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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

IDBE students

5 April 2023 - Sonia Green-Browne is a Principal Engineer with Graphite Engineering Ltd and a student on the Master of Studies in Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE). Sonia has shared her experience of the programme and has detailed what an average day looks like for her during one of the residential workshops in Cambridge, UK.

My day begins with… my devotional and prayer and I revive myself with some good gospel music. I then check in to see if any messages came through overnight from my family or if my team or clients need me to put out a fire. I am usually a morning person but after crossing the Atlantic, changing time zones and experiencing a 30°F drop in temperature, mornings have become a bit of a challenge.

It’s been 29 years since I last lived in a dorm room and college life seems to be a lot better than I remember. I keep snacks in my room so I can fuel up while getting ready and inevitably run out of time while trying to answer emails. I then secure something warm to drink, which others in my cohort appear to be doing too and take a brisk walk over to the engineering department.

It is the third residential workshop, each a week long. We were missing the Postgraduate Certificate students who were with us during weeks 1 and 2 and with whom we are still finalizing a group project. We spent time in the morning checking in on classmates who were delayed or who are unable to attend. In the short time we have been together we have built quite a camaraderie with all of us showing genuine concern for the needs of others.

The workshop starts by…appraising the structure of the day, followed by presentations that are rich in content. I take notes to ensure I am attuned to the content and write down questions, so I don’t forget at the end. The sessions are followed by a range of questions and observations that promote dialogue that foster a deeper understanding of the topic or challenge the position of the speaker. It is very engaging and the question-and-answer period adds a lot of value to the overall sessions.

Between sessions we… engage in a variety of activities. Many team members choose to take a tea break, some use the breaks to take calls or catch up with work. We often spend time checking in to see how others are doing.  There is a general concern for wellbeing. The course directors have done a commendable job in crafting the program and assembling this amazing group of people that really listen and engage with each other. We are not afraid to share personal triumphs and challenges and ask for a listening ear or help.

After lunch we…have a more interactive session which involved a site visit and studio sessions. I am often intrigued by the various schools of thought coming out of these activities. Some people come alive when provided with studio projects. I like to go straight to work but realise that not everyone responds well to that mode and prefer to meander and take time to formulate ideas. I have learned the importance of patience and the benefits of really being attuned to the views of others. We are able to execute the very best project when each member has an opportunity to put their best foot forward.

Once sessions finish… I have dinner with a group of friends from the programme. It’s a great way to relax, reflect on the day or just listen. One of the most impactful aspects of the course is the relationships formed. If folks are going to the bar I go along for a short while if I am not too drained. Afterward, I go straight to bed. I learned that checking WhatsApp or email at the end of the day winds me up and makes sleep difficult. I put on an audiobook, timed for about 30 minutes of play, a blindfold mask, and one earplug and I usually fall into a deep sleep.

After a day of learning…I am invigorated and stimulated by the discussions in an academic environment of this calibre. I challenge my beliefs and biases, and I am more intentional about actively listening. The presentations are really high quality and provide fodder for new pathways to explore.  A few speakers conduct research to find out which countries are represented in the room. These are often the most impactful because the audience feels as if they matter and its something that we hope to see more of. I am hoping that in future the global context of the cohort will be reflected by all speakers, to better contextualise how nations, particularly those in the global south, are still impacted by a history of exploitation.

Since starting the course…I have already begun implementing what I am learning and spoke at a local conference this month on the topic of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance). Additionally, I look forward to sharing my research with groups such as the Bahamas Society of Engineers, ASHRAE and others internationally. My website will be updated to showcase my papers and expanded services, resulting from learning acquired on this course. Further, improved skills in research and critical thinking have already influenced my approach to the multiple projects under my purview. Ultimately, I look forward to pursuing the attainment of a PhD to further my investigation into means to foster greater sustainability in the built environment.

The Master’s and Postgraduate Certificate part-time courses focused on Sustainability Leadership in the Built Environment are delivered via a blend of remote online learning and residential workshops in Cambridge. The two-year Master’s includes six week-long residential workshops in Cambridge and the nine-month Postgraduate Certificate has two week-long residential workshops.

Applications for the IDBE 2023 intake close soon. Find out more, download the brochure and apply here.

About the author

Sonia Green-Browne is a Principal Engineer with Graphite Engineering Ltd and a student on the Master of Studies in Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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