For best experience please turn on javascript and use a modern browser!
International Relations (Political Science)

Robin Pistorius: 'We do well to take life as it comes'

Alumnus testimonial

Robin Pistorius graduated in Economic and Social History in 1990 and conferred a doctorate (PhD) in Political Science (International Relations) in1999

Robin during a trip through Namibia Photo: J. Hovens

After doing Economic and Social History at the UvA, I was given an opportunity to conduct my PhD research in the Political Science Department in 1995, on the use and conservation of genetic material. That research was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). With the advent of biotechnology in the late 1980s, genetic material and biodiversity became new spearheads in international environmental and agricultural politics. After obtaining my PhD in 1999, I decided to apply my knowledge of biodiversity regulation in practice and contribute to the worldwide implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity of 1992. This convention was intended to serve as an all-encompassing strategy for sustainable development. Though I will not comment on whether that ambition was actually achieved, the convention served as a valuable anchor for me from which I developed my further activities.


Facts-of-Life is a one-man research consultancy in support of sustainable development. It started out in 2003 after four enjoyable and intensive years as a senior consultant at AidEnvironment, a middle-sized consultancy based in Amsterdam. ‘Facts’ refers to the scientific approach I aspire to in my work, while ‘Life’ reflects our natural and social environment. But it also alludes to my belief that we do well to take life as it comes. In the almost 12 years since I set up Facts-of-Life, I have learned to translate the material and research methods from my previous research into practical advice to governments, companies and non-governmental organisations. In addition – but no less important – I've also learned the art of formulating research questions and discovered how difficult it can be to implement a recommendation in an organisation.

Facts-of-Life's focus has gradually expanded to include food and water problems, sustainability issues, energy questions and transition stimulation and management. Collaboration with other experts is now more the rule than the exception. Facts-of-Life has become a knowledge-hub that forges connections between existing research and advice, theory and practice. My clients include several ministries (most notably the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), international organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), consultancy firms in the Netherlands and beyond, non-governmental organisations such as OxfamNovib and knowledge institutes like the Centre for Genetic Resources, the Netherlands (CGN). For the past five years I have been guest-lecturing to Political Science Bachelor's and Master's students, which is an opportunity for me to apply the experience I've gained in the field for the direct benefit of my students. I often have an insider's knowledge of the organisations I use as case studies in my teaching. The majority of my students seem extremely motivated to analyse sustainability issues and link them to theoretical discourse using interviews and examining existing policy.

Academic practitioner

In the past few years, the debate on the future of the social sciences has increasingly focused on linking practice-oriented knowledge with a sound academic background. I foresee a growing demand for 'academic practitioners' – professionals capable of formulating and implementing policy by combining a number of competencies (such as conflict analysis, policy analysis, multi-stakeholder analysis) with a robust grounding in theory. I predict a development of political science programmes with a good balance between practical competencies and academic knowledge, probably based on a 'personal course design' for students at the start of a Master's track. Lecturers could tailor their teaching to this model by offering courses with an advanced theory component as well as courses that combine basic theoretical knowledge with practical experience, possibly featuring a work placement. Many companies and organisations that I have experience with are seeking young talent who can apply a broad perspective to the identification of complex sustainability issues and are able to describe them clearly. Political scientists with a hands-on mentality and the theoretical grounding will find themselves highly prized in such environments.