Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society

SAGES Placement case studies

Since 2017/18 ECCi and SAGES – the network that gives organisations, businesses and policy-makers to access geosciences-related expertise from across Scotland – have been teaming up to offer a pioneering career enhancement opportunity for SAGES PhD students

The programme links students with relevant host organisations and is at the forefront of bringing academia and business together to tackle global environmental challenges. A range of business, third and public sector organisations working in priority areas of interest for SAGES were matched with PhD students to work together on meaningful consultancy projects.

Read our Case studies to find out more.

Project – Wave Energy Scotland Site Modelling

This project used publicly available GIS (Geographical Information System) data to identify future locations for wave energy convertor (WEC) deployments in Scotland, which can be used to support estimates of the size of the available market and the opportunities for future co-location with other sectors.

Most suitable deployment areas identified are within 250 km of at least one of the 11 largest ports in Scotland, and over 16,500km² of Scottish territorial waters may be suitable for co-location with offshore wind developers. The estimated annual wave energy generation in Scotland across all locations may be in excess of 35TWh.

The west coast of Scotland around The Minch and the Inner Hebrides are currently considered unsuitable for wave energy deployments, due to the heterogeneity of habitat resulting in a number of environmental protections. The homogeneity of seascape and reduced species richness on the east coast of Scotland suggests initial deployments may be more acceptable here while a greater body of environmental data is obtained on the impact of WECs.

Future work recommendations include obtaining greater resolution wave data with particular focus on the areas around the coastline; the addition of substrata data to site modelling; assessing environmental impact data in terms of individual WECs and WEC arrays; and collecting in-situ buoy data at chosen sites to improve site suitability for oceanographic aspects. 

The author would like to thank the Scottish Alliance for Geosciences, Environment and Society (SAGES) for funding this placement with Wave Energy Scotland, and Matt Holland of Wave Energy Scotland for input and interpretation support.

2. Static_Site_Modelling_Report_2023

Here we hear about Nada Saidi’s work with The Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services (RESAS) division of the Scottish Government. A PhD student at Geography & Environmental Sciences, School of Social Sciences, University of Dundee, Nada undertook a six month policy fellow internship with the Scottish Government division.

Nada was asked to explore the Research Excellence Framework (REF) system evaluation tools, and investigate how a similar system may be established that could assess an academic’s engagement within policy and regulatory development.

What did you do and how did you find the experience?

I worked under the supervision of Prof Andrew Millar, Chief Scientific Adviser for Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. I was tasked with developing a framework to assess the anticipated contribution of research outputs to policy.From the start, Andrew encouraged me to make the project my own. We designed the project strategy together and he trusted me with organising my work around my PhD commitments.

To achieve our goals, I conducted a literature review and a stakeholder consultation across RESAS’ Centres of Expertise.

Has this placement helped you to understand how policy-based organisations operate?

I found the experience very rewarding. I learnt a lot about how the environmental science-policy interface operates in Scotland – Andrew was a great mentor and helped me build my confidence.

Furthermore, I was able to communicate my results both in an academic and policy format, publishing an academic paper and preparing a deck of slides for Andrew to present to the Strategic Advisory Board.

Read Nada’s paper: “Evaluating the anticipated policy impact of research outputs”

Do you think the internships are useful for your future career prospects?

Yes, definitely. I want to work with governmental organisations to mainstream nature into policies, so what I learnt about the use of knowledge in policy will be valuable.

The internship gave me the confidence to apply to my new position at Defra, that I will be starting in a few weeks. I was also able to share my experience during the application process.

Scottish Energy Strategy

Impact summary

Researchers & policy teams co-develop research. Helps embed insights in practical government regulations and policy papers.

Aim of the project

Support Scottish Government policy teams to implement the emerging Energy Strategy for Scotland, with particular focus on providing robust evidence to support the radical change in energy generation and use required to meet carbon targets for 2032.

Funded by ClimateXChange (Centre of Expertise on Climate Change in Scotland). ClimateXChange provides independent advice, research and analysis to support the Scottish Government as it develops and implements policies on adapting to the changing climate and the transition to a low carbon society.

Planned outcomes

The project aims to create suites of insights across housing, transport, energy and climate change sectors to inform government policy teams and public agencies.

The insights aim to support better policy development and implementation to deliver the stretching carbon targets in Scotland.

Potential impact

The ClimateXChange model ensures that research work is co-developed by policy makers and researchers, first understanding government policy needs, identifying and commissioning specific research projects, and working through the results with the government teams. This method of co-development gives the best opportunity for research insights to be embedded in practical government regulations and policy papers.


Impact summaryCreated the first inorganic carbon capture garden in the UK. Working closely with a diverse group of stakeholders to shape the direction of the project.Arranged public events to disseminate results and encourage and facilitate public acceptance.

Funded by EPSRC

Aims of the project

Sustainable Urban Carbon Capture: Engineering Soils for Climate Change (SUCCESS)

Funded by EPSRC, SUCCESS aims to determine the performance of soils to act as a carbon sink in order to help meet national climate mitigation targets. Soils are the greatest land-based reservoir for carbon on the planet, containing three times as much carbon as do plants. Thus soil plays a significant role in controlling atmospheric CO2 levels.

SUCCESS introduces a new method to capture and store CO2 as a permanent sink inside the soil profile. The team’s research also adds a significant CO2 capture function to artificial landscape design and soil engineering through careful use of manufactured materials. This form of CO2 sequestration is inexpensive because it is passive (energy inputs are minimised once constructed) and uses industry by-product as the main source of substrate aggregate.


The team are building a body of data by:

1. Monitoring the process of inorganic carbon capture through construction of an experimental site using a) artificial material (cement based) and b) quarried natural rocks (basalt based).

2. Monitoring CO2 sequestration at urban brownfield sites containing materials suitable for inorganic carbon capture.

3. Measuring the effect of carbonate precipitation on physical, chemical and geotechnical properties of the soils.

4. Building public acceptance of the technique through close engagement with stakeholders’ community.Impact

The SUCCESS project created the first inorganic carbon capture garden in the UK, where the geotechnical and geochemical properties of the soil are constantly monitored to provide a better understanding of the process.

The project team is working closely with a diverse group of stakeholders – from a quarry aggregate supplier, property developer and the city council to an ecological consultancy – to achieve the project’s goals and objectives and have benefited from the stakeholders’ wide professional background to shape the direction of the project.

The team members have arranged public events to disseminate results and encourage and facilitate public acceptance of this innovative new application of the carbon capture function.

Working with Scotland’s Futures Forum – the Scottish Parliament’s think-tank – Marli de Jongh, a PhD student at the University of Glasgow, looked into how much space is dedicated to different uses in parts of Glasgow and Dundee to explore how Scotland can reduce the carbon footprint of transport.

The internship allowed for examining innovative low carbon transport ideas or the opportunities to change people’s transport behaviours. Transport is a major contributor of greenhouse gases (GHG) (e.g. carbon dioxide) as well as impacting human health (e.g. nitrogen dioxide).

The resulting study, Stealing Our Cities, published in July 2020, shows how city space is being overwhelmingly used for private cars. With a particular focus on transport, the research casts a light on how we currently use – and could use – the finite space we have in our cities to support a more sustainable approach to life.

Land-use analysis

Using three case studies in Glasgow and Dundee, the study shows that space is overwhelmingly dedicated to the car: roads, car parks and on-street parking cumulatively account for the highest proportion of space at each site. Across each case study, space dedicated to cars ranged between 34.5% and 41% .

Furthermore, green spaces, public transport and cycling infrastructure are extremely lacking and appear to be of relatively low priority. This is particularly apparent at the Scottish Events Campus (SEC), Glasgow – host venue to COP21 – where more space is dedicated to outdoor smoking than bike parking.

Career prospects

Marli de Jongh said: “I really enjoyed the experience, and it was a great opportunity to work in a different (policy based) environment. I enjoyed meeting people who were interested in the same problem as me, but perhaps had a different perspective, priority and/or background.

“I definitely think internships are useful for future career prospects. The internship really highlighted the number of transferable skills I had from my time studying Geology at University. This can really appeal to employers as it shows your skills are applicable to different fields and that you are capable of adapting them when needed. It’s also just great to explore different career options to that you have more experience moving forward and a better understanding of what you would like to do in the future.”

Policy impact

Futures Forum director Claudia Beamish MSP said: “Stealing Our Cities really gets us thinking about what sort of spaces and places we want to live in and welcome visitors to.

“The research shows a depressing dependency on the private car at the sites analysed. The recommendations, if acted on widely, would make for a much more pleasant city experience with more green space, easier and safer walking and cycling opportunities.”

The Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh MSP, chairman of the Futures Forum’s board of directors, added: “The Future Forum seeks to bring fresh perspectives to our political thinking and how we prepare for the future.

“This analysis, which encourages us to look afresh at how our cities are designed, is a great example of that work.

“All parties in the Scottish Parliament are committed to tackling climate change. With transport accounting for over a third of emissions in Scotland, this analysis encourages us all to consider how the status quo can be changed to do that.”

Read the full report and research summary.

RESEARCH REPORT: “Stealing Our Cities” – City space being overwhelmingly used for private cars

Impact summary

Engages with end-users across all the component parts of the nexus.

Linkage of data at national and local scales.

Citizen-science has proved to be invaluable in data acquisition.

Researchers and home-owners participate in research.

Funded by EPSRC

Aim of the project

WEFWEBS (“Mapping the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus”)

EFWEBS is an EPSRC funded project addressing the challenges of understanding and identifying the dynamic, interlinked inter-dependencies across physical (water, waste, energy and food), social and political and ecological systems at local, regional and national scale.

The feasibility and utility of WEF nexus mapping relies on an interpretation of available, and generation of new, data and models, drawn from a wide variety of sources, including measurement and monitoring of the physical and ecological environment, using both traditional but also more modern sensor development, (process, statistical, behavioural and lifecycle) models, and more qualitative data sources drawn from the diverse stakeholder communities, using recent developments in participatory mapping, crowd sourcing and social media.

Research is embedded in a number of place based studies including London, Oxford, the Tamar Valley and Plymouth, and in specific processes, such as viticulture.


WEFWEBs is delivering different visualisations of the WEF nexus underpinned by qualitative and quantitative data and models to aid identification of the structure and flows and thus interdependencies, many of which are currently hidden by nexus complexity.

These represent the entry point for improvements such as alignment of policies, practices and resource allocation across sectors and scales, increased efficiency and effectiveness of targeted interventions, protection of critical system elements and increased resilience by enabling informed management. WEFWEBs will provide a coherent, methodological approach to the spatial and temporal scale issues with all WEF mapping.

WEFWEBs has already mapped the broad regulatory environment for water (abstraction, pollution control and flood risk), food (farming, food safety, animal welfare and agri-environment objectives and energy (production and use) and ongoing work is developing new “Internet of Things” scaleable WEF nexus solutions from household to city.


WEFWEBs engages with end-users across all the component parts of the nexus, including householders, local communities, food, water and energy companies, regulators and local councils.

Central to our engagement has been the acquisition and linkage of data at national and local scales, including the generation of new energy data at household and commercial scales and a series of participatory workshops in Oxford and Plymouth, with further workshops planned in London and East Sussex.

Energy usage is widely monitored across the UK, and official sources and citizen-science have proved to be invaluable in data acquisition.

The team has installed monitors to identify both total consumption and appliance level consumption in households in Newcastle and in London (in the future). This will enable researchers and home-owners to identify how much energy is being used and where. Additionally, working closely with a winery in East Sussex, the team has installed a series of sensors that enable us to monitor energy usage inside the wine processing facilities and vineyards.

Funded by the Scottish GovernmentAim of the projectWindfarm-CAT is a tool for estimating potential carbon emission savings that can be achieved if windfarms are developed on peatland or forested land.

The tool estimates the “carbon payback” – the time required for net carbon losses associated with the windfarm to be balanced by carbon savings through clean energy. Net carbon losses include loss of carbon from infrastructure, from carbon stored in peat and forest, loss of carbon-fixing potential of peatland and forest, and carbon savings due to habitat improvement.

The Windfarm-CAT, first published in 2008, enables planners to avoid developments on sensitive sites, while permitting developments with good management on sites where a windfarm does not result in degradation of sensitive soils. The latest version released in 2016 improves its user friendliness and better accounts for losses from forested land. New work is considering the impacts of repowering windfarms after a number of years operation to maintain and improve efficiency.

What did you do and how did you find the experience?

I completed a SAGES internship with Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s Science Skills Academy (SSA) who are a STEM education outreach organisation who deliver activities to schools across the highlands, usually at their inspirational Newton rooms. These activities are based on topics that incorporate science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) and integrate global issues into local contexts.

I was tasked with creating a 100-minute lesson plan that would educate S1/S2 pupils on peatlands and COP26 at SSA’s Newton Rooms. The lesson was to be outdoor, engaging and educate pupils in a way that situated local environments in the global climate and ecological crisis. I worked with the team to create pre-work, a 100-min lesson, and post-work that would engage pupils, non-conventionally, about peatlands and climate change. I then delivered a digital training workshop to 10 SSA staff members on the lesson I had designed, in preparation for them doing the activity in the Spring & summer terms.

The lesson begins with explaining what peat is, and its composition process. The pupils will then go on to ‘make’ their own peat with different groups making regional varieties, such as Flow country, Congo basin and Siberian peat types. The lesson incorporated sections on peatlands and biodiversity as well as the relevance of peatlands to climate change and carbon sequestration. A plant identification activity concluded the lessons, encouraging young people to describe, identify and classify different types of mosses and lichens that could be found in their ‘local’ peatland of the flow country. Post-work, to be completed in class, focused on peatland restoration, and used the Sutherland spaceport proposal as a case study for analysing threats to peatlands, as well as opportunities, from local development projects.

Did you learn new skills during the internship?

Yes, I learnt how to design lessons plans, practically and conceptually, whilst ensuring material was inclusive and hands on. I developed my knowledge of the principles of the Scottish curriculum an gained an in-depth understanding of STEM in the curriculum. I also developed my digital design skills and built on my knowledge of peatlands and the natural history of the highlands.

Has this placement helped you to understand how policy-based organisations operate?

Yes, I learnt a lot about educational policy, particularly in relation to climate change education. I furthered my understanding of how SSA and HIE operate in their educational delivery. I also learnt how SSA can work with partners across the environmental sector in creating educational content, and how they, as an educational-outreach organisation can draw on a range of partners to inform activities and deliver meaningful lessons.

Do you think the internships are useful for your future career prospects?

Yes this internship has improved my knowledge of climate education and STEM activities whilst giving me an insight into the barriers pupils face in accessing STEM, and sustainability, education. With Glasgow this year hosting the COP summit, this type of work is invaluable, and to be a part of the wider climate education movement in Scotland has been hugely rewarding. The knowledge gained has shaped my current role – shortly after completing the internship I started a new job as a climate education researcher at the university of Glasgow, and I can safely say the experience with SAGES massively helped in being offered the job and I have carried over the knowledge, skills and experience into my new role. The placement has given me confidence for designing Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) activities (albeit classroom based) for the schools in Glasgow I work with. I am also starting a p/t position on an ERASMUS+ project with the University of Valencia, researching women’s representation in STEM educational material, soon. The placement has ignited a passion for increasing participation in STEM subjects and careers for those underrepresented, such as women and minority groups.

Ben Murphy, SAGES PhD Student

“I don’t know of other paid opportunities open to young people in the educational sector that allow you to work with an organisation to create deliverable material. The SAGES internship was a unique opportunity.”

Emma Robertson, Project Manager, Science Skills Academy at Highlands and Islands Enterprise

“Ben’s knowledge, expertise and research skills in the field was a real asset as it was an area that we had limited knowledge of in-house. Having the opportunity to work alongside someone who possessed a great deal of knowledge about their field of expertise was a real asset for our organisation, and helped create an excellent collaborative project.”

<p>Find out more about Alison Browns policy placement with SEFARI on <strong>Risk-Based Regulation of Biochar for Durable Carbon Removal and Soil Amendment in Agriculture and other Land-Use:Creating a proto-standard for the emerging sector in Scotland</strong></p>




Here we hear from Ashley Buchan, who worked with the Scottish Science Advisory Council.

Ashley is a recent graduate of the Institute of Geography, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh whose PhD topic was beetles and long-term environmental change in a lowland raised mire.

What did you do and how did you find the experience?

Building on the work of another intern, I undertook key research underpinning a report on the potential for circular bioresource flows in Scotland, including analysing and synthesising data sets, completed questionnaires and a roundtable discussion.

Did you learn new skills during the internship?

I gained a much better understanding of what governments want from policy reports; they are generally much shorter than other reports generally, and they are more narrative, with greater emphasis on case studies, than what I am used to in academia.

“I had the opportunity to work under the guidance of experienced policy makers, and academics who have worked with government, which was very valuable. This placement helped me to understand how policy based organisations operate.”

Do you think the internship was useful for your future career prospects?

My internship has given me an invaluable opportunity to work with experienced policy makers, academics, and industry experts to contribute to a report which I am happy to think will have an impact on Circular Economy policy in Scotland.

“I have a much keener understanding of what is expected of policy reports and how they differ from reports produced by other sectors. This experience will be hugely helpful whether I continue to work in policy, academia, or industry.”

Were there any outputs?

The report is available on the SSAC website and ECCI published a news article on our work, which was shared widely on social media.


Myself and the working group presented our findings in a lunchtime lecture to the Rural and Environmental Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) of the Scottish Government on 19 April.

Here we hear from Mariana García Criado about her time at with Scottish Science Advisory Council and the Scottish Government. Mariana is currently a PhD researcher at the Global Change Research Group and the Team Shrub Lab at the School of Geosciences.

Hi Mariana. What did you do and how did you find the experience?

During my placement I gathered available evidence on the current status of geospatial data across Scotland. The aim was to provide recommendations to Scottish Government on how to improve geospatial data accessibility and sharing in the context of the climate emergency.

“I thoroughly enjoyed this placement, especially because I worked with a very dynamic team and got to meet many passionate people working on different topics across Scotland.”

Did you learn new skills during the internship?

One of the key skills I learnt was to carry out structured interviews with stakeholders. By discussing with different professionals across a variety of sectors, I gained a much better understanding of how different organisations operate, their specific objectives, what their geospatial data context is, and how to improve cross-sector collaboration.

“This experience has also expanded my understanding on how the Scottish Government carries out evidence-based decision-making, and on how scientific expertise fits in the policy-making process.”


Here we hear from Environment & Development (MSc) student Martha Stokes, who undertook a Policy Internship at the Teach the Future (TtF) campaign – a student-led campaign aimed at improving education around the climate crisis.

Hi Martha! What did you do and how did you find the experience?

I worked as a policy intern on the Teach the Future campaign. This involved conducting research into recent Scottish and UK government policy with a focus on education and climate policy. It also involved keeping up to date with key publications by government and other influential organisations, attending stakeholder meetings, and mentoring students.

My key achievements from the placement were:

  • 1:1 mentoring to a Welsh school student interested in learning more about policy
  • summarising key opportunities (strategic, funding, campaigning) for TtF in a report following the publication of the Scottish Government’s Response to the Climate Assembly Recommendations
  • conducting background research on key projects and organisations
  • editing the current draft of a Climate Emergency bill ahead of a review by our legal partners
  • brokering a new relationship with a like-minded organisation (the Children’s Parliament) and identifying opportunities for future collaboration

Did you learn new skills during the internship?

I learnt a lot about how to influence government policy. I understand so much more about how to structure campaigns and for me this is really exciting.

Has this placement helped you to understand how policy based organisations operate?

Absolutely. I hadn’t worked so closely on policy before and now I understand a lot more about different mechanisms organisations can use to influence change in government. I worked across a range of policy activity including bill creation, policy review, and campaigning.

Do you think the internships are useful for your future career prospects?

Definitely. My background prior to this internship was mainly in business and project management. I have been really wanting to build up my policy experience and working with SAGES was a great way to do this. It also worked perfectly alongside my studies. I’ve been looking at some full-time jobs for when I graduate from my MSc and almost all of the prospects that interest me ask for some policy experience.

Thank you for hosting such an excellent placement! I thoroughly enjoyed working on the Teach the Future (TtF) project. I learned so much about policy making, campaigning, and managing youth-based teams.

Here we hear about a project undertaken by Kate Sargent, a PhD student from the University of Dundee, who was employed as a SAGES intern on the Children’s Climate Risk Index project, a collaborative project to support UNICEF in estimating the impact of climate change on children, both now and in the future.

Policy Internship summary

The impacts of climate change are usually considered from an adult perspective, however, children experience climate change differently. The project uses the most up to date climate projection data to assess children’s exposure to environmental shocks and stresses, alongside an examination of characteristics of child vulnerability, associated with climate change. The outcomes of this project will help UNICEF in developing a strategy to advocate for children effectively at global and national levels.

I worked with a team from The University of Edinburgh to identify where in the world the transmission of mosquito borne diseases, specifically Malaria, Dengue fever and Zika virus, are likely to occur in 2020 and in 2050, under two different climate change scenarios. These diseases pose a significant risk not only to children’s lives, but also to their health and socio-economic well-being.

Previous research has shown that climate change is likely to cause shifts in spatial and temporal exposure to these diseases, however, there is no research to date that focuses on the global risk to children nor of their exposure to multiple mosquito borne diseases.

Through a review of the literature a suitable methodology was identified which allows the isolation of environmental covariates that affect transmission of these diseases. The methodology uses the thermal limits of disease transmission and moisture requirements for mosquito breeding, to identify areas where the temperature and moisture conditions are suitable for disease transmission, and for how many months. This meant that future average temperatures under two different climate change scenarios from the most up to date climate model projections could be used to identify areas suitable for disease transmission in 2050.

The result is a set of gridded, global data of months of potential exposure to each disease and all three diseases combined. An index score of between 0 and 1, was also allocated to each location based on the number of months of potential exposure. These index scores can be used by UNICEF to identify global populations of children exposed to these three diseases, feeding into the wider project and providing insight on how they intersect with other climate related risks, such as extreme weather events. This will allow UNICEF to focus their efforts on the most vulnerable populations of children

“Being involved in this project has been an amazing and fulfilling experience.” Kate Sargent, SAGES intern

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