David Harkin

After graduating from the School...

I’ve always been interested in the natural world and gravitated towards the physical science subjects like geology and geography at school. When you learn why landscapes look the way they do you begin to see things in a completely different way.

When I was at the University of Glasgow, I did a dissertation on the impact of climate change on the stone used in the construction of the Main Building on the University Campus. Here I studied the link between our cultural heritage and geology – the characteristics of our towns and cities, often defined by their historic centres, is a direct result of the rocks beneath our feet– be that in the foundations or in the building material they provide.

After graduating I completed an MSc in Environmental and Geological Hazards and then did an internship at Historic Environment Scotland (HES). During the 18-month internship I carried out the first climate change risk assessment of the 336 properties in care of HES (e.g. Edinburgh Castle, Glasgow Cathedral).

After this internship I secured a permanent position as a Climate Change Scientist. I’m now over two years into this role and I love it. I get to work on some really interesting projects all concerned with trying to understand what the impacts of climate change will be on our cultural heritage. I was one of the lead authors on a recent publication, 'A Guide to Climate Change Impacts' that has been a career highlight to date.

What did you value about the degree?

Looking back, it is now really clear to me that my degree was so much more than learning about Earth processes. I have utilised a range of transferable skills such as project management, critical thinking, report writing (which has been a critical skill in my current role) as well as presentation skills.

Since then I’ve given countless presentations in my role at HES, to all manner of audiences and all around the world! I even got a spot on the BBC’s Scotland from the Sky documentary (another career highlight). In addition to these skills I have gained subject specific knowledge such as investigating problem at range of scales (both time and space) from the field to microscope.

I owe a great deal to the staff in the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences and content within my degree programme.

Do you have any advice for prospective students?

My first advice would be to make the most of your time at the School, I look back on my time so fondly. I made so many great friends on that course that I am still in close touch with today, and really that happens because of the type of course it is. There is a unique social aspect to the course that develops because of field classes and laboratories that is quite rare and very special!


Image © Historic Environment Scotland