Lisa Dickel is getting her master’s degree in applied ecology at Evenstad after a good experience back in 2016.
Lisa is from Germany, and first came to Evenstad in 2016 for practical experiential learning in applied ecology for her bachelor’s degree in nature conservation. She did not plan on taking a master, but Evenstad changed her mind, and now she is getting her master’s degree in applied ecology.
Why did you choose this programme?
- I was in Evenstad as a practical experiential learning student, and had spent one summer in the forest, observing cattle. After that I wrote my thesis with data from these observations, supervised by one professor and one PhD student in Evenstad. At this time I realised how unique the atmosphere and the work is at Evenstad, given the close contact and the intensity of supervision here. Initially, I had planned to finish my bachelor and conclude my studies then, but this place and the people here captivated me.
What do you think about the programme so far?
- Most of the courses are over, my thesis is left to work on, but I can already say that I have learned a lot, that I struggled a lot, and that this programme was the right decision. Several courses were focussed on different statistical topics, which has been really good and stopped me from "flying" over the statistical part of every paper I read. Now I can understand and question what I read and if papers use methods I have never heard of, I have a good basis for understanding them by myself. Other courses are quite focused on the scientific literature itself; we read and criticise papers, we discuss and present them. This prepares us for the scientific life, with never-ending presentations, conferences and discussions.
What do you learn?
- We learn all aspects of ecological science. Planning it, conducting it, criticizing it. Many of us also conduct our own fieldwork for our theses. This also includes learning how things can go wrong. To plan carefully and to be honest with the mistakes you make is maybe the most important lesson. It's also the most fatal for society, if scientists forgo this lesson.
What does a normal day at campus look like?
- People usually start work fairly early in Norway. From 7 there is life in the cafeteria, people arriving and drinking coffee. It is a friendly, work-oriented atmosphere, but not a heavy silence as it is in the big university libraries in Germany, with which I’m familiar. Between 11 and 12 almost everyone meets in the cafeteria (and in the summer outside of the cafeteria) for the lunchbreak (attracted by free coffee). Even if you are in trouble (day before an exam, the day before you deliver your thesis, etc.), at 11 you have to stop for a while, go for a coffee or tea and see the other students – who are usually in similar trouble. Just as much as by the early arrival of people here, I was surprised by how consistent most people are with leaving their workplace between 3 and 4. After that the campus is quite empty, there are not many of those owl-like night-workers around here.
How is the workload organized in terms of lectures, independent study and practical experiential learning?
It is very variable. Some periods are full of lectures (especially in the beginning), other periods are rather rich in self-organised work. In particular, the master thesis is a very big part of this study programme. It contributes half of the study credits of the entire programme, filling about one academic year. Compared to my bachelor programme in Germany, independent studying is quite important here. Therefore, how you distribute your time also depends a lot on your motivation and interest. In the beginning of the programme one of our teachers told us: The amount you give – you will get back. Your choice.
How is it to study at your campus, socially speaking?
- We are only a few master students in my semester. We are all crazy about our master theses and discuss them a lot when we meet each other. I think we are all very excited about ecology, and on the other hand not all very excited about the classical "social student life", which is typical of the big city. We all go home after work, instead of going out together, or what "normal" students might do. But we meet, to work together on our reports or theses and sometimes for dinner. And there is always someone to proofread your stuff, even if it is 11 pm before delivery. Because there are so few people, you always know who is the "expert" on the topic you are struggling with. In most cases that person will be happy to take a look together with you at a given problem, and you will have a small, private lecture. I am very thankful for the support of the other students at Evenstad, but I also think it is very efficient and necessary to work together, as the topics are too complex to be managed by only one poor brain alone.
Is there anything that has surprised you about the programme?
- The amount of statistics was surprising to me at first, for sure. I did not bring any well-founded knowledge with me, because I studied nature conservation before, and we did not care so much about numbers. After being a bit shocked and overwhelmed at first, I am very grateful now, and became very interested in learning more.
How is the relationship between lecturer and student?
- Usually we are four people in the classroom. This does not allow anyone to hide, neither the students, nor the teacher. There are discussions going on between everyone in the room. The teachers are always available for questions and discussions and I think this very much increases my learning outcome and my learning efficiency. The relationship between lecturer and students is not by default distanced, as I’m used to from Germany. It is okay to speak with your lecturer as you would a "normal person", there is no artificial hierarchy here. I think this is one of the reasons why there would be no way back for me into the German academic world.
Who do you think your programme is suited for?
- Everyone who is ready to learn, to struggle, and sometimes to be lost – who has a flexible brain and who is ready for contemporary research topics. You never know what will come next.
Is there any knowledge that you should have before starting the programme?
- I studied nature conservation before, which might seem similar to ecology, but it is not really. But I guess it is good to have an ecology/biology background (I think you need that anyway to enter the master programme). If you are used to long-term schedules and to study the old books for months before you go to the exam, you should maybe do some loosening-up exercises before you arrive here.
Are there any opportunities for international exchange?
- My stay here is one result of a successful international exchange. I came here in 2016 as an Erasmus+ exchange student, and participated in the programme "practical experiential learning in applied ecology". This led to a bachelor thesis, and then at one point, emerged a question: What about a master? I had not planned to continue studying, but Evenstad changed my mind.
What is your dream job?
- I am interested in many different things and wish to develop my knowledge in several directions. But there are a few keywords I want to come across in my working life: environmental ethics, ecological modelling, self-sustainability, grazing ecology and spiders.
What is the best thing about the campus?
- The future sauna will be great, I guess; it is not ready yet. Otherwise I appreciate that there is so much space here. There are plenty of nice rooms you can go study in, and it is always nice to spend a day at the campus. It is somehow another home, which I definitely need during a difficult preparation for exams, etc.
What are the benefits of studying in a smaller place?
- That the professors are so close to us students; I am one door away from the office of my supervisors. Many times I just show up, if I am stuck in my work. If there’s a problem, it is solved the same morning, most of the time. That's the luxury of the high teacher-to-student ratio in such a tiny place.
At last, what three terms will you use to describe the programme?
- Intense, rich in discussions and self-developing.