Home/Nieuws items/Seven Questions: Meet Joshua Nooij, PhD candidate Environmental Geography

Seven Questions: Meet Joshua Nooij, PhD candidate Environmental Geography

Can you introduce yourself to us?
My name is Joshua Nooij (26, but I’ll be 27 when we have the in-person interview). I was born and raised on Texel, a small island in the north of the Netherlands. My background is a bit speckled; I did my VWO on Texel, but I was an awful student. I skipped classes a lot and when I was a teenager, I got arrested for breaking and entering once. When I was 16, my brother got pissed at me for wasting my smarts, and I decided to study. When I was 18, I moved to Utrecht to study chemistry, which I hated. I dropped out, played around for a bit, and stumbled into environmental science. In my first year, I did a minor in ethics, and enjoyed it enough to do a full second degree in philosophy. When I was 20, I moved to Sydney for a minor in Australian wildlife biology, then back to Amsterdam at 21 to finish both my degrees, then to Boston at 23 to do a Masters degree in environmental science and policy and to work for the Rhode Island government for a bit, back to Amsterdam at 25 to start my PhD in the social sustainability of the Dutch agricultural sector at the Instituut voor Milieuvraagstukken and now to Berlin at 26. As you can see, my life’s been a bit hectic the past few years, but it finally seems to be stabilizing for now.

I’ve always loved the natural environment. When I was a young child, my dream was to become a biologist and work in Africa to protect all the animals. As long as I can remember I’ve been reading books about bird biology. When I was 5, my favorite pastimes were either going to parking lots and checking out cars, or going to the plethora of natural areas on Texel to identify birds. While the ‘biologist in Africa’ part didn’t really work out, I think that ‘environmental scientist in Europe’ is within the same ballpark.

What drew you to working at the Baking Lab?
Well, it’s twofold. When I had just moved back from the US, I just came out of a really nasty break up. Moving cross-continental is also very expensive and a first-year Ph.D. salary is nothing to write home about. I also really enjoy working in hospitality; you can ask everyone I’ve worked with, I’m a very chatty person and I’m always down to make people laugh. An office job doesn’t really scratch those itches, so along with needing an additional bit of money, I wanted to find a second job that’d give me the social interaction I was missing. I moved back to the Netherlands in July, and I moved to the Dapperstraat, so very close to the Baking Lab. I went to the BL for coffee very often in the first few months, and I loved the energy of the place. It’s cute, quite industrial, and sustainable. As an environmental scientist who has focused on sustainable food production for much of his career, I was drawn to the concept as much as the vibe of the place. I sent an email to Renee, got an interview and got accepted. I only worked 1 or 2 days a week, generally Monday and a weekend day. Throughout the time I worked there, Jechiam asked me to assist in a few matters, I was asked to help develop some recipes, and there was always space to experiment if time permitted. To concisely answer the question, the baking lab simply has an amazing ambience that really matched my needs for the time being, and working there made me happy.

How would you describe the Baking Lab?
In short, my favorite cafe in Europe. Everyone working here is nice. It has a very calm and quiet feel to it. It always smells nice, people are always friendly, and everything is high quality. It is also a place for experimentation, which I think a lot of cafes have lost. It’s like a mixture of the communal bakeries of old, where only the big bakeries had the huge woodfire ovens necessary to bake bread, and everyone was allowed to bring their own dough to bake for a small price, and a new-age, hyper sustainable, ‘Amsterdam-chique’ cafe. It feels like a safe place, where you go for your bread and coffee, have a little chat with the employees and come out feeling happier than you were when you came in. It has a different feel than any of the other places I’ve worked, and I think that’s in part because of the scale, but also in part because of the culture that’s fostered here. 

What makes the Baking Lab unique compared to other work experiences?
Like I said, the general atmosphere of the place. Creativity and experimentation is fostered. One day it wasn’t too busy, so I decided to make macarons. They came out quite well, so we put them up for sale for the next 2 days. Another day we madesmall bread-pudding cupcakes with raspberries, because we had some raspberries leftover. Rather than everything always being the exact same quality, fluctuations and differences are also enjoyed by customers. It’s a good place to be and a nice place to work. Everyone is also approximately the same age, which allows for good communication. I remember many a weird conversation with Kass or Lise which ended in a good laugh, or Rense who always wanted to know what it was like to go to a festival. The size of the place and the atmosphere fostered meant that even when it was ridiculously busy, you were just hanging out with some buddies.

What did you learn while working there?
I relearned my love for baking! I’ve always really enjoyed cooking/baking and I used to bake my own sourdough bread 2 or 3 times a week. All my 3 brothers work/worked in fine-dining, so I’m the odd one out in that case. But I still really love cooking and baking. Working at the baking lab made me more mindful of waste produced when cooking, so I’ve been working at home to throw less away as well. But the main thing is that it helped me rediscover my love for baking and cooking. I now make bagels at home fairly regularly, spend Saturdays cooking a nice dinner for me and my partner, and have multiple ferments in my kitchen cupboards to experiment with. 

Can you share a favorite memory from your time working there?
I think my favorite memory was the company outing where we played basketball. Ferdinand and I were on the same team, and us being 2 of the 4 guys working at the baking lab at the time (including Jechiam), we won handily. This resulted in Jechiam making up additional rules for specifically me, and our team still doing really well. Another funny anecdote is the story of Renee’s skill for naming cakes. The ‘Almond citrus cake with sesame crust’, is something that came up a few times after. 

What have you been up to post-Baking Lab, and what are your plans for the future?

I’m currently working on my Ph.D., and I’m working with the WWF in Amsterdam to develop environmental education. I recently moved to Berlin and I’m splitting my time between Amsterdam and Berlin now, so I’m trying to build up my life in Berlin. I also recently started as the secretary for the Ph.D. council of the VU, so that’s taking up some time. I’m still stuck working on my Ph.D. for the next 2.5 to 3 years, so I’m not really thinking about what to do after yet, as that’s heavily dependent on what I feel like after.

If I had to guess for the further future, I could see myself moving back to Australia for a bit, working to implement nature-based solutions there, or doing a postdoc focused on human-nature relationships. I don’t think I’d stay there forever though. I’d like to have children at some point, and I want them to be in contact with both my and my partner’s families, which are concentrated in Europe. The great thing about academia is that I could effectively work anywhere as long as there’s a university or research institute. My dream is still to write 2 books; a non-fiction and a fiction one. Both have a little start already, but neither seem to be getting finished anytime soon. My utopia would be to have total freedom and do something different every day; I’m a pretty chaotic person, and every day I have a different desire. Sometimes I’d like to become a professional boxer, others I want to become world’s best environmental scientist, others I want to write fantasy books. I crave diversity, which is hard to find in the academic world sometimes. But we’ll see. I’m sure I’ll make it work at some point. My partner and I have even discussed opening our own cafe when we’re 50, considering she’s a trained mixologist and I love making desserts. So long story short; I have no idea what my plans are for the future yet. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it!