Alumni Spotlight: María Ruiz de Gopegui
María is an IHS alumna who graduated from the Urban Management and Development Master's in 2018 (UMD 14). She was part of the Urban Environment, Sustainability and Climate Change specialisation. Originally from Spain, she worked in Mexico City as an architect in different design offices on Urban and landscape design with a focus on sustainability for several years. Currently, she is working as a researcher at the Basque Centre for Climate Change in Bilbao.
What was your UMD study experience like?
I must say that at the beginning I was quite scared about the amount of work and the multiple different tasks to do every week, taking into account that it had been six years since I finished my Architecture MSc. But luckily I managed to get on track, and the fact that many tasks were to be developed in groups made it more fun and rewarding.
I think IHS’s approach to urban issues is very human and holistic, we learned about social justice, finance, governance and many other topics that gave us a broad understanding of how cities work as they do. Besides, the academic environment is fantastic, teachers and students come from very different contexts and the atmosphere created is very stimulating, both personally and professionally!
How was the transition from studying to what you are currently doing?
Even if I didn’t really plan it, somehow I started my “job search strategy” pretty early. As I was super excited about some subjects I was learning in IHS, which were quite different from what I had previously worked on, I started reading articles about them, posting about it on LinkedIn or Twitter, expanding my professional network by contacting key people whose work I admired and even sending papers to forums or seminars.
Even though I love international environments, after so many years abroad I was willing to go back to my hometown, Bilbao, so I looked for interesting job offers in local organizations. That is how I discovered the open call from the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3) to collaborate on a project. The research seeks to understand to what extent coastal cities are preparing for climate change, analyzing the credibility of their adaptation policies and evaluating whether they align to predicted risks (CLIC project).
Did your studies help with finding your current occupation and if yes, how?
My urban design experience, together with the multiple skills gained at IHS, helped me win the position. At IHS, I learned how to develop research and how to write scientific articles. Moreover, I learned about urban development planning, risk management, climate adaptation strategies and so on. And finally, the fact that I studied in such an international environment helped me learn about the context affecting urban policy development in each country. All these facts are now very valuable for the research we are developing at CLIC.
Why did you choose to do this job/activity?
Working for more green and just cities has always been my passion, which I had tried to develop from the urban designer position; however, after the UMD MSc I was willing to begin a different path from the research or consultancy point of view. BC3 is an international reference institute researching climate change, and this urban adaptation opportunity seemed just what I was looking for.
What do you see yourself doing in the next few years?
I’m not sure where I will be because this is just a two-year project, but I would like to have the opportunity to combine my urban designer skills with my policy knowledge to help planning urban resilience strategies for communities that need it most. Help to bridge the gap between scientific research and actual urban planning, maybe through an applied research project or a program from international organizations, willing to implement the valuable results and tools that researchers are developing.
What would you advise the current UMD students and aspiring ones?
I would really advise anyone interested in urban issues in developing countries (but not only) such as governance, social equity, urban development policies or resilience to enroll in the UMD MSc. And I would advise the current students to make the most of this unique year: It is such a privilege learning from experienced professionals and having the opportunity to reflect and discuss with colleagues from all around the world! Be open to new viewpoints, make friends, investigate further the topics that motivate you most, and enjoy it! Don’t just wait for professional opportunities to come to you, but build the skills and networks that will get you there!