Elizabeth Smith, Geography

Elizabeth taking strike and dip measurements during her work experience, something she’d learnt on her course

A work experience opportunity has paid dividends for a Physical Geography and Geology student at Edge Hill University.

Elizabeth Smith (20), from Bootle, who will soon begin the final year of her degree, recently undertook a placement with GroundSolve Ltd, having developed a growing interest in the engineering elements of her degree.

“It’s been good that I’ve been able to really focus on something I love, and enjoy the variation in areas of study, and I’m able to choose more industry-structured subjects.

“This was partly why I applied for relevant work experience. I contacted so many companies, maybe over 50 – and I was fortunate that GroundSolve Ltd came back to me.”

The placement provided Elizabeth with valuable insight into all areas of the business, working on projects in Merseyside and North Wales.

“I have been able to experience exactly what is required of the job first hand. I was surprised to find out how much you learn at university is relevant in the industry, and how beneficial it was that I’d used industry-based equipment.

“One of my jobs was drawing cross-sections for the potential building of a new fire station in south Liverpool. Software such as GIS [Geographic Information System] is used frequently in the industry, so it was impressive for the employers to know I could confidently use this software.”

Elizabeth, who will be undertaking a geotechnical dissertation as part of her final year studies, was also able to view the sites of two major projects the company are undertaking in Wales: the potential expansion of a lifeboat station at Flint Castle, and an apartment block development in Aberystwyth.

“At Flint I had to make field notes on the contents of the core including rock type and the presence of water. This would then be used to make recommendations of the ground conditions and therefore the appropriate construction methods.

“In Aberystwyth there was a potential problem with dipping mudstones due to uncertainty of the stability of the mudstones after excavation. It was my job to measure strike and dips of the bedding planes and the jointing of the mudstones to come up with a solution for any potential problems.”

A small, independent consultancy established in January 2000 by husband and wife team Mike and Debbie Scott, the set-up of GroundSolve Ltd has already proved beneficial for Elizabeth.

“It means that not only can I do the initial foundation work, and seek out the data myself, I can also then write up and present the results – all as part of one job; for bigger companies, ‘set’ roles are more specific, and less ‘hands on’. They really get you ready for the industry.

“There’s also a lot of different projects to work on, particularly working with bodies such as local councils.”

Elizabeth (top right) and her course mates working on their second year residential field course in Tenerife

In a male-dominated industry, did being the only female on-site prove an issue?

“I was initially intimidated – although some of that was due to me being so much younger than some of the people I was working with. But, like anything, once you prove you’re capable then gender is of no consequence.”

And her placement looks to have paid off, with Elizabeth taking up the offer of a further two weeks paid work – and has been offered a role with the company upon graduation, offering to fund her Masters, upon achievement of sufficient grades. She said:

“It’s such a boost of confidence, that they have belief in me, and has given me a real incentive in my final year.”

And what advice would she offer others considering following her route?

“I would recommend that every student, over any half-terms or summer holidays, try their best to gain some experience, as you never know what opportunities are around the corner!”

Her dissertation tutor, Dr Rochelle Taylor, added:

“This work experience has provided her with on-site experience in aspects that she will study on the module, placing her in an excellent position to excel.

“Many of our graduates go on to work in the geotechnical industry, in companies such as TerraConsult, Geotechnics and Socotec. As part of the module I have fostered links with industry and integrate these into the module structure. It not only allows our students to gain valuable insight from people working within the industry but also provides them with an opportunity to impress and set themselves apart from other candidates when it comes to the interview stages.”

Information about the range of Geography courses that can be studied at Edge Hill University can be found here.