Training the Next Generation of Environmental Scholars and Leaders

As Earth Day 2023 approaches, Central European University (CEU) recognizes the next generation of environmental leaders and scholars trained in the university’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy. In 2022, the department reached the milestone of graduating it’s 50th PhD student since the doctoral program’s start in 2002. Overall, the department, founded in 1994, has educated close to one thousand people from over 80 countries who are now working in academia, international organizations, governments, NGOs and businesses around the world.

CEU connected with a handful of the PhD graduates to reflect on their studies and discuss their career trajectories since completing the rigorous Environmental Sciences and Policy program, which serves as a platform for the exchange of novel ideas addressing key environmental and sustainability challenges in our focus areas.

Brandon Anthony, who was part of the department’s first PhD cohort, currently serves as Head of Department at CEU. “Academically, the Department facilitated and prepared me for a long-term dream, that is to research the interface between local communities and national parks in Southern Africa. This experience broadened my eyes to the often-distant gap between what one reads in publications, and the reality on the ground,” remembers Anthony.

Brandon Anthony in South Africa during fieldwork.

In terms of his fieldwork, he notes that his memories will last a lifetime: “From being chased by rhinos with my family, to interacting with the wonderful Tsonga-Shangaan people in their villages. From enjoying an evening braai with colleagues and hearing the distant sounds of lions and hyenas, to enjoying the splendor of South Africa's nature and beauty.”

The culmination of Anthony’s PhD research developed into an ongoing co-learning relationship with many parks around the world, including Kruger National Park and a number of other protected areas in the region. He was part of a team that designed and monitored the first livestock damage compensation scheme instituted in the history of South African National Parks. He notes that the impetus of this scheme was based, in part, on his research which documented the long history of crop and livestock losses experienced by local communities from herbivores and predators escaping from the park.

Dora Almassy

Dora Almassy was recently part of the department’s NATURVATION research team led by her PhD supervisor, Professor Laszlo Pinter. She worked as an environmental policy researcher at an international think-tank prior to her studies at CEU. Almassy recalls visiting the university for the first time in 2007 and being impressed by the multicultural environment and welcoming atmosphere.

“Since the start of my PhD studies I have been involved via CEU in numerous international research projects with the European Union, United Nations, International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Asia-Europe Foundation and the British Academy,” she highlighted. Almassy researches topics at the intersection of sustainability governance and monitoring, mainly focusing on climate change, nature-based solutions and circular economy.

“I wanted to study how we can use sustainability indicators better to support policy-making, implementation and review processes,” she noted regarding her PhD work. “During my thesis research I developed and tested an approach that enables the quantitative assessment of countries' environmental governance capacities and that has the potential to be applied in policy evaluation processes.”

Steffen Bettin

One of the department’s recent PhD graduates, Steffen Bettin, who completed his studies in 2021, now works at the Austrian Academy of Sciences as part of the Institute of Technology Assessment. “The mutual support intellectually and emotionally, which allowed me to grow and challenge myself at the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, impressed me greatly.” Bettin began his studies while CEU was in Budapest and completed them in Vienna during the global Covid-19 pandemic, following the university’s move to the current campus in Austria. His dissertation focused on the dissemination and development of energy storage systems.

Also graduating in 2021, Csaba Toth integrated his research area, the redistribution of mobility subsidies, into his work in an inner district municipality of Budapest. He continues to work at the municipality and is forming actual policies based on the recommendations which emerged from his CEU research.

“I published several popular articles on mainstream Hungarian sites, one of which generated a three-week long public debate about the pros and cons of a planned bridge in Budapest,” commented Toth. He remembers his CEU cohort as a good team, academically and beyond: “We went hiking and skiing, we initiated the CEU Hockey Club, organized garden parties and one of my fellow students surprised my daughter as Santa Claus.”

Vivek Voora

PhD graduates Noemi Gonda and Vivek Voora’s lives were enhanced both professionally and personally through CEU’s PhD program. “I met my wife at CEU and we had our first child together four days after her graduation ceremony,” reflected Voora, who graduated in 2022. Gonda commented, “It is in the PhD lab, that we first met…The first thing I told him after having introduced ourselves was that he should remain quiet: this was a silent PhD lab. Of course, we fell in love and the rest is history.”

For Voora, the privilege of studying the concept and practice of resilience at CEU was of significance particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. He plans to integrate resilience thinking substantively in his work on enabling global sustainability.

Noemi Gonda

Gonda continued, “In my professional life as a university researcher, I am inspired by CEU's mission to contribute to building democracy. I do this though research-activism on the intersections between authoritarianism and natural resources depletion.” In addition to co-initiating a reading group during her time at CEU, she is proud of her publications and the research grants she received, as well as the career continuity having smoothly transitioned from PhD studies to become a post-doctoral researcher, and then to permanent researcher. “I always remind myself the words with which we were sent off by the Rector at our PhD graduation: ‘Go and change the world.’" 

CEU is an international center of excellence in environmental and sustainability research and teaching with a focus on interdisciplinary and critical scholarship in energy transitions and climate change; environmental and resource governance; environmental justice, politics and humanities; resource management and pollution control; and sustainable management of socio-ecological systems. Visit here to learn more.