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St Catharine's provides an exceptional environment in which to study Geography, with one of the largest and most lively groups of undergraduate and postgraduate geographers at Cambridge, and an international reputation for geographical teaching and research. Over the last decade, St Catharine’s has consistently been amongst the top three colleges in terms of Geography exam results, and has often been the top college!

The College has three Geography Fellows, teaching both human and physical geography. The current Fellows in Geography are Professor Ron Martin, Dr Ian Willis and Dr Ivan Scales. They specialise in economic and socio-political geography; glaciology and hydrology; and environment and development geography respectively. The College Fellows are also the Directors of Studies. The College also has a Junior Research Fellow in Geography, Dr Alison Banwell. Her research focuses on issues of climate change and its effects on the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. In all three years St Catharine's can therefore provide specialist supervision teaching, to groups of two or three undergraduates at a time, from its own Fellows as well as from key experts in the University Department of Geography.

The College usually admits eight to ten undergraduate geographers each year and also has a thriving body of graduate geographers working for M.Phils and Ph.Ds. As well as having a reputation for excellent examination results, St Catharine's geographers are also known for their friendliness and involvement in college and university activities. These include coordinating the College’s Green Committee and Fair Trade Campaign, organising overseas expeditions, and running the Cambridge University Geographical Society.

The College’s strength in geography is reflected not only in its Fellows and students but also in the resources made available for geographical study. The College Library contains one of the best Cambridge college collections of up-to-date geography books and periodicals. Travel grants are available to support overseas fieldwork. There is also a booming undergraduate-run College Geography Society (the Steers Society) named after our former Fellow, Professor Alfred Steers, who was University Professor of Geography and a leading coastal geographer. The Society organises discussion sessions, social activities, and a popular annual dinner.

St Catharine's geographers go on to a range of careers, including university research, environmental and developmental organisations, government and planning, industrial and commercial management, banking and accountancy, and teaching. The unemployment rate amongst Cambridge graduate geographers six months after graduating is in the bottom third of all disciplines studied at Cambridge. Geographers seem to be very employable!

For further information about the geography course at the University, visit the Geography Department website at

Applying to St Catharine's


The admissions offer for geography is typically A*AA at A-level (or equivalent). Applications are warmly welcomed from all candidates whose schools consider them capable of achieving these results. There is no preferred pattern of A-levels (or equivalent) for Geography admissions, successful candidates having a range of science, mathematics, humanities and social science qualifications. While most candidates have a geography or environmental science qualification, this is not a pre-requisite for successful entry.

Candidates are given two interviews, one general interview and a subject interview. The subject interview will be with one of the Directors of Studies in Geography. It is informal and aimed at giving all candidates the opportunity to talk about geographical questions and issues in an interactive discussion. Candidates are given a magazine-style article to read prior to the interview, which forms part of the discussion.

Fellows' biographies

Ron Martin is Professor of Economic Geography at the University of Cambridge, where he is also a Professorial Fellow and President of St Catharine’s College.

At the Department of Geography, he teaches a second year paper on Economic Geography and a third year paper on the Geographies of the British Economy.

His main research interests include the geographies of labour markets; regional development and competitiveness; the geographies of money and finance; geographical economics; and evolutionary economic geography. He has published some 35 books and monographs, and 200 articles, on these and related themes. He is an editor on the Cambridge Journal of Economics; Journal of Economic Geography; Geographie, Economie, Society; International Regional Science Review; the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, and Economic Geography. He also co-edits the book series Regions and Cities, for the Regional Studies Association. He compiled the five-volume reference set on Economic Geography for Routledge in 2007, and (with Ron Boschma) the highly successful Handbook of Evolutionary Economic Geography in 2010. Ron is an Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences, a Fellow of the British Academy, and Honorary Fellow of the Regional Studies Association. He recently completed a three-year Leverhulme Major Fellowship to investigate the application of evolutionary theory to the study of regional economies. In 2009 he was selected to give the Roepke Lecture in Economic Geography, generally regarded as the most distinguished international public lecture in the discipline, and his 2010 paper (with Professor Harry Garretsen, Economics, University of Groningen) in Spatial Economic Analysis was selected for the Best Paper Award. In 2013 he was selected to give the 21st annual Gregory Lecture at the University of Southampton. He has been involved in a number of major research projects for the European Commission, on the competitiveness of Europe’s regions, on regional growth across Europe, and on the impact of globalisation on European regions. He has also undertaken research for the UK government on clusters, and has produced commissioned ”think-piece” papers for various UK Regional Development Agencies on regional competitiveness, regional path dependence, clusters, regional economic rebalancing, and regional finance for industry. He recently began a major ESRC research project on the resilience of regional economies, and he just been appointed as a member of the Lead Expert Group on the Future of Cities project for the UK Government Office for Science.

More details can be found at

Ian Willis is a Physical Geographer and is interested in the physical processes occurring at the Earth’s surface, the landforms and sediments that result, how these have changed in the past, and how they will change in the future. He is a glaciologist, and is therefore particularly interested in the World’s ice masses; their meteorology (the weather above them), their hydrology (the water on, within and beneath them), their dynamics (what makes them move) , their mass balance (whether they are growing or shrinking), and much more!

At the Department of Geography he teaches first year Physical Geography (Environmental Change during the Quaternary), first year Skills and Methods (Cartography and GIS), second year Glacial Processes, and third year Glacial Environments. He runs the Department’s undergraduate residential field trip to Switzerland. He also teaches on the MPhil in Polar Studies at the Scott Polar Research Institute.

He currently has research projects in Greenland, Svalbard, Iceland, New Zealand and Switzerland. He is keen to disseminate information about the World’s shrinking ice masses to the media and general public (as well as Cambridge’s undergraduates) and has recently given public lectures at Cambridge’s Science Festival, the annual NHS Sustainability Event (alongside the British mountaineer, Sir Chris Bonington), and the Cambridge University Alumni Festival.

More details can be found at

Ivan Scales specialises in environment and development geography. His research emphasises the role of political, cultural and economic factors in shaping the way natural resources are used and contested. He has carried out research in the tropics for over 10 years, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and mostly in forest ecosystems.

He teaches first year Human Geography, second year Development, third year Nature and Governance in Africa and third year Political Ecology of the Global South. He also teaches on the MPhil in Environment, Society and Development.

The main questions that drive his research are:

- How do human-environment systems change over time in response to social and environmental change?

- What are the drivers of landscape change in different geographical and historical contexts?

- What are the relative importance of poverty and economic growth as drivers of environmental change?

- To what extent do different forms of natural resource use constitute choices or necessities?

- How can research most usefully inform policy?

He has carried out research in French Guiana, Cameroon, The Gambia, Madagascar and Senegal. His current research areas are: i) The emerging political economy of agriculture and the politics of food security in sub-Saharan Africa; ii) Climate change, carbon and the political ecology of Africa’s forests; iii) The diversity of environmental values.

More details can be found at

Alison Banwell is a glaciologist with specific interests in the hydrology, dynamics and mass balance of glaciers and ice sheets. Previously, she was a graduate student at St Catharine’s while she studied for her Ph.D. at the Scott Polar Research Institute, before spending a year at the University of Chicago working as a Postdoctoral Researcher.

She teaches for the second year Glacial Processes course and the third year Glacial Environments course. She also teaches on the undergraduate residential field trip to Switzerland and assists with undergraduate dissertation supervision.

Her current research focuses on modelling the effects that our changing climate has on the hydrology and dynamics of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets. She has undertaken fieldwork on the Greenland Ice Sheet and on glaciers in the Nepal Himalaya, Svalbard and Switzerland.

More details can be found at

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Last modified 22nd August 2013