After completing my training as an architect and urban planner, which took over six years to finish, I thought I was done with academia ‘for good’!
However, after a few years of practice as a junior architect I started to feel that this was not the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Living and working in Oxford at the time I began looking for PhD opportunities to be able to return to university. I didn’t have a particular project in mind, but I knew I wanted to focus on sustainability, either in the context of architecture or urban planning. For a while, I was checking findaphd.co.uk every single day – this is how I came across the advertisement of a research project at INLOGOV which sounded like it was written for me, both with regards to the topic as well as the skills required. Thankfully, my (then) future supervisors saw the connection too, so I started the PhD only a few weeks after the interview took place. All this happened almost three years ago, and I am fortunate enough to be able to say that these three years have been one of the best experiences in my life so far.
In my PhD research, I look at and compared the different ways in which local authorities aim to support the sustainable transformation of their cities. Even though in most countries many of the powers needed to switch societies onto more sustainable development paths are retained by national governments, emerging new technologies, for example decentralised low-carbon energy production, open up new opportunities for city governments to take action locally. The European Union and most member states have also recognised the potential for cities and local authorities in sustainability transitions. In my project, I worked together with municipal officers from three cities from across Europe who (at the time) were participants of an EU-funded project delivered through Climate KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Community) known as ‘Transition Cities’. Consequently, during the course of the PhD I was encouraged to take part in conferences, meetings, workshops and summer universities organised by Climate KIC in various locations from Valencia through Brussels, Paris and Wroclaw. I also had the opportunity to travel around Europe and talk to city leaders, municipal officers and other local stakeholders in Frankfurt (Germany), Budapest (Hungary) and Birmingham (UK).
During all these travels and extra activities, it was my supervisors at INLOGOV and at the School of Civil Engineering at UoB who kept me focused on the PhD. Their support and insights, both scientific and psychological, was indispensable in turning the ideas, stories and experiences into a coherent research project. Regular meetings to discuss progress with the rest of the staff and other PhD students at INLOGOV gave me plenty of new ideas and different perspectives when I needed it. I am also grateful for being part of such a great PhD community as the one at the School of Government and Society. During the long days spent at Muirhead tower I got to know lots of people with various backgrounds and ideas who came to study at UoB from all over the world and who helped me never to feel alone in Birmingham.