PhD students (back, from left): Gede, Yang, Zinan and Kim (4th from left) with some of the LUP teachers

More PhDs than a year ago

Published: 7 June 2016

The number of PhDs in the Land Use Planning Group has doubled from a year ago. Three of them joined the group in April this year, taking the total number to 12. Of these, eight are based in Wageningen.

This number is small compared to other chair groups in Wageningen University. However, the increase in PhD’s shows the group’s determination to increase its scientific output. This is one of three major research objectives in the coming years. The other research objectives are to increase the impact of the group’s publications, and to create a recognisable profile to distinguish its position in the international domain, as well as to stimulate cooperation with other groups.

To achieve these goals, one of the group’s strategies is to acquire funds to increase the number of PhD positions. It scored a major success when close to €1.5 million in funding and €0.5 million in co-financing from institutional and private partners was awarded for the R-LINK project, for which Wageningen University & Research is the lead partner, with Professor Leonie Janssen-Jansen of the Land Use Planning Group as project leader.

It is for this five-year project that two of the latest PhD’s, Lilian van Karnenbeek and Kim Carlotta von Schönfeld, have joined the group.

Lilian, 23, has recently completed a Master’s study in Urban Planning from the University of Amsterdam. Her research looked into solutions for the Amsterdam Municipality when confronted with small bottom-up citizen initiatives, such as urban farming. “In my PhD research, I will try to find solutions to the mismatches between government planning and citizen initiatives so as to increase the sustainability in urban areas.” She finds life in Wageningen very different from that in Amsterdam. “I’m looking for a place to live in Utrecht.”

Kim, 26, also did her Master’s at the University of Amsterdam during which she studied and compared the ways cycling is being planned in Mexico City and in London.

“Just as in my research on cycling,” says Kim, “my research in Wageningen will also involve studying citizen participation and governance.” Kim grew up in Guatemala and Brazil, and moved to the Netherlands in 2009 to do her Bachelor’s at the University of Amsterdam on water governance in Brazil. Her current research will focus on social learning and social innovation processes in more detail. One of her main methods of data gathering will involve observing and filming during workshops and interviewing participants. “My research will likely include fieldwork in London, Portland and São Paulo.”

Both Kim and Lilian, who joined the group on 1 April, will also work with researchers in the University of Amsterdam, the University of Groningen, the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Hanze University of Applied Sciences and a number of public and private partners.

Gede Budi Suprayoga, 35, from Indonesia is the latest PhD to join the group. His wife and two children, aged 12 and 8, plan to join him in July, once he has found suitable accommodation. Gede will be in Wageningen for four years to research on a capability approach to sustainability in road planning and construction framework. He is sponsored by the Indonesian government, under the supervision of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. Before coming to Wageningen, Gede headed a R&D department with 25 researchers working on traffic engineering and road environment. He has chosen Wageningen because of its reference materials and the expertise of his supervisors, Dr. Claudia Basta and Prof. Leonie Janssen-Jansen. In addition, many other groups are also working on similar research areas. The introduction course by the Wageningen School of Social Studies enabled him to get to know these groups, as well as other new PhDs. “Contacts with other researchers will enable generation and exchange of ideas,” says Gede.

While Gede has just begun, Yang Chen, 27, hopes to complete his thesis by 2017. He examines land use change processes by looking at individual behaviours subjected to influences from other individuals and the socio-economic-biophysical environment. He likes the Dutch way of living and the country’s values based on environmental sustainability and social equality. Yang is pleased that his project is funded. “But the financial advantages do bring extra demands, compared to doing a PhD elsewhere,” says Yang. For example, he has to publish four papers in peer-reviewed journals by the end of his four-year period in Wageningen. “Time is crucial but it’s good that the period is fixed, so I know where I’m headed towards.” Although the number of PhDs in LUP have increased, Yang still feels that his interaction with them would be mainly social. “PhD students working on similar projects can benefit from cooperating with one another. PhDs working on individual projects, like me, have to learn by finding our own way.” Yang is jointly supervised by the Land Use Planning and the Geo-Information Systems groups.

Like Yang, Zinan Shao and Yuehan Dou are from China. Zinan, 29, majors in land use planning and management in Nanjing Agriculture University. He has a scholarship to study here for two years, will finish his research in China and be back in Wageningen to defend his thesis. “I hope all will go well,” says Zinan. “It is quiet here and good for concentration. The air is also much cleaner! It would be nice to be able to attend more courses, though, such as courses on land use planning and research methods.”

After Yuehan, 27, completed her Master’s research in Wageningen in 2014 on the influence of urban planning on urban methodology, she worked for the Chinese Academy of Sciences as a research fellow. Her employer now sponsors her 9-month research in Wageningen on cultural ecosystem services of coastal landscapes. “As people get to know more about environment and land use, they want to get more out of the situation, such as recreational benefits. However, these must not be at the expense of the environment. Coastal areas are very sensitive to climate change.” She will carry out fieldwork in the Yellow River Delta in China from  next year. “Wageningen is a good place to study. It’s quiet and does not have the distractions present in big cities.”

Lars Wichard, 23, also a newcomer to the group – he joined as a researcher in July last year – is pleased with the increase in the number of PhDs. “This is proof that the group is growing, and that expertise is coming from different corners.”