Sergio Tirado-Herrero, PhD graduate in 2013
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.