

Values: By asking the question: Do corporations prioritize profits above absolutely everything else?

Impacts: These differ by place (developing / developed countries), and do not recognise national boundaries. Does this make effective regulation impossible?

Governance: Are national governments unwilling or unable to tackle the impacts of corporate activity because of the (actual, potential or imagined) contributions of corporate capitalism to economic development to human well-being? Also, corporations themselves are no longer restricted to national boundaries.

Pulling this discussion into next week, we’ll be encountering the work of Naomi Klein. Here’s Klein’s website and here’s more about her.

Specifically, we’ll be discussing her seminal No Logo. Here’s a seven-minute introduction to the key ideas in the book.

Here’s a more in-depth introduction to the ideas in the book. Here, she talks about national boundaries, globalisation and resistance movements here – so, touching on the political dimensions that are going to be illuminated later in the course.

Building on the connections between corporations, economics and politics, Klein later wrote The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Here, she again connects the critique of global corporate capitalism to politics, making the case that the global ‘free market’ did not triumph by democratic means.

How to make a good presentation

by ariadnesthread101

Students on the MEG will be giving their first presentation this coming week for the module Environmental Issues, which uses problem-based learning. At the last session of Ariadne’s Thread, I promised a blog post on tips for making a good presentation (even if this one is super informal).

So here’s a little digest of some links from around the University website and the wider maze of the internet 🙂

First, a printable summary sheet from the University’s Department of Sociology. If you want something quick to use as a checklist, this is it. Also from the University, here’s a bunch of material from the Skills Development pages.

If you’re using Powerpoint, then here are some guidelines from, em, the people who made Powerpoint.

What about presentations in an academic setting? Here’s a blogger I follow, talking specifically about the art of giving an academic presentation. You’ll see from this, and all the ones above as well, that really, it’s just a question of being organised, having a clear message, practising your delivery and then, seriously, seriously, enjoying it.

Something to think about: Do you necessarily have to give a powerpoint presentation in an academic setting? (You do if the Module handbook says you do. But if it doesn’t, or later, after your course, you have the freedom to think about it.) You could, for instance, just do this:


Or this:


So that’s a list of Dos. Here’s a list of Don’ts 🙂 And another one.

And to end, here are my top 5 tips collected from giving presentations to students and colleagues at lectures and conferences.

1. Practise. Someone I know said: Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Prac.tise. Whether you believe it or not, each time you practise you halve your nervousness (if you’re nervous) and double your confidence. Practise with your group, let them listen to you. Trust them, and practise looking at everyone all over the room (not just your friend – I do this all the time!)

2. If you’re using powerpoint, use one graphic or one picture per slide. ONLY. No text or super-little text. Keep the text in notes in front of you if you  need to. The idea is that if your audience is reading from your slide, they are not listening to you. Or, even worse, both you and the audience are reading from your slide. You might as well write a blog post for them and tell them to read it at home 😛 They are here to listen.

3. Both of the above mean that you need to plan. Doing a good powerpoint, and delivering it well, means you have to plan ahead a tiny bit, especially if you’re not used to it. It’s worth it. Plan time for making a plan of the slides, putting them together, writing your notes, reading your notes, changing things around, practising delivery and making any final changes.

4. Make handouts. This is good for you (you have something in front of you if you need it) and great for the audience. And its impressive 🙂

5. Relax. There are two thoughts and one action which help me relax. One: The audience is composed of people. Mostly peers. People can be awful sometimes. But in normal academic presentations at Essex they do not look or behave like this:


The most that will happen is that someone will ask you a question you cannot answer (the answer is: Good question! I don’t know.) Or someone will fall asleep. Big deal.

Two: You can actually forget to be afraid. Back home, a friend and I used to say to each other before taking on a challenge: Become so immersed in something, that you forget to be afraid. Just become super-excited about the subject, make the preparation into an act of love, and forget the rest.

And the one action that really works is: Breathe. Slowly. It’s stupidly simple but awesomely powerful.

Good luck!