Meet with 2020 MESPOM graduate Sara Velander

December 8, 2020

Sara Velander, 2020 MESPOM graduate told us about how MESPOM helped her kick-start her career journey. Keep reading to find out more about it…

Current life at ZEF & LANUSYNCON

2020 has had its fair number of hurdles when it comes to the employment of newly-minted graduates, but I lucked out with the strong, close-knit MESPOM and IIIEE networks that helped me secure a unique position relevant to my interests and thesis topic. Starting early this November, I am a junior researcher at the Centre for Development Research (ZEF) at the University of Bonn. At ZEF I am both a PhD candidate and university employee tasked with one of the work packages of LANUSYNCON, a publicly-funded research project examining land use synergies and conflicts within the Sustainable Development Goals at international and sub-Saharan African contexts. My role as a doctoral candidate in this project is to investigate the consideration of land use synergies and conflicts in regional and international Science-Policy Interfaces (SPIs), such as the IPCC and IPBES, along with the role of SPI assessments and other products in policy decisions in Kenya and Tanzania that affect biodiversity conservation, infrastructure development, food production, and energy growth. The aim of the project is to foster coherent decision-making on land use in countries where land pressures are rampant and increasing rapidly. 

For the past month I have been glued to my bedside desk while I spend the first few months working remotely from Montpellier, France. My days often consist of attending online lectures and completing regular class assignments for the doctoral program at ZEF, while simultaneously starting a preliminary literature review on SPIs for my work at LANUSYNCON. You may even consider this as MESPOM 2.0 given the diverse representation of doctoral candidates in the program (16 countries, 22 students).

MESPOM Career Pathways

It is the transdisciplinary nature of my background in human ecology that drew me towards opportunities like MESPOM and LANUSYNCON that both challenged and deepened my understanding of the inter-connectedness and complexities of today’s global social, environmental and economic problems. MESPOM crucially built on knowledge accrued during my bachelor’s that encouraged me to think critically on multifaceted solutions addressing issues of environment and society. But the academic and professional experiences through MESPOM, such as my internship with IISD’s Agriculture team and the ecosystems management module at the University of the Aegean in Lesvos, made me more open to innovative, cross-sectoral approaches that also seeks to enhance equity among all stakeholders, particularly marginalized groups that are often key agents of change excluded in decision-making processes.

With the global pandemic nearing its one-year anniversary and continuing to wreak havoc in communities lacking the resources to thwart the relentless infection and its accompanied societal implications, it is easy to be deterred of any hope for this endless misery. I may not be capable of alleviating your concerns for the uncertain future, but I cannot emphasize enough the need for a heightened awareness and concerted action on a transformation to a sustainable, COVID-free world. MESPOM equips us with the skills and knowledge necessary to overcome any obstacles of this transition through strengthened networks united in their care for nature and humanity. I plan to contribute to this vision by applying lessons learned from courses in sustainable development, applied research, and ecosystem management in ensuring that scientists and policymakers alike consider the complexity and transdisciplinarity of global problems like COVID-19 and make coherent and coordinated recommendations for land management to national decision-makers.