Two PhD Candidates to Montpellier for a unique learning journey

'Feed-Protect-Care Global Collaborative PhD Platform'

Imagine a gathering of 30 PhD candidates from across the globe and from different disciplines, all passionate about building a more sustainable food system. This vision became a reality as part of the 'Feed-Protect-Care Global Collaborative PhD Platform' held in March 2024. Two PhD Candidates from Utrecht University, Clara Colonna (Agri-food Law) and Sara Ramezani (Urban Planning), embarked on a unique learning journey in Montpellier, France, to broaden their perspectives.

Interdisciplinary and challenging training

The program at Montpellier University brought together PhD Candidates from diverse disciplines of agri-food systems and continents, fostering a vibrant exchange of knowledge. The first week combined theoretical lectures on sustainable food systems with practical field trips. The early-career researchers delved into the daily challenges faced by local farmers, city policymakers, and food shops in Montpellier. This immersive experience allowed them to connect theory with real-world applications and get in touch with different (local) actors.

The second week saw the PhD candidates actively participate in the Montpellier Global Days, an international event focused on bridging the gap between science and policy-making. How can researchers have impact on the policy-making process, and vice versa? Researchers, (youth) organisations and policy makers from across the globe joined the conference to talk about how to connect science and policy in the future.

Engaging with researchers from such diverse backgrounds was a masterclass in interdisciplinary collaboration. We were constantly learning from each other's perspectives.

Stimulating Experience

While not directly related to their core research projects, both Sara Ramezani and Clara Colonna found the program immensely valuable. Clara reflects that "while the impact of this training on my own research is indirect, I have learnt so much from these ten days in Montpellier. It was absolutely inspiring to see what the city is doing for the agroecological transition, what can work on a local level and what slows down such a change. On a personal level, it was an enriching experience as well. I engaged with bright researchers from various backgrounds and learned how to work in interdisciplinary teams. Sometimes it was quite demanding given cultural and knowledge differences. To make things work as a group, we needed to remain open and think out of the box. Eventually, as we spent most of the time together with the other PhD Candidates, and visiting Montpellier’ surroundings, I also made great friends."

Sara echoes this sentiment, highlighting the program's emphasis on collective learning: "I saw the Montpellier events as an opportunity to explore entirely new approaches to research. What struck me most was the emphasis on collective learning. Witnessing the city's agroecological transition wasn't just about acquiring information; it was a collaborative exploration of challenges and opportunities. The participatory methods were instrumental in this shared journey. Engaging with researchers from such diverse backgrounds was a masterclass in interdisciplinary collaboration. We were constantly learning from each other's perspectives. This emphasis on collective learning resonated deeply with me”.

About the Feed-Protect-Care Global Collaborative PhD Platform

The platform was established in June 2023 in support of efforts to feed, care and protect people and the planet. The platform aims to incorporate global perspectives to focus on current challenges our society faces. The University of Pretoria (UP) has joined forces with the University of Montpellier (UM) to lead the establishment of the Feed, Protect, Care Global Collaborative PhD Platform.

The goal is to prepare a young generation of researchers and scientists who can work together across disciplines to identify pathways to transform food systems towards sustainable development. The platform, which was launched at UP’s Future Africa Institute, will be implemented in partnership with more than 15 other higher education institutions, including Utrecht University. 

More about the collaborative PhD platform

The platform gives expression to the principles and practices of open science and open education, and its flexible participation model suggests that its scope, reach and impact will grow rapidly.

A broader impact

Programs like the Feed-Protect-Care Global Collaborative PhD Platform not only enrich the academic journeys of individual researchers but also foster international collaborations and critical thinking. As Sara explains, “The workshops held both during the training and during the Montpellier Global Days event solidified my belief that by learning together, sharing knowledge openly, and fostering dialogue, we can build a more sustainable future. I'm confident that these methods, the hands-on experience, and the connections built will be instrumental in shaping my research and future collaborations as I strive toward a more sustainable world”.

For Clara, the Global Days event was the ‘extra bonus’ : “it was so rewarding to be able to discuss the role of science with experienced researchers and policy-makers coming from Africa and South America. As a legal researcher, I quickly understood that the laws that are made here, in Europe, sometimes directly impact other continents’ food production and trade. This high-level event made me want to continue learning from local experiences”.

After these sessions in Montpellier, two PhD Candidates are already thinking about the future, continuing to share their respective research and looking forward to future seminars. Their main take-away from this experience? "We are working together for a better world, both socially and environmentally – even though I might be from a completely different discipline, we have the same end goal."