Finn Münch is a student from the Erasmus+ MSc in Geo-Information Science and Environmental Modelling (GEM). During his studies, he travelled from the first university of his track, Lund University in Sweden, to the ITC Faculty – University of Twente in the Netherlands, where he did an internship and is currently conducting his thesis. His thesis topic involves mangrove monitoring in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. For that reason, he also travelled to Vietnam to acquire data and conclude the international journey of the GEM MSc.
In this Made in NRS interview, Finn describes his adventures around the globe while studying GEM, his strong interest in the environmental conservation field and his career perspectives.
Hey Finn, nice to have you today with us. What is the GEM track you chose to study and how does it relate to your background?
Thanks for the invitation. I am currently studying track three of the GEM MSc, it's the Natural Resources Management track. I started the program at Lund University first and then I moved to the Netherlands to study at the ITC Faculty where we did the summer school joint event, the Busathon.
After the joint event, I directly started my internship at the NIOZ Estuarine and Delta Systems Department. During my internship at NIOZ, I investigated drought impacts on willow trees in the Biesbosch National Park. My arrival to the Netherlands was good but it wasn’t the best timing to settle in Enschede after the internship because I missed the Kick-Off Introduction Week at the University of Twente. I didn't get into student life as fast as my classmates, but on the other hand, I had a great community at the internship institute, NIOZ. I got to meet different students, PhD candidates and also doctors who conduct research at the centre. It was a really open international community there and I enjoyed that a lot.
My internship finished already in October when I came back to the ITC Faculty to do a last course and start my thesis. The course I did is called “Environmental Monitoring with satellite image time series” by Margarita Huesca and Michael Marshall.
And what did you think of that course?
I think it was a really, really, good course. It is top-notch. In this course, we learned to use the cloud computing of Google with a huge time series of satellite data. We also learned how to analyze patterns, seasonality, and variables that can be used for ecosystem modelling. In our field, I think that's a very useful skill.
This course is super valuable for my future career perspectives because I would like to go into the field of environmental conservation, maybe working on a reforestation project. In class, we learned to assess how such a project is developing, how to monitor plant growth, make median values of NDVI and analyze that information as well.
What is the topic of your thesis?
For my Thesis, I am looking at a mangrove forest area where it is aimed to maintain a certain ratio of mangroves either by protecting current mangroves or replanting. This topic is aligned perfectly with what I intend to do in the future, to work in environmental conservation, and monitor with earth observation data.
One of the challenges I am facing during my thesis is that for this specific study area, in the south of the Mekong Delta, it is not easy to get a flight permit to capture data with an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). However, our partner from the Can Tho University is in contact with the Forestry Board of the area and there is the possibility that we find an alternative way to gain data by collaborating on a training session for the local foresters.
Finn's unique fieldwork experience in Vietnam
Is your thesis topic related to your background?
Before the GEM MSc, I studied Geography, and I learned a lot about human geography and physical geography. I focused more on ocean science and coastal research. I took courses in atmospheric sciences and oceanography. For my current thesis I am still using my knowledge of physical and human geography because you can't just separate them, they are always intertwined. For example, the human factor is the shrimp farmers in this area of the Mekong Delta, and the physical geography is the mangroves which are very important ecosystem services. We need people and the environment to connect and create a positive balance.
In this case, the Vietnamese government aims for 60% mangrove cover on the shrimp farms. Now we need to assess the current cover – is there really 60% mangrove cover on the shrimp farms, or is it less? And where do we have to plant more mangroves? Then, forest managers can communicate more efficiently with the shrimp farms that lack mangroves, replant them and benefit everyone. The shrimp farms are greatly benefitted because mangroves are a habitat for the fish and insects that shrimps eat, so shrimp farmers would need fewer amounts of artificial feeding. Moreover, the water purification of mangroves improves the water quality.
Now that you are working on your Thesis, I would like you to take a look back. What was your experience studying the MSc program, from an academic perspective?
The academic experience was great, because Lund University and ITC Faculty - University of Twente, have huge expertise in remote sensing as well as ecosystem modelling. It was perfect for me because that's what I wanted to get deeper knowledge on after my undergraduate course.
I had the basics in Geo Information Science and Remote Sensing but I wanted to build upon it and learn more about modelling, using remote sensing data to train models. Both institutions have a long history of expertise in this field, so it perfectly fits within my future career perspectives. When I read the program advertisement for the first time I directly thought “This is it”.
Lund University has good facilities, and here at ITC Faculty, I took a course in “Time series analysis with remote sensing data”, one of the best courses I ever had. The size of the classes in both universities is perfect because you have close interaction with the teachers. You get to know the teachers better, and if you have a problem with something, you have them directly helping you address the problem.
And what about the social perspective?
At Lund University I really enjoyed the social life because I was there at the start of the program with the introduction week. They organize a lot of events to meet people and some of my best friends I met in this first week.
Lund is also a huge vibrant student city, one of the biggest student cities in Sweden. There are many small student associations, there is always some event happening, and new people get invited to international fikas, a typical Swedish coffee or teatime, to hang out and chat. There are also mentor programs where you have mentors from the university, who have already studied for a year or two. The mentors show you around the city, organize city tours and different quests. The first weeks are intense but great for socializing, networking and community-building. At the University of Twente, they had a similar Introduction Week, the Kick-Off, but I missed that completely because I was doing my internship in Zeeland.
From Sweden to Vietnam to the Netherlands, Finn met a lot of people during his GEM journey
When do you expect to finish your thesis
It's hard to say because we are still working on the results. If it continues like this, maybe we can aim for the end of June or the beginning of July, because I would also like to participate in the graduation ceremony. We will have to see.
What are your plans when you finish?
Initially, I wanted to work on different projects, mainly to apply the knowledge I gained from all the years I studied. A preservation or reforestation project would be perfect, but in those cases finding funding is often a problem. I would also like to see what else is possible in other sectors because I believe I have a lot of opportunities with the tools, techniques and methods I learned in GEM.
A few weeks ago, a friend sent me an advertisement for a PhD position and it just ticked every box. It is the perfect position for me, although I did not plan to do a PhD. However, after my thesis work in Vietnam, in collaboration with Can Tho University, I am open to continuing doing research by starting a PhD. I got to know many people from different cultures, and we worked together as a team. I also had my first teaching experience by writing a tutorial and sharing it with students. I really enjoyed it and I realized I would love to work on collaboration projects like this in the future.