Enthusiasm and success the second time around

Costanza Fileccia graduated second best in her class at the Graduate School of Climate Sciences and was awarded a "2022 Oeschger Young Scientist's Prize". Now she’s conducting research on the effects of climate change on crops.

Despite her background as an economist, it was a week spent studying trees that sticks in the mind of Costanza Fileccia, who holds bachelor's and master's degrees in economics from her native Rome. Her climate economics studies in Bern included a field course in dendroecology, and she describes that week in Val Müstair as "an amazing experience". She learned how to take samples from tree trunks, and how changes in tree rings point to past climate and environmental influences. "I work with reconstructed climate data in my research," Costanza Fileccia explains, "so it's very helpful to get an idea of how these data come about in the first place."

Of course, the young Italian also attended courses in climate economics at the Graduate School of Climate Sciences — after all, this was the area where she mainly wanted to further her education. But new horizons opened up via courses such as "Climate and Society in History" — a course with a particularly important take-away: Be critical of your sources!

Climate change and food security

Costanza Fileccia is currently taking this advice to heart when dealing with data on Australian wheat harvests since the 19th century. For her dissertation, she is sifting through thousands of entries from the National Archives in London, where statistical data from the former colony are kept. In her doctoral thesis at the Department of Economics at the University of Bern, she is investigating the effects of a changing climate on agriculture. For her master's thesis, the economist had already looked at the consequences of climate change for agricultural yields, using India as an example. One of her findings: In simulations of harvests in a future climate, the negative effects of change are overestimated, because the models take too little account of the fact that the effects of climate change are mitigated if the long-term adaptations of farmers are considered. In the future, the doctoral student also wants to investigate the aspect of global food security. What does it mean for the world's food supply if large producer countries experience crop failures?

Costanza Fileccia's interest in the interplay between economics, climate and agriculture also has a family background. Her father worked as an agronomist for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome. She herself had her first professional experience in Bologna. After graduating, she found a job with a small consulting firm that specialized in economic analysis and policy evaluation on behalf of international organizations. She worked there for almost four years.

At home in academia

"When I applied for the climate master's after this start in the working world, I was somewhat wary of going back to school," she says. But as her outstanding degree shows, that worry proved unfounded. Costanza Fileccia did not find it difficult to study at the Graduate School of Climate Sciences — and the only course she dropped was atmospheric physics. "That ended up being a bit far from my background." But the atmosphere at OCCR was something that excited her about this second degree. At her university in Rome, there was much less exchange among students. In the climate master's program, on the other hand, she learned that it was possible to work in teams. "I had completely forgotten how much I like the atmosphere at a university," the economist says with a laugh. That's why she has decided to do a doctorate, and she could also imagine pursuing an academic career.

Costanza Fileccia completed her master's degree with a grade point average of 5.9 — just a touch short of the maximum grade. Has she always been this ambitious? "I don't want to be the best," the award winner deflects, "but what I tackle, I do as well as I can. Good enough is not enough for me."


(January 2023)