The winding road to success

Chantal Hari graduated at the top of her class at the Graduate School of Climate Sciences and won a “2021 Oeschger Young Scientist’s Prize” for her achievement. Now, as a doctoral student, she’s conducting research on the impact of climate change on biodiversity.

This woman has guts. When Chantal Hari’s high school economics class started a mini-company, she took on the role of CEO without hesitation. “I’m generally very organized,” she says, “so I like to be in charge sometimes.” The trial startup’s business idea? Making cell phone cases that hold various cards – by all means an innovative idea in 2013.

Inspired by this experience, Chantal Hari decided to study business administration while minoring in history. Soon, however, the young Bernese woman’s interests shifted and the minor became the major. And her enthusiasm grew when she discovered environmental and climate history. “I’m fascinated by gathering large amounts of data and critically examining them. In history, looking at historical sources.”

Volcanic eruptions proven through Bernese measurements

For her bachelor’s thesis, Chantal Hari had already looked at the records of a Bernese amateur meteorologist from the 19th century. For her master’s, she took a deeper dive into the measurements and observations that theologian Samuel Studer had recorded over a timespan of 48 years. Along the way, she also taught herself the programming language R – which gave her the necessary statistics tools. With the help of statistical analyses, she was able to show, among other things, that two major volcanic events could be detected in these data series: The “Unknown Eruption” of 1808 and that of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815.

Chantal Hari’s master’s degree was not in history, but in climate science. “When I looked at the climate master’s,” she says, “I knew that its interdisciplinary nature was right up my alley.” Combine that with the fact that her interests had shifted yet again: during her master’s studies she turned to the natural sciences with verve, mainly taking courses in statistics and physics. Some lecturers advised her not to do so because of her lack of previous education. But she wasn’t deterred. “I kept getting told that these lectures were extremely difficult, that I’d better think again. That motivated me even more.” Incidentally, Chantal’s background also sparked her interest in climate science. “I’m originally from the Bernese Oberland and I spend a lot of time in the mountains. That’s where I experience the effects of climate change firsthand.”

Broad horizons within studies

Looking back, she says she only managed the lane change from the humanities to the natural sciences thanks to the climate master’s degree. “Being able to change direction like that during a master’s program is pretty unique.” Does she regret not studying physics from the start? “No, I had to go down all those paths to find out what I really wanted. That was just a part of it for me.”

The climate scientist has just started a doctorate and – surprise, surprise – is taking yet another turn: she has recently been working on climate modelling. To put it simply, her PhD project at the Wyss Academy for Nature at the University of Bern is about how climate change affects biodiversity. The exact aim isn’t yet clear; one possible approach is to model the extinction risks of various species under different climate scenarios.

And what will happen next in Chantal Hari’s career? Is she perhaps drawn to the economy after all? “At the moment, I see myself fully involved in research and am betting on an academic career.” But who knows what the future holds? Especially for this intrepid young woman from the Bernese Oberland.

(February 2022)