Employers always tell us that the thing they really like about PhD graduates is their ability to think creatively and solve problems. Two of our science and engineering students took up this challenge recently, stepping outside their own research area to attend Europe’s first ‘water innovation’ challenge. Here, Victor Ibarra Chavez and Ermes Toninelli tell us about their experiences:
Sunday, 4th October - Friday, 9th October, 2015
I must say that the Water Innovation Lab was nothing close to what I was expecting. Its main goal is to inspire people, from different areas and backgrounds, to form strong partnerships and become actively aware of our relationship with water, sustainability and health. And it has inspired me to continue my PhD with even more enthusiasm than when I started!
The Water Innovation Lab took place in Comrie Croft, a beautiful hostel allocated in the countryside of Scotland. We were actively participating in the activities and discussions everyday from 9 am till 6 pm. Some of those activities were workshops on how to facilitate dialogue, how to do networking with a bigger purpose, how to enable creativity and how to inspire others to follow an idea, come with a new one or complement one that has already been expressed.
Other activities, organized by Scottish Water, were visiting iconic areas from Scotland related to water in order to learn from their water culture and suggest new approaches that can be applied worldwide. We visited Loch Katrine, Glasgow’s main source of water and the Falkirk Wheel, an impressive structure built by Scottish engineers to facilitate transportation between the Clyde and the Forth.
The people that I met in the event were the best part of the whole experience. There were people from Canada, Scotland, France, Germany, Netherlands, the USA and even Mexico, which caught me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting to meet anyone from back home. I learnt so much from them and even came up with interesting proposals for projects and collaborations. The conversations were always interesting, profound and fun. There was great banter. I’ve come back home with lots of new friends across the world.
This experience has provided me with many new skills that I will apply and further develop in my life. It has given me new ideas and new friendships and I would strongly encourage anyone to take part in a similar event.
Victor is a PhD student in Bioengineering at the School of Science & Engineering.
The Waterlution event was a fantastic way to learn about soft skills, especially about facilitation, innovation, leadership, and complex systems interactions. I was particularly impressed by the way the programme was structured: being an event centred around water challenges and issues, it may have seemed surprising how little was directly aimed at these topics. The organisers assumed correctly that the majority of people present would not need to be reminded of statistical data or facts about the environment. They chose instead to shift everyone’s attention to the discovery and development of communication skills, networking, and human interactions, in order to provide a rich toolbox to enable further autonomous discovery.
The event reportedly took 3 years in the making. Being the first event in Europe, the organisers opted for Scotland as an outstanding example of a ‘water-nation’. Numerous resource guests from other water-nations such as Canada and the Netherlands joined the group, providing informal and friendly advice during the three developmental streams of the event. Streams –or paths – had been organized as a structure for the event, providing a chance for every participant to learn about 3 different areas: facilitation, leadership, and innovation.
Waterlution has been an inspiring event. The importance of soft skills was strongly emphasized; nowadays, the ability to effectively communicate ideas in a friendly manner is at the very basis of a successful career. Towards the end of the event, many of the participants referred to the group as a family. This level of friendliness and openness was achieved thanks to the activities structured by the organizers. Only five days earlier we had all been strangers.
Ermes is undertaking a PhD in the Optics Group in the School of Physics & Astronomy.