Alumniverhaal

Policy researcher at PBL

Machteld Schoolenberg: “I am a policy researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL). I work on international projects in the field of land degradation, land use, and landscape maintenance and restoration. I conduct research, but also regularly handle coordination. I really enjoy this combination!”

What I like the most is the creative thinking required to ensure that our reports are actually read

“Three years ago, I started in the department of natural and rural areas in the PBL as part of a project for mapping out land degradation worldwide. This had a direct connection to my International Land and Water Management degree programme. In terms of research, I was increasingly working on administration and policy, such as how the maintenance and restoration of landscapes can best be implemented. I also spent roughly half of my time consulting with colleagues and organising meetings. I think it is great that, in addition to research, I have the opportunity to actively interact with the outside world, collaborating with others and considering situations strategically. That makes my work quite varied and interesting.”

Career
“After I graduated in 2011, I initially worked at the University of Amsterdam for a year before I began a traineeship with the government. While there, I worked for four half-year periods at various locations within the government. One of them was in Rome at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). I worked in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) unit, where I created maps based on satellite data for projects. It was very technical, but it was really fun to dive into that for a short period of time. While working there, I noticed how useful it was that I was already familiar with GIS thanks to my degree programme. Once you start working on a project or at a job, this familiarity comes in handy to help you get a head start. However, I ultimately did not want to just perform technical work, so I transitioned into this position after traineeships at the PBL. The land degradation project had just started and I was immediately able to participate by making written contributions to the theoretical framework. You need to have a basic knowledge of the subject for this, so the work lined up perfectly with my background in Sustainable Land Management.”

Wider audience
“What I like best is the creative thinking required to ensure that our reports are actually read by policymakers and others. How can we translate our research, so that it really makes a difference to policy? For instance, I am currently working on a book with infographics. In it, we provide a visual summary of interdisciplinary research that the PBL has done for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this way, we hope to make the results accessible for a wider audience. In my study programme, I already completed some work in this area by creating a computer game for one of my graduation courses. Later on, as an employee at IFAD in Rome, I created things like online maps in order to make it easier to bring projects to the outside world.”

Versatile
“Our degree programme is arranged in a highly multidisciplinary fashion, with both technical and social courses and skills. I knew early on that I did not want to specialise in anything and, therefore, decided to develop myself broadly in terms of academics by choosing a minor in Rural Sociology and a GIS course package. I am seeing the benefits of that in my work, because I collaborate with a wide range of people. You have to be able to follow every conversation to a certain degree. I have colleagues that are modellers as well as sociologists and sometimes the differences between them can seem quite substantial. It’s important that there are people who can bring this all together—it is a fun challenge for me!”

Climate and land use
“One of my tasks is coordinating the contributions from the PBL to the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). IPBES is an international organisation which attempts to stitch together all existing knowledge on biodiversity and ecosystem services, so that governments can create or change related policies. We focus on the topic of land degradation and restoration. Recently, five new climate scenarios were developed and we are researching what these scenarios “predict” in areas such as land use and biodiversity. To accomplish this, I consult with my foreign colleagues in order to ensure that our data are comparable. Furthermore, I am in contact with the ministries in order to look into what is being done with the results of the IPBES evaluations.”