IWA Young Water Professional Benelux Conference, 5-7 July
Going back to the source
On the 5th of July I returned to the Bioscience Engineering department of the University of Ghent where I gained my Master’s degree in Bioscience Engineering nearly a year ago. The department was hosting the 5th IWA Young Water Professionals BeNeLux (Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg) conference. A total of 140 participants had the opportunity to listen to 73 presentations spread over 3 parallel sessions, take part in 2 of the 7 offered workshops and network over posters, coffee, and rooftop-grown, sustainable food from Ghent. Additionally, 4 social activities were offered which resulted in a total of 232 special Belgian beers consumed, responsible for 17 m3 of water usage according to the organising committee.
The first day started in the late afternoon with a welcome reception allowing participants to eat some traditional Belgian fries from a real “frietkot” and loosen up the conversation after a Belgian beer. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to see my old research group. I was brought up-to-date with the ongoing research, for instance how the results from my dissertation, for which I operated 2 bioreactors on a 5 litre scale, contributed to the start-up of a pilot scale 60 litre bioreactor (my undergrad research was actually useful!).
Getting back in touch
“What do you mean I got accepted to give a presentation?!”
The second and third day were in full conference mode including inspiring presentations, workshops and a guided evening walk through Ghent followed by a classic YWParty. The presentation sessions allowed me to listen to talks about emerging micropollutants, which fits great with my MRes 2 topic. Other talks were about anaerobic microbial processes for the production of VFA and anaerobic digestion, a topic right up my alley!
Although I must admit I was a little nervous about those presentation sessions as I was one of the speakers. Giving a 15-minute presentation followed by 5 minutes of questions as a (not even) first year PhD student next to PhD candidates in their final year could have been overwhelming if it wasn’t for the supportive audience and relaxed atmosphere. I got some great feedback, tips/tricks and new research/presentation ideas (also a huge confidence boost). This is why I highly recommend others to participate in a YWP conference and take a chance at presenting!
Two other presentation sessions I attended (physicochemical water treatment and electrochemical treatment methods) were not linked to my own research yet I recognized topics studied by other CSCT students allowing me to gain a better insight in other water research fields.
Would you drink it?
Keynote and plenary speakers talked about the circular economy of water, how a change of perceptions requires speaking to peoples’ emotions, the typical issues encountered when scientists and lawyers meet and the synergy about fundamental and applied research. In terms of circular economy of water, let me introduce you the UGent’s “Sewer to Brewer” beer (brewed using recovered wastewater!).
From tidying data to saving Haiti
The two workshops I attended were very different but equally both inspiring. The first taught me all about tidy data, how publishing data is as valuable as publishing papers, the usefulness of Github and how scripting data can really make your life as a researcher easier as long as you do it wisely (For more info I recommend looking up “Good enough practices for Scientific Computing” by Greg Wilson, and checking out www.5stardata.info).
The second workshop was given by Doctors Without Borders. I had no idea about the valuable work they do in the field of water, hygiene, and sanitation. They are always looking for engineers and scientists for projects regarding water supply, water treatment, vector control, waste management and much more. In a case study, we had to work in a team to supply drinking water in a Haitian city that was hit by 3 consecutive hurricanes under time pressure. This challenge only showed a glimpse of how ingenious and stress-resilient you would have to be to work during such tragic events on the field.
A very tiring yet fruitful set of days
In conclusion, I can say the conference was a great learning experience, providing me with loads of new ideas and useful tips. It was great strengthening old connections and meeting YWP working in the industry, doing a PhD or working as post-doc, which reminds me to go and invite/accept invitations on LinkdIn!