Students at University College Cork’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES) are gaining the knowledge and tools to tackle the major environmental challenges of our time. From climate and biodiversity to energy, food and other resources, they are aiming to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Experiential learning makes this possible. All BEES degrees include field trips, work placement options, study abroad, and final-year research projects. High-impact research activities in the School of BEES – in association with UCC Environmental Research Institute – inform teaching as well. The Natural Collections, housed within the School of BEES, are home to specimens digitised as part of a vast zoological and geological collections, over 5,000 in total. As teaching aids and displays, they foster a love of learning and an appreciation for our extraordinary natural world.
The interdisciplinary BSc in Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES) starts with a common first year. Students can choose their preferred degree pathway from the following degree programmes: Applied Plant Biology, Ecology & Environmental Biology, Environmental Science, Geoscience, and Zoology.
Students then specialise in years two to four, letting them gain a robust foundation, that’s enriched with experiences beyond the classroom.
“This course provides students with a broad-ranging education into a wide spectrum of scientific subjects whilst providing the freedom to explore their interests in-depth, especially in the final year,” says graduate Lily Duggan.
During spring, BEES students travelled to Portugal (Zoology and Environmental Science), Greece, UK (Geoscience), around Ireland (Applied Plant Biology) as well as the Burren in Co. Clare (first-year BEES students). On these field courses, students develop practical skills and explore the work carried out by public and private enterprises. “The field trips are by far the best because you get to know everyone in the group, the lecturers, and what it is you’re actually studying,” says Fionnuala Joyce, a BSc in Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences graduate.
Such relevant, hands-on components are a key part of Joyce’s degree. They help build a strong grounding in the relevant science disciplines.
The same applies to other degrees. “Our teaching is a mixture of laboratory and field work, under instruction from world-leading researchers,” says Professor Andrew Wheeler, Head of Geology.
Dr. Barbara Doyle Prestwich, Head of Plant Science, agrees. “We take our students on field trips all over Europe. These trips offer students a great outlook to meet prospective employers.”
A practical BSc degree gets students ready for the next stage in their life, whether it’s a career or further study. UCC offers MSc degrees in Applied Environmental Geoscience, and Marine Biology, to name just two. Fieldwork is just as important at the postgraduate level – taking students to the finest locations Europe has to offer.
MSc Applied Environmental Geoscience students undertake vocational training, addressing the global shortage of geoscience graduates recognised by industry and required to transition to sustainable geosolutions for energy and resource extraction. Students study groundwater, environmental engineering, GIS, offshore surveying and practical applied geological skills. The Master dissertation is placed within industry with many MSc graduates staying on in employment.
In March, MSc Marine Biology students attended the field course at the Field Studies Council Millport Marine Biology Station – the UK’s premier marine biological field teaching facility on the Isle of Cumbrae, in the West of Scotland. They focused on two projects – a subtidal boat project looking at a baseline survey of animals in an area designated for marine development, and an intertidal rocky shore project looking at the population dynamics of two major species around the island. All aspects of the projects – including experimental design, equipment, locations, personnel and other logistics – were student-led.
Compulsory professional certificate courses in Sea Survival, Powerboat Handling, and Marine Radio enhance their CVs further. UCC students need not pay more to complete these courses elsewhere. Instead, as graduates, they are equipped with both academic and practical skills in a range of subjects relevant to employers’ requirements both in Ireland and beyond – becoming immediately employable.
Seeing this, it’s little wonder why UCC students are confident of the impact of their degree. “My degree is about looking forward and future-proofing our society,” says graduate Robert Hilliard.
Top of rankings, green campus
UCC is the top Irish university for Research Impact, as measured by the prestigious Shanghai Ranking of global universities. Importantly, it is highly ranked in Times Higher Education World Impact Rankings (based on UN SDGs): Responsible consumption and production (13th), Life on land (17th), Life below water (24th), Zero hunger (34th), Sustainable cities and communities (36th). UCC’s score of 91.2 out of 100 in this evidence-based ranking puts it in the top 4.5% of universities in the world for impact.
UCC is also ranked #7 in the world (up from #8 position last year), as measured by UI Green Metric. It’s a testament to how this university is leading the way in meeting our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
In November 2022, UCC won two prestigious prizes for sustainability, the Green Gown Awards Sustainability University of the Year, and the Times Higher Education DataPoints Merit Award for its commitment to achieving the SDGs.
Its green campus is living proof of UCC’s strong commitment and support from the highest levels to this cause – to great impact. It was the first university in the world to be awarded a Green Flag from the Foundation for Environmental Education and has successfully renewed its Green Flag four times.
BEES hosts the prestigious United Nations Environmental Programme GEMS Water Capacity Development Centre which promotes and supports water quality monitoring and assessment by providing guidance, training and quality assurance of monitoring activities. Amidst the amazing buildings on campus, you’ll find an Urban Farm project too, which uses an advanced form of hydroponics to grow plants without any substrate (soil), using only water and nutrients. As much as 98% less water is used in comparison to traditional farms. Further, UCC hosts an internationally accredited Arboretum with a collection of approximately 2,500 trees across the campus, representing 120 different tree species.