Image of Rob Sowden, BSc Environmental Science alumni

Rob Sowden


What have you been doing since finishing your studies? 

Since finishing my studies I have managed to build on my experiences from my industrial placement with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Whilst on this placement I gained chainsaw training and qualifications as well as a range of other nationally recognised practical qualifications. Since graduating I endeavoured to gain more practical experience in woodland management and tree surgery, and in 2018 I became self-employed, sub-contracting as a groundsman to a range of professional companies, from large commercial contractors working on behalf of the Canal and River Trust, Environment Agency and Ground Control, to working with forestry contractors and smaller domestic firms.

Whilst I still sub-contract to several other firms, I now also manage and run my own company, RS Environmental, offering tree and hedge care services as well as grounds maintenance and invasive species control.

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

My experiences at Leeds have undoubtedly helped me greatly in terms of being able to convey an in-depth knowledge of environmental issues – whilst speaking with employers, other contractors and existing and potential clients. On several occasions I have been able to offer advice on works needed, or on other occasions to put people’s minds at ease after they may have been misinformed on certain issues in the past. I am certain that having a degree in Environmental Science has helped me to win business for my company. My time on industrial placement has also greatly helped in this respect.

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

Being accepted at Leeds was a win-win for me in many ways. As a mature student I sometimes felt that I had missed out the first time round, and I already knew the reputation that Leeds University had and felt proud to be studying at such a high-level institute. I am also a local lad, as they say, and this made it an easy decision for me at this certain point in my life, and meant that I was still able to enjoy a good (but not over the top) balance of student and social life. I actually completed a foundation degree at the Lifelong Learning Centre and the staff there were incredible and they helped me to find my way to studying Environmental Science above a couple of other choices.

What was the best aspect of your course?

The wide variety of modules and having the freedom to tailor those to your interests. The high quality of teaching and the facilities. Studying with like-minded people and making friends. Being in Leeds. Plus plenty more!

Do you have any advice for students considering taking a year in industry?

I did my year in industry at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, based at Stirley Farm in Huddersfield. The placement gave me the opportunity to gain hands-on, practical experience in an outdoor setting, for the bebnefit of wildlife.

Don’t take a placement for granted and start looking as early as possible. Invest time in research especially if you’re new to job hunting and don’t be scared to approach companies or people personally, nobody got anywhere without asking!

Always consider looking outside the box and away from the main YII employers, you never know what you might find. If you are keen on working for a charity or as a volunteer, get finances in order early and ask for help as it is definitely out there. Try to have a back-up plan – i.e. study year abroad, etc.

What activities outside of your studies were you involved in?

As I had some other commitments and didn’t live in student accommodation, I didn’t get massively involved in social events, but I did have an amazing group of friends all the same. I took Intermediate Spanish as a discovery module and had a couple of hours in exchange with some Spanish students. I got involved with Leeds RAG on a couple of occasions, such as the annual charity fashion show, and would have loved to have gone on the Everest Base Camp expedition. There is no shortage of adventure, I would advise anyone to make the most of their time at Leeds through the endless societies that are on offer.

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

Environmental Science is a brilliant course – you’ll likely be more of a generalist than a specialist but the skills you will learn from this course will provide a strong foundation for any future career. You will have a certain range of freedom in terms of modules that you’d like to explore than you would with many other subjects.