Student Profiles

Hopping from history, geosciences and archaeology to paleoclimate

Markus, Lieveke and Antoine have one thing in common: they have completed a master degree in Climates Science at the University of Bern and are now PhD students - albeit in a completely different field than the one they originally studied. What makes young climate scientists change direction in the course of their careers? Curiosity probably sums up their motivation best. And: the interdisciplinary training they receive during their master program in Climate Sciences.

Markus Grimmer has a bachelor degree in history and physics. He specialized in Climate History in his master studies and now works with ice cores as a doctoral student. "I studied climate science because it is a very broad and interdisciplinary field. I'm fascinated by the influence of climate variability on human development, so I specialized in paleoclimatology." According to him, the master program opens up the opportunity to learn about new research fields and thus redefine his own specialization to a certain extent. Markus Grimmer now works in the OCCR group Past Climate and Biogeochemical Studies on Ice Cores. His dissertation project is entitled: "Noble gas ratios in polar ice cores as a proxy to infer the mean ocean temperature over the last 700 ka".

Lieveke Van Vugt came to Bern with a background in archaeology. With her master degree in Climate Sciences, she now works as a PhD student in the OCCR's paleoecology group and emphasizes that she has always been interested in the interaction between humans and the environment. "Archaeology looks at it from a human perspective, now I look at it more from a natural environment perspective."  Did she find the thematic shift difficult? Not too much, but she says, "You need a good combination of forethought about your specialization and openness to other fields. I took all the required specialty courses in paleoscience, but also added courses like Climatology, Introduction to Climate and Environmental Physics." Her PhD project is called " Exploring the interactions between climate, vegetation, fire and society during the Neolithic in northern Greece."

For Antoine Thévenaz, the change of direction in his education was quite smooth: "Although I changed fields, from oceanography in my master's to paleoclimatology in my PhD, I didn't feel like I completely changed fields. The climate system is very interconnected. Moreover, I kept the same interest, which is the study of past climate variability." The title of his doctoral thesis is "Reconstruction of the climate and environment of the southern Balkans during the Neolithic in relation to land use change at the cradle of European agriculture."

For master students who also want to change direction, Antoine Thévenaz recommends, "You should take advantage of the wide range of lectures at the University of Bern and ETH to discover new aspects of climate sciences. At the same time, it's important to find a field to focus most of your lectures and master's thesis on." Markus Grimmer adds, "I recommend taking courses in the natural sciences because this knowledge of the physical climate system is very helpful and well transferable to the social sciences and other disciplines, much more than the other way around." Lieveke Van Vugt has a very general piece of advice for first-year students in the master's program in climate: "Dive into statistics - it's a universal tool." The two other discipline hoppers agree.