In His Own Words: Farhad Mukhtarov

October 18, 2017

Farhad Mukhtarov (ENVS '09, Ph.D; ENVS '05 Msc.) is a public policy scholar specialized in studying water resources and the environment. 

Born in Moscow and raised in Baku, Azerbaijan, he came to CEU's Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy at the age of 20, making him possibly one of the youngest students in CEU's history (one of the youngest Ph.D. graduates at the age of 25 for sure). He liked his M.Sc studies so much that he stayed on and completed a Ph.D as well. Ever since, Farhad has been doing research and teaching at leading universities around the world. He's currently a researcher at the Netherlands’ Utrecht University, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development and an adjunct senior researcher at National University of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

You’re a distinguished academic and a chess prodigy. What do you find the most fascinating or impactful aspect of your work?

The most impactful aspect of my life is teaching. I come in contact with bachelor students who are 18-19 years old, and this is the time when their minds are open and imagination is ready to travel. This is the moment when you can inspire someone to take interest in a new subject, to think about the world a little differently, and eventually, as it often happens, shape up career choices and whole life paths. This knowledge of a potential impact my work may have on young students is extremely empowering and motivating, but is also a great responsibility to teach well, with passion and in an engaging, inspiring manner.

How do you feel your time at CEU helped prepare you for or influenced the work you do now?

I came to CEU as a total beginner, I left with much knowledge and a strong sense of mission. I obtained two degrees from CEU and worked as a Ph.D. Career Advisor for almost a year. I have never experienced formal learning as a fun activity before CEU and that was a huge trigger – to realize that one may prepare for a future career while having much support from the teachers and enjoy it at the same time. You can sometimes have a cake and eat it, too! My years as a Ph.D. student were very important in shaping me as an academic. CEU gave me that critical edge and a good base in public policy which characterizes my work now.

Do you feel CEU, as both a university and a global community is relevant in today’s world?

More than ever! Two of my students went on to study at CEU, and I am currently writing reference letters for more students. CEU has a mission, based on the values of open society, democracy, rule of law, equality and activism. It is unique. CEU is openly, shamelessly and beautifully value-charged. We need that in these dark times of Trump, Brexit and alternative facts.

You’ve lived and worked around the world? What role, if any, has CEU’s global alumni community played in your life?

Indeed, I lived and worked in four countries and travelled to dozens. I always meet CEU alumni wherever I end up. Of course in my native Azerbaijan my best friends are CEU alumni. Now in the Netherlands one of my good friends graduated from CEU a year before I arrived. I keep in touch with new alumni I met at a CEU Alumni reunion a few years back, somehow that experience of having studied at CEU really binds!

What do you miss most about your student days in Budapest?

I miss meeting new people almost every day, be that in the dorm or at CEU itself or in Budapest, in bars and student parties! I miss those chats with Mishi the cloakroom man, who spoke no word of English and I spoke only few words in Hungarian, but we always managed a small chat when I was visiting library. I miss being on the bus with 41 other students all ready to go on a trip to Balaton or Pecs and knowing that this is an adventure and that many more adventures are to come. I miss that which the Dutch call gezelligheid (they say you can’t translate it, but it means something like coziness, being around your friends, feeling safe and happy) which CEU gave me, not always, but at many times. And yes, I miss this young, charged, a little crazy, ambitious, yet warm community of students.