Current Student Spotlights

Environmental Sciences and Policy PhD Candidate Steffen Bettin co-authored a report for the Austrian Parliament at the Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) on the future of electricity storage. In the study, various storage technologies, e.g. mechanical storage, chemical storage, and electro-chemical storage are compared according to their environmental, societal, and economic impacts and consequences. This full technology assessment is accompanied by a comparison of, for Austria, most relevant applications, and an overview of the Austrian innovation system.

While electricity storage in solar batteries at private dwellings gets popular, energy storage must be understood as one flexibility option amongst many to achieve a 100% renewable electricity sector.

The study is published on the webpage of the Austrian Parliament (German, with an English summary on page 11-14). 

I joined PhD program in Environmental Sciences and Policy Department in Central European University with a Master’s degree from International Relations and European Studies (IRES) Department in CEU and several years of working experience in World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Federal Russian Customs on the Russian Far East. Even though my previous work places provided opportunities for young professionals to expand their studies in various Universities in Russia and other countries, I knew that Environmental Sciences and Policy Department in CEU was one of the very few that offered PhD program with inter-disciplinary focus and practical trainings on the most contemporary global environmental issues.
Being trained in diplomacy, international relations theory and international law, I have always had a passion for nature conservation and ecology. In Russian Federal Customs on the Russian Far East, I was in charge for inter-customs communication with customs departments in other countries in Asia on various subjects including environmental. After governmental work, my passion for nature conservation brought me to WWF and TRAFFIC (wildlife trade monitoring network, a joint alliance of WWF and IUCN) where I developed and coordinated programs focused on combating with illegal trade in Tigers and Tigers parts across Asia. While working on Tiger trade programs, I coordinated with various WWF and TRAFFIC offices across Tiger range countries in Asia as well as with other environmental NGOs, international organisations and government agencies dealing with legal and illegal wildlife trade across Asia and globally. I also represented WWF and TRAFFIC at various global governmental meetings and conferences related to Tiger and Wildlife trade such as CITES COPs, Global Tiger Ministerial meetings and etc.
Having gained knowledge and experience at the conservation management work, I am committed to further expand expertise and career. As a graduate of IRES department in CEU, I was well aware of the interdisciplinary and ambitious PhD program at the EnviSci department. It does offer an amazing opportunity for young professionals and academics from various field to pursue a degree and strengthen their knowledge under the supervision of world renowned practitioners. Not to mention that you are immersed in a unique multi-cultural environment of students and professors and provided with a decent academic scholarship. My PhD dissertation is devoted to investigating Tiger trade problem in the Amur-Heilong region (transborder area between Russia and China) under the supervision of Dr. Victor Lagutov.
From the very first days of my PhD studies, I was involved in practical conferences and workshops on environmental security organised by my supervisor. This experience allowed me to present my research topic and expand international academic network. During the first year of studies, we had to go through several disciplinary and inter-disciplinary courses for Phd students where we were guided by professors to ask the right questions for our own research, further develop analytical and writing skills, got introduced to the most contemporary global environmental issues and most recent works of the prominent academics in the field. Considering that most of us were coming from various backgrounds, PhD courses gave an opportunity to share ideas, get different perspectives on our research topics, challenge and further improve our research questions what usually comprises the essence of any academic work. PhD students could also take courses in other departments in CEU, as well as enhance our teaching skills and learn other languages through various training courses offered on campus.
In addition to strengthening academic skills, department professors engage PhD students in scientific work of leading international practitioners and scholars. For instance, I was involved as a contributing author and fellow to the Fifth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO 5) for UNEP under the supervision of Dr. Laszlo Pinter and published an article related to my research in Springer edition under the supervision of my supervisor Dr. Victor Lagutov. Such experience allows to broaden your academic and professional network and introduce your research topic to other practitioners and researchers globally what is critical for young scholars.
Life of a PhD student might seem to be eventless and monotonous for those who are not familiar with the student life in CEU or Environmental Sciences and Policy department, which is one of the most practical departments at the University. Be prepared for challenging intellectual discussions, scientific events, exciting field trips and meeting a plethora of prominent academics and leading practitioners in the field if you are a PhD student at our department.

When talking about her reasons for hope, Jane Goodall stated: “there are so many people who have dreamed seemingly unattainable dreams and, because they never gave up, achieved their goals against all the odds.”

These words are very important to me because following my passion and believing in what I do have brought me where I am today. My love for nature and my wish to work in the field of nature conservation have guided my educational and professional choices. I studied Environmental Sciences both during my Bachelor and my Masters studies in Romania, I have attended several national and international courses and training in the field and I have been a volunteer for two environmental NGO’s during this time, working in biodiversity conservation, nature education and responsible tourism. My work as a volunteer has had great impact on me. It was in this role that I learned to apply the knowledge I gained, I gathered practical experience and I was directly faced with the challenges entailed by working in this field. At this point, embarking on a PhD program represented an essential stepping-stone for my becoming an expert in the field and working at a higher academic and professional level.

I am currently a second year PhD candidate in the Environmental Science and Policy Department at CEU. Becoming a doctoral student at CEU has been a huge opportunity for me, because it has given me the amazing chance to pursue one of my biggest dreams: working with wolves! I have been fascinated with wolves my entire life and I have been eager to bring my contribution to wolf conservation, by showing the importance of protecting this species and by promoting proper wolf management. But I have had a hard time finding my way into in this field in Romania. Now CEU has offered me this opportunity.

As part of my research I am currently studying the conflicts between people and wolves, and all the associated issues, in the specific context of the Western Carpathians, Romania. I am guided in this quest by professors Brandon Anthony, Alex Antypas and Dr. Jennifer Miller, my committee members, who sustain my progress with great care, dedication and wisdom. Thus, I feel confident and enthusiastic about carrying out my research, knowing that I am always sustained in this challenging, but also rewarding process.

The reward of the entire PhD program for me, is not as much about the results that I obtain, as it is about the no matter how small contribution my research can bring to the bettering of the real world. It is a feeling of fulfillment you have when you see your own self-growth and when you know that you can bring at least an ounce of good to the world around you.

This being said, being part of CEU, from my point of view, is a great chance to learn in an institution committed to excellence and to interdisciplinary approaches and research that is socially relevant. I believe that the open and friendly, student-centered environment that CEU fosters, is an environment that nurtures self-learning and self-development. We, as student, learn how to use our own judgement and thinking, in other words, we learn how to learn, and how to do things with our own strength. These traits are very important for us further on in life when we face the realities of the field we pursued.
In conclusion, I would like to revert to Jane Goodall’s words: “Let’s have faith in ourselves, in our intellect, in our staunch spirit and in our young people. And let’s do the work that needs to be done, with love and compassion."

I received my masters degree in CEU’s MESPOM program in 2007, in the first batch of this very successful international masters program on environmental sciences, policy and management. After working for nine years as policy advisor, project leader and program director for Greenpeace and giving birth to two beautiful and active boys, I decided to return to academia.

During my masters studies I very much appreciated CEU’s international and transdisciplinary approach, high academic quality and great location, thus I decided to return to my Alma Mater for my doctorate degree. I enrolled in CEU’s PhD program in 2014 to research transboundary environmental governance in the Carpathian Mountain region: looking at what and how is driving cooperation among the stakeholders.

The first year of the PhD program equipped me with the theoretical and methodological knowledge and capabilities that I needed to be able to carry out top quality research and also with tools and methods to be able to teach. It also helped me to specify my own research project. Furthermore, the opportunity of being able to join courses of all other departments at the university allowed me to broaden my horizon to emerging and cutting-edge research disciplines. After having defended my research prospectus in the second academic year, I started pursuing my field work and preliminary data analysis with CEU’s financial support.

The interactions with other PhD students and professors from many countries and with different disciplinary backgrounds provides a highly stimulating learning and research environment, in which we can support and challenge each other and thus stimulate new thoughts, new approaches, new knowledge – and also new friendships.

I graduated from the Department of Nationalism Studies at CEU in 2012, and after that worked as a visiting researcher at Uppsala Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies in Sweden with a project on state policies towards indigenous peoples in Sweden and Russia. While in Sweden, I witnessed Sami protests against the iron ore mine in the north of the country, and this experience sparked my interest in indigenous relations with mining industry.  In 2014, I returned to CEU and entered the PhD program at the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy; my PhD project is devoted to articulations of indigenous identity in relation to mining in two Russian regions – Karelia and Buryatia (the case studies of Vepses and Soyots).

 I still remember the first months of PhD life very vividly, and it is hard to believe that two years have passed since then. During these two years, I conducted fieldwork in two regions situated far away from each other – the Republic of Karelia in the North-West of Russia and the Republic of Buryatia in South-Central Siberia, near Mongolia. These two years also brought with them a whole range of academic pleasures such as a visit to world’s largest diamond mine (situated in Mirnyi, Yakutia) with UArctic PhD course on Extractive Industries or a recent trip to Alpine glaciers with Vienna Arctic Summer School. Another great experience was my participation in teaching development project “Strengthening Teaching Effectiveness through Student Evaluation Innovation” led by Dr. Tamara Steger with the help of Center for Teaching and Learning.

One of the benefits of PhD program at the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy for me is its multidisciplinary approach: while my research lies within environmental anthropology, it is definitely enriched by the perspectives of other research areas. It is also possible to take courses from other departments, as well as attend various seminars, conferences, lectures held at CEU; here you are never limited by one discipline. The department also offers various ways of cooperation between students and faculty including ACT JUST research group on environmental justice, Environmental Systems Laboratory, Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative. In addition, I am very grateful to CEU Career Services Center which offers Professional Skills Development program for PhD students, as well as to Center for Teaching and Learning: both these units help us to be more prepared to possible challenges and struggles of academic career.