Who we are: Friederike Mikulcak

Hi everyone! Even though I am part of Joern’s Sustainable Land Use Group since October 2011, I obviously managed to hide pretty well from this blog – completely unintended and rather due to unpleasant developments in my personal life.

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Anyway, being one of Joern’s PhD students in this project, I wish to briefly introduce myself to you. To start with – as my name is rather long, I’d suggest just calling me Frieda. Within the project, I am dealing with the impact of the EU common agricultural policy (CAP) on smallholder farming and biodiversity conservation in Romania (click here), with barriers to rural development, and overall with formal and informal institutions governing natural resource usage in the region. What made me join this project? I have long been interested in human-environment interactions, rural development, and in particular institutional aspects, but my (academic) career prior to this PhD position wasn’t perfectly straightforward.

My research activities started with a Bachelor in European Studies at Chemnitz Technical University, where I focused on European law and politics. Because the study program specialized on Eastern EU member states, I became quite familiar with this part of Europe and joined a student association organizing (political) seminars with students from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). I wrote my Bachelor thesis about the EU’s human rights policy in non-EU countries, using the example of Russia. Besides, I did a four month internship at the European Parliament (MEP) in Brussels and Strasbourg.

I soon realized that the EU wasn’t the end of the story for me; I wanted to become familiar with other institutions and international (development) politics. I became a student research assistant with the “Business and Biodiversity Initiative” of the German organization for development cooperation (GIZ) and chose to study the Master program “Globalization, Environment and Social Change” at Stockholm University, focusing on human geography. As part of the research project “Human dimensions behind the greening of Sahel” in cooperation with the Stockholm Resilience Centre I conducted 2 months of field work in the West African Republic of Niger and wrote my Master thesis on “the implications of formal and informal institutions on the conservation of on-farm trees”.

During my time in Sweden I became acquainted with political ecology, resilience theory and systems thinking, which to me served as ‘eye-openers’ and useful approaches to understand and analyse social-ecological relations. I finally joined Joern’s project as it just fitted perfectly the way I had gone by then – combining my interest in the role of institutions in sustainable (rural) development, framed by systems thinking, and focusing on Eastern Europe.

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