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Our students from Canada

Students and graduates from your country share their experiences of living and studying with us.


Student name: Paul Nichols
Course title: BSc Geography and Planning
Country: Canada
Year of graduation: 2005
Current employer: Environmental Solutions and Remediation Services

While at the School of Planning and Geography, Paul won the Edward Loveluck Travelling Scholarship and had the chance to go to Buduburam, Ghana, to do research on refugee communities. He’s grateful for the chances he’s taken and the opportunities that he has been afforded, as he claims his fondest memories have been gleaned from them.

He is currently working on his urban planning accreditation and wants to start his own company in the future.

Tell me about your time in Cardiff. Why did you choose Cardiff University to do your BSc?

It was really important that the planning school I went to had a good reputation. Cardiff as a university and the School of Planning and Geography within Cardiff had an outstanding reputation. Also, you get to travel around Europe and Britain while you are at Cardiff. These were opportunities that I couldn’t resist.

Tell me a little more about your experience studying under the School of Planning and Geography.

It is an amazing department; an amazing School. The faculty at CPLAN are incredibly engaging, open and willing to have discussions. The back and forth of academic debate really sparks your ability to learn. I can’t say enough about that department and Cardiff University in that regard. It certainly inspires you to learn.

Do you have an example you can share?

"The first piece of advice is to just go for it. Cardiff is well worth the adventure you are going to have."

Paul Nichols

Certainly. So CPLAN has a dissertation requirement and coming into the degree I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do. I was very interested in the impact of being the unwillingly displaced from your home country, for example – as a refugee. Spending time with my dissertation supervisor was great because he was very patient and nurturing in helping me develop something more manageable – something I could actually do as a viable dissertation topic.

As an added bonus, CPLAN has the Edward Loveluck Travelling Scholarship. The purpose of the scholarship is to allow students to travel abroad over the summer term between the second and third year to do their dissertation research. I was fortunate enough to win that scholarship and to be able to go to Ghana to do my dissertation research.

That interaction between my supervisor and myself and the resources that were available to me as a student really gave me the chance to study something I wouldn’t have been able to do at other universities.

How did it impact your education and enhance your degree?

It gave me the chance to see a completely different side of planning. It was a niche area to examine. When I went to Ghana, I visited a community called Buduburam – a Liberian refugee camp that’s been around since the early 90s. I was looking to see how it developed and what kind of cultural components the community had retained from Liberia, despite the extended length of time the residents had been away from their homeland.

It’s not something you could read about in a book and actually get everything you need to know. The trip allowed me to get some hands-on experience and information; something that I wouldn’t have been able to do at most other universities.

The experience taught me to think outside the box and really gave me the confidence and encouragement to share some of my knowledge, especially during the end of my term, when I was working with the Welsh Refugee Council. It enhanced my learning experience immeasurably.

What do you do in environmental remediation?

Working in environment remediation allows me to achieve two goals at same time. I have the chance to protect and improve the natural environment, while also working to reinvent or re-imagine the potential of a previously developed area.

Whether it would be transforming a site into a beautiful park or taking an unused factory and turning it into a new residential community; it’s taking something that is a bit of a scar on our city or town and using it as an opportunity to improve our environment and create a new use for the space.

What does an average day in environmental solutions and radiation services (ESRS) look like?

There are two ‘normals'. The first is when you are in the field after you receive a new project. You go out and assess what has happened to the natural environment. You develop an understanding, possibly come up with a plan on how we could remediate the site and return it to a flourishing natural environment.

The other 'normal' is when you’re in your office making phone calls to your sub-contractors; trying to line up the crew that will be doing the remediation under your supervision and finding a location to dispose of contaminated materials or soil.

What is the biggest benefit that comes out of your role in ESRS?

For me personally, it’s really important we protect the national environment and we do what we can when something has gone wrong. In this role, I get to do that and at the same time I provide solutions for my clients. It’s really nice to be in a position where I can tell the client that we’re going to solve the problem and also get to have a positive impact on the natural environment. Not every job allows you to do both at the same time. I don’t have to choose one or the other.

You sound like you really enjoyed yourself – academic, travel, research, etc.

Even the city itself! The University’s location in the centre of Cardiff allows you to live in the city but also walk to the stadium to watch a rugby game. Friday night, it’s easy to go down to the pub or have a walk down St Mary’s street if that’s your flavour! Cardiff is a great little hub that allows students to see and do so much. Even outside of the city, it’s only a short ride to the Welsh countryside, which truly is beautiful.

What important lessons did you learn in Cardiff that you carry with you until today?

Most importantly, just to take the chance. I didn’t know anyone at Cardiff when I applied and didn’t know what I was doing. Didn’t know how challenging my dissertation would be. Some of my fondest memories came out of those experiences.

I have made amazing friends and amazing contacts and can’t quantify the values it has brought to my life. It is easy to stay in your comfort zone and not push those personal boundaries. But if you don’t push past what’s comfortable to you, you don’t know how much you can achieve and how exciting your career or your university experience can be.

Do you have words of wisdom for prospective students who are thinking about coming to Cardiff?

I would say take the leap and start building the foundations of your career at Cardiff. I’m a huge advocate for going to Cardiff. Once you’ve decided that you are going to go, give yourself some extra time to transition because you are going to university abroad. You’re going to have to set up a life, a bank account, mobile phone, etc.

If you are staying close to home – it is easy – you are not going to get the adventure. Give yourself some extra time to transition. Come over earlier in the summer. Get to know the city, university, department and get some time to see the sites and travel around before you hit the books.

My advice is to just go for it. Cardiff is well worth the adventure you are going to have.