Climate Change and Environmental Expert

My current job

I am the focal point for environmental topics at an NGO supporting sustainable production of coffee, cocoa, tea and hazelnut, amongst others through a certification scheme. In particular, I coordinate projects that we implement around environmental topics.

© Dr. Henriette Walz

My training

I studied biology and did a PhD in computational neuroscience. After my PhD I completed another master degree in environmental management. I worked at the institute where I did the second master for half a year before I started in the position I am in now.

I have always been very interested and active in environmental topics and policies. Throughout my studies and my PhD I was volunteering at various environmental organizations. At the same time the fundamental questions of neuroscience also intrigued me and I could always imagine going into either neuroscience or environmental management. During my PhD it became clear to me that I don’t want to spend my whole life in academia, so I decided to do an additional master to be better able to make it in the field of environmental policy. I think the continuous engagement in the environmental field and decision to do the second master were most important in getting me to where I am now; I would always encourage people to follow their different interests also besides work, and to decide for a career switch if it feels right.

My typical workday starts with reading and responding to emails. Furthermore, I almost always have at least two internal or external meetings per day. My job includes a lot of coordination, I need to align with many people on our activities and decisions. Besides this communication and coordination, I research quite a lot about the topics to be able to advice the organization on which way to go and I have to write shorter pieces on our work and projects quite often.

My favorite part of my work is definitely the content. I find it extremely interesting how the global food system works, and am very passionate about making it more sustainable. Furthermore, the interlinkages and developments between tropical agriculture and climate change are depressing, but also very interesting. What I like less are the many meetings. I think it is inherent in the complex situation and organization that I am in that we have to discuss the alignment on many topics and decisions. But I certainly sometimes I miss the freedom and autonomy in academia.

I would say that good communication and being able to quickly grasp complex problems and take strategic decisions are the most important skills in my position. I don’t usually have enough time to go deep into a topic before I have to decide what is best for the organization to do. Good time management is also important, and the ability to delegate. I definitely think that my academic training was important for me to learn how to organize my own work and time and to be able to quickly understand complex problems. I sometimes miss the understanding of business. The world of charity and development is going more and more into directions of development-through-trade and private public partnerships, so a better understanding of how business works is important for people in my position.