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NSM Focus | Global PhD Program on Sustainability Challenges: ‘We need to take a broad view on sustainability’

Date of news: 10 December 2020

An international network of professionals and researchers affiliated with a variety of knowledge institutes, organisations and companies that examine sustainability questions from all possible angles – that is what the Radboud Global PhD Programme on Sustainability Challenges is all about. Professor of Environmental Governance and Politics Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers and Assistant Professor of Strategic Management and Sustainable Business Sjors Witjes are happy to tell us more about it.

The Global PhD Programme on Sustainability Challenges, that's quite a mouthful. What exactly is it?
Visseren: ‘’This programme offers professionals halfway through or at the end of their careers the opportunity to conduct PhD research on a sustainability issue that they have encountered in their work or that they are interested in. We invite them to join a network of professionals and researchers from various different backgrounds who shed light on sustainability in a broad sense. They will exchange ideas, work together and learn from each other, thus combining a wealth of knowledge that will enable them to truly make a difference to society.’’
Witjes: ‘’In addition, this programme encourages ‘life-long learning’, and all the knowledge that the participants generate will strengthen our research and teaching.’’

The programme has been running successfully in Rotterdam for 25 years now. Why is it being brought to Nijmegen?
Witjes: “The focus of Erasmus University has shifted somewhat over the years, and Professor Wim Hafkamp, who runs the programme there, is retiring. That’s why they were looking to relocate. After careful mutual exploration, the programme has found a new home within the Radboud Centre for Sustainability Challenges and the Institute for Management Research (IMR) – partly thanks to our broad social perspective.’’
Visseren: ‘’This is an essential factor in sustainability issues.’’

Could you explain that?
Visseren: ‘’Take the current energy transition. It is about much more than just converting from fossil fuels to sustainable, renewable energy sources – it is also a social issue. For example, how do you make sure that sustainable energy reaches all levels of society in a fair, affordable way, so that people in underprivileged areas also benefit? To answer this question, you will have to expand your natural-scientific research with a solid social component. The great thing about this PhD programme is that the participants have years of practical experience under their belts. They know the practice behind the theory – and this practice isn't nearly as compartmentalised as the policy that is drawn up for it. So it is a very good idea to take a broad view.’’

Are these ‘practically oriented’ PhD students able to conduct academic research?
Witjes: ‘’All candidates are Master's graduates. We assess their academic level of thinking and writing on the basis of their research proposals, and evaluate whether we can offer them the support and supervision they need in order to conduct research for eight years – most candidates follow the programme part-time, alongside their jobs. Each candidate can expect a tailored programme: we link them to the right colleagues, supervisors and partners from our network and see which retraining or in-depth modules or training courses we can offer them.’’
Visseren: ‘’We will continue to collaborate closely with Erasmus University and we have supervisors at universities in various countries, including the UK, South Korea and Colombia, who introduce their own PhD candidates to the programme. This way the network will gradually expand further. We regularly organise ‘intensives’ with and for all parties involved: a day or a week filled with courses, lectures, workshops and knowledge exchange. The coronavirus pandemic has taught us that a lot can be done online, so we are now looking at ways to further develop this. We are a learning organisation.’’

And a very enthusiastic one.
‘’Definitely! It is so much fun!’’

Visit the website for more information on this programme.