UCL Department of Geography


Henry Chan, MSc Urban Studies

Meet Henry, a graduate of our MSc Urban Studies course and, currently, a PhD student looking at the impacts of political transitions on urban living and public spaces.

21 March 2024

He tells us how the interdisciplinary nature of the course, plus a healthy interest in watching Arsenal play live, drew him to apply. Plus, how the connections he made during his postgraduate degree have impacted his PhD research experience.

Why were you interested in studying an MSc in Urban Studies? 

“I was initially trained as a sociologist back in my undergraduate studies in Hong Kong. I developed a strong interest in the study of cities, especially lives in cities, in my final year. 

“It was only until I started working at several research institutions for some time after graduation that I became aware of the existence of Urban Studies as a distinctive academic field. 

“I was then considering pursuing further studies in Social Sciences and I found Urban Studies to be a good interdisciplinary arena that would allow me to look at the city from a fresh perspective - a more spatial perspective.

“It stresses the dynamic relationship between human-environment, whether built or natural, without losing sight of the sociological dimension a city has.”

What was it that encouraged you to choose UCL to study it in? 

“While I was doing my research on potential overseas masters programmes, I focused on looking at interdisciplinary courses. 

“UCL was one of the few institutions that offered an interdisciplinary Urban Studies programme in Europe. 

“The Geography Department has a long history and excellent international reputation for running the programme. 

“Several people who had done Masters or PhDs in different UCL departments that I know also had quite positive experience at UCL and they all strongly recommended me to consider applying to the University. 

“But I think the location of London also matters a lot to me. I hadn’t been to Europe before, and I thought that London, as one of the central hubs of the UK and Europe, would be a fantastic place to get exposed to what is going on in Europe right now. 

“I have also been an Arsenal fan since I was a small kid, and watching an Arsenal game at the Emirate Stadium was always a dream for me. The prime location of UCL means I am always surrounded by avid football fans every week!”

Can you tell us about any particularly memorable experiences from your time as a Masters student with us? 

“The interdisciplinary curriculum in MSc Urban Studies was insightful. I was not initially trained as an interdisciplinary researcher, nor do I have much experience attending courses that did not fall within the curriculum of a sociology or a political science Department.

“UCL Urban Studies, instead, offers courses taught by scholars from a variety of disciplinary and professional backgrounds. 

“That year, I took classes by urban planners, architects, human geographers, sociologists, or other urban practitioners etc. 

“Many of the topics, perspectives and case studies introduced in the course were ones I had hardly considered, rarely exposed to or even aware of. 

“Such interdisciplinarity really gave me good resources in refreshing, renewing or revising my previous learning and understanding of cities and society.”

Can you tell us about any particularly memorable experiences from your time as a Masters student with us?

“The diversity of backgrounds in my MSc cohort, whether in terms of nationality, academic training, or life experiences, is something I missed a lot. 

“I have classmates who did English literature or visual art back in their undergraduate degrees, planners or architects who have practised for several years, and mature students coming back to school after decades of working. 

“Such a diverse makeup not only gave me a lot of intelligent insights, but it also made my brief study in London way more enjoyable and fruitful. 

“I remember our cohort going to a local bar near SOAS virtually every Friday after finishing one of the mandatory sessions of the programme. Many intellectual, but also warm, discussions took place in that bar.”

“Another thing I found particularly engaging was the chance to work on dissertation-level independent research. 

“My undergraduate course had no requirements for a dissertation. My post-undergrad research experience was mostly team-based and focused on assisting specific stages of the research process. 

“The masters dissertation was the first time that I could be completely in charge of the entire research process and work on topics that I have strong interest in. 

“The process was not easy, given that we had only about four months to work on the project. But, nevertheless, it was such an enjoyable and inspiring journey that it ultimately played a major role in my decision to pursue a PhD study in Geography.”

What have you done since graduating and how has your MSc helped?

“After finishing the course, I continued my research career at a local university in Hong Kong before returning to UCL to pursue a PhD study. 

“My MSc experiences have played a key role in my return to UCL. I developed good working relations with my current PhD supervisors back when I was doing my masters thesis and am happy to say they continue to this day. 

“My experience attending the course and closely following my supervisors’ research interests has given me strong support for working with them in the future.

“My MSc studies at UCL and my interactions with other world-class faculty members in the Department also gave me with a lot of up-to-date information on the current state of geographical scholarship within academia.”

Would you recommend studying Urban Studies in the Department and why?

“I would say the MSc Urban Studies is suitable for those who are considering switching academic tracks or who might want to seek intellectual enlightenment after working for a few years after the undergraduate degree. 

“The programme’s stress on interdisciplinarity and practicality strikes a good balance between theoretical rigour and practical relevance. 

“Plus, it has a range of modules with strong contemporary social relevance, taught by world-class experts in their own sub-fields.”

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