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Student Stories

Student Stories

Blogs and vlogs from students of the University of Edinburgh

Eco-Friendly PhD — Save money, Save the Earth…

Reading Time: 4 minutes

…by Bérengère / from France / PhD Psychiatry / 5th Year

I won’t stress here why the climate change battle is the most critical battle of our generation as I’m confident that most of you, dear readers, understand that.

Most people understand that. But most people also think that there is nothing they can do about it, that even if they changed their entire lifestyle, their impact would be minimal (and their life immensely dull and miserable). This puzzles me: people have no difficulty understanding that it’s by buying one iPhone at a time that we’ve made Apple one of the richest company in the world, and that it’s by donating £1 at a time that we’ve made Kylie Jenner the youngest millionaire (Bravo ourselves for this great success. Such an accomplishment). But they struggle to grasp that it works exactly the same way with societal changes. It might be because, while the former has short-term outcomes, the latter takes years.

I believe that every human, and every choice made by this human, has an impact. It’s not about changing the whole world, just that bit around you, starting with yourself, and maybe showing your friend or your neighbour that there are other ways of doing things.

I’m not great at Human relationships, but sometimes I like to gently stroke the Earth, and when I see how much we’ve damaged it, my heart aches. (It might be weird, but I reckon that if more people were my kind of weird, we wouldn’t be in this situation!)

I wish I were a good enough human to actually take part in programs and projects to stop global warming, but I’m not. I’m just a miserable PhD student, with little free time, and very, very, very little money. So what can I do? What can WE do, us, poor PhD students who already suffer enough with our research?

Well, I’m glad you asked, because we can do LOADS. Here are some easy steps to be greener during a PhD, while saving money (which is basically our everyday goal):

  • At work

– Turn off your computer (and the screen) before leaving the office

– Limit the storage of useless data by cleaning your laptop and your mailbox

– Remove yourself from all these junk mailing list and newsletter you never read anyways

– Reduce paper as much as possible, and use the paper you do have to use wisely

– When you don’t feel like working at the lab, try and find a nice communal space to work. Nicer coffee, and electricity used for more than just one person

– Reusable coffee cups and reusable water bottles are the best (the coffee cups also often give you discounts on your drink, which is always nice)

– Instead of buying lunch at the shop, cook your own in bulk at the week-end, and bring it to work in the prettiest food-warp ever

  • At home

– It really just takes 1 or 2 hours to charge your phone or your laptop, not 7, so don’t charge them at night

– Entertain yourself with things that don’t involve electricity. Like…you know…go outside, read a book

– Lorna makes her own gift wrap paper, and let me tell you, it is absolutely gorgeous

– A vegan diet is probably the best for the planet, but I’m French and I need cheese to handle a PhD. Reducing your meat consumption, with assigned meatless days for example, is a great way to ease into a vegetarian diet while saving money

– Buying food at the local farmers market can be expensive, so if you do have to buy your fruit and veggies in a supermarket, focus on seasonal ones…

– And ideally buy the ones Not Wrapped In Plastic.

– Check apps like TooGoodToGo, to get cheaper food from shops or restaurants that would otherwise end up in the bin

-See those 15 totebags you were given at random events? Reuse them as shopping bags and put an end to your plastic bags consumption

  • Fashion and Beauty

– Who can afford sustainable fashion brands during their PhD? Nobody ever. Still, it doesn’t mean you have to buy fast fashion. I like my books and my clothes as I like my boyfriends and my pets: pre-loved. Charity shops and second-hand shops are some of my favourite things about moving to the UK!

– Menstrual cups and reusable make-up pads are probably the best investments I’ve made over the last 5 years.

– To reduce your plastic use even more, switch to shampoo and soap bars

– At the lab Lorna and I have started a project called CUBS (Coffee Upcycling & Body Scrub Company). On the one hand there are expensive coffee body scrubs we’d love to buy, and on the other hand there is that tonne of coffee we brew each day. Solution: we collect the coffee, dry it, and in a few days we’ll host a DIY body scrub party.

(This list was largely inspired by marvelous Lorna, who decided to make one sustainable change per month in 2019.)

Good luck!

From your fellow Earth lover,


P.S. 3 movies I recommend to people confused/interested by environmental changes:

– The True Cost – that made me swear off fast-fashion and run to my gran’s attic to find reusable clothes

– Ice and the Sky – the story of a scientist who discover the story of global warming (directed by Luc Jacquet, who went to my Uni!), that slapped me in the face

– Tomorrow – by Cyril Dion, that raised my spirit and showed me that there is still hope, and that even as a tiny insignificant person, I had the power to change things.

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