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Success of an international student at the TDK competition: meet Corvinus’ winner, Madli Rohtla

What is TDK?

The Students' Scientific Conference (“Tudományos Diákköri Konferencia” - TDK) is a competition for students from all fields. The participants must prepare a research paper (either in Hungarian or in English) with the help of knowledgeable supervisors and make a presentation in sections according to their field. The students’ papers and presentations are evaluated, and the best ones receive valuable prizes.

Meet Madli Rohtla

Madli is a 32-years-old Corvinus student from Estonia. She has finished her undergraduate studies in the United States. Later on she worked in China (mostly in Beijing) in the education sector for 8 years, before starting the Regional and Environmental Economics MSc programme at Corvinus in 2020.

About Prof. János B. Kocsis, PhD

Prof. Kocsis is an associate professor at Corvinus University of Budapest, member of the Department of Geography, Geoeconomy and Sustainable Development. He is also the Vice President at the Hungarian Society for Urban Planning.

Madli, when did the spark of interest in sustainability lit up in you? How did you decide to study in Hungary, and why did you choose Corvinus specifically?

Madli: I was living and working in China before I started this programme for 8 years and that is where I got more interested in sustainability. I was seeing a lot of environmental issues that I have never really seen in Estonia before, like air and water pollution and the intense amounts of consumer plastic waste. I thought “Wow, this is a city of 20 million. But what about the whole world?”

The next big issue I got interested in was meat production and how many resources it costs us and the planet itself. Our population keeps increasing and the problem is only getting worse.

I was working in the education industry at the time and I really kind of felt, because of my role in my organization, that I didn't have a lot of leverage, but I really wanted to make a difference when it came to these issues. That is how I decided that I need some practical knowledge and skills. One of my colleagues who is from Canada was also interested in this same matter. She's vegan and she's into all kinds of animal rights, so she was applying to programmes in connection to sustainability and environmental protection. She shared her list of universities offering such studies, and one of them was Corvinus. I applied and I got in.

I was also interested in Hungary because of the connection between Estonian and Hungarian languages. I know that the cultures of the countries are quite different, but we do speak languages which are in the same language group, different from all others in Europe. I thought that was interesting, especially since my bachelor is in languages.

That's very different from what you are currently studying. Was it a problem when you were applying due to the lack of previously earned credits in the field?

Madli: Not at all. I know there are lots of requirements regarding what kind of credits you should have taken beforehand, but Corvinus seemed a bit more open, so I decided to apply. I got accepted and then I just had to take some catch-up classes. For example, last semester I did Introduction to Economics, Micro and Macro Economics, Economic Geography and some Environmental Economics, but only on a beginner level.

Madli, can you tell us a bit more about your topic and the challenges you faced while writing about it?

Madli: The topic is about urban sustainability and my research aims to find out if there is a correlation between subway ridership recovery and economic recovery in Chinese cities.

I suppose the biggest issue I had was my general lack of experience in this field of writing and I think that's why this programme has a Project Seminar. It is definitely preparing you for your thesis writing, because students in the programme have had different kinds of previous preparation.

The other thing I struggled with was coming up with a specific topic. I had some interests like the circular economy and urban waste management, but I really couldn't narrow down what exactly I wanted to do.

Madli, what was your performance like? Were you nervous?

Madli: I don't know how it was. I was definitely nervous. I am kind of happy that it was online because it’s harder to tell if you’re under pressure, I suppose. I was also anxious because I got two reviewers from the first round who both said that I didn’t have a stable enough theoretical foundation, which makes sense because as I mentioned, I come from somewhere very, very different academically.

I was listening to other presenters talking about hunger, block chain interest industry, fund performance during COVID (which used a bunch of statistics) and I just felt like my methods paled in comparison. Shortly put, I was definitely quite nervous.

Would you encourage other international students from different programmes to join this competition? And what is your best advice for those students who want to join?

Madli: I would definitely recommend students from other programmes to join. It is a great opportunity, because I think even in the group that I was in, we had kind of different backgrounds, there was one other student from my programme only. The rest of the participants were from other backgrounds and I think they had very different skill sets and different interests.

Based on what worked for me I would simply advise anyone to just be creative and to try finding something new or unique.

Prof. Kocsis, what is the meaning of our student’s success?

Prof. Kocsis: Well, I am very happy about it, she did a great job. What I want students to understand is that there are various ways to tackle a problem. It is always refreshing to approach a topic from an unbeaten track, so to say, and I believe creativity and innovation is essential. Madli did great in that. She managed to approach the task in a very inductive way and looking at the data, she discovered incredibly interesting patterns.

Curiosity and flexibility are essential in order to find the necessary approach and methodology to solve a certain problem. It is very often the case that with very simple tools you can find significant phenomena.

That is why my best advice to students who’d like to participate would be: if you have an idea, just go for it. Be brave and be creative. If you find something, then you have to dig deep – don’t be afraid.

To whom would you recommend the Regional and Environmental Economic Studies MSc programme, Prof. Kocsis? Who would be interested in that specific programme?

Prof. Kocsis: Well, this is a multidisciplinary field in which everything is related to urban and environmental aspects. Urbanisation is higher and higher and everything becomes more and more interconnected. Economic and social activities are especially linked to cities. The urban way of living is spreading basically everywhere, and there are fascinating phenomena going on nowadays.

That is why I believe that anyone who is interested in studying the aspects of economy and society that is linked to urban life and sustainability and wants to do something with planning and researching is suitable for this programme.

As we have come to the end of this interview, Madli, would like to add anything?

Madli: Well, I would like to say that this interview or my first place at the TDK wouldn’t have happened if Prof. Kocsis hadn't actually told me about the competition, saying that I should go for it and that he’d help me. Thank you, Prof. Kocsis!

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