Ryan pigott Geog and Env maths student on Austrian fieldtrip

Ryan Pigott

What have you been doing since finishing your studies? What are you doing in terms of your career?

For the past 9 months since finishing my studies I have been working for the Environment Agency in the same team that I interned with during a summer placement between my second and third years of university. I am hoping to progress my career soon and am currently looking for opportunities to take a next step and take on more responsibility.

What company are you working for, what is your role and what does it involve?

I currently work for the Environment Agency in the Flood Risk Management Operations department. This department consists of a number of teams and a wide variety of job roles that all contribute to managing the risk of flooding across Yorkshire. I work in the Lower Aire Asset Performance team as a grade 3 team member.  As a team, it's our job to ensure that flood risk assets, including embankments, flood walls, gates, flap valves, culverts and pumping stations, are maintained to the appropriate condition, so that they perform as they are designed to during a flood and protect people and property from flooding. We also write plans that outline how the assets should be operated during a flood, for example at what river level should a flood gate be closed, and what should we do if an asset fails during a flood, for example if the flood gate becomes jammed and cannot open or close properly. My team covers the Lower Aire catchment following the River Aire from just downstream of Leeds, through Castleford, Ferrybridge, Knottingley and out to Goole where it joins the Humber estuary.

During my time in the team, I have worked on gathering pre-construction information to help deliver a programme of recovery repair works following the flooding brought about by Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis in February 2020, improving the spatial and attribute data for the 1000+ assets in our catchment, updating on-site plans for some of our Flood Storage Reservoirs, writing contingency plans to ensure our vulnerable assets were "winter ready", and updating maps on GIS that specify our maintenance programme. From time to time, I get to go out on site and have been out to meet local residents and flood wardens to listen to their concerns, as well as going out to inspect some of the temporary defences put in place to ensure our assets at highest risk of failure were resilient for this winter.

What experiences at Leeds do you think have particularly helped with your career?

The summer placement that I did with the Environment Agency between my second and third year was really valuable in getting me to where I am now, because it gave me an insight and experience of the job that I currently do and allowed me to keep in touch with my manager, who was able to get me my current job after I had graduated. This placement was one of a few that the University of Leeds had secured with the Environment Agency exclusively for Geography and Environment students. Also, the knowledge that I gained from the 'Water Science and Management' and 'Hydrological Monitoring and Modelling' modules in third year have been particularly useful, as they taught me the background to flood modelling, flood return periods and urban drainage systems, all of which provide context to the role I currently do.

Why did you choose to study your particular course and why did you choose the University of Leeds?

I chose the University of Leeds, mainly because it was the only place in the country that offered this course where Geography and Maths were combined and integrated into a single honours. I'd always enjoyed both subjects at school and sixth form and was keen to find something that could incorporate both. The fact that the Geography and Environmental Maths course at Leeds had recently been revamped into a new style course when I came to visit at an open day showed me that the staff were committed to improving things for students. The university had a friendly atmosphere and was far enough away from home, without being too far, that I could see myself wanting to move here.

What was the best aspect of your course?

The best part of my course, without a doubt, has to be the field trip in second year to the Austrian Alps. As someone who loves exploring the outdoors, getting to ride a cable car and stay in a hotel on the side of a mountain, as well as walk on part of a glacier, was pretty amazing!

What activities outside of your studies were you involved in?

Outside of my studies, I was part of the Hiking Society through Leeds University Union for a little while. With them, I was lucky enough to go on a trip to the Anti Atlas mountains in Morocco, which was so much fun getting to hike in a place like nowhere I had experienced before, as well as getting to explore Marrakech at the end of our trip too. I also did a few other local hiking trips with the society and completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks!

What would you say to students thinking about studying your course?

Go to the open days and applicant visit days! They're the best way to get a feel for the University and city where you'll be studying and living and you can see if it feels like the right place for you. There's always plenty of students and staff around in the School of Geography at these events, who will be able to tell you about their experience and answer any questions you have (this is how I first found out about this new style Geography and Environmental Maths course!). I'd also recommend looking into the specifics of what you'll be studying as part of the course so you know what to expect; you can find this on the course page online and there's more detail on the Programme and Module catalogue.