Dr. Brian Dermody

Assistant Professor
Global Ecohydrology and Sustainability

'The world around us is messy and complex. To achieve a just and sustainable transition, we must fully and humbly embrace that complexity'


I hold an interdisciplinary Assistant Professor position at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University. I am positioned within the Innovation Studies Department and work to build interdisciplinary collaboration among the 4 departments within the Copernicus Institute


A Systems Lens on Sustainability Challenges 

My research interests cover a broad range of sustainability challenges. Primarily, I try to gain a better understanding of how we may achieve a just and sustainable transition of our food systems. The red line through my research is a conviction that complexity or 'systems thinking' is key to address many of the challenges facing our society. I believe that concepts like emergence, path dependency, feedbacks and understanding system structure are key to understanding how the world functions. That understanding hopefully helps us to make interventions that achieve desired results and minimise unintended negative consequences.


Systems Literacy is Key

It is my conviction that we should help cultivate systems literacy among students so they can develop a holistic understanding of the world around them. In my teaching I strive to instil an understanding of systems in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary contexts. I coordinate a transdisciplinary level 3 bachelors Consultancy Project course where students learn to 'intervene' in real-world systems by acting as a client for an external stakeholder who has a sustainability challenge. In doing so, they learn to take the perspective of stakeholders they work with and reflect on why certain interventions work and others do not. I also teach the course "Systems, Stories and Sustainability" together with Wytske Versteeg at the Liberal Arts and Sciences college: University College Utrecht (UCU). In that course we show students how complexity and narrative can be integrated to help accelerate the transition to a sustainable society. I also teach a level 1 bachelors course entitled "Introduction to Earth and the Environment" and supervise BSc and MSc thesis projects.


I am enthusiastic about stimulating interdisciplinary collaboration and have established a number of interdisciplinary research groups within the Copernicus Institute, Centre for Complex Systems Studies and the wider Utrecht University.