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Sustainable Development - using your degree


Popular career areas for Sustainable Development students:

A degree from Scotland's first university is an excellent start to any future career. St Andrews has a reputation for excellence and the ability to attract the brightest students world wide. With this as a starting point you are well on the way to impressing future employers.

The overall goal of both Sustainable Development (SD) undergraduate and postgraduate programmes is to enable students to critically interrogate the principles, practice and plurality of SD and so to contribute to the evolution of innovative, interdisciplinary thinking and action in this area. The department runs both an undergraduate (MA/BSc) and postgraduate (MSc) degree in SD. Both degrees are relatively new in terms of academic subjects, 2008 being the first year of SD undergraduate graduations, and 2010 the first year of SD postgraduate graduations. As a result, information on the range of jobs SD graduates go into is very much a 'work in progress'.

'Professional bodies are beginning to recognise that sustainable development is a key issue for professional practice and the wider role of professionals in society.' Annie Hall.
'Even industries not previously aligned with environmental principles are now required to employ environmentally knowledgeable professionals... That means more jobs being created, opening up opportunities for those with an interest in the environment.' IEMA

Studying SD equips you with some very specific skills according to your particular module choice or specialisms and also encourages the development of a wide range of transferable skills. Typical employers for SD graduates, both undergraduate and postgraduate, include local authorities, the Environment Agency (EA) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), environmental monitoring organisations, environmental consultancies, and charitable trusts such as National Trust and The Wildlife Trusts. Organisations as traditional as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club are now employing sustainable experts. Large Financial Services such as EY and KPMG have incorporated sustainability services into their business model leading to new roles in sustainability/climate change consultancy.

Review your degree skills

An SD graduate can offer advanced knowledge and skills in many or all of the following: These skills have been drawn up by an academic in the SD department.

A graduate in Sustainable Development will typically have:


Knowledge of cultural, political, economic and environmental issues in incorporating local, regional and international perspectives.

Elements of both the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes provide such knowledge. For instance students will explore the cultural, political and economic implications of environmental change as it occurs across local, regional and international areas and/or boundaries. One example is using systems-thinking to explore how these issues may be linked over time and space, but throughout both programmes we highlight the plurality of knowledge and understandings of the world.

Knowledge of moral and ethical issues arising from an understanding of diversity in people and place.

All students undertaking research for dissertations are obliged to undertake training on ethical standards, and where relevant, gain ethical approval. This raises an awareness of ethical and moral issues and encourages students to consider how these may vary across people and place, as well as developing tools or processes to mitigate moral and/or ethical conflicts.

Knowledge of issues in globalisation, environmental sustainability, multiculturalism and citizenship

Throughout the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes students deal with concepts such as globalisation, sustainability, and citizenship. For instance, as part of the 4th year undergraduate degree, students keep a reflective diary which is used to encourage critical thinking about the world in which they live, how they live in it, how others live in it, and to link this thinking into topical debates surrounding, for example, material culture and environmental sustainability.

Expertise in integrating, analysing and synthesising information from a range of sources, gained by working with complex environments and issues.

The SD undergraduate and postgraduate programme have contributors from within/outwith academia and across academic disciplines. By its very nature, to be sustainable requires complex, sophisticated and creative ways of dealing with environmental, societal and economic change. All students are therefore encouraged to consider the variety of evidence and information that exists about a given topic, integrating and reflecting on this to deal with complex issues. For example, as part of the 3rd year undergraduate degree, students work in groups on a scenario planning exercise, developing a solution to a complex policy problem.

By routinely working in teams on laboratory, desk and field-based research, SD graduates are versed in project management including planning, execution and evaluation; this involves skills such as time management, risk- assessment, problem solving and analysis.

All students will have the chance to experience laboratory, desk and field-based research. At every level of study there is either a field-trip or involvement of outside speakers. Through formative and summative assessment our students develop and exercise skills critical to project management, problem solving and analysis. In 1st year, for instance, students develop their own behaviour change programme, working within a tight frame work, designing the programme based on literature, executing the programme, evaluating its effectiveness and writing up their results.

Skills relating to formulating complex problems of optimisation and interpreting the solutions in the original contexts of the problems

Students are encouraged to problematize or discuss the assumptions around a particular problem, or the assumptions that have led to a particular problem emerging. This naturally leads students to critically engage with and develop understandings, strategies and processes which can help to mitigate these problems. With input from academics in the social sciences and humanities, we encourage students to also consider important the situated nature of such problems and incorporate these understandings when developing ‘solutions’.

Sustainable development requires the generation and use of a diversity of data types (text, numbers, images and maps). Graduates therefore have well-developed literacy, numeracy skills and are accustomed to manipulating and presenting these various data using a range of ICT formats, including geographical information systems (GIS).

SD students have numerous opportunities to develop and use a range of transferable skills. Across both programmes, assessments, whether formative or summative, are designed to encourage their development. For example, students studying SD will routinely give presentations, write essays or reports. To do so, they will, for instance, use statistical data (and packages), policy (discourse/content analysis), academic theory, and other information such as GIS, artworks, and historical texts.

The complex 'real-world' nature of sustainable development requires graduates to be flexible and adaptable - they must have the confidence and initiative to be able to deal with the unexpected.

We challenge our students through the use of abstract theory and applied real-world examples. Whether it is during field-trips, assessments or interactive and participatory classes, students have the opportunity to be inventive and develop novel ways of adapting to the world around them. They are encouraged to bring to bear their knowledge and learning when thinking or talking about, or experiencing the world, and we develop this by using case studies throughout our courses.

Where do our Sustainable Development graduates go?

Recent Sustainable Development graduates
Monkton Prep School - Graduate Teaching Assistant Barclays Bank - Finance Graduate Scheme VSO - UK Volunteer
Splendid Property Ltd - Real Estate Agent The James Hutton Institute (Aberdeen) - Research Assistant - Mixed Methods University of St Andrews School of Management - Research Assistant
Graduates who are established in their profession

Amec Foster Wheeler Environment and Infrastructure UK Ltd - Consultant (Planning and EIA)

Universities and Colleges (EAUC) - Scotland Programme Coordinator for Environmental Association

PwC - Advanced Risk and Compliance Analytics (ARCA) Associate

The Royal Bank of Scotland - Controls Analyst

Energy Spectrum - Energy Engineer

Durham County Council - Data Analyst

Sarah McCusker


Sarah graduated in 2009. She has worked as a Principal Consultant - Corporate Sustainability for Climate Consulting.

Read Sarah's case study.


Visit the Graduate Destinations page to see what graduates and postgraduates from your School are doing now.

Network with alumni

Many jobs and internships are not advertised. One of the best ways to find out about these ‘hidden opportunities’ is by networking. Networking can also help secure a job that is publicised or is part of a training scheme. Your contacts can open doors, set up meetings, help prepare you for interviews, and provide you with an inside look at a company or industry.

How to contact alumni

There are two main ways to contact alumni on-line:

  1. Saint Connect - brings together alumni and current students to facilitate networking, enable informal mentoring, provide industry discussion groups, and enable graduates and students to stay up to date with their student societies and sports teams.
  2. LinkedIn - most comprehensive resource to connect with alumni is the University of St Andrews LinkedIn – Alumni Tool. There are also many LinkedIn St Andrews Groups, mainly based on location, which you can join to network with fellow students and alumni, eg St Andrews North America Careers Link.

Postgraduate study/research

In 2014, 33.3% of Sustainable Development graduates went on to do further study.
Advisers are able and willing to discuss postgraduate applications - vocational and academic.

Summer internships/work experience

Campus Opportunities:

Work experience is becoming ‘essential’ in the UK when it comes to securing graduate level employment.

During the 2015-16 academic year, more than 90% of the UK’s leading graduate employers offered paid work experience programmes for students and recent graduates. Altogether, 55% of St Andrews finalists had completed some element of work experience with a graduate employer whilst at university – much higher than the survey average. More than two-fifths had a part-time job during term-time and three-fifths had some form of casual vacation work.Source: High Fliers –The UK Graduate Careers Survey 2016.

NGO/International Development

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe – Sustainable Development Internship
These internships are offered on an ad hoc basis related - related to UNECE programmes of work, namely: environment, transport, statistics, sustainable energy, trade, timber and forests, housing and land management, population, economic cooperation.

Gram Vikas
Gram Vikas, which literally means 'village development' is an NGO that works with rural and tribal communities in India and Africa. It works to promote sustainable and equitable processes which help the rural poor and marginalised achieve a dignified quality of life. Interns required to support their work across different sectors.


Community Energy Scotland
Offer unpaid internships, send a CV and covering letter to

Natural Power
This company often offer summer placements in areas such as hydrology and ecology.

RWE npower
Offer summer placements in all areas of the business, the route to being offered an internship has in the past been through a competition/challenge. There are several SD alumni working at this organisation who gained their positions through taking part in an internship.

Renewable Energy Systems (RES)
Offer internship projects to students and graduates.

Offer a small number of voluntary internships every year to people who want to develop an understanding of this sector.


Corporate Citizenship
A global corporate social responsibility consultancy which runs three internship programmes throughout the year.

Offer Sustainability and Climate Change Internships open to Masters and final year students.


Bright Green Placements
Offer a variety of paid placements in small Scottish companies, past roles have included environmental and transport. Several past SD students have used these placements as springboard to a graduate role.

Mott MacDonald
Global Engineering and Development Consultancy which offer environmental science summer internships.

Fulbright Commission
See website.

The Study of the U.S. Institute for European Student Leaders on Environmental Issues 
This funded US study programme allows you an insightful academic as well as cultural experience. Read the case study of a St Andrews student who successfully applied to the programme.

Case studies

Key links and resources

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