Stijn started at the ‘Dutch practical forestry school’, but proved clumsy with a chainsaw. Now he is a PhD candidate at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW).
Why did you choose to do the master Forest and Nature Conservation?
“As a child I dreamed to become a forest keeper. I wanted to conserve and use nature in a sustainable way. After high school I went to the ‘Dutch practical forestry school’. The theory came easy to me, but when handling a chainsaw my appearance was clumsy. Although most trees fell in the right direction, I thought it was safer to continue studying. I followed the bachelor Forestry and Nature Management at Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences. I learned the basics of ecology and the pros and cons of management practices. Exactly what I liked, but I was curious where my obtained knowledge originated from. I thought: a master only takes two years...”
How did you experience your master’s?
“My master’s was absolutely overwhelming. I followed courses, finished my thesis, wrote a book chapter about the history of fens, went to Bolivia for a second thesis and wrote a research proposal for a PhD project. Far too much and too stressful. The PhD proposal was not granted and also some other PhD plans did not succeed. Mission failed.”
What happened next? Did you find a job?
“Shortly after finishing my master’s I started working at Brabants Landschap, a regional nature conservation agency. I wrote text for the new website of the organization and wrote and reviewed evaluation reports. During my bachelor I would have described this as the ideal job, but after doing a master I missed statistics and complex questions. Somehow, I wished I would not have obtained a master degree.”
“Then, suddenly, I saw the ideal PhD position about optimization of ecosystem services in agricultural areas. Although two days late, I wanted to apply and sent an email directly to my potential supervisor Wim van der Putten, whom I knew from a course during my studies. I hoped he remembered me as well.”
Did he remember you?
“I got a response within 10 minutes. ‘We will contact you later’, he wrote. I did not know at that time, but during my presentation in the course he perceived me as an ‘interesting candidate’. “You take a lot of initiative and that could lead to surprising outcomes”, he told me later.”
Have you finally found the perfect job?
“Now I work as a PhD student at NIOO-KNAW which I enjoy a lot. Somehow I do exactly what I dreamed of as a child; I study possibilities to conserve and use nature in a sustainable way. Just the implementation is a bit different.”