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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

Course assignments and dissertation

The development of both written and verbal presentation skills is an essential element of the course, critical to professional success, and one which is widely appreciated by our alumni. Whatever each student's level of ability to start with, the unique learning style of the course will support each student's individual development and growth.

Postgraduate certificate and Master’s students undertake two assessed individual assignments and a group project. For Master’s students, in the second academic year, a research dissertation must be completed.

Students work in small multidisciplinary groups during the residential workshops (workshop 2 for Postgraduate certificate students and workshops 2-6 for Master’s students). Together the groups will need to think, discuss, draw, calculate, write and persuade in order to come to a unified solution to the set problem. At the end of the week, all teams present their solutions to their fellow students, and to a review panel of studio leaders and external reviewers. 


Individual assignments

Students complete two individual assignments of relevance to their professional settings, namely:

Reflective case study

This 4,000-word essay reflects on the detail of a project students have personally been involved in. Students are asked to consider a specific outcome or element of the project involving multiple stakeholders that went particularly well, or particularly poorly; deeply explore why this may have happened, and extract what lessons can be learnt from the experience. This is considered against relevant conceptual frameworks and theories, supported by current thinking in the field and practical examples.

Literature review essay

This 3,000-word essay is designed to support students in developing research and writing skills, focusing on conducting a literature review using academic references. Students are asked to identify an issue in the built environment around which there is a stated contradiction or lack of consensus. Students use the essay to understand the evidence used to arrive at different outcomes and propose a deeper contextual understanding, or identify further research needed to overcome the discrepancy.


Group project

In parallel with the individual assignments, students will work in small groups of 5–6,  to develop an original piece of research on a topic of mutual interest. With the help of an expert first-year supervisor, each group focuses on a specific challenge or opportunity to explore, decides how to approach the research project,  and then develops the ideas and content so that it draws on the collective experience of the group members. Students must be willing to work collaboratively, share ideas generously and contribute to the fullest extent.



For Master's students research towards a dissertation is undertaken with support and guidance from an academic supervisor. The research must follow a recognised qualitative and/or quantitative methodology, but can also take the form of applied research (eg action research). The research can address a topic of relevance to a specific organisation, or focus more generally on a challenge or location.

Students are encouraged to choose research topics that are: practically focused; cross traditional disciplinary boundaries; and/or address a key social, economic, or environmental challenge in the built environment.

Potential areas for research include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Sustainability
  • Resilience
  • Leadership
  • Innovation and/or technology
  • Professionalism
  • Interdisciplinary Practice
  • Design thinking
  • Heritage, and/or conservation
  • Policy, regulation and/or legislation
  • Retrofit
  • Urbanism and urban design
  • Low carbon design
  • Infrastructure
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Commercial buildings
  • Human health and/or social well-being
  • Biodiversity
  • Finance

Read about recent supervisors and student dissertation topics.


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Sustainable Built Environment Courses Overview

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