by Stefan Lübke
Course: MSc Industrial Ecology – Leiden University & TU Delft
Level: Postgraduate, Master of Science
University: Leiden University & Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) – joint degree
Length: 2 years (120 ECTS)
Location: Leiden, The Netherlands & Delft, The Netherlands
The MSc Industrial Ecology is a joint degree, combining the strengths of both Leiden University and TU Delft. As the global challenges ahead cannot be solved by one-dimensional solutions, the program takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining natural science, social science and engineering. Because of this interdisciplinary mentality, the program welcomes students from all three disciplines.
In Industrial Ecology, the academic year is split into quarters where every quarter has about eight weeks of lectures followed by a week of exams or assignment deadlines. During the first two quarters, compulsory courses are taught covering the three disciplines of industrial ecology – natural science (Earth System), social science (Transition, Innovation & Governance) and engineering (System Design for Industrial Ecology). This knowledge will then be applied in two different projects. For these projects, students can choose between urban and industrial system analysis in the first year, and between a consultancy and research project in the second year. The project in the second year is in cooperation with an external commissioner; the commissioners could be research institutes, companies or non-profit organisations. Alongside the compulsory courses, the program offers 35 European Credit and Transfer System credits (ECTS) of elective space. Here the variety of electives is almost endless as it is possible to select from all courses offered by Leiden University, TU Delft and (with some bureaucracy) from all universities in the Netherlands. At least 10 ECTS of this elective space are supposed to be dedicated to electives offered by the institute such as Life Cycle Assessment or Cost-Benefit Analysis. Finally, the last two quarters are meant for the master’s thesis.
In addition to the curriculum, the program offers extracurricular activities. One of these is the Climate-KIC Master Label program and the associated Journey, a European summer school program. Another is the Sustainability Business Battle where students work together with companies on developing solutions for sustainability-related problems. These are only two of many possibilities offered by the universities, sustainability-related student groups and external organizations for spicing up the studies with sustainability-focused activities.
- What did you like most about the course?
There are two aspects that I liked most about the course. Firstly, the way of thinking that is supported throughout the program, and secondly, the striving of the staff to make the program better.
Interdisciplinary and critical thinking are two abilities consistently demanded in the program. I have to admit, with my background in a natural science degree, working on social science topics and reading lengthy papers was not always easy. However, I really learned to appreciate the social dimension of the challenge thanks to the program. lso, the way in which quantitative tools are connected to thinking beyond the pure numbers and looking at the system as a whole is a valuable strength.
The professors and the study advisors are very supportive and are eagerly working on improving the program. The study association SHIFT is also active in making the study experience better via educational, career or fun initiatives. This feeling of that there is a will to improve the program, and what is around it, is an aspect I really enjoy.
- What did you do before this course? Are there any specific requirements for being able to apply to and take this course?
Before starting this master’s I did my bachelor’s in Environmental Management at the University of Giessen in Germany and interned alongside it at a company in the chemical industry. To be admitted to the Industrial Ecology program, you have to prove via your motivation letter an affinity for interdisciplinary thinking and the field of sustainability. The interdisciplinary setting of the program allows students with a huge diversity of backgrounds to apply.
- What sort of work are you doing (e.g. more group work/more individual work; more project-based work/more essay writing etc.)?
During the program, emphasis is given to offering mixed education and examination methods, ranging from individual programming assignments (no worries, even if you have never programmed before) to group project reports or creative assignments, such as developing educational material. Two methods I particularly liked were paper discussions and peer reviews, as both allowed me to dive deep into the ideas of others and trained me in thinking critically.
- Is there anything you would change about the course?
I would enjoy having more contact with externals, for example guests from businesses/organisations, to also learn how sustainability is dealt with outside the ivory tower of academia. There are professors who invite interesting guests (e.g. in one course we had speakers from Amazon and Apeel), however, this was rather an exception. It has to be said that the extracurricular offers surrounding the program more or less manage to compensate for this. Nevertheless, a stronger integration would be great, also to support students who are aiming at writing their thesis externally..
- Why did you choose this course over other courses you may have been considering?
When searching for my masters, I created a long list of certainly over 100 programs all around Europe that were potentially interesting for me. In the end, there were three programs I applied for. There are several reasons why I decided on the Masters in Industrial Ecology in Leiden and Delft in the end. One of the reasons was my interest in life cycle assessment (LCA) which is an expertise of the Institute of Environmental Sciences at Leiden University. Another one was the joint degree, allowing me to study at two great universities with different strengths. Finally, the package surrounding the program with the extracurricular opportunities, and the Netherlands who are known for their expertise in sustainability, convinced me.
- What is life at this university like?
That is a challenging question, considering that while these words are written, everything is in lockdown. However, fortunately, I also experienced pre-lockdown life and can tell that the universities, but particularly the area, can offer a lot! Everything is very close – you can reach The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam in less than an hour and also the coast with a long beach is close, providing many opportunities for a fulfilled student life. One drawback of this is, however, that students are living spread over the different cities. So, only a fraction of the around 100 students of your year are living in the same city as you do, which makes it more difficult to connect. Also, being a student of two universities may lead to a weaker bonding with your universities. Then again, there are two universities you are part of and so a higher chance of getting a spot at the library, a larger diversity of sport clubs, associations to be part of etc., so it is all a question of perspective.
- What are you planning on doing after you’ve graduated/what are you currently doing if you have graduated?
That is a very good question! Currently, I have different ideas. Most likely is that I will go into the industry to work on the transformation towards net-zero. The so-called IE-toolbox, consisting of different methods such as LCA that students learn, equips graduates with valuable skills demanded by the industry. Another idea that has been in the back of my head is consulting. Particularly, one of the sustainability-focused consultancies, of which there are overwhelmingly many in the Netherlands, may be interesting. I have not finally decided yet which of these two ways I want to go and maybe, in the end, I will even do something entirely different. However, this shows the curse and the blessing of the program – after graduation, there are many possible paths to follow.
- What are typical jobs graduates do after completing the course?
It is hard to describe the ‘typical job’ as there are many different jobs graduates could do and it depends a lot on the focus of students during the master’s. Potential employers include business, industry, governmental bodies, NGOs and research institutes/universities. I know of graduates who are now working at CDP, Arla, Mercedes-Benz, the Big4 or smaller consultancies like Metabolic Others are currently working on their PhD in Leiden or Delft and again others have founded their own start-ups.
Stefan is a second-year student in the MSc Industrial Ecology at Leiden University and TU Delft (2019-2021). He is originally from Germany where he studied Environmental Management before. Currently, he is writing his thesis on the assessment of Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS) technologies. Next to negative emission technologies, he is interested in supply chain sustainability and circular economy. Beside his studies, he volunteered at the board of the Industrial Ecology study association SHIFT, working on education-related topics.