Graduate Student Spotlights


Before joining CEU for the Master's Program in Environmental Sciences and Policy back in 2007, I worked as an international relations officer at Omsk State Pedagogical University, Russia. Despite my linguistic training and work related to international academic exchange, I was always interested in environmental issues. After a brief study visit to CEU in 2006, I decided to change my career path and apply for a master's degree there. This was probably the most crucial decision in my life so far. Having successfully completed a master's degree, I had no second thoughts about joining the PhD Program at the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy. The doctoral program offered a good balance between courses and time for independent study, as well as excellent possibilities for engaging in current research projects run at the Department.

The first years of my enrollment in the PhD program were dedicated to developing my research interests and improving my research skills. I enjoyed the freedom of pursing a topic that was interesting to me, while also having the support of my supervisor in narrowing it down and developing it into a research proposal. The availability of various forms of financial support for students whose research interests lie outside Hungary (and within, of course!) was a significant factor in my research path as well.

My dissertation is focused on the analysis of discourse of climate justice networks in the UK. The UK has had a long history of social and environmental activism and is now home to a radical grassroots movement campaigning on climate change. My study examines the discourse of two prominent grassroots networks, Camp for Climate action and Rising Tide, that have campaigned on the issue of climate justice nationally and inspired similar networks internationally (Australia, the USA, Ghana, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland and in other countries). Due to the multi-faceted nature of the grassroots networks in focus, the study is situated on the intersection of several theoretical approaches: the global justice movement, contemporary anarchism and environmental justice approaches. The data for this research was collected through participant observation within the networks, in-depth interviews with activists and complemented by a number of key written documents and online materials produced by the networks. With this research I am hopeful to contribute to the understanding of what climate justice is from the perspective of grassroots movements and what it can do for promoting social changes in the way we deal with climate and other crises.

I studied at the master’s program, "Problem solving in science" with a focus on environmental science at Göteborg University, Sweden (Degree: Master of Science in Environmental sciences and Physics, in May 2005), as well as at the master’s program, "Public and private environmental management" at Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany (Degree: Master of Arts in Environmental Political Science, in October 2007). Before joining the doctoral program at CEU in November 2010, I worked at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Potsdam, Germany, (from November 2007-today) and at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria (from November 2009-today). At both institutes I work with policy issues and risks concerning renewable electricity imports to Europe from North Africa and the Middle East.

I was attracted to the program and CEU especially because I had met my supervisor at conferences and had gotten to know some of his work. I wanted to be a part of that, and to learn what I could from him. So far, I have had a very good impression of the program, both of the regular course work and, especially, of the dissertation supervision. However, it is difficult to not live in Budapest, as you lose most of the contact with the institute, except for the regular contact and exchanges with the supervisor. This, together with the general stress of writing a dissertation, have been the largest challenges encountered so far.

 In my dissertation work, I focus on developing new methods and epistemological approaches to better understand and measure energy security in scenarios for the future, in particular for scenarios with imports of renewable electricity. In this, I draw on theories and concepts from outside the traditional energy security research field, as well as on concepts used primarily in niches of energy security research. The overarching idea is to focus on observed energy security concerns and to assess these using new metrics that are closer connected to the threats one wants to measure in a particular context, instead of the more traditional generic metrics. By doing this, I hope to contribute both to the specific understanding of risks concerning renewable electricity imports and the more general epistemological background to energy security research and its link to decarbonisation scenarios: only secure energy futures are acceptable choices, and thus we must ensure that the decarbonisation pathways are secure as well as climate-friendly.

Csaba Pusztai came to CEU with an academic background in economics and business. Having already gathered several years of teaching experience in Hungarian tertiary education, he decided to seek a more research intensive role after earning his PhD in 2011. In 2012 he joined the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies in Yokohama, Japan as a Postdoctoral Fellow. At UNU-IAS, he is in the Sustainable Urban Futures program pursuing an individual research agenda as well as contributing to the team effort.

In his individual research, Csaba focuses on how cities address the challenges of improving the sustainability of city-wide socio-technical systems such as transport, energy, or waste management. These systems usually involve a wide array of stakeholders interacting with each other in various roles and functions, so innovative approaches (and performance gains) can be understood as the collective outcome of the collaborative effort of these actors. Csaba’s research looks into what drives the dynamics of these ‘local ecosystems of government and private sector innovation’.

As member of the “urban group” at UNU-IAS, he also contributes to developing decision-support tools for cities to improve their governance of transport, energy, and waste management sectors. In addition to research, Csaba also teaches Research Methods classes in the Master of Environmental Governance program of UNU-IAS. Csaba has not yet decided what will come after he completes his postdoctoral fellowships, but he hopes to pursue an academic career related to sustainability in a multicultural setting.

In 2008 when I came to CEU to enroll in the PhD program in Environmental Sciences and Policy I already had a few years of research experience at my home university in Spain – the University of Alcala (Madrid). There I got my first and second degrees (a BSc- and an MSc-equivalent in Environmental Sciences with a specialization in Environmental Economics) and gained my first professional experience as a researcher. During the six years I worked for the Environmental Economics Research Group of the University of Alcala I acquired a great deal of the skills that later allowed me to pursue a PhD at CEU with a guarantee of success. This experience was crucial to build my confidence as a researcher. In 2001-2002 I completed a one-and-a-half year internship at the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (the REC, in Szentendre, Hungary). It was during this time that I first heard of and became interested in CEU's post-graduate programs.

CEU attracted me first as a university with a manifest leaning towards issues relevant to the Central and Eastern European region and with a remarkable multi-cultural atmosphere. The location mattered for me too, as I had a personal preference towards Budapest – a livable, affordable city with plenty of places and people to enjoy during free time. I applied to the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy because of its interdisciplinary profile and my own environmental sciences/economics background, and asked Professor Diana Ürge-Vorsatz to be my supervisor because her world-renowned expertise in the field of climate change mitigation in the buildings sector provided a very relevant frame for my research topic. I later understood that the decision to start my PhD at CEU under Diana's supervision really gave me an edge in moving ahead with my research career. This said, one needs to have realistic expectations about the time supervisors can offer to PhD students, and be ready to design and carry out most of the doctoral research independently. This is at the core of the PhD experience – being able to conduct original quality research on your own.

The first year of the PhD program is useful to understand the nature of PhD research, define a research topic and expand your knowledge and skills with additional courses. The coursework allows you to focus on your dissertation research. In my case, I analyzed fuel (or energy poverty) in Hungary as an energy affordability/vulnerability issue with significant social and climate change implications. Being a largely under-researched topic in Central and Eastern Europe, I found it easier to produce my own original piece of research. For that, I chose to assess the significance of the fuel poverty problem in Hungary by applying measuring approaches developed in Western Europe to the Hungarian case, which was combined with a semi-qualitative assessment of two cases of fuel poverty previously unreported in the literature. I then conducted a social cost-benefit analysis of upgrading the energy efficiency of Hungary's residential buildings in order to assess the importance of fuel poverty alleviation as a co-benefit of climate investments. This research design posed some challenges in terms of the diversity of approaches used and fitting these methodologies to the Hungarian reality and available data. At a different level, one also has to be ready to deal with other challenges like the practicalities of the PhD – from the difficulties of field research to sustaining oneself during the several years that finishing a PhD requires. Defending your PhD dissertation in the three to four years of paid scholarship generously provided by CEU is advisable for many reasons but it may not always be feasible. Because of this, looking for sources of additional financing and taking advantage of CEU's and the Department's paid research opportunities is surely recommendable.

Fiona studied at CEU from 2003-2010. She then took up a position as Lecturer in Environmental Management at the Scottish Agricultural College in Edinburgh. Fiona lectures in rural land use, environmental management systems, corporate social responsibility and environmental impact assessment. In 2011 she became programme director of the MSc in Food Security, at the school of Geoscience, University of Edinburgh. She is also a fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Her research interests include environmental and resource security, network analysis for assessing bio security risks, and education for sustainable development.

We are very pleased to announce that Jolly Wasambo received an appointment from the President of Malawi to the position of Environmental and Soil Health Expert within the newly established Green Belt Initiative.

"I studied at CEU from 2005-2006 for an MSc in Environmental Sciences and Policy, and later rejoined the same institution for PhD studies in Environmental Sciences and Policy from 2007-2011. Prior to joining CEU I studied at the University of Malawi for a BSc degree in Environmental Science and Technology from 1995-2001 and immediately thereafter started my professional career with the Malawi Ministry of Education as a Secondary School Science Teacher. Later I worked in the manufacturing industry where I was responsibilities for implementing environmental quality standards before joining the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) where I headed the Agriculture and Pesticides Section and worked as a member of the MBS Industrial Research and Consultancy Team responsible for conducting client-based industrial research and consultancies in such areas as product development, safety, hygiene and environmental protection. I later joined the Research and Development Division of the National Research Council of Malawi responsible for research, promotion, and technology transfer. After my PhD I joined the Department of Science and Technology as a Science and Technology Specialist responsible for research, policy and international collaboration. Besides, I also work for the country coordinating centre for the African Innovation Outlook (AIO).

My current research interests include IWRM, socio-hydrology, innovation and sustainability, conservation and indigenous knowledge systems, climate-smart agriculture, sustainable livelihoods, and environmental governance."

Dr. Richard Filcak, graduated in 2007, is a researcher at the Institute for Foresight Studies/Slovak Academy of Sciences.

Richard Filcak has extensive experience as a researcher, as well as development and NGO projects coordinator working in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Balkan and former Soviet Union regions. In general, his work and research interests are focused on environmental and social policy development in the transitional countries of Central and Eastern Europe - with particular attention and social and territorial exclusion leading to the exposure to environmental risks and vulnerability of the people.

He recently published book about actors and conflicts in environmental policy and he is finishing his book Living beyond the pale: Environmental justice and the Roma minority in Slovakia (to be published in 2012). He is currently researcher at the Institute for Foresight Studies/Slovak Academy of Sciences, where he focuses his research on the poverty - environment nexus and copying strategies of people vis-à-vis Global and local environmental and socio-economic changes.

Dr. Aleksandra Novikova had studied and worked at CEU during 2003-2009. Her last position at CEU was a senior researcher at the Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy (3CSEP), the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy. Currently she is a senior analyst at the Berlin office of the Climate Policy Initiative and a research associate at the German Institute of Economic Research (DIW-Berlin). Her first degree is in Mathematical Methods in Economics of Novosibirsk State University (Russia). She has also been a research scholar at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

Dr. Novikova’s research interests include assessment of demand-side energy efficiency and evaluation of policies to improve it. She has worked on the number of projects for the UNDP, the UNEP, the European Commission, the Hungarian Ministry of Environment and Water, California Energy Commission, Russian regional authorities, and other organizations. She is also a Lead Author of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Working Group III on Mitigation and a Lead Analyst of the IIASA Global Energy Assessment. As a CEU Visiting Professor, Dr. Novikova teaches courses on energy challenges and sustainable energy policies.