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Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas Geog Alumni


What year did you graduate?

I was due to graduate in 2003 from Durham, but illness meant I had to postpone my studies, I eventually finished my degree at Cardiff University in 2007. I lived at Trevelyan College for my three years as an undergraduate, with two terms living out at Shoichi Hall.

What subjects did you study prior to arriving in Durham?

A-level Geography, Mathematics and Physics. I achieved AAB in

Which degree programme did you study at Durham and why?

My first year at Durham was spent studying Engineering on the general MEng course. I absorbed a lot of mathematics and technological science on this course, but I missed writing essays, and learning about the world outside. I switched to BSc Geography with Geology. This allowed me to study modules in Physical Geography, Human Geography, Geology, and Geographical Information and Techniques. I loved being able to develop and show off my numeracy, literacy and computer skills. On the one hand I learnt about ancient Geological and Geomorphological timescales and processes, with application to Dryland and Karstland Environments. At the same time, I gained a thorough grounding in Political and Economic Geography, Contemporary Themes in Urban Geography, and Development Themes such as Climate Change and Globalization. The course really gave me a taster of all kinds of Geographical approaches, and I have to say I found it very difficult to choose a pathway to specialize in, or in my case a Dissertation topic.

What were the highlights of studying at Durham?

I found that each lecture broadened my mind and gave me food for thought. I enjoyed researching for and writing essays. The field trip to Gran Canaria was a special highlight for me, the weather was fantastic, a real contrast from the Northern December we had left behind. We spent a glorious week mapping a dry valley, assessing its geomorphology and hydrology. We also had a great couple of trips to the local karaoke bar which will always be remembered! The practical project on the Gran Canaria field course involved exploring a "Barranquillo" or valley, mapping the terrain from a number of different perspectives, and quantifying levels of erosion, transport and deposition, to try and piece together a recent historic flood event. Back in Durham, I produced a three-dimensional topographic map of the entire valley, using co-ordinates recorded in the field, and aligned this with aerial and landscape photographs also recorded by one of the PhD students, in order to gain the best possible overview of the processes at work and how they had affected the land surface. This 3D digital map was a revolution in land surveying, and provided the launchpad for software such as Google Maps and Google Earth.

What was the topic of your third-year dissertation?

Initially I chose an economic title for my dissertation: “Investigating the Realities and the Fallacies of Welsh Economic Development”, but I struggled to produce this on time, as the scope was too broad. My mental health suffered, partly due to the stresses of work, but also as I was trying hard to launch a separate career as a rock musician, in the band Mint. I postponed my studies. I left Durham in late 2002 with a case of depression. I was devastated to have to leave my studies half-finished, but the Department were very helpful and reassured me that should I ever wish to rejoin higher education, all the work and assessment I had completed, would be credited.

During my time out, I pursued an interest in Renewable Energy, which dovetailed with both my Geography and Engineering studies at Durham. I decided to return to University, back home in South Wales, and brought the rock and roll band to an end. I studied for two more years at Cardiff, having applied credit transfer to enter into Year 2. I completed my BSc in Marine Geography at Cardiff, with a dissertation entitled “Factors Influencing the Location of a Tidal Stream Turbine” which involved using Geographic Information Science to produce an interactive layered digital map. This again was a revolutionary piece of work in terms of mapping the marine environment, and also promoting the cause of Marine Renewable Energy. I am delighted to see the progress of wave, tidal and offshore wind technologies since then, and their recent inclusion in Government Energy Policy in the UK and abroad.

What are you doing now and how did your degree help prepare you?

I worked in several temporary jobs in my twenties, each of which provided new challenges, from volunteering as an English Teacher abroad in Romania, as a conservation worker, and on a Tall Ship as a crew member, to working in retail for Tesco, health for BUPA, manufacturing, hospitality, surveying, and in leisure for Cardiff Harbour Authority. None of these were exactly what I thought I wanted to do
for a living, but they helped me get by, and I was able to put my unique skillset to good use in a variety of situations. I played more sport and got fit and healthy again. However, my mental health has not been good ever since, I suffered another breakdown before things began to improve in the last ten years or so.

I may have missed the boat on establishing a sought-after graduate career, but I enjoyed my studies, gained many useful life experiences, and contributed many useful innovations to the world. I have maintained my interests in Geography, Engineering, Economics, Physics, Urban Design, Music and Sport, by continuing to read widely and participate in discussion. I have not travelled extensively, but did manage to tick a few countries off the list before becoming more reclusive in recent years. My main role now is to assist my wife in her career as a secondary school teacher and Head of Department, and be a responsible family member. I now live in the Lake District, which is a physical geographer's paradise! I still play guitar at home, and release my music as Mint Biscuit, on all streaming platforms, check it out!