“I can specialize in what I do best and what really matters to me”
This Master’s gives me a lot of freedom: I can specialize in what I do best and what really matters to me. Another good thing about this Master’s are the many great courses. I am actually struggling to stay within the 120 credits!
During this Master’s there are two major internships/researches that you get to carry out. One of them takes nine months, which seemed a really long time when I started. But at the moment I am already seven months into my research and time has flown by. I am studying hornbill breeding behaviour. Some species of these tropical birds are threatened with extinction, but zoos are struggling to breed them. It is great to dedicate nine months of my life to this cause!
"it were the internships that led me to the Environmental Biology programme in Utrecht".
After finishing my Bachelor of Biology in Utrecht, I spent a lot of time looking for Master's programmes abroad, because I wanted to broaden my horizon. I had enough of lectures and was eager to put the things I’d learned into practice. It were the internships that in the end led me straight back to Utrecht University, to the Environmental Biology programme.
For me, as a nature conservationist, my Master's in Utrecht opened many doors. The internships put me in touch with inspiring nature conservationists and organizations in the field, and my network grew exponentially. During my internships, I learned more than would ever be possible during courses. An internship lets you develop your soft skills, and above all, it allows you to get a grasp on the complexity of nature conservation issues in real life. I have worked with the Amazon Conservation Team in Suriname, inventorying non-timber forest products in the heart of Suriname, and with WWF in Indonesia, sharing lessons learned on forest and landscape restoration, where I experienced what nature conservation is like in the field. In both cases, I also learned a lot about myself which prepared me significantly for my post-university life. For example, I got confronted in the field with my strengths and weaknesses, which I could take along to my working life.
After graduation, I started as a trainee at Rijkswaterstaat, where I focus on ecological monitoring at the Marker Wadden (Markermeer, Netherlands) and the governance of Dutch river systems. The complexity of a multi-stakeholder playing field in the tropics turns out to be not so different from the Dutch river systems. Being at work therefore proved me again how much I learned during my studies!
''I started studying biology because I liked animals, but finding out everything that goes on in a plant turned out to be more interesting.'
I started studying biology because I liked animals, but finding out everything that goes on in a plant turned out to be more interesting. I was less interested in animals after all. And I enjoyed working with the plant people. What I liked about the Master’s programme is the fact that you’re very close to doing real science yourself. You get a very good impression of what it means to do research. And you have the chance to go abroad and see how it works there. I did my second internship in Spain.
I am now a PhD student with the Plant-Microbe Interactions research group, studying the defence mechanisms of thale cress (Arabidopsis). I investigate how this plant defends itself against insect herbivores. Defence against insect herbivores is a complex trait because the insects have evolved to cope with the defence responses that are triggered by the plant. My job is to get a better understanding of how plants and insects interact with each other.
Adriaan Verhage, alumnus