BA Geography - Lewis Gilchrist
Years at UEA
Since graduating from UEA with a BA Geography, Lewis Gilchrist has found himself in Switzerland working as a Junior Project Manager for Syngenta.
We found out how he managed to get his current role, his favourite aspects, and where he sees himself in the future.
After graduating, I applied to the Management Development Services graduate scheme, for future leaders of the fresh produce industry.
The scheme lasts for two years and consists of four six-month secondments, all in different areas of the industry. I spent my first six months working at the Aldi head office as a buying assistant for two high profile categories – brassicas (which is broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, brussels sprouts) and green vegetables (which is courgettes).
That was a really fast-paced work environment, so I was dropped in the deep end after graduating. While I was in this position I expressed interest in the overseas placements that the graduate scheme offers and interviewed for a position at Syngenta, which is a global provider of seeds and crop protection products.
I thankfully got the position, so I’ve spent the last four months working as an environmental and agronomic data platforms trainee, where I’m providing communication and marketing support to increase customer adoption and engagement. In this role, you need to consider a complex stakeholder environment.
In two months, I will be starting a new position within Syngenta, so I'll be working as a junior project manager for crop protection in Africa and the Middle East. I'll be involved in looking at the challenges and opportunities in agriculture for Africa and Middle East while gaining an understanding of the crop protection market.
Africa's population is set to more than double in the next 30 years to 2.5 billion. I suppose in the same way that the previous role did, this position will allow me to apply some of my Geographical knowledge, which is always an exciting prospect.
I will say that for any Geography graduate or any graduate of UEA that has an interest in the fresh produce industry, I'd highly recommend applying to the MDS graduate scheme as it's provided me with a number of really excellent career opportunities.
What’s your favourite aspect of your current role?
Working with a really diverse team. I’m the only Brit in my team.
I work with people from India, people from France, people from Switzerland, people from states all over the US.
For me, that's my favourite aspect of working in my current position. Just learning all about these people’s backgrounds and their different approaches and views.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
As it stands, I see myself in a leadership position within the fresh produce industry.
Although I'm unsure of exactly where I'll be in five years and I'm gaining experience and still exploring options, having spent some time in Switzerland, the prospect of working internationally has become more appealing. As I said, I enjoy meeting people from diverse backgrounds and exploring new countries.
Equally though, I enjoyed my time at Aldi. I'm still not exactly sure where I'll be in five years, but I'm confident that I will be in the fresh produce industry as I'm really enjoying it so far.
What drew you to UEA?
For UEA particularly, it was the Human Geography course that stood out to me.
The courses focus on tackling the biggest global issues like climate change or extreme poverty. These are all things I was interested in learning more about.
I also remember being impressed by the campus itself, so the UEA broad and its surrounding greenspace, the ziggurats, the Sainsbury Centre. All of these elements really appealed to me.
What was your favourite thing about the Geography BA?
The diversity of the subjects that were taught.
My modules ranged from New Geographies of the Anthropocene all the way to Climate Change Science and Policy. I think that really allows you to broaden your knowledge and skills which is important when it comes to employability. I also remember the lecturers being really enthusiastic about the subjects that they taught, which helps with keeping the students engaged.
What skills did you learn on your course that you still use today?
Communication skills would be one. In one of our final year modules, they were speaking about employability skills where we had interviewing seminars and things like that.
That allowed me to develop my communication skills, which is a really vital when it comes to doing well in interviews.
Also, it's a very coursework heavy degree subject, so when it comes to written communication, when you're working in corporate positions and it's all about writing reports and sending emails, this is one of the most important skills that you can have. In that sense, Geography does provide a lot of key skills.
Do you have a favourite memory from UEA?
Travelling to Walcott, a village in North Norfolk, with a close friend of mine to collect completed surveys for my dissertation.
I think that the satisfaction of completing and submitting a dissertation that I was proud of was really great.
The Environmental Science first year trip to Slapton was another high point. I remember making lifelong friendships there with people that I still speak to to this day. That was a really brilliant trip.
At what point did you start thinking about your next steps after UEA?
I think with many students, there was a lot of ambiguity throughout my degree about what exactly I wanted to do.
I remember writing a paper on climate change adaptation and mitigation methods for China. I learned about how food production systems are particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, particularly with relation to reduced yields.
I found writing this report interesting, and from this point really shifted my focus onto the agricultural industry. Here, I was able to narrow my career search. I know a lot of students come out of university having not narrowed it, which makes it quite a lot more difficult.
Is there anything you would do differently?
I think I'm happy with how I got to where I am today.
I will say that I didn't utilize the career services, but there was definitely one final year module where we focused on employability skills, creating CVs and interviewing.
I remember they taught us about the CARL framework of reflection. I still that use this technique when being interviewed today, and I also found that when the lecturers actually graded our CV submissions, I left university with a polished CV which was really beneficial when it came to applying.
So, just because I didn't utilise the career service doesn't necessarily mean that it came out of university completely rudderless.
Any words of advice for prospective or current Geography students?
For prospective students, I would consider which aspects of Geography they enjoy.
I know that there are several courses related to Geography that UEA offer, and you would be best off choosing one that genuinely interests you.
For current UEA students, my best advice would be to think ahead to what you plan to do after graduation. Geography will open up a wide range of careers to you, but you'll need to narrow down your job search and find the right industry. Find something that you're interested in, and when it comes to your applications, focus on that specific area.
One thing that really worked for me was requesting references from my lecturers. I found a good reference really does go a long way, and that's something that you shouldn't overlook when leaving.