This year’s graduation will happen virtually. At 1000 BST today, Friday 24 July 2020, the names of graduating students will be read out by NRI’s Director, Professor Andrew Westby. Awards will be conferred by the University of Greenwich Vice Chancellor, Professor Jane Harrington. Everyone choosing to graduate in the virtual ceremony will receive a mention and there will be a sense of occasion, celebration and achievement, albeit remotely.

For three NRI students, this year brought not only the end of years of hard study and application, but a prize for their efforts. We caught up with three prize-winners: Lyn Lind, Sophie Kroes and Kellie Humberstone. All three have very different University experiences and all are keeping everything crossed that they will be able to congregate with their fellow students for a well-deserved graduation celebration in person, in the near future.

Grad Lyn 750Lyn Lind studied Environmental Science as a mature student after years spent working as a Facilities Office Manager with responsibility for sustainability. After facing redundancy, she applied for other jobs, all of which required a degree, so she made up her mind to study one. Lyn takes up the story:

“I won the award for Best Dissertation in BSc Environmental Science – I was quite surprised as I didn’t even realise there was such a thing until I got the email! My dissertation was on how climate change is affecting the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve dived there twice in my life, firstly in 2009 when I witnessed how drained of colour it all seemed. There’d been a lot in the news back then about coral bleaching.

The second time I visited in 2017 – I could see a little bit of bleaching but the colours were much more vivid. I went back to the exact same place, so it was interesting to see how it had changed. When I came to write my dissertation, I found it really hard to stop the research and just finish and hand it in. It was so fascinating I didn’t want it to end!

NRI – right from the open day – was great, everyone was really friendly and approachable. That was so important to me, as if I don’t understand something, I need to feel confident that someone will guide me and not think my questions are stupid.

A lot of the work was new to me – for example chemistry – I didn’t do GCSE chemistry and even if I had, as a mature student, it would have been so long ago. Certain lecturers would go above and beyond to help me understand.
I learnt so much but some things were easier for me, for example we did a sustainability audit on the Facilities department at Medway – I’d been on both the receiving and the auditing end of that before in my past career.

However, things like Urban and Topographic Meteorology were new but utterly fascinating. In the third year I did the module on volcanoes – not at all relevant to what I Grad Sophie 750wanted to do but irresistible – and I enjoyed it hugely. The advantage of being a mature student was that I was really focused and knew the direction I wanted to take. I wasn’t just going to university in lieu of working out what I wanted to do.

Graduating means so much to me – I’ve achieved a huge goal in getting my degree and I now have a recognisable qualification so that I can use that and move on to get a proper career. You’re never too old to start a new direction in life.

I know that the virtual graduation ceremony will be different from what we were all expecting, but we’re all hoping to celebrate together at some point – hopefully soon."

Sophie Kroes is another prize-winning student who had no idea that ‘Best Dissertation in MSc Food Innovation’, even existed, so she was surprised, but delighted that her thesis on the investigation of the suitability of utilising flaxseed mucilage as an alternative stabiliser and emulsifier in ice cream, had been recognized. Originally from the Netherlands, Sophie had already begun studying a Master’s at the University of Copenhagen, but realised that the course was too research-heavy so she switched to NRI. Sophie describes what happened next:

“I found the programme at the University of Greenwich online. I had to think carefully before committing to studying abroad again as I’d already spent six months in Copenhagen and my boyfriend and my life were back in my home country of Holland, but then I thought ‘it’s just one year, I have to do this’, and it’s so close to the Netherlands and it’s easy to pop back and forth so I did it, and I’m so glad.

NRI’s Food Innovation Programme was perfect for me as it combined the practical element of product development and the more scientific side of research. When I was little I always loved baking and cooking and I was always fascinated by things like ‘why does the egg go white when it’s cooked?’ I guess I had a natural curiosity for what happens to ingredients during cooking.

Grad Kellie selfie 750I now have a job in the Netherlands in the food industry doing product development, and in the future I’d like to do more management in food and product development and more on innovation concepts. I’m quite creative when it comes to finding solutions, so I’d like to build on that. My job hasn’t really been that affected by the Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve still been able to go into the lab but my weekends have been filled with lots of solo activities like sewing that I’ve never made time for before!

I was so looking forward to graduation – I was really excited about the prospect of coming back to the UK and seeing all my friends again, but clearly it’s not going to happen so I’ll have to be satisfied with a virtual ceremony. But we will all see each other on screen and I’m sure it will still be a lovely day.”

Our final prize-winner is Environmental Science BSc graduate Kellie Humberstone who won the Merit Award for Outstanding Achievement. Her reaction to receiving the good news in an email prompted a very emotional reaction. Kellie tells us why:

“When I got the email informing me that I’d won a prize, I actually burst into floods of tears standing in my kitchen! I was so happy and totally overcome with emotion – it meant more to me than actually gaining a first – I’d been recognised for working so hard, and my family were all so happy for me. I rang my nan straightaway as I knew she would be so proud as I’m the first one on her side of the family to have gone to university.

I studied Environmental Science because I was really interested in how the climate was changing around us. I grew up in the countryside and was always very ‘outdoorsy’, but my real passion started when I watched a documentary on cattle and how methane affects the environment and it made me want to save the planet! That one documentary triggered my interest in all things conservation – I even went vegetarian for about 4 years! I started being so much more aware of how much water and energy we use on a day-to-day basis, and where things came from.

I loved studying at NRI and one of the highlights was a field trip to Spain in 2019. We explored the arid climate and conducted our own experiments for the first time. Ours was initially a group decision to look at micro-plastics on the beach – but the trouble was they are too small and difficult to monitor. So we changed to macro-plastics – bottles, packets, wrappers, etc. – anything over 5mm. We got to formally present our results afterwards.

I did my dissertation on synthetic micro-fibres which come off certain types of clothing when they are washed and end up in the sea. Researching this subject was absolutely fascinating.

My class was really small, so we all felt really involved as we had good communication with all the lecturers and access to facilities. Communication was excellent, at every step of the way we were guided, emails to professors and support staff were always answered promptly and help was on hand if we needed it.

Graduation this year isn’t what I was expecting, but my friends and I are keeping our fingers crossed for a proper ceremony in the near future. We’d all made big plans, before lockdown, that on graduation day we’d treat ourselves by drinking espresso martini cocktails so we still definitely want to do that!

After I’ve had a break over the summer I want to look into working in environmental consultancy, but with the jobs market the way it currently is, who knows? However, I’m an optimist by nature and I’m determined to stay that way.”

To find out more about:

Natural Resources Institute

BSc Environmental Science Programme

MSc Food Innovation Programme