MSc Climate Studies – Wageningen University and Research

by Ananya Iyer

  • Course: MSc Climate Studies 
  • Level: Postgraduate, MSc
  • University: Wageningen University and Research
  • Length: 24 months (120 credits)
  • Location: Wageningen, The Netherlands

Image via Wageningen University & Research International Students blog

Course Summary

The course is on climate studies, but there are five specialisations one can choose from:

  • The physical climate system
  • Biogeochemical cycles
  • Ecological and agroecological systems
  • Human-environment interactions
  • Climate, society and economics

These range on a spectrum from more scientific to more social. Each specialisation has some courses that are compulsory to take to follow that track. The university also has ‘chair groups’ such as environmental policy, water systems governance etc. One would do their thesis under one of these chair groups, with each specialisation containing a few chair groups within them. For example, I am currently doing the most social specialisation (Climate, Society and Economics) and within this the two chair groups are ENR (Economics and Natural Resources) and ENP (Environmental Policy). A detailed overview of which chair groups are featured in which specialisations is available on the course website. The names of classes available to take are also dictated by chair groups -like ENR36006, for example; this gives an indication of who runs the class and what the focus of that class may be.

The first year consists of 60 credits worth of courses. In the beginning, one does some general courses that all MCL students do, and then afterwards the courses specialise based on one’s major and which chair group they want to do their thesis in. The second year consists of a thesis and an internship, which respectively totals to 36 (24 weeks) and 24 (16 weeks) credits. 

As part of the 60 credits in the first year, students also do something called Academic Consultancy Training (ACT), in which they complete a project commissioned by an organisation or the university. This is a good opportunity to work in a group, and to learn more about what working as a consultant in the field is like. 

Regarding my specialisation, if a student wants to pursue a thesis in the ENP chair group, they can enroll in the Sustainable Development Diplomacy program, where they get hands-on experience working in international diplomacy. Here one will do a separate ACT. Students can also apply for the Climate-KIC Master Label program, where they will have to do some mandatory entrepreneurship courses and take part in the Journey summer school program. 

There are also minors one can do (for completion it is necessary to take 18 credits worth of courses that relate to that minor),  which include education, science communication, etc. These do not need to be directly related to the chosen major. 

Questions 

  1. What did you like most about the course?

I had the freedom to explore different courses before deciding on my major in the first few months. I also learned a lot from doing courses that were not necessarily in my major but very interesting. 

  1. What did you do before this course? Are there any specific requirements to being able to apply to and take this course?

I did my BSc in Biology in the UK, worked as an environmental educator for 6 months, and did an internship with the WWF before starting my masters. I think the basic requirements are to have the equivalent of a 2:1 at least and to speak English well enough. Because the course is quite multi-disciplinary, there are people who have bachelors in varying fields from ecology to economics and international relations. 

  1. What sort of work are you doing (e.g. more group work/more individual work; more project-based work/more essay writing etc.)?

There definitely is a lot of group work, which can be good and bad, I suppose, based on how your group is. There is a good amount of project-based work as well, especially with the ACT (mentioned above). There are some courses that do not have exams and just have essays, and some that have a mix. There is also some modelling work involved. The sort of work depends on what courses you choose, but you can know beforehand what type of work the class involves when you make your choice. 

  1. Is there anything you would change about the course?

I am currently working on my thesis, and it is quite a lonely process. I do not need to go to the lab or anything, so it is just me and my computer. I meet with my supervisor every 2 weeks or so. I do wish the university offered some support for times like this. I know that they are trying to make thesis rings so I can have other students to discuss with, but they are not very frequent. There is also not a large amount of support when applying for an internship or writing your thesis, and they do expect you to do the bulk of the work on your own. Having said that, however, many chair groups do have internships on offer, so you don’t always have to apply to ones on your own. (Just a note, these tend to be more lab-based than social.)

  1. Why did you choose this course over other courses you may have been considering?

After applying to many courses, the two I narrowed down on were a climate policy one in King’s College London and this one. I ultimately chose this one over the one at King’s because it is 2 years in duration instead of 1, and because I was transitioning from Biology to Climate Studies, I wanted more time to actually engage with the content. King’s also does not have the flexibility this course offers (probably because it is only 1 year long), and they are more policy-focused (I was not sure if I preferred policy or economics at the time). I am really glad I chose this course because after a few months of different classes, I chose economics over policy which I am really happy about, and I would not have had that opportunity at King’s. 

  1. What is life at this university like?

Pre-COVID university life was quite good! There are many student associations you can join and a really good gym that offers classes and stuff, so there are good opportunities to socialise. It can be hard as a foreigner because there are many associations that are only for Dutch people, but most residential halls are quite international. When applying for accommodation it can take quite some time on Room.nl, and there are many types of accommodations from studios (which can be quite lonely) to more social halls. The town itself is very small, and you do need to get used to riding a bike everywhere. There is a cute farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and the highstreet has some nice shops and restaurants too. 🙂 

  1. What are you planning on doing after you’ve graduated/what are you currently doing if you have graduated? What are typical jobs graduates do after completing the course?

I am planning to go into environmental economic consulting/sustainable finance. I think there is a broad variety of jobs people go into; some can be very academic, involving modelling future climate scenarios, etc. Organisations like the IUCN or local Dutch ones like PBL (Environmental Policy Bureau) hire people from the course as well. These involve work on climate policy, or climate and agriculture. Some who take the science communication minor often go into climate journalism.  I think career varies based on the specialisation you choose. I really liked that I had the option to move from Biology to a more social program in this course. 


Ananya Iyer is currently in the second year of her master’s in Climate Studies and is writing her thesis on mitigating environmental and economic tradeoffs in the palm oil industry with regard to smallholder farmers. She is part of the Networking and Outreach and Graphics team at ClimaTalk. She hopes to pursue a career in environmental economic consulting and sustainable finance after her master’s. 

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