Coloured Confessions – Lessons I (re)Learned during my year in Edinburgh

Moving to Edinburgh was one of the hardest moves I’ve ever had to make. 

I’ve lived in Nice, Montréal and Indonesia, but this experience was something different… 

PART I: Foundations – Managing Your Mental Health 

I was in a really vulnerable state when I moved here which I will not go into, but what I will say is that I needed the love and affection that only family or close friends could bring, and that’s not something that you can typically get from people you’ve just met for the first time. 

I wasn’t the bubbly, outgoing and comedic Carmela I normally am (**if you’re reading this and we met at the beginning of the year and you’re thinking, ‘But Carmela, you weren’t like this at all!!!’, I promise you, I’m naturally way, way more bubbly than that and feelings/personal tribulations are quite easy to hide). I was a darker, more numb version of myself that was struggling to balance personal recovery and a transition to a whole new country, a new lifestyle (work life versus student life) and a new industry (politics to the marine world) all at the same time. I felt — quite literally — like a fish out of water, fighting against myself and this new environment for a gasp of fresh air. 

But in these moments when you’re presented with unideal situations, you have a choice: to continue with the way things are, or to make a change (and work for something better). I chose the latter. 

– – –

It was in October when I started looking up ways to drop out of my program while recuperating the most amount of money that I could given that I actually left my program. School was kicking my — and I wasn’t in the best mental state to handle the transition neither from a mental, social nor personal point of view. 

I wanted to go home. I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I needed someone to talk to; I needed help… so I looked for it.  Continue reading “Coloured Confessions – Lessons I (re)Learned during my year in Edinburgh”

What lies beyond lectures? Seminars, workshops and talks that captured my interest and added to my Masters experience


It’s true that most of your postgraduate university life will be spent in lectures, reading or studying. However, it is important not to forget that there are so many other amazing things going on in the outside world, that do actually compliment your education. Many people will choose to join societies or athletic clubs, take up a part-time job, or volunteer. Often though, we forget about talks or workshops that exist either held by the university or from the wider community. Each week there are many fantastic events, so when the opportunity does arise for you to squeeze it into your busy schedule, GO!

Since starting in September 2017, I have attended a diverse range of talks, in a range of formats from webinars to seminars at the Royal Observatory to speed-dating style workshops. Much of the time, I have found these breaks really interesting, and find that I learn or gain something new by making the time to attend. For me, I find that these sorts of things remind me why I chose to study Marine Systems and Policies, and why I care about the things that I do.

I want to give you a bit of an insight into just a few of the seminar events I have attended, and tell you some useful places to find out about what is going on and where in Edinburgh! Most of these relate to the things that I am interested in, so do go out and search for yourself to see what crops up that you feel most passionately about! Continue reading “What lies beyond lectures? Seminars, workshops and talks that captured my interest and added to my Masters experience”

Why ecosystem services?

I’m from the exotic south of England, Hertfordshire to be more precise. I moved a little further north to Manchester to study Geography for my undergrad. After a couple of years of working and travelling I decided to move even further north to Edinburgh to study Ecosystem Services for my masters.

Welcome week trip to Bass Rock

You are often expected to take one of two sides in Geography, human or physical. While I often claimed to be a physical geographer taking more interest in natural disasters and ecosystems rather than city planning and therapeutic landscapes, I found myself trying to straddle the best of both worlds. My interests were in learning how the Earth’s systems worked but I appreciated how humans were both influencing and being influenced by these processes. I knew I wanted to study this further, making sure I got the physical and the human, the theory and the practical application. Unique to GeoSciences at Edinburgh, I found that the MSc in Ecosystem Services provided the perfect mix of scientific and analytical assessment of ecological processes as well as exploration of the social aspects of management and valuation of the services ecosystems provide. Continue reading “Why ecosystem services?”

Why (and how) I quit my job to pursue a MSc in Marine Systems & Policies

I remember looking out of my office’s window on the 31st floor of one of Toronto’s beautiful skyscrapers asking myself, “Is this it?” 

I had a great job with a satisfying pay. My office overlooked the entire skyline of the Financial District, Nathan Philips Square and the Toronto Sign with Lake Ontario in the background calling me out like a child reaching for your hand to play. The line where lake met sky beckoned me and reminded me that there was always something more — something beyond suits and fancy glass buildings (with no intent to offend those who choose and love this lifestyle!). 

I was on a steady track towards what many people would call “success”, but that “success” (a stable job with a steady income and a future in the downtown core) was not for me.

“Success” for me meant sun. Call me crazy, but “success” was embracing uncertainty if it meant waking up to the sea and the potential for an endless array of summer days. “Success” meant adventure — but most importantly and above all, it meant purpose — and I found my meaning and purpose in dedicating my brain and willpower towards achieving sustainability in our seas.

I found my meaning and purpose in dedicating my brain and willpower towards achieving sustainability in our seas.

— Okay, wait Carmela, what does that even mean?

Lol, let me tell you. Continue reading “Why (and how) I quit my job to pursue a MSc in Marine Systems & Policies”

Diving deeper into the underwater world of the Maldives: Reflections from the Marine Systems and Policies field trip


As we trade in our snorkels and flip-flops for umbrellas and wooly hats, now is a good time to reflect on the incredible thirteen days the MSc Marine Systems and Policies students spent in the Maldives. The Maldives is comprised of 1192 islands, 26 natural atolls, 250 species of coral and over 1115 species of fish. The country’s economy is centred around tourism and fishing, with other industries such as agriculture, boats and handicraft contributing to revenue. The main social challenges facing this country are energy production, drinkable water and waste management. In addition, these low-lying islands are threatened by sea level rise, global warming, coral bleaching, tourism, overfishing and ocean acidification. When you look at the vast array of challenges the Maldives are having to try to combat, it becomes complicated very quickly, however it makes for an interesting environment to study.


The aim of this excursion was to introduce us to different field methods and apply these in practice to small-island developing states. Whilst undertaking these activities we were also trying to understand the broader elements that may drive changes. The trip was broken down into three aspects: the marine environment (snorkelling or scuba), geomorphology and social science. In addition, each student was required to undertake their own personal project in an area that interested them within the core subjects. Looking at these complex socio-ecological systems in blocks allowed us to start thinking about the linked nature of environmental and social change.

Continue reading “Diving deeper into the underwater world of the Maldives: Reflections from the Marine Systems and Policies field trip”

From Scotland to Sri Lanka: Preparations begin

Another Edinburgh University Alumni once said;

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success”

~ Alexander Graham Bell

So, we prepared. Kirsty came and delivered some key pre-departure training. We learnt to not put our USB sticks in other people’s computers because of infectious viruses (no double entendre, computer safety is no laughing matter). We played a game of “what to wear to not offend the locals” and learnt some vital information on travel safety, key anti mosquito bite tips, how to get the most of our prospective colleagues and how to not make any host families cry through a lot of personal encounters and stories courtesy of Kirsty and her previous volunteers. Extra bonus was for once we got catering from Edinburgh First without having to scavenge like vultures after an ECCI conference!

We spent a good wee while chatting about what we could and couldn’t wear, and for the life of me I can’t get the image of Tom in some daisy duke shorts out my head. Inappropriate Tom, more than just culturally! Once we moved past that, a little nugget of glory from Kirsty was to make sure you had your toes covered up at official meetings, makes sense right, don’t have your digits and squiggly toes on show with government official or village elders, but I tell you, there was going to be nothing by sandals and flip flops in my bag before this training! But then I found the shoe love child of a clog and a Birkenstock and all my dreams came true!

Shoe love Mary

Thanks to the very generous Laura Jeffery of the Social Anthropology department, I am going to arrive in her beautiful Shalwar Kameez, on the road to not insulting any of the collaborators and instill faith in my ability by dressing to impress, dress smart-act smart!

From Scotland to Sri Lanka: Challenges Worldwide challenging me

Thinking back on the Challenges Worldwide adventure so far, which will obviously be the most exciting part of the whole thing, feels like a lifetime ago. All geosciences Masters students were invited to go to the introductory talk by Kirsty McMahon of Challenges Worldwide, a broker for universities and NGOs in finding MSc dissertation projects, way back in the first semester of the intense 1-year course. The room was filled with people from more masters courses than I knew existed! All there looking to find more information on the possibility of a work based research project, at this stage the idea of dissertations were miles away, but still real enough to fill that room.

The process involved an application form that needed to be the three little bears of detail; specific and focused enough to create a project out of, but flexible and open enough to not become too niche and limit your chances. I went for a marine project, something they’d never done before, I definitely thought I’d gone too niche. However, low and behold I was offered 1 of the 8 interview spots in the New Year.

Come that day we all looked a mixed of excited and confused at what the interview would bring. It began with an hour long group interview, which was a bit of a new experience for me, followed by a 1 hour solo interview, but definitely felt more like a chat with Kirsty and Olivia’s smiling faces looking back at you. Then it became a lot more real when the confirmation email offering a place came through. Five of us were going to be found projects, working with NGOs anywhere between Malawi and Papua New Guinea. Then we waited; Kirsty was busy fulfilling her part of the bargain and frantically called/ emailed/ skyped a plethora of host institutions for each of us.

waiting game blog image

Then 1 by 1 we got offered out placements, and it really became real. Rosie to Cambodia, to study mangroves, Tom to Ghana to study solar home systems, Vivian to Zambia to study relations with China, Lyndsey to Kenya to study water sanitation and I’m off to Sri Lanka to look at conflicts in fishing gear and policies.

Living Below the Line – Hungry Thoughts!

My mind has been a flutter ever since the Live Below the Line Challenge started, gruelling over food portions, worrying over focus abilities, and daydreaming about the pizza/cake/ice cream smorgasbord I want on Saturday. It’s good to have a space to briefly journal my thoughts as each day passes, albeit slowly, but it helps to get it out.Live below the line food list

Pre-Challenge Shopping Day: Here’s my sad pile of food for the Live Below the Line Challenge: lentils, chickpeas, split peas, porridge oats, bag of carrots, jar of peanut butter, one can of tuna, one banana, half loaf of reduced price bread, and cinnamon and ginger spices (see picture). Lidl and New Leaf were a godsend and the peanut butter was very much worth it! I have to say Day 1 of the challenge was full of irrational fears about being hungry, fear of cravings that would interrupt my ability to focus, and my mind even meandered to foraging the local allotments…so I guess the theme of Monday was unfounded desperation!Live below the line foods

Day 2: Went surprisingly well. I actually didn’t feel too bad until the early evening when I ran into the arms of my peanut butter jar and accidentally polished it down to the halfway line. I went to bed early again, very abnormal for me, but I’m more tired recently. Focusing has become difficult. I’m drinking hot water with ginger spice as a placebo for tea.

Day 3: Ok, I really overdid it on the peanut butter….it’s down to 1/4 left. Someone brought cupcakes to my class today and I shooed it away as I crunched down bitterly on my carrot stick. The exhaustion is building; I fell asleep in class three times. And now my head is feeling cloudy. It’s not so much that I’m hungry as much as I feel like I’m lacking some crucial nutrients. I can get fairly full on my carbohydrates, but it doesn’t seem to help my mental state. I have two assignments due Friday and it’s getting harder to complete them…but more than halfway there.

Here You Go! Your Top 5 Questions About Our School Answered


During the just concluded Innovative learning Week (ILW), I was on the virtual student panel where incoming students were able to ask current students questions about Geosciences. I did this twice; on Tuesday and Thursday, and each time we had different students from around the world asking questions on everything Edinburgh.

So, if you missed the session, I’ve put together the top 5 FAQs.

1. I have a purely science background. Will I struggle in social science classes?

The short answer is NO. I got this question specifically for my Environment and Development programme but other students from across the college echoed the same response. If you’re considering any of the GeoSciences programs that are more social science oriented, do not fear. Often, teachers and programme directors will ask information about academic backgrounds at the start of the programme to get an idea of who’s in the class. Nonetheless, many of these programmes are filled with students of all kinds of background and are often multidisciplinary.

If you’re concerned about the details of each programme, visit this page for more information.

2. How many contact hours is normal with tutors?

However many you need. For clarity, a tutor is the US equivalent of an advisor. In addition, each course has a programme secretary who is all the administrative help you need for your programme. So for tutors, they run office hours during which they are available to meet with students in their offices do discuss programme specifics and make clarifications on the programme. I’ve also found that tutors are often willing to meet outside of office hours or over Skype if a student cannot make the office hours. The same goes for lecturers. Your tutor does not replace your lecturers but is of great help for your overall programme.

3. Is Edinburgh an expensive city to live in?

I’ve found Edinburgh to be more expensive on average than Colorado and Lagos, but less expensive than London. What does this mean? Nothing, really because ‘expensive’ and ‘affordable’ are such relative terms. However, Edinburgh, like any other major city, has a rent option for every budget. There are all sorts of accommodation options from university housing to private landlords and private student flats. You’ll find shared options for 60 Pounds a week and studios for up to 200 Pounds a week. It is advisable to make a budget as a student and stick with it. Students don’t often live lavishly but if you’re a good money manager, you could live healthy and well in a safe environment and still travel to a few places around the UK or Europe before you graduate.

4. How do students often move around in Edinburgh?

The last thing you need in Edinburgh is a car, which is great! The buses run very efficiently and a good number of people ride their bicycles around the city. If you’re traveling out of town, grab a coach or train. If it’s really far away, grab a plane. Everything is easily accessible from Edinburgh. The way most students travel, however, is by foot. Chances are that you would live close enough to your department, with shops all around. So, if it’s not a ridiculous distance to travel, Edinburgh is safe for walking. In fact, I highly encourage walking because there is always something fascinating to see, such as 15th century cafés and 1000-year old alleyways

5. Is there a separate study space for postgraduate students?

Missed my post on study spaces? Check it out here. There are several study spot options across the city from the traditional library to independent cafés across the city.

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