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About the University

Precious Held

Who: Precious Held (1999)
Studies: Future Planet Studies
First job: Paper route
Favourite place at the UvA: the rooftop terrace above the library at Science Park
Essential: sustainability

Precious Held
Photo by Robin de Puy

Interdisciplinary

'Although getting a degree is not necessarily commonplace in my family, I knew at an early age that I wanted to go to university. Not continuing my education after secondary school was not an option for me. My parents were supportive. When it came time for me to choose a degree programme, I went over a list of options with my mother. That was how I discovered Future Planet Studies. I have always been interested in tectonics and currents; geography was my favourite subject in secondary school. This programme seemed to be a good fit. The interdisciplinary aspect also appealed to me. During secondary school, I liked how you went from one subject to another; the variety kept me focused and sharp. In Future Planet Studies, I like how one course is more about the technical aspect of climate change and the next is more about the social aspect.'

Admission

'I attended the Bachelor's Day at the UvA, where the programme coordinator talked about current events related to sustainability. I also participated in a shadowing day, during which I accompanied a student to a lecture and a seminar. It was nice to see the different teaching methods in place at the university. When you register for the degree programme, you are obliged to take part in a matching day at the UvA. This is to determine whether the programme is appropriate for you, and you receive a recommendation. Although this is not a binding study recommendation, it is helpful to find out whether the programme is really a good fit for you. My recommendation was positive. The admission requirements for Future Planet Studies state which courses you need to have taken in order to be able to enrol in the programme. I had done the Economics and Society subject cluster in secondary school, which meant that I also needed to have taken biology, physics, chemistry or geography. I had taken geography as an elective, so I met the requirements. As part of the programme, you can catch up on the subjects that you did not take, which is what I did with physics and chemistry. You receive a lot of supervision in the process and quickly reach the university level.'

'We also learn a lot by doing, because you cannot see or experience everything through books.'

From social sciences to the natural sciences

'I actually did not really enjoy my social sciences classes in secondary school, but they were easier for me than the natural sciences classes. During my studies, I began to see how useful subjects such as physics could be. As a result, I am better at them now. The subject matter looks at such things as tsunamis or wind currents, things that I am interested in. We talk about the major issues, and not the difference between direct current and alternating current. You already start to figure out which direction you want to take – natural sciences or social sciences – during the first year of Future Planet Studies. The natural sciences courses are in the field of earth sciences and physics and chemistry. Social sciences focuses more on political science and human geography. You choose either a natural sciences or a social sciences profile in the second year. That profile determines the courses that you will take for the rest of your period of study and ultimately influences what Master's programmes you are eligible to choose. I opted for the natural sciences track. It was a clear choice for me, but if you need help making the right choice you can reach out to the study advisers. They help you consider possibilities and ask the right questions.'

Sustainability

'Future Planet Studies is mainly concerned with sustainability. We address three issues in the programme: the food problem, the water problem and the energy problem. How do you manage food, water and energy more effectively so that more people have access to it and so that it is not at the expense of the planet? My fellow students and I have adopted more sustainable habits, too. Some people bring their own mugs to university to eliminate the need for paper cups. One of my classmates started a metal straw business to replace disposable plastic straws. I try to live sustainably, too. At home, we seldom put the heat on, I always turn off all the lights, I try to conserve water and I recycle. I try to eat organic food as much as possible, too. The number of students who are vegetarians increases exponentially during the year. This is not because the lecturers tell you to be a vegetarian, but because, during your studies, you find out about the impact of the meat industry on the environment. I eat more mindfully now as well. When I eat meat, I cannot help but hear a little voice in my head repeating what I learned during the lecture.'

'You choose either a natural sciences or a social sciences profile in the second year.'

Saving the world

'The world can still be saved, but a lot needs to change. Future Planet Studies is a bit of a roller coaster ride: one day, we are pessimistic about the future of the earth, but then another day, we have an inspiring guest lecturer and we feel optimistic again. It also kind of depends on your perspective. Sometimes, the lectures are about climate thresholds that we should not cross; if we do, there is almost certainly no way to stop global warming. That is guaranteed to leave you feeling pessimistic. In contrast, there are inspiring guest lecturers, such as the initiators of De Ceuvel, a sustainable breeding ground in Amsterdam Noord. They have managed to make their company almost entirely circular. After such a lecture, everyone wants to take action. Another inspiring moment was when I interviewed a farmer in Amsterdam West for the course "Dealing with Complex Problems". He explained how he tried to work "zero waste" as much as possible by turning almost all of his waste into compost. People can sign up for a subscription to his farm; you pay a set fee and get produce grown by the farmer. If the harvest is good, you receive a larger volume of fruit and veg; if it fails, you share the risk. I think things like that are fantastic.'

Fascinating courses

'Dealing with Complex Problems" was a fun course in which we compared sustainable agricultural options. For example, are large-scale farms or small-scale farms better for the environment? And what is better: organic or ecological production? In another course, we analysed the summary for policy makers in the IPCC report on global warming. We studied the processes described in the report and debated the political aspect of the studies. A very interdisciplinary affair, in other words: the calculations relate more to the natural sciences side and the debates more to the social sciences side. I thought both sides were interesting. So far, my favourite course has been "Energy Transitions". It lasted four weeks and was quite intense. We took a field trip to the brown coal mines in Germany. All participants were assigned an energy source (sun, wind, gas or nuclear) and an angle (technology, economics, political science or ecology). In groups of four, we wrote a paper in which we had to argue which energy source would be best for the future based on all of the various angles. It was incredibly interesting.'

'The number of students who are vegetarians increases exponentially during the year.'

Abroad

'We go on various field trips as part of the Future Planet Studies natural sciences track. That is mainly due to the fact that not all of the types of soil that we study are found in the flat Netherlands. For example, I have travelled not only to Utrecht and Limburg to take soil samples, but also to Luxembourg. The soil there is different than it is here. We also learn a lot by doing, because you cannot see or experience everything in books. The programme structure is funnel-shaped: you have increasingly more freedom of choice and specialise in the area that interests you. In the final year of the Bachelor's programme, you have a half a year in which you take electives. Most students opt to go abroad. I am thinking about studying Marine Biology in New Zealand. If that is not an option, then I would like to go somewhere else, although I do not yet know where exactly. I think studying abroad is an opportunity that you should take: if it is possible, then why not?'

Colourful campus

'I chose the UvA because of the degree programme. I visited other universities, too, but the UvA really stood out to me. Science Park is a colourful and enjoyable campus; I feel at home there. The UvA has a reputation for being a slightly less formal university. Obviously, I do not know what it is like at other universities, but my fellow students are fun and outgoing. I notice that they have not just idly picked a programme; everyone is really interested in what we're doing. We also have a lot of contact with senior students, which is nice, because then you have a bit of an idea of what to expect The lecturers here know who we are; we can have a beer with them during field trips and have a laugh together during lecturers. Future Planet Studies is not a very big programme, which means you can get to know a lot of people.'