LUMES alumni Laura Betancur Alarcón is now a PhD-student investigating social-ecological relations in the Magdalena basin in Colombia
Laura Betancur Alarcón graduated from LUMES in 2019. Today she is pursuing a PhD at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin at the Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys). For the last nine years she has worked in the environmental sector in various roles as researcher, writer, lecturer, and journalist for different organisations in academia, media, and international NGOs.
Read about her career after LUMES, and her advice to current LUMES-students.
What do you do today?
Currently, I'm doing my PhD at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin at the Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys).
I investigate social-ecological relations in the Magdalena basin in Colombia, especially focusing on rivers that were dammed in the 1980s and 2010s. My research seeks to understand the trajectories of change in human-river relations and its links with greater phenomena such as energy infrastructures, global commodities demand, and transnational illegal economies. I am interested in researching and telling stories about how societies can improve the way they value, understand, and co-live with rivers and amphibian landscapes.
I develop my research as part of the project Water Security for Whom? run by the Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys) Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.
My way of researching involves mainly ethnographic work: long stays in rural areas, dialogues with plenty of actors, and immersion in the day-to-day rhythms of the river and its agrarian economies.
So, when I’m not in Germany, you can find me on the riverine banks of the Magdalena River 😉.
What were the most important skills you learnt in the LUMES programme?
The LUMES programme was a very transformative time in my life both professionally and personally. In short, I could say that the most important skill was the solutions-oriented perspective on research and professional practice. Those continuous questions about: why we do what we do, and what type of change we want to drive. Sometimes, it’s difficult to disentangle what were the exact situations or factors that shaped that “LUMES” perspective on social-ecological issues.
It could have been a comment from an Italian friend during lunch about sustainable diets, the reflections of your biologist classmate on oceans’ health, or joining voices in a climate demonstration. Certainly, it was all together.
In that sense, I guess another great skill the programme left me with is the ability to communicate across cultures and disciplines.
What career advice do you have for LUMES students?
After LUMES, many of us ended up with very interdisciplinary backgrounds and skillsets. Hence, my advice would be: don’t be afraid of not fitting into the box of some positions or institutions. On the contrary, communicate about your diverse sets of skills and perspectives. Harness the potential of your previous experiences and your own journey to future employers.
What sustainability issues do you feel are most important today?
Considering my research, I feel very close to the inequity struggles and the enormous challenge of freshwater biodiversity loss. However, from a wider perspective, a tremendous issue is the dominance of ‘green’ technological solutions over structural ones, and the anti-democratic barriers to more progressive eco-societal changes.