Dru Marsh, an environmental lawyer, graduated from the Geography and Environmental Science BSc Honours program in 2000. His thesis was entitled “Landscape evolution in northeast Thailand: Reconciling conflicting models of cover-layer evolution on the Khorat Plateau”. He then got a Monash Law degree as well as a PhD at University College Dublin, and is now back in Melbourne practicing environmental law. We recently caught up with him and asked him about his studies with us:
What attracted you to major in Geography and Environmental Science?
A general curiosity as to how the world works, the capacity of the discipline to integrate other areas of study – particularly culture and the physical environment – and a deep connection with the natural environment (with the prospect of field trips being a major draw card).
When did you finish your studies and what have you been doing since?
I graduated from GES in 2000 and was recruited during my Honours year into the graduate entry programme for a national health, safety and environment consultancy (for which the job advert came to me through a Monash alumni member). In that role I developed expertise in, amongst other topics, compliance with environmental protection regulation, contaminated land and management of dangerous goods and hazardous substances. I completed a law degree at Monash in 2004 and then trained as a solicitor, ultimately ending up in the firm’s environment law group. I moved to Ireland in 2009 and completed a Ph.D. in environmental science (climate change mitigation through agriculture) and have recently returned to practice environment law in Australian law firm Lander & Rogers.
What made you do honours in GES? What was your project about?
I selected GES to pursue my honours year because it offered the broadest scope in which to devise a research question and enabled me to make the most of a student exchange year spent in Thailand that I undertook prior to coming to Monash. My research question was to analyse a range of competing hypotheses in the literature to explain the origin of a sandy cover layer that presently covers a third of Thailand. The competing explanations in the literature included conventional geomorphology processes, a novel bio-turbation hypothesis and even the action of an extra-terrestrial influence! With the assistance of my supervisor, friends and host family in Thailand, I was able to cover a wide range of field sites where the remnant cover layer was accessible and collect data for my analysis.
What are the most useful skills you’ve gained from your studies in Geography and Environmental Science?
An ability to understand physical processes in the environment and recognise how these factors influence interpretation and implementation of environmental management. The integrated nature of geography gives you confidence to stray into a wide range of other disciplines (economics, politics, engineering, law) and recognise the uniting themes between each and how each one influences the other.
What other research have you done since graduating with Honours from GES?
By completing an Honours year in GES I was later able to pursue a Ph.D. in environmental science. I was fortunate to receive funding from the Irish Research Council to join the School of Biology and Environmental Science at University College Ireland, in Dublin. My research project involved investigating and appraising the use of cover crops (or “green manures”) to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide in the context of cropland farming. The main challenge of the project was to integrate atmospheric, climate, soil, water, plant physiological, chemical, stable isotopic and historical/land management data in order to apply a rigorous assessment to the suitability of the mitigation technique. The broad-based experience gained in the geography degree – both theoretical and practical – provided many of the essential skills needed to design, implement and assess my field studies and addresses my set hypotheses.
What advice would you give new undergraduate students about doing their majors in Geography and Environmental Science?
Be curiosity-driven: choose topics, subjects, essays, exam questions where you have a keen interest in the topic and at all times relate what you are learning to the world around you. The discipline is one that helps you “join-the-dots” between seemingly disparate factors – this equips you with a powerful ability to explain or speculate why things are done (or not done) in a particular manner/place/time. Understanding the underlying processes and influences is an essential skill for effective problem-solving.
Tell us about your most memorable experience with the School of Geography and Environmental Science.
Spending a fortnight in the semi-arid environment north of Broken Hill identifying the physical evidence for landscape processes and realising you can piece together and conceptualise the dominant processes that can explain how that landscape developed. It changed the way I interpret all landscapes I have had contact with since – whether I am hiking in wilderness, assessing environmental risks in an urban setting or trying to convince mum that her house will not flood – this skill of being able to deduce the important processes from visual evidence in a particular setting and predict or explain what might happen in that landscape that was largely learned in the wonderful living laboratory of the Australian Outback.