Keep learning, working and moving forward: Career start at the European Space Agency

In September, Lorenzo Cervantes completed his Master's degree in Convergent Journalism at Media University. Immediately after his graduation he was able to start his career in the Communication Department of the European Space Agency in the Netherlands. In this interview he told us about his most valuable experiences from his studies and what he finds most challenging and fascinating about his work.

Lorenzo Cervantes is now working in the communications department of ESA.

Lorenzo Cervantes is now working in the communications department of ESA.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind, when you think about Media University?

When I look back at the two years I have spent studying at Media University, I remember all the moments I shared with my colleagues and lecturers in the Ackerstraße, but also across the entire city of Berlin. We worked with innovative technologies, did research and a lot of writing. We ran the newsroom at re:publica (twice!). We interviewed fascinating people, with highly different backgrounds and stories. We learned valuable lessons, including how to work as a team. We exchanged ideas with designers and business psychologists in the elective courses. We visited media organisations like Vice, Ströer and Die Welt. I also think quite often about the Master’s Thesis: the struggle, the effort, the satisfaction, and how my days as a student eventually came to an end.   

You studied the master program „Convergent Journalism“. What is your current job position and what are your tasks? How did you figure out your preferred career?

As soon as I graduated in September, I moved to the Leiden (Netherlands) to start a ‘Young Graduate Trainee’ programme (YGT) at the European Space Agency. I already knew I was going there and was extremely excited: I had applied for this in December 2018, and got confirmation that I was accepted five months later. This put a lot of pressure on me for the Thesis, and my time in Berlin was running out. Eventually, I think this helped me stay in focus and deliver the best results for the thesis - like a golden carrot, hanging in front of my eyes every day.

After moving, I joined ESA’s Communication Department (Newsroom and Media Relations Office), and am now involved in a range of activities, mostly relating to external communications.

The focus of my work is always evolving, because of the highly dynamic nature of our agency. This means that our centre of attention needs to be constantly changing, and adapting to current events.

It is a demanding and intense environment, that requires a lot of flexibility: ESA deals with wildly different topics like planetary defence, human and robotic exploration, cutting-edge technologies, the climate crisis, safety and security, telecommunications... ESA also has a clear intention to inspire new generations, and making everyone understand the (many) benefits of the space industry.

What I find beautiful about communication and journalism studies nowadays, is that they can open doors into virtually any field you may be interested in discovering. For me, this meant going to work for one of the world’s biggest space agencies - although I am not an astrophysicist, an engineer, or a planetary scientist.

Why did you decide to study “Convergent Journalism”? And why did you choose Media University Berlin?

When I applied to this Masters’ programme, almost 3 years ago, I was looking for a way out of my routine: leaving my home town, my comfort zone, my cozy bubble of previous experiences. In Brussels, I thought that my skills weren’t being put to good use, and I felt I needed to be challenged. This is why I “went international” with my degree, and Berlin is definitely a good place to find new horizons.


It may be hard to know what to expect from a 2-year Masters, just by reading the information and a couple of talks, but it sounded like the programme had a lot of strong points that I was looking for: an international dimension, small classrooms, diverse tasks and topics, cross-media approach, practical assignments, all of this in a vibrant and rich metropole like Berlin. I already knew the German capital and I fell in love with it a few years back, so no one had to convince me to go there.

Moving to Berlin, taking this turn in my life was absolutely the right choice for me, and it was probably the best decision I’ve ever had the chance to take.


Which contents of your studies are part of your current job? How do your studies help you in your work routine?

During the whole Masters, we’ve had a lot of discussions and reflections about the current state of journalism. Nowadays, the media landscape is wild, emotional, unexpected, loud, restless and incredibly anchored in our daily lives (e.g. social media). After finishing my Masters’, I felt like I had learned a fair amount of valuable things, something I can’t simply put into words - I started understanding better the mechanisms that animate today’s curious and fragile media reality.

One of the focus of our programme was the solutions-oriented (or “constructive”) approach to the media, which I found innovative, refreshing and fascinating. This approach is something that I’ve kept in the back of my head ever since, for example when doing editorial work or discussing a particular narrative.

Media University lecturers encouraged us to be curious and critical at the same time, to be respectful and fair, to be empathic and personally invested in our work.

They enabled us to defend the causes that mattered to us, without letting our ambitions distort the facts, and underlining the importance of letting others speak for themselves. This is something that I find admirable, as it gave us a lot of creative freedom for our assignments.

When you think about it, it is a really progressive mentality, and I believe many countries, universities, journalists and world leaders today are not following the same principles. Finally, the cross-cultural environment was a challenge we all needed to face some day, to become aware of the complexity, vastness and diversity of people that is living around us all in this globalised world. 


What are your plans for the future?

In my opinion: the best plan is to have no plan, as long as you can keep learning, working and moving forward, exploring new options. For now, my contract at ESA has been extended until October 2021, which gives me a bit of time to think and rest, and to keep evolving in this exciting organisation.

I have no expectations for the future, but it also means that I have no limitations except my own, and there’s a kind of beauty to it. That being said, going on a vacation break would be nice, and there are parts of the world I really want to see with my own eyes, before moving on to the next milestone and losing track of time (again). 

What do you like most about your current job position? What is your biggest challenge?

Since I’ve started working at the European Space Agency, I feel like I’m participating in something massive - for example when it comes to climate change mitigation, or inspiring new generations. Space exploration is a somewhat childish, but still fabulously relevant quest for answers, that extends to the confines of the solar system, and further into the cosmos.

Because the Communications Department is always connected to every corner of the agency, we keep an eye on the “infinitely small” and the “infinitely big” - this also includes of course all the people and machines that are in between. These days, it’s all about international cooperations, and ESA is incredibly invested in them.

It truly is a magnificent time to study the universe, as scientists keep making astonishing discoveries on a monthly, or even weekly basis. One of the most epic experiences I’ve had so far, was to assist in the unveiling of Hubble’s 30th Anniversary picture: it shows a “stellar nursery” located several trillions of kilometres away. Being the grandson of a photographer, I can’t help but be amazed and moved by the beauty of this shiny image. Because the Hubble Space Telescope is an ESA-NASA collaboration, and several communication layers were involved (coordination, publication of images, web articles, mailings and social media posts), this is a valid example of how challenging this line of work can be.


You finished your studies in October. Could you tell us more about the application phase after your graduation?

I actually had applied way ahead of my graduation! Before starting the fourth and final semester of my Masters’ in December 2018, I saw that ESA had triggered the yearly wave of recruitment for upcoming graduates. As ironic as it may seem, I came to discover this opportunity through a targeted advert in social media, fruit of obscure automated processes: the same algorithms were the central topic of my Masters’ thesis. As you may expect from such a high-level bureaucratic organisation, the application phase was quite demanding, especially when it came to waiting for answers. The first confirmation came a few months after, and I was invited to a fully-automated interview, where questions pop up on a screen, and you record yourself with a timer. After some weeks, came the actual interview with my current supervisor and HR representative, that was also quite intense - no matter what the outcome of these interviews would be, I already felt quite honored, and I had learned a many useful things.

What would be your recommendations to fellow students that study “Convergent Journalism” at Media University?

One lesson that I would take out from my experience as a postgraduate student, is to carefully manage your expectations: go step by step, find what motivates you, work together rather than against each other, and don’t give up when results aren’t coming directly. Part of finding your way also involves taking a wrong turn every once in a while, and there is absolutely nothing wrong about being wrong, as long as you learn from your mistakes.

Also, don’t be afraid of diving into something new, or something that you usually don’t do, or don’t enjoy doing: you would be surprised what you can learn about others and yourself this way.

If we’re being realistic, a great part of being a journalist is being flexible and understanding, not letting emotions take control of your work, and even if you have specific goals you’d like to achieve (earning a specific role, or working a particular field), there will always be aspects of your work that you won’t find so appealing.

Did I mention “learning some German” already? Even though this is not an absolute necessity, I feel like knowing German helped me go deeper into local news and culture, and to have more choices when it came to finding topics, interview partners, or even a student job. For some assignments, the linguistic barrier would have been a bit frustrating, and I think this is what convinced some of my class colleagues too, who now have made incredible progress in learning the language. If you’re planning on staying in Germany, or if you feel like you want to learn a new language, don’t be afraid - German can be quite fun, and there are a lot of options around to learn the basics and get started. Also (again): you should get a bike. You probably won’t use it all year round, but there is nothing more liberating that needing nothing else than your legs for transport.


In your opinion, which characteristics a student of „Convergent Journalism“ should have?

This is probably the hardest question for me to answer: my opinion is that there is no “model” Media University student, also because every year the class composition, media reality and assignments are unique. You will only get the full picture if you eventually choose to enrol to the course, but that’s your choice and no one else’s.

It all comes down to your own expectations: the higher they are, the more tricky it makes things. If you want to learn to be a journalist, be aware that you’ll need to read about every topic and every trend, every format and every aspect of today’s society, before finding your way as a media specialist. If you want to be a video reporter, a podcaster or a data journalist, you’ll need to learn how to write and define your angle no matter what.

I was personally satisfied with the variety of courses we had: they’re a great opportunity to explore superficially the entire media landscape, both when it comes to format (video, web, podcast, print…) and topics (business, politics, technology, arts and culture).

Finally, the elective courses provide a more modular approach: they are usually project-based, and include students from all different Masters’ courses, which is really a plus.

I found that the course was a great opportunity to discuss serious topics, meet professionals from all horizons. It’s the kind of experience that will help make your mind about your present and future as a journalist, at a time where this profession can mean a million different things. I can’t speak for yourself and say “this course is for you, go for it!” or “stay away, you won’t like it here!”, because we are all incredibly complex and unique organisms. The main thing you need to ask yourself is: “what do I want to learn from this degree”, “am I willing to make an effort and leave my comfort zone?” but also “what do I want to accomplish now, in two years time, and for the future of my career?”.

Thank you very much for the exciting conversation and for sharing your experiences with us. All the best for the future!