Jan – Alumnus from Science for Sustainable Development

Jan thought the best thing about studying at LiU was the emphasis on problem-based and reflective learning. All teachers were always approachable and focused on teasing out learning points through discussion and experience, and he really enjoyed it.

Picture of alumn Jan KnappeJan Knappe. Name: Jan Knappe
Programme: M.Sc. Science for Sustainable Development
Occupation: Senior Sustainability Data Manager at Considerate Group in London (UK)
Country of origin: Germany

Why did you choose to study at Linköping University (LiU)? 

After completing my undergrad in Physics at a university in Germany, I wanted to use the opportunity to do a full Master’s programme abroad. The Bologna Process had only recently made it possible to easily switch universities and countries between Bachelor and Master degrees. I definitely wanted to continue with an international Masters that was taught in English, and since I had also already taken a basic Swedish course out of interest in the language at my previous university, it felt very logical to focus on Sweden. Looking at the courses on offer, I applied for four Masters: three in Physics and one in Sustainability – a topic that I had become more and more interested in at the time. In the end, when the acceptance letter came from Linköping, I felt like this was the right path to take. And I haven’t regretted it since!

What did you enjoy about the academics?

Next to the international community within the programme and at LiU in general, the best part of studying in the programme was the emphasis on problem-based and reflective learning. All teachers, from professors to PhD teaching assistants, were always approachable and focused on teasing out learning points through discussions and experiences. This was quite a different approach from what I had experienced during my Physics degree previously and I really enjoyed it. In the programme we had a very diverse group of students, from different ethnical but also different academic background, which always guaranteed for very insightful discussions. The programme also had a great selection of electives in the second year – and especially the course on Sustainable and Low-Cost Sanitation turned out to be a course that determined the direction of most of my future career.

How did studying in Sweden differ compared to being a student in your home country?

The main difference was how courses over the academic year were structured. In Germany, we are used to having five or six courses all running at the same time for an entire semester with each course a few hours a week. In Sweden, we only had one or two courses that we focused on full time at any given time. After four to eight weeks, you take an exam and move on to the next course. I really liked this way of learning, as it allowed for deep dives into specific topics and avoided having to study for six exams or so all happening at the end of the year within a two-week timeframe. This made for a much more relaxed study experience.

What was student life in Linköping like? 

I early on got involved with the international student community and joined ISA, the International Student Association, at LiU. Through this, I have made many friends for life and have visited or welcomed some of them during my or their travels ever since.  It was great fun organizing parties and events such as iWeek at the university, but I was also a regular at some of the fantastic student led music venues like Nationernas Hus in the city or Ryds Herrgård in Ryd. I hope they are still around, together with the ISA logo we painted Märkesbacken!

What were the advantages of studying in a medium-sized city in Sweden?

I loved the accessibility of nature in and around Linköping. The running trails in Ryskogen, a bike ride to Tinnerö, or a bus to go hiking around Rimforsa or Vadstena. These were great, quick (and cheap!) getaways from the city. For longer trips, Linköping was well connected to Stockholm (always worth a visit, if not only for the ferry ride to Helsinki – students will know what I am talking about) or a train back to Germany (via Copenhagen) to see family and friends.

How have your studies at LiU helped you in your career? 

In retrospect, the most impactful course I have taken at LiU was on Sustainable and Low-Cost Sanitation. This course made me aware of the all the global issues we are facing when it comes to just access to water and sanitation. It was clear afterwards, that I wanted to work in this field. After the programme, I had the opportunity to work with a German NGO in India on wastewater treatment projects. And on my first day at the office, I saw the exact same old Swedish urine-diversion toilet at the NGO office in an educational exhibition space, that had stood in our classroom in Linköping a few months earlier. It turned out, that our Professor, Jan-Olof Drangert, had very good relationships with the NGO I ended up working for and donated this piece of Swedish sanitation history. What a coincidence!?!

What do you think is unique about LiU that isn’t found elsewhere?

I think, LiU really punches above its weight. Especially when it comes to topics related to Environmental Engineering and Sustainability. There have been some random encounters over the years with people in my field who have either studied or been at LiU for a research stay. As a student, I always felt very well taken care of at LiU. There was a sense of community across the university – for example, we could leave our laptop in the library when we went for a fika without being paranoid if it gets stolen, the university sponsored pick-ups from the train station or airport for new arriving international students where we volunteered as drivers. Also, over the years I have kept in loose contact with some people working at LiU and have supported their work during educational fairs in India as part of the LiU team. That’s what makes it a very special place.

What advice do you have for future international students at LiU? 

It’s been more than 10 years now since I graduated from LiU, so I am not sure how much useful advice I can give now. But I had put myself on the waiting list for student housing the moment I applied at LiU. Even if I didn’t get any student accommodation right away, I had enough waiting list points after my first year. This meant, I could enjoy the weekly complimentary sauna booking. Something I dearly miss ever since. Otherwise, my biggest piece of general advice would be, to actively seek Swedish connections (be it through fellow-students, associations, volunteering, house mates or host families). Swedish people are kind and friendly at heart, but it can be tough to crack through and not get stuck in the “international bubble”. 

Is there anything you would have loved to be able to take home with you?

I wish we could get Kex Choklad here in the UK, where I currently live. But maybe it’s for the better, not having the factory outlet just a bus ride away!

Read more about the programme