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Getting to the bottom of plastic pollution - an alumnus story of Matthias Egger

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Matthias came to the Netherlands in spring 2012 to pursue a PhD at Utrecht University in Marine Biogeochemistry. After his studies, he left the Netherlands for a one-year postdoc at Aarhus University in Denmark but returned again in 2018 to start working at The Ocean Cleanup, a non- profit organisation in Rotterdam.   

Having been raised in a small village in the Swiss Alps, a career as a marine environmental scientist was not a very obvious one. “I was always interested in nature, and I saw water as kind of the fundamental aspect of this. In Switzerland this meant lakes and rivers, but then I started traveling, I got into diving and marine life, and I got interested in how we humans are impacting the life in the oceans. This is when I got into environmental sciences, to understand the relation between us and our planet.” Matthias first studied Environmental Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, and afterwards came to Utrecht for his PhD in Marine Biogeochemistry from Utrecht University. “Switzerland is naturally not one of the places that you can study oceans and such, and the Netherlands is one of the best places when it comes to marine science. The Dutch are very well known for their expertise when it comes to water management, which made this the perfect opportunity.” 

Studying the plastic cycle
Matthias currently works as a researcher at The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit organisation located in Rotterdam that develops technology to rid the world’s oceans of plastic “As a Marine Biogeochemist, I am tasked with understanding and looking at cycles of nutrients and greenhouse gases in the ocean and at the Ocean Cleanup, I’m looking at the plastic cycle. This means doing research as to how the plastic ends up in the ocean and where does it travel to next? Does it stay afloat on the ocean surface, or does it sink to the bottom of the seabed? What happens to the plastic that is accumulating in the ocean? How is plastic pollution affecting marine life? At The Ocean Cleanup, we are looking to solve the ocean plastic pollution challenge by doing fundamental research and applying the gained knowledge to develop technical solutions.”  

After arriving in the Netherlands, Matthias was quick to adapt to the Dutch abrasiveness and adopted the habit himself as well.  “It first came across as rude, but I’ve learned to appreciate it and actually consider it a strength now.  My friends and family back in Switzerland actually think I myself have gotten more rude and direct since living in the Netherlands."

"Something else I found very funny in Dutch office culture is the sharing of tea bags and the walking during lunch breaks. Together with your sandwich you just walk around your office, while in Switzerland you go to a restaurant or cafeteria to get a hot meal. But I do love the Netherlands, the open-mindedness and the international atmosphere. Lots of people are fluent in English, which makes it easier to settle as an expat. I also like the Dutch general way of life, such as ‘borrelen’ on the terrace in the sun with a nice beer, the accessibility of good public transport, the excellent bike infrastructure, and the Dutch pragmatism. " 


Matthias in short

Matthias came to the Netherlands in 2012 for a PhD position at Utrecht University. Besides being a country famous for its water management, Matthias was also drawn to the international research atmosphere and the good quality of life in the Netherlands. 

Matthias’ advice to incoming students: “Try to learn the language, because it opens so many doors and you feel more accepted by society. I joined an all-Dutch football team, and asked them to speak Dutch to me instead of English, which made me fluent. Also,  stay open to and accept the differences between your country and the Netherlands. Even if you are from a country with small cultural differences (such as Switzerland), it will only enrich your experience."

Find Matthias on Linkedin  and on  the Holland Alumni Network.

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