Elisabet Andrés García is the first PhD student to successfully complete an industry placement through the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC)’s “Host a PhD” Placement Program – in Ms Andrés’s case, a three-month placement at the City of Gold Coast (City) under supervisor Kevin Page, Executive Coordinator Integrated Water Planning.
The Placement Program connects completing PhD students with partner organisations to facilitate the adoption of CRCWSC research by end users and build a cohort of industry-ready PhD graduates.
Over the course of her placement, Ms Andrés’s technical expertise was called on to determine the optimal short-term solution to an urgent wastewater management challenge. The City had an agreement with another agency for handling a certain volume of wastewater, but with a growing population, it was coming close to exceeding that capacity.
In the long term, a new treatment facility will be needed to deal with the demand. But in the meantime, Ms Andrés’s role was to consider a range of short-term options around “sewer mining”: tapping into the sewer system and extracting some of the excess wastewater for treatment and use as recycled water.
The project was a departure from the topic of Ms Andrés’ PhD, which focused on the proof-of-concept for a new approach to treating household greywater (e.g. water from the shower) in the home, allowing it to be reused – for example in flushing the toilet. Glad to be doing something “completely different” to her research in the lab, she says “the opportunity to apply my knowledge and aptitudes in a real case that will be implemented and affect people was really challenging, and really valuable.”
This variety of experience helped Ms Andrés to further develop her “organisational, strategic, and critical thinking skills within a new context.” She felt lucky to work with a wonderful team and to cultivate new networks within industry.
Already having access to the CRCWSC’s network also enabled Ms Andrés to leverage direct contact with a potential host organisation, such that she and Mr Page were able to meet and discuss what project would be most suitable. This tailoring process ensured that Ms Andrés was a good fit for the project and vice versa.
Mr Page agreed, clarifying that his team initially considered bringing Ms Andrés in to work on developing a new water strategy for the city, which “still would have worked well.” But early conversations revealed an even stronger fit for all parties’ needs by focussing on the wastewater project they settled on.
Asked whether he would consider hosting again, Mr Page was quick to answer affirmatively. “I’m a big advocate of the need for us to support educational institutions and their students’ growth, to give them the opportunity within industry to get that real-life experience. But also for us there is huge value in having some of these bright young minds work with our people and add value to what we do. I was delighted by how productive and effective we could be on this project, achieving our goals within the relatively short window that we had Elisabet available to us.”
If you are a CRCWSC participant or partner organisation interested in hosting a PhD student, please visit the website for more information.