Connor Nicholls is studying for his undergraduate degree in Environmental Science at NRI. He took five minutes out of his day to talk to Communications Officer, Linden Kemkaran, about how NRI ‘re-lit’ his enthusiasm for studying, and his obsession with all things Mayan.
"I originally went to another university to study history, but I only lasted a year. There was one module I loved – environmental archaeology – that made me realise that my passion actually lay in the environmental side of things rather than the historic. So, I decided to switch to the University of Greenwich and study geography here at the Medway Campus. It was great at first but as time went on, certain modules just reinforced my love for the science side of the environment more than the geography; that’s when I realised I had to change again, to environmental science.
My reason for making a third, (and I hope final!) change, came about after I attended an NRI open day and got talking to Dr Andrew Haggart, Principal Lecturer in Geography and Environmental Science, and Dr Peter Burt from NRI’s Agriculture, Health and Environment Department; it turned out that Andrew had been on exactly the same journey as me and had struggled to find his passion. Chatting to them both re-lit my enthusiasm and I just couldn’t wait to get started again. I’d been quite put off the whole idea of university by my experience of studying history, but I spent that summer before the new term began, buying books and reading and I was so excited.
The aspects of environmental science that I enjoy the most are the modules that combine a bit of history with the environment. I’m fascinated to learn how humans and the environment are interlinked, for example, climate can have a massive impact on humans and humans can have a massive impact on the climate – you can’t separate them.
At the moment I’m trying to get my dissertation approved and I want to do it on the role of the environment in the collapse of the Mayan civilisation, which at its height stretched from central Mexico to Honduras, Guatemala, and northern El Salvador. One of the papers I’ve found during my research explains how the Caribbean Sea underwent a period of salinity, where salt levels just sky-rocketed causing temperatures to change which then decreased the rate of evaporation, leading to massive droughts. You never really think about how the tropical paradise that we know as the Caribbean Sea could have contributed to killing off thousands of people all those years ago.
It’s made me think about climate change happening now, and I want to look at how the past is the key to the present and then how it links to the future. I like the idea that if you look at the patterns now, for example – salinity in the Caribbean Sea is increasing again, indicated by an abundance of seaweed on the golden coast – I’m quite curious to see what effect this is having, and is going to have, on the people and wildlife of the region.
My overall goal is to go into teaching, I’m just unsure as to what level yet. I used to want to teach GCSE/A-Level at secondary school, but now I’m leaning more towards lecturing, which would allow me to do my Master’s and then a PhD. I’m now in my second year so I’ll wait until the end of that to get a firmer idea of what I want to do.
I love studying here as everyone is so enthusiastic about their subject. It doesn’t matter who is giving the lecture, everyone is so passionate and that comes across. I’m a student ambassador so when I host open days I can vouch personally for the lecturers and the high standard of teaching. NRI is so friendly and welcoming and the student support staff are amazing, they have gone out of their way to help me overcome a few personal issues that I’ve had this year.
Getting a degree is hard work but I have my family support at home and the academic support here; I feel that everyone’s got my back. If anyone reading this finds themselves in a similar position of enrolling in a degree course then having second, or even third thoughts, I’d advise them to go and talk to people and find out what it is that makes you happy. Have a look round, get out there and see what’s available to re-ignite your passion for learning."
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