ClimaTalk Postgraduate University Courses Q&A Event
30 November 2021 at 6:00 PM GMT
Alex gives a quick introduction to ClimaTalk.
A Menti Poll is distributed to attendees, to get an idea of the attendees and their backgrounds.
The Panellists are introduced.
- Are there any particular skills that you think are necessary to thrive in these courses?
Hannah: For both of my courses, Master’s and PhD, the thing I didn’t think I would need to know but did need a lot of was coding. I did a science degree, Chemistry, and wasn’t prepared to do lots of coding and got thrown in at the deep end. If I could do something differently, I would learn as many coding languages as possible.
Emma: I want to emphasize that I know no coding at all, so don’t feel like you need to know coding, but I’m sure it could help and I’m always impressed with people who do. With my Master’s, people come from varied backgrounds which is interesting: people from engineering, geography, law, and social science backgrounds. So in my case, I wouldn’t worry that you don’t have the right undergrad, for example.
Alex: Yeah, a lot of these courses are very interdisciplinary so they draw on a lot of that.
- As undergrads, what are some of the things we should focus on to prepare us for a degree in environmental sciences?
Jayati: Something I have experienced throughout my Bachelor’s and Master’s is that you should take a skillset you’re good at – it doesn’t have to be technical; you could be good with management, presentation, coding – and then developing that skill throughout your course (whether interdisciplinary or focused on the subject you’re doing) which is an amazing way to get ahead. That really helps get you jobs and find places you can apply these skills.
Ananya: I think especially if you’re doing a more liberal arts undergrad or undergrad where you can explore a lot of things, do explore lots because once you go into your Master’s time is shorter. Your undergrad is a good time to explore things you might not know you like and might end up studying at Master’s. If you have a chance, try to explore as much as you’re able to.
- How do you get into graduate school with an unrelated background?
Lucia: I studied Business and Management in Spain and the Netherlands. In my four years of study, I did not hear anything about climate change, sustainable development, or any alternative economic systems. I was motivated on my own and wanted to learn more things. I chose a Master’s degree in Sustainability and Science, and the most important thing for coordinators and everyone was my motivation in learning these topics. Don’t be afraid if you have studied something totally different, and follow your dreams.
Ananya: My Bachelor’s was in Biology, but niche: ecology-focused, doing fieldwork. I almost did an Ecology Master’s, but I took a gap year to decide what I wanted to do. During that gap year, I found I wanted to do something broader. I found this Master’s which offered a spectrum from social to scientific courses, and I found that I prefer the economic side. Work experience can also inform what you want – an internship made me realize I did not want such a niche ecology degree and instead wanted something a bit broader.
- Is it worth doing a Master’s for employment opportunities if you received a lower 2:1 and so don’t have a chance of receiving funding?
Alex: Firstly, I wouldn’t say a low 2:1 is a lower academic qualification.
Emma: I have a friend and he was not happy with his undergrad grade which was a medium 2:2 which was not terrible, and he was thinking about whether it was worth doing a Master’s and had to change Master’s because he missed his offer. That was the best thing he could have done because the Master’s was different and now he’s graduated with a high distinction which helps with future job prospects. If you’re wondering if it’s worth it or not, it depends – if you want to do a Master’s, don’t let that stop you. If you’re worried about an undergrad grade and you’re worried it will limit you, usually employers will only look at your recent grade or value that as the most important one, but that’s definitely something to consider if you’re going forward. Then again, doing work experience is also really great, and if you’ve got work experience in some Master’s, you have a high chance of getting in. My uni values work experience. With funding, I can’t really answer that, but with my uni, the normal funding is not linked to your grade but your income background so the tuition fees change depending on which barrier you fall into and depending on your background and your parents’ income. I think one third of students at Sciences Po don’t pay anything because of their background. It’s not all-defining if you can get something or if you can find an affordable degree.
Ananya: My current job is at a big consulting firm and during my interview they didn’t even ask about my grade, and I was offered the job before they looked at my transcripts. They were more interested in my thesis. It’s more important what you’re interested in. After I applied, they asked for it for HR purposes, but that was it.
Alex: When you’re in the university bubble there’s an emphasis on grades which dissolves when you leave.
- How much time do you have with tutors during postgrad?
Hannah: With my PhD, we have a big research meeting once per week. and we present. I find that to be the most useful interaction because other students are there, and I find what they say better, and I meet with students. I meet with my primary supervisor every other week and then with my funders because I’m funded by a Norwegian Research Council once per month which is good. For my Master’s, I just had one supervisor, and it was a smaller supervisory team that was working together. Instead, we met as a group twice per week for about an hour, so I had more contact time with them which I found more helpful. I think that everyone has different experiences with tutors, some people get more time and some people get less: either way works and they adjust to what you want. If you want more time, they’re willing to adjust to it if you ask for more time. If you’re worried about timings, just ask, and they are usually really accommodating.
Ananya: My Master’s had a range of different specializations you could do and my economics one was not a lot of contact time while for people doing more lab-based things they would meet a few times a week, so I think it’s based on what focus you’re doing, what type of work you’re doing: in case it needs more feedback and things like that.
Emma: My Master’s might be structured differently. We have an academic advisor, but they are the same person for everyone, and she is responsible for the Master’s. Other than that, it is mainly lectures and you don’t have any specific supervisions or tutors or anything. Contact hours are basically lectures, but there’s a lot of group work. We have a lot of contact hours with students in the course which has been nice, but maybe a different system.
Lucia: I did my Master’s thesis during the pandemic, and my supervisors were in the Netherlands, and I was in Spain. I asked them how much we would meet, and they said how about every two weeks or once per month and I thought that that was a very long period of time, but then, it’s very open. If you have any doubt, you can call them or send them an email, so it depends on the supervisor and on the student.
- Related to funding: To those who studied in the Netherlands and in Paris: did you manage to secure funding for studying abroad, and if so how did you go about this?
Lucia: I have some tips based on my personal experience. In my case, I finished my Bachelor’s, and I spent two years working in economic and managerial departments. I had a very specific budget, so before going to the Netherlands I created a basic Excel spreadsheet with a budget, housing, expenses, the books, the materials – a basic thing. When I started studying, I used an application in my mobile phone where I put in all my expenses and at the end of the month I was able to compare my previous budget with real expenses, and it was useful to see what money I needed each month and also to have a control of all the expenses. That way, I was not going out of my budget.
Emma: Shares link: https://www.sciencespo.fr/students/en/fees-funding/tuition-fees/calculate.html
Alex: This is a link for getting funding post-Brexit. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/getting-eu-funding
- Is there any general advice for applications, and what you should definitely include in your application that could help?
Jayati: One of the things that was most helpful for my application because I did my Bachelor’s in India and Master’s in Norway was work experience. It didn’t matter what kind of work experience I had. Although I did have a 5-year work gap between Bachelor’s and Master’s, there was a lot of experience that came into what I wanted to do for my Master’s. My background was not completely related to my Master’s, so my work experience helped me get a place. I also did online courses at online platforms by various universities – a lot of them have free courses that will help your application. If you want to change your field, those small courses help in adding value to your application. Something like coding which everyone uses in environmental sciences is useful. There are courses on these. These do not take long, but they really help to build your application.
Hannah: If you’ve done any internships in a lab and you can try to get your name on the bottom of the paper, it makes a big difference to your application if you can get that. Also, if you don’t have time to do a course (if a skill is required and you don’t have time to do it), I said in my PhD interview that I didn’t have time to do a course but was going to do it over summer. It’s ok to say you’re planning on doing it or if you have an interview that you will do it; that worked fine for me.
Jayati: A lot of universities, especially in the EU, offer a lot of summer and winter schools which are also very helpful in building your application. These courses vary from a week to four weeks; they are intense sessions that also count as internships in some cases that are also really helpful in adding value.
Emma: This is maybe super obvious, but if you’re applying to multiple unis, you may send the same statements to different unis. At least for my uni, it’s really helped me, they do have specific pages of what they expect to see in the personal statement. In some cases, it is quite specific. If you read a little bit about the uni and the graduate, and if you know someone already there, you begin to understand what’s important for the uni. For my uni, it was important to see a professional link, what you want to do with the degree, bringing in the work experience professionally- and practically-oriented and how you will make use of the resources that the university prefers. It is always possible to adapt.
Alex: I would second what Emma said about making the personal statement specific to the course you’re applying to, even if it is that beginning paragraph that makes the university feel like you want to go there and make you feel special.
- Hannah: What was the time gap from your master’s to the start of your PhD?
Hannah: I didn’t have a big time gap. I finished my Master’s in June and started my PhD in late September. If I could have had a gap year I would have but I didn’t want to turn down the opportunity (I found the PhD on findaPhD.com); there are people in my program who have had up to 20 years between Master’s to PhD. There are examples of people who have done every kind of time gap, and I don’t think it matters how much time is between them. If you want to go straight in, I’ve really liked it, but you can wait as well.
- How can we apply for a more Physical Science-based postgrad, despite having a degree in Geography that may not be as science-focused as other related courses?
Hannah: I think that if you have the opportunity while you’re still studying your undergrad (if you are still) to take courses in slightly different veins of subjects and things – I knew I wanted to go into more Environmental Sciences and I was doing Chemistry, I took courses in Geology because that was offered at my university, I was able to use this in an interview as proof of interest. If you have already finished, I think that getting work experience is great. A lot of science companies are not just looking for scientists to do work experience, so you can definitely come in and use science and do that.
Alex: Seems like most people here have gone from hard science to the more interdisciplinary.
- Discuss environmental courses which are remote please!
Alex: I’m not sure if anybody did theirs remotely, but Lucia — you mentioned doing yours during the pandemic.
Lucia: In our case, we had the subjects and exams before the pandemic, but in March 2020 we had to start an internship in the Netherlands with a team of 5 international people, and at the last minute we had to move everything to an online setting. All the teachers, supervisors, and everyone was very confused with everything, and at the beginning, we had a lot of challenges, we didn’t know how to do it online. The company needed us, but finally, we managed. We did our best, and I have to say that the online setting, at the end, you get used to it. You have to organize your time very well, especially if you work with international colleagues. Try your best.
Alex: I found this website here: https://www.onlinestudies.com/Masters/
If you’re looking for online courses, this is useful.
If you head over to our university course map, we have some courses which are remote. On the uni course map, I found these because there is currently no filter (which we need to add): https://hub.ucd.ie/usis/!W_HU_MENU.P_PUBLISH?p_tag=PROG&MAJR=F058 https://aru.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/sustainability
With doing a remote course, I think people are realizing that they’re just as intense, so I think the reputation isn’t a concern. There’s also a lot of coding in science, so you still get to do all of that.
Jayati: I just did a certification that was intense. It was a course that was only a month, and we would meet once a week for questions. A lot of universities had these even before the pandemic, and they are reputable universities. They are well reputed. There are a lot of courses I know of – Munich and a lot of other universities have a lot of courses.
- How did everyone come across the course that they’re doing?
Hannah: I found my PhD on findmyphd.com – you can turn on notifications and they’ll tell you when there’s one that suits you
Lucia: I checked almost all the Master’s in Europe in sustainability and environmental sciences. I used mastersportal.com – I also went to online open days of the universities, and I also spoke with current Master’s students.
Ananya: My bachelor’s thesis was on plant genetics and I kept coming across Wageningen, and I came across their courses tab and I thought this was interesting. As I was moving away from ecology, I wanted a 2 year Master’s; I wanted something longer. It had all these options and specializations.
Jayati: I also had a specific specialization in my mind which was offered by only three universities across the globe which was quite easy to find, so that’s how I landed in Norway.
Emma: The first time I heard about this Master’s was through a friend quite a while — at least three years — before I applied. She was in the uni for undergrad, and she said there was this Master’s that she thought would be a good fit, but I also had a friend who started the year before me in this Master’s. I knew that Master’s, but I googled different options, but I came back to this one because everything sort of fit. It was in the EU which made everything easier involving Brexit and Covid, and it was in France which gave me a chance to practise another language. I like the fact that it’s more practically-oriented than some of the UK Master’s and other Master’s I’ve seen – they place a high value on practical things and doing actual things you will be able to do – group projects, writing policy briefs, doing presentations, which I thought was a nice change. It is 2 years, and in the third semester you can choose between writing a thesis, doing an internship, or studying abroad. I thought it was a nice change from studying for a year and doing exams like my undergrad.
Alex: I am in Amsterdam at Vrije Universiteit, and it is the only Master’s outside of the UK that I applied for. I started looking because I was freaked out about Brexit and paying tuition fees because I’m from the EU, but I did it by which cities I want to live in. I had a look at the universities and the courses, and mine’s a two-year Master’s as well. After having a look at the two-year Master’s which are more common in Europe than the UK, and the breadth you’re allowed to go in, I have so much time to study so much more than when I looked back at the UK Master’s they seemed so little in what you are covering and not so interdisciplinary. I just went onto the websites of the universities that I would like to go to. But as I keep mentioning, the ClimaTalk university course map resource is really useful as well. I’m popping it in the chat so that you know how to find it:
- For those who did postgrads in a different country, where did you do it, and why?
Emma: I did my undergrad in Cambridge doing Land Economy which combines law, environment, and economics. I really like the combination, and I’m still happy after I’ve done it – it’s a really interesting combination because I didn’t want to already specialize in one thing; I’m interested in the economic and the legal side of things but wanted to do something with the environment. It was practical compared to a lot of the courses I’d read about – we’d already covered “real world issues” and written essays on real things compared to things I was used to in school.
Ananya: I just wanted to live in a new place and see somewhere new. We’re young and this is an easy time to live in as many places as you can; you may as well take advantage of it if you know it’s something you want to do.
- What’s it like to work for an environmental consultancy?
Ananya: Out of my Master’s, it’s a really good learning opportunity; in consulting, you work on actual projects and all the research skills and things you do in university come really handy. I’ll be told to make a proposal on ESG in a random sector and in a few hours I’ll have to learn about something. It’s really fast-paced, but I’ve learned a lot. If you don’t know what your niche is and you want to learn about a lot of different topics, it’s really good. A lot of my colleagues said they’re doing consulting because they want to figure out what to do their PhD on. If you start out in consulting and say you like something, they’ll put you on more of those projects.
- Lots of courses are specialized. How did everyone know that it was something that you wanted to commit to?
Hannah: My topic has become more niche the more I’ve moved up. For me, during my undergrad when I was able to take a few courses in different departments, I found myself drawn to atmospheric science, and it was starting to come up and things changing in news and it was becoming something that as a country we were aware of which I thought was interesting because it was a link between the science and the real world. I liked that and because I did, I did my Master’s in Climate Chemistry. I loved it and felt that was what I was meant to do. I was doing ok in it and felt confident to continue doing it. I found something I really enjoyed and because it was so topical I was so fortunate.
Lucia: My Master’s was also very broad – we were learning many different things like environmental law, science, governance, lots of things, but I had a passion for ecological agriculture, and I found a supervisor who was also researching on this topic. At the beginning, everything was new for me, but finally it was a good choice because I was following my personal interests and I was happy with the decision.
Alex: Lots of Master’s courses do seem really specialized but don’t let that scare you into thinking you need to know going into it what you want to specialize in. Some people may know what they want to go into, where with me I always had very broad sustainability and environmental interests, and mine is a broad master’s – “environmental change and policy” – you can also specialize, especially if it’s a 2 year course: you have a lot of time to try out many different things. By the sounds of it, mine is structured similarly to Emma’s – it’s practical, I have lots of different types of assessments – you get to try things out and be assessed on your studies throughout. I’m not even close to knowing what I want to specialize in really.
Emma: They do sound really similar, and especially in my Master’s, you don’t need to know. If you want to try different things and are interested in different things, I can recommend my Master’s. They want you to know specific things. There are specific common core courses everyone needs to take; you have your main Master’s and then concentrations and regional or thematic concentrations. You can pick any regions or concentrations. I’ve picked themes to get more environmental courses in my schedule, but there’s everything from agriculture, development, regions from Europe to Asia, and you pick new courses – the concentrations stay the same but you pick new courses every semester. I’ve had courses this semester but my courses next semester will be different. You can get different directions but it’s very flexible.
- What kind of jobs can you get with a degree in this environmental sector?
Ananya: In the last part of your second year in my Master’s you do an internship; I am working in the company I did my Master’s internship at. Consulting is one of those general fields that people from all backgrounds go into, but I have lots of peers now in climate policy work. I have a friend who worked with the Dutch Water Research Institute. Some are doing PhDs – climate change is very interdisciplinary and you can go in many directions. I have another friend in the L’Oreal sustainability team. As a consultant, I’ve done projects across the board, all sorts of sectors; because it is relevant in all of those sectors, you can go into any sector. Think about what kind of work you enjoy doing, whether research-related, client-facing, practical, what you might want to get out of it: there are so many possible avenues for sure.
Jayati: My Master’s is very similar to what Ananya mentioned. There are a lot of pathways you can take because it’s an interdisciplinary Master’s – it’s a mixture of governance, law, economics, project management, and other things. I am working with the municipality in a lot of different parts of the world. I’m working as a Senior Associate in a project management company right now. There’s a lot of fields you can take. I know a lot of people going to do a PhD after their Master’s because their thesis was approved by the university and the university gave them the opportunity to expand into a PhD — so that’s one interesting opportunity.
Hannah: There’s a really big perception that everyone just goes into a postdoc and then become a lecturer and stay in the university system. This is not true from my experience with people in our research group of people who have graduated and gone into the working world. People go into consulting, people go into more scientific groups like the European Space Agency – those scientific institutions are big on people who have PhDs. A lot of people think those who do PhDs stay in the university system forever, but there are a lot of opportunities to branch out.
Emma: I can re-emphasize that there are a lot of different opportunities. I haven’t graduated yet, but the friend I know who started my Master’s before me, she’s a year ahead and she’s taking a gap year between the first and second year. She’s doing internships, and she’s just had a 6-month internship with the French Environment industry which was involved in the nature conference that started in September and at the beginning of December she’s starting an internship with Suez involved in sustainability, sustainable management, water management – it can be super varied. She did a lot herself but at least from my uni there are pages where you can look at specific opportunities, and they do provide some help with that as well, which I think most unis do.
Lucia: Anything related to the environment or social protection or sustainability often has students who have created their own companies or organizations. Take into account that if you see a problem in your area, country, or world, you can create something to solve it.
Alex: Yeah there’s a lot of young entrepreneurship going on at the moment in this field which is really exciting as well.
Alex: The panelists have been kind enough to say that if you want to contact them on their socials with any questions, you are able to do so on LinkedIn. Find their profiles below:
Alex: Consider applying to join ClimaTalk if you’re thinking about what you can do to learn more, or if you want to improve applications. There are so many opportunities if you want to do something more broad, or do something interdisciplinary, or you want to be an author on a different paper, or if you have different passions like social media, there are a lot of opportunities. Please do get in touch if you’re interested.